Nurturing Your Creativity.

Ever been in a creative rut? It’s something I struggle with regularly. When I’m in a creative funk, nothing feels right. Everything sucks. I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall…and the Muse is mocking me. I begin to wonder, “what if my best work is behind me?”. Fear creeps in. I feel like I’m trapped in a dark pit of…. nothingness. And I hope to God I can climb out.

Maybe for you it’s not that strong. Or maybe it is. But we’ve all been there. There are days when our creativity flows, when the Muse dances along with us, and inspiration is offered up to us like a holiday gift from the Universe. Those days are intoxicating, right?

But then there are days when the well runs dry. Every song lyric falls flat. Every chord progression is lifeless. Nothing feels new. Nothing excites our curiosity or our playfulness. Everything is dull and gray.

In those days, what do you do? How do you grow your creativity? How do you feed and water and nurture it? In my experience, I’ve found three basic starting points that have helped me.

Get outside voices. Innovation is literally everywhere. Steve Jobs once said ‘creativity is just connecting things’. When I need a fresh shot of creativity, I immediately look for outside voices to inject into my soul. I recently asked my FB tribe for suggestions on audiobooks (I like to listen while running, driving, etc.). Fiction. Non-fiction. History. Psychology. Drama. Graphic novels. The response was amazing! (Not only did I receive about 30 widely-varied suggestions while I slept that night, it also gave me a priceless insight into my community…). I grabbed 2 random suggestions (someone in my community actually ‘gifted’ me a book on Audible.) and got started. Sometimes I ask for music suggestions. Sometimes it’s a random TED talk or artist interview on YouTube. And sometimes I ride my bike to our community library and pick a random children’s book. I watch Telemundo TV shows. I buy a coloring book. I do whatever I can do to make my right brain chart new territory. For me, it’s not necessarily about the source of the voice. It’s more about exposing myself to a new voice. That’s helped me gather enough ‘escape velocity’ to blast out of the rut I’m in.

Get out of your head. Yes, creativity can be difficult sometimes. It can take effort. But remember, all creativity is play, not work. You don’t work a violin! The moment my creative endeavor becomes ‘work’… I’m done. Finished. Kaput. You see, work comes from our head, but play is in our soul. The moment I can get out of my head and return to ‘play’, I’m free. When I’m creatively stuck, I create something disposable. Something that no one will ever see or hear. I write a bad song. I record the most horrible drum track I can play. I pull 20 random words from a random website and write a silly song. I draw a terrible picture. I build something out of Play-Doh or Legos. Whatever it is, I focus on the ridiculousness of play, remembering that play, like art, is its own reward. It doesn’t need justification. Recreation is recreation.

Get into your heart/emotion. Emotion is the seat of passion. And emotion creates motion. When you’re stuck, you gotta get moving, right? Pick an emotion and go to that place where you feel it can intensely (a memory, a hope, a fear, a dream ) and create something from within that state of mind/feeling. Typically, I think anger and love are the two emotions we can tap into quickest. (Remember, the goal is to get moving quickly.) Ask yourself, “What makes me angry?” Is it injustice? Is it wounds you’ve suffered? Is it something personal? Political? Cultural? Whatever it is, hop online and read up on the latest statistics or events about it. Get really pissed. I mean, like, Hulk-turning- green-pissed. Now go write. Vent. Vomit. Purge. Sit down at your notepad or keyboard and freakin’ bleed. The same can be said for the emotion of love. Going through pictures, videos, memories or even gifts that belong to a loved one can stir up powerful, passionate emotions. It can be even more powerful if that loved one is no longer living. (My mom passed away just before Mother’s Day this year, so this has been especially helpful for me lately.)

Do YOU ever get stuck in a rut? These are just three starting points that have helped me. What do YOU do when you’re stuck creatively? How do YOU approach it?

I would love it if you’d leave your thoughts.

About The Author

Tom Cottar

Tom Cottar is a singer/songwriter from Austin, TX. His latest single "On The Inside" is currently raising money for veterans with PTSD. You can connect with him at the Tom Cottar Music Facebook page or at tomcottar.org.