What To Do When Your Creative Process Isn’t Working

How to get back on track.

You’re reading this because you’re creatively frustrated, so let’s start with the good news:

Your creative process isn’t broken, it just needs a tune up.

Here are a few ways to get back on track…

Establish A System

You can be creative without a systematic approach to your work, but you can’t be consistently creative without one.

If your creative process is to wait around for inspiration to strike, then it’s no wonder you find yourself stuck.

To dig out of a rut, establish a system and routine you can control and measure.

Write a specific number of words each day even if they’re crap.

Paint a picture using only two colors.

Write a song based on the next sentence somebody says to you.

You can’t wait your way out of a creative slump — you need to create your way out of it.

The establishment of a system can silence your inner critic and force you to produce and that production will ultimately lead to inspiration and back to your best work.

You can read more about this concept here:

Why Having a System is Essential to Increasing Your Creative Output

Catalog Your Influences

Your influences are your secret weapon.

They can lead you out of the abyss and inspire your next great creation.

But that can only happen if you access your influences when you need them most and one of the best ways to do this is to catalog them.

In the liner notes of Frank Zappa’s 1966 debut album he included a list of 179 influences of the band’s music, ranging from Elvis Presley, to John Wayne, to “Uncle Ed.”

A commitment to explore and document that which influences your work will help you get unstuck when you’re not sure what to do next.

This post you’re reading now is a perfect example of this.

It’s inspired by ideas I’ve shared in my For The Interested newsletter, which itself functions as a way for me to catalog ideas that inspire and influence me.

You can read more about this concept here:

The power of cataloging your creative influences

Embrace The Two Elements Of Starting

If you’re struggling to start a creative project, remember that starting requires two distinct elements: Ideas and execution.

Your best bet is to pursue them separately, but simultaneously.

When you separate your ideas from concerns about execution, it frees you up to enjoy the process of brainstorming any and all possible ideas for your new venture.

Meanwhile, you can separately study the ways in which similar projects have been executed and consider how you may want to proceed with yours.

At some point, the inspiration and knowledge you’ve acquired through studying the work of others will blend with the original creative ideas you’ve generated.

The magic is found at that intersection and that magic will lead you to launch.

You can learn more about this concept here:

How To Start A Creative Project When You Don’t Know Where To Begin

Quit Everything Daily

Creative work often stalls because you become unsure of your intentions.

If you lose sight of why you wanted to create something in the first place, it becomes difficult to move it forward.

A great exercise to combat this is to quit everything daily.

Start each day with a clean slate and no pre-determined commitment to any specific creative project.

Give yourself the freedom to choose each day what you want to work on.

This may lead you to abandon the project and seek out something new that excites you or it may give you the space to reaffirm why you want to invest time and effort into something.

Either way, it will get you unstuck and back to making.

You can read more about this concept here:

I Quit Everything Daily (and Improve My Creative Work in the Process)

Have A Draw-Down Period

Sometimes the reason your creative process isn’t working has nothing to do with your process itself.

You may just need a break.

Just as recovery time is crucial to the success of your workout routine, the same is true with creative work.

A draw-down period in which you step away from your project not only rejuvenate you creatively, but also enable you to see your work in a new light.

A scene you shot for your film will look different a week after you shot it than it does a minute after.

The way you phrase a tweet will be different if it’s crafted after you’ve spent a day tweeting as opposed to after you’ve spent a day logged off Twitter completely.

If your creative process isn’t working for you at the moment, it’s possible the problem isn’t your process — it’s your choice of moment.

Take a break. There will be plenty left to create when you return.

You can read more about this concept here:

The Most Important Part of The Creative Process That Everyone Misses: A Draw-Down Period