How to Dig Yourself Out of a Creative Rut

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You stare and stare at the page, but you just can’t get yourself motivated to write. Nothing you write feels right, anyway. In fact, nothing about this process seems to feel right. You’re bored and uninspired, and the whole writing process is feeling stale.

It’s not writer’s block—you’re stuck in a creative rut.

creative rut

5 Ways to Get Yourself out of a Creative Rut

Don’t feel bad, ruts are just part of the ebb and flow of the creative life. Honestly, they’re inevitable.

But while you don’t have much control over when you experience a rut, you do have control over how long you’re in it. By taking certain actions, you can fight your way back into your writing flow again.

Here are 5 steps to dig yourself back out of a creative rut:

1. Show up

When you’re in a rut, it can be tempting to park yourself in front of the TV and wait for the muse to come back to you. But the truth is, this will only prolong your rut.

Instead, keep showing up. Even if you don’t think you’ll write a single word, it’s important to keep getting yourself in front of your work-in-progress on a regular basis. In fact, make it a habit. It won’t be immediate, but if you show up on a regular schedule to write, your muse will start showing up, too.

But even as you wait for your muse to show up, you might be surprised at what you accomplish. After just five minutes of staring at my draft, my mind starts to get bored and the words start to come. Even if they’re not the best words I’ve ever written, it’s still better than nothing—lines on the page give me something to come back and edit later.

2. Shut it down

It’s easy to feel distracted and spread too thin in this world. We’ve got jobs, families, books to read, shows to keep up with, and a new post or text is popping up every second. It’s no wonder we lose focus on our side projects in the midst of all that.

So close the door. Put down the phone. Disconnect from the Internet. Let that quiet sink in and listen to what your mind says to you. Isn’t that better?

3. Rest

When I start listening to myself during a creative rut, I often find that I’ve overwhelmed myself with work and stopped giving myself the rest I need. Listen to your mind and your body to see what you need—perhaps it’s a night out, or more sleep, or a mental break from the stress.

I encourage you to do whatever you need to give yourself a break and take care of yourself (even if it means ignoring step 1 for a day). Take one morning and sleep in, or block out an afternoon some binge watching—whatever you need to recharge.

4. Start small

If appropriate, make a list of tasks you need to complete for your work-in-progress, and order them from easiest to hardest. Or, find the point of re-entry into your manuscript that feels easiest. Start there, even if it means writing out of order. Starting with what feels easy is a great way to rebuild your confidence and tap into your flow.

5. Read a book

Read a book about the writing, creativity, or even just a novel that inspires you. It’s a great way to learn and improve your craft. And it never fails to get me excited about writing again, and give me a ton of new ideas.

If you’re at a loss, I recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird or Stephen King’s On Writing.

Just Stick to It

We all hit a rut on occasion.

The trick is not to let it get in your head and drag you down. Instead, keep your confidence up and use these steps to dig your way back out of it.

What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut? Share in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Are you in a creative rut? Either way, take fifteen minutes to try out one of these tricks (if you pick #2, take fifteen minutes to write after your rest activity). How did it feel? Were you able to get out of your rut? Share your writing in the comments!

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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22 Comments

  1. strictlynoelephant

    Are you spying on me Emily ;)?

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      Ha! I’ve just lived it too many times myself!

      Reply
  2. debbi

    Items 2 and five are excellently timed advice. Many thanks.

    Reply
  3. Masterman

    I battle with this all the time. Stressful job, long daily commute, I get mentally, physically, and emotionally tired. Although I want to write, mostly I succumb to blobbing at the end of the day. But I know that if I do something creative, not necessarily writing, but maybe some photography, drawing, flower arranging, it seems to break that cycle and releases the ability to put thoughts down again. Something else happens, the fatigue evaporates

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      Switching to a new creative task is a great idea — way to get the inspiration flowing 🙂

      Reply
  4. David

    When I was in an ugly rut late last year, a friend of mine, fed up with my lack of progress, asked (actually, demanded) that I send him one new sentence per day. I wasn’t required to write more than that, but the idea was that on some days the one line would lead to a second line, and then a paragraph, &c. And on days it didn’t, well, at least I accomplished *something*.

    And it worked! For a few weeks. Until I gave it up, because I suck. But for people who don’t suck, it could serve as a way out of the rut. It’s perhaps a tactic to file under #4 above, starting small.

    http://www.writebynight.net/abcs-of-writing/strategies/one-way-out-of-a-writing-rut/

    Thanks for the post, Emily. I think I’m gonna keep sticking with #3 for awhile, but hey, when I’m ready to be a better writer/person, I’ll come back and revisit this.

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      I love that idea. Congrats on fighting your way through it.

      Reply
  5. George McNeese

    I find starting small helps me when I’m in a rut. I get overwhelmed writing a story from start to finish. I can never do it. So I found starting at a point that’s easiest to write and go fin there helps. In writing the story from point of importance to the ending, I usually think up a beginning that fits.

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      I used to be militant about starting at the beginning and wrestling my way through … but learning to be more flexible has really helped my daily word count. Thanks, George.

      Reply
  6. LaCresha Lawson

    Thank you. I don’t have that just yet….

    Reply
  7. Teng Kim Yen

    Maybe 1 and 4 might work for me.

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      I hope they do! Good luck as you try them out.

      Reply
  8. Rodrick Rajive Lal

    Might work for me too, but then we all have experienced these phases, there are moments when the words, sentences, and paragraphs flow, and times when there is nothing. During such times I try to take a walk, go an extry mile on my bicycle, or read a book.

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      Exercise is a great suggestion. Thanks Rodrick.

      Reply
  9. ohita afeisume

    Thanks. I think I could use some rest. It sure aids the creative process

    Reply
    • Emily Wenstrom

      It really, really does. Rest is SO important. Enjoy your catchup sleep!

      Reply
  10. Jean Blanchard

    Thank you for this, Emily. Sending off for Anne Lamont’s book is better than slobbing around in your jim-jams! I’m looking forward to having laugh, too.

    Reply
  11. lilmisswriter17

    This really helped. I don’t set enough time for myself to get out of the rut and just assume I’m in a creative slump at the moment. I’ll have to start setting specific times to write (or just stare at the computer/notebook until the words suddenly come).

    Reply
  12. Renee

    I so often have this!! Thanks for the tips. They will surely help!

    Reply
  13. Ching-Ern Yeh

    I think that showing up is key to success, not just when writing a story, but in the world as well. In school, success is 90% showing up for class.

    Reply

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