We all get stuck. Feel like there is no way out of a rut. That our creative well has dried up. Usually it is only temporarily – and if we have experienced it a couple of times, we may actually be able to not freak out completely, knowing from experience that we will eventually get out it again. It happens to everybody who does creative work, if that is of any consolation. Of course, we have all heard about the writer’s block – and writers certainly have experienced it. However, it is the same thing for all other creatives, although we do not talk about the photographer’s block or the painter’s block or the performer’s block as such.
How do we get out of the block – or even better prevent it in the first place? First of all, I do think it is almost impossible to completely prevent feeling that the muse leaves us behind from time to time. I know artists who have such unremitting amounts of positive energy that they hardly ever get in a rut, but I think they are the exception. For the rest of us, our inspiration will dry up every so often. How we deal with the block then is as different as there are creatives. Sometimes giving full speed may get me out, for instance. I will go out and photograph even when I feel uninspired and stuck. Eventually something changes in my receptiveness and suddenly I find myself in that wonderful flow, which I know, will take me to new places. However, sometimes that doesn’t help. Then, putting the foot on the gas, when the wheels are spinning, almost never helps.
When the well is empty, there is no point in keep lowering the bucket into it hoping for a miracle to happen. When the well is empty, it’s empty and instead of wresting out the last drop of water we should rather find ways to fill it again. I really think the biggest blocks happen, when we run out of raw materials, when we get so busy with what we have that we forget to seek new inputs. You can only draw water from a well for so long if the source dries up.
One of the best ways to revive a creative well that has run empty is by finding new sources from which to fill it up again. The more streams that lead into the well, the quicker it fills up again, and the less likely it will dry up in the first place. More figuratively speaking we should encourage ourselves to draw from a whole range of new impulses outside of our artistic field and give ourselves some nice experiences without having to be creative ourselves. Just take in from everywhere. It could mean going to a concert. Enjoying a moment of silence. Going for a walk. Watching a movie. Treating yourself with a nice meal. Visiting an art museum. Doing meditation.
It’s really about expanding your horizon, finding impulses from outside your regular world, and it’s about finding new dots to connect in a different way. The late Steve Jobs once said that creativity was nothing more than connecting dots. If that is the case, we need to collect more dots before we can make connections between them, and the more those dots come from different sources, the better. Diversification is simply the best preventive measure against creative blocks. We will learn much more, and find more interesting ideas, if we look beyond the lessons already learned by our peers, and look elsewhere. Why do landscape photographers spend most of their time looking at other landscape photographer’s work? Or photographers in general look at photography? When I think we should rather spend as much time with other works of art or even collect inspiration outside of the artistic world?
On his blog the Photographer David duChemin once wrote: «The best dots of all, so long as we’re talking about collecting them before we can connect them, are the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves. The more divergent from our own field, our own work, our own thoughts, the better. Connections beget connections, and nothing makes us more the people we are, creative or otherwise, than connections to people that inspire us, that push us, and that create new connections for us, than amazing people.»
So, go out and collect more dots, collect more diverse dots and try even to collect dots you don’t think would be interesting to you. How do you expand you horizon? How do you diversify? It would be fun to know.