the creative’s s-word

Marian Parsonsa slice of life, Balance, Running a Business42 Comments


The s-word dreaded by creatives all over the globe.

And there is good reason for dreading it.  You’re humming along, in a creative groove and then you come to a complete halt.  Your mind is either blank or so cluttered with non-fun, creativity-sucking things that there is nowhere for a spark to catch.  Man, I hate being stuck!

As we’re creeping towards Christmas and I’m already looking forward to taking a long break, I have to admit that I have been feeling a bit stuck creatively.  I’ll sit at my easel and flip through books and ponder what I’ll paint next without putting brush to canvas.  I’ll sit at my computer and distract myself with window shopping on Etsy or watching news bloopers on YouTube.  (Some are a riot.)  I’ll set aside focused time to work on a specific project only to find myself uninspired, sitting in front of a blank notebook and, well, stuck.

So, over the past couple of days, I’ve been focusing on things that get my creativity going.  I’ve had to go through these motions many times through the years to knock out the cobwebs.  One or a combination of a few of these always do the trick, so I thought I would share them here.

In no particular order…

read over old notes

If you are not a note-taker, you should become one!  The great thing about taking notes, especially when you’re working on something exciting or when you feel inspired, is that you can use your own words, ideas, and random thoughts to dislodge whatever is impeding creativity in the present.

I was reading over notes from business meetings and my creative retreat last year and there were so many nuggets on those pages that got me writing more notes and ideas and I even took action on a few things immediately.

In addition to reading over old notes, it can often help to write new ones.  Put the things that are clogging up your brain on a piece of paper.  That can not only be therapeutic, but it can free up headspace.

get out into the real world

This is such a good way to get unstuck.  Take a walk, go to some of your favorite stores, meet a friend for coffee, go exploring, sit at a mall and people-watch.  I have found that when I get out of the house and away from my computer and creative spaces, ideas start flowing again!  I have started carrying a small notebook with me because inspiration seems to strike when I’m out and about.  I’ve learned I need to capture it right when it’s in my head or it flits away.

(Family hike in Whitewater State Park)

step outside of your box

Did you know that introducing your brain to new things results in a rush of dopamine?  Well, it does!  There are so many benefits to challenging your mind by continuing to learn.  Try drawing, painting, learning an instrument, playing a new sport.  It can be as simple as trying a new kind of word puzzle or going somewhere you’ve never been or going for a walk and listening to a podcast on a subject you know nothing about.

When I was feeling stuck yesterday, I sat down and did an abstract painting, which is totally not my thing!  It was an assignment in an art class that I’m taking – A study of Berthe Morisot with Michelle Wooderson.  I hated the painting and wiped it down immediately after I finished it, but it was a great exercise and it did help my mind to focus on creative tasks.

(Pencil & watercolor portrait from my Berthe Morisot class)  

give yourself no-pressure creative time

This is a difficult one for me.  I love productivity, so I have a hard time being idle or spending time on something that doesn’t seem valuable in the moment.  I always want to create something I can put in my houses or share or sell or somehow put to good use.  But, I have learned that this no-pressure creative time is valuable in a completely different way.

When I approach anything creative like writing or painting with the idea that it doesn’t have to be good or sellable or publishable, I can take more risks and widen my horizons.  I often write blog posts that are never published and I draw and paint things that I never share and I’ll rearrange furniture and accessories in my house only to put it all back again.  The value isn’t in the end result, but the simple discipline of carrying out a creative endeavor without any expectations.

Often times, those no-pressure sessions lead to very valuable ideas and discoveries.

(Sisley study I did in one of my no-pressure creative sessions) 

get some encouragement

I love listening to podcasts for this reason, but encouragement can also be found from other entrepreneurs in a forum or in real life, a business coach, friends, family, books, webinars, conferences, a blog posts, etc.  Creativity involves so much output that it’s important to balance that out with input.  Get input from people who you respect and hold common core values, but also listen to creators and entrepreneurs who challenge you to look at a problem or process from a different point of view.  Again, stepping out of your box can be beneficial.

HERE is a list of some of the podcasts and books I listened to/read during my creative retreat.

I would also add that if you’re stuck, it might be a sign that you’re simply tired.  Maybe you need to walk away from a particular project for a while, get a good night sleep, or schedule a “mental health day”.  I enjoy my work, so I can find myself doing it way too much, even when my creative brain is telling me it’s time to leave it alone and give it time to recharge.  I’m constantly trying to find the perfect balance between work and rest.

Lastly, I think it’s important to know that if you’re stuck, you’re in good company.  Any human who’s ever created anything gets stuck at one point or another and has some hurdles to jump over to get to the finish line.  There is some amount of comfort in knowing it’s not just you.  I suppose it could be argued that it’s a part of the creative process.

If anything, it gives us time to assess and it also helps us appreciate those times when the ideas are so abundant that it feels like you’re on a timed shopping spree and you have to grab as much as you can carry before time runs out.

What are some strategies you have used to get unstuck?

the creative’s s-word

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42 Comments on “the creative’s s-word”

  1. The approach that helps me the most is to always assume “stuck” time with each project – but I call it “simmering” instead of stuck…like cooking with a crockpot on low – steady and simmering. Since it’s part of the process (I’m a textile artist) I can take space, distract myself, review past ideas and so on…and embrace all of it as a valuable PART of the project, not an effort to get back to the project.

    Also, I don’t know if I’m alone here, but I don’t allow myself more than 5 active projects at a time. If a project simmers too long it’s just overcooked. I realize we all work differently but to those who wonder about such things, there it is…

    1. That is an excellent perspective! I love the word simmering instead of stuck. Thanks for sharing, Janet!

  2. Like you mentioned, I revisit my sketchbook and blog journal….boy the sparks start to fly, sometimes after the first turn of the page. So glad I started keeping notes and journals along my journey as a creative maker. Thank you for the great new tips….always inspired.

    1. Yes, I did keep it! I was surprised by how much I liked it because it felt like a total mess when I was doing it, but it was fun and freeing.

  3. Wise words from Janet! And I also agree that doing something different can help break my creative clog loose. Taking a different route walking with my dogs, seeing different things along the way is my favorite and most common remedy. They love it too! But also rest, reading old notes, even reorganizing my art supplies and studio area help. Listening to music is a must as well. Creativity can be exhilarating but it is often also hard mental work. These breaks serve a good purpose. Your creative brain has been working hard and just needs a little R and R. Maybe now is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor and recharge a bit. You should be very proud of all you’ve created this year! I am sure impressed with it. Bless you and yours this holiday season!

    1. Thank you and yes, I will be taking time off around the holidays and it is much needed!

      I agree with so many of your techniques! I also like reorganizing my spaces to help me refocus.

  4. As a writer, research gets me going, especially when I learn something unexpected.

    Meditation and ritual can help:
    -In meditating, I focus on the universal current of ideas and picture myself having the privilege of accessing it.
    -I borrow ritual from the Buddhist tradition, bowing in respect for writers who have gone before me and wrestled with the same obstacles.

  5. So true, I am a graphic & web designer and at times feel really stuck especially if it’s work for a client that has an uninspiring job for me. So I too waste time playing online, but if I force myself (which sometimes I have to) to physically walk away from my desk & do something else, the ideas tend do start to flow again.

    I find house work like dusting or vacuuming that allows your mind to wander can bring ideas, it’s as if, as you say, I have given myself permission to not have to be creative because I’m doing housework. No pressure.

    I was reading a post of yours one day & a book in your studio cabinet caught my eye – Creating A New Old House – so I looked it up online & purchased it – that was inspiration that lead to more inspiration, as it fit perfectly with what we were doing last year – building new ‘old style’ house.

    1. Oh, fantastic! Yeah, that’s a great book and our dream to do one day. I love old homes, but Jeff doesn’t like the work that comes with them. This is a happy compromise. Anyway, cleaning works well for me, too! If I feel stuck on a room specifically, I’ll clean it and have all sorts of new ideas.

  6. Heartfelt thanks for such inspiring words of wisdom, Marian! I also love Janet’s ‘s’ word. ‘Simmering’ reminds us that creativity takes time. As a perfectionist, I always find that just getting started is the hardest part of all. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert truly spoke to my creative heart and soul. I have also found much inspiration in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Writing Morning Pages, taking Artist Dates, and making time for Solo Walks in nature all help to invite more creativity into my life!

    Take time to celebrate all of your creative successes from the past year, Marian. You inspire us all! ♡

    1. I’ll have to check out those books! I loved Big Magic and it was a real encouragement to me as well. She offers such a great perspective on the creative process.

  7. I’m a writer, and getting outside to take a walk gets my juices flowing. I live in Maine, and walking on the beach is especially energizing.

    1. Lucky you, getting to walk on the beach to get energized! Yes, I love taking walks when I feel stuck. It makes a big difference.

  8. After 35 years in the business/computer world, on call 24×7 and with constant deadlines to meet, stuck or nonproductive for us noncreative types were not in my vocabulary. It has taken time but since retiring, I’ve given myself permission to be non productive. If I have a day or want a day to be a ‘slug’ then I do and I don’t feel guilty. Sometimes the body and mind just need a break. Give yourself permission to take one when it’s needed.

    1. Such a good point! I have trouble being non-productive, but I need to give myself permission to rest more often!

  9. Yeah….I’d like to be stuck and produce that Sisley painting!!!! You better keep that one. It is gorgeous!!!!!!! It looks perfect with your colors. Amazing how quickly you got here!!! Good job!!! Excellent!!!!

    1. Thank you! It was out of the box for me and I did it on a cheap canvas board without any expectations. I love how it turned out, too, though!

  10. All great suggestions! I would however stay away from shopping or malls this time of year unless you need to be there. I had to out go today and it was crazy and only image what it will be like this weekend.

    1. Oh my, good point! That can just add to the clutter. Maybe go to a favorite store on a Tuesday morning or something… 🙂

  11. I get unstuck reading your blog. I’m not kidding, since I started I have been sooo much more productive AND enjoying it more. Thank you for all of it. This is one of your best blogs for me. And BTW there is no wood in my house (floors, furniture etc.) or garden shed (a lot of metal stuff too) that hasn’t been majorly improved with your Hemp Oil. My only wish is it be sold in larger quantities.

    1. Ha, that’s awesome about the Hemp Oil. It really is amazing stuff!

      I’m so glad my blog is an encouragement for you. Thank you for taking the time to share that! 🙂

  12. Maybe your brain is telling you something. The best creative people have been stuck sometimes, do not be alarmed. It is not only your body that needs a rest from too much exercising or working too hard, and you feel it in your muscles, knees, back, shoulders. But the brain will not hurt.
    Our century is all about speed, achievement, production, doing, doing, performing. It is the rat race more than ever before. And we, little humans, are running non stop, like hamsters in a wheel. It is alright too gaze through the window panes and look at the sky. Empty your mind or put on your boots and walk outdoors for awhile.
    To be a bit ZEN will restore you, accept these ” empty ” moments, those too are productive even if your canvas stays blank for a few days. I have accepted this the last two years, is it that I become wiser? older?
    By the way, on your photo walking your boys in the woods, the little one should perhaps not wear his ear phones but listen to the sounds of his feet walking, the birds singing…he too must learn.
    Be well,

  13. Years ag po I travelled to Asia with a team to develop product. It was a solid 2 weeks of international context and no breaks. It was my first overseas trip.

    On the 10 th day, I blacked out. I regained conciousness still sitting in the same chair at the same conference table, I was “Gone” for maybe 10 minutes. They sent me to the hotel for two days. The following year the trip was planned with weekends off.

    I was so excited about the trip and the work and I was constantly making notes and generating ideas. but, it was better to rest periodically.

  14. I can only give constructive advice on your painting . The painting is very good but if you look at it overall all of the colors ar the same value.
    So think about in the distance colors become cooler and lighter and in the fore ground the colors become warmer and darker. It’s the principle of atmospheric
    So if you are stuck on that my advice is to think about it and walk away …come back later and reassess.
    You are one of the most creative women out there ! I admire you so much.
    Some unsolicited advice from a long time landscape artist . Hope you don’t mind

  15. Great ideas all of them! Well, since Sandi stuck her two cents in I’ll stick mine in because it’s driving me crazy! I have O C D and everything has to be just so, or I can’t function at my best. Sandi is right though, step back and take a good hard look at the painting with a critical eye. Doesn’t it look like your bridge is floating in the air a bit? You’ve got to use more muted cool colors because it’s in the back ground. And the color of the water under the bridge would be shaded not necessarily white, right? Landscapes can be hard. Just always remember things fade in color as well, the further you get away from them. That’s always helped me. Hope you don’t think we’re being too critical. Please don’t let us loudmouths keep you from sharing your art with us, because I love watching you get better and better with every painting. Besides what do I know? I’m just passing on what I’ve been taught! 😁👍🏻

    1. have a look at Sisley-A ponte em Sèvres 1877, especially re the white water. He was there I expect there was a reason for it.

  16. Sometimes I take all the accessories in one room or sometimes two rooms and put them on a table. Then I read decorate the room in a different way. It doesn’t always work out, but I see the whole space in a different way and that energizes me.

  17. Thanks for the tips I do practice a lot of them. I have keep a sketch book(s) for years. I use to only put sketches in them, but now I also keep all kind of notes, such as where to get a supply or an event or blog to check out, etc. I find cleaning my studio also gets my creative juices flowing. I find the more I create the more ideas come. Going into my studio every day helps if only for a few minutes. Also playing with other creatives. …and that can even be kids. Merry Christmas!

  18. This crazy season and end-of-year time (holidays, family, pressures with deadlines, taxes, meeting health care deductibles, blah blah blah) has GOT to be a creation killer.

    For all you amazingly talented artists – expect Decembers to being your planned creative “off” season.
    How else could it not be so?

    And Marian, that landscape is stunning.

  19. Finish something boring. Paint a wall. Rake the leaves. Do the hand wash only dishes. Do something boring that puts your creative side in neutral to ruminate on what you need to create.

  20. Hello! All of these are great ideas! Thank you. A couple of my favorite ways to get “un-stuck” are: Bake something or clean off my desk. I’ll look around in the baking cupboard and bake cookies or bread … or whatever new recipe I’ve been wanting to try. Puts my brain in a completely different place. And for the other, I take everything off my desk and out of the desk drawers. I throw away junk, find notes I wrote to myself (sometimes about creative project ideas!), then put everything back in a more pleasing order. Viola! I usually have new ideas or at least I feel better about not wasting time!

  21. Thanks for these great tips! I’m a working fine artist–I just finished a painting project and am now completely stuck and uninspired to start anything new. I love interior decorating and have been starting to do it for myself as a “side-thing,” and ironically, I find it much more freeing than painting right now! I also hate giving myself “no pressure creative time”, because I am so driven by the finished product, but I suspect that is exactly what I need to be doing to get direction for my next project. Being uninspired is a horrible feeling, and as an artist, I always begin to worry “maybe I’ve already done my best work,” so it’s an encouraging and helpful reminder that we all feel this way sometimes and “this too shall pass!”.

  22. Pingback: Saturday Seven Inspiration for Quilters 56 - A Quilting Life

  23. I have realized after many years that my fear of failure keeps me from starting new projects whether they are sewing, painting or other creative pursuits. I constantly throw up obstacles so I can’t start my project. I am hoping in the new year, to take time most days to paint and not consider anything a failure. Thanks for your post Marian. I see I am not alone.

  24. There is something quite wonderful about that painting! Less serene than your usual ones.. Turbulence in the clouds. Symbolic bridge across the churning water. Very much a communication about a state of mind we all experience. Thanks for sharing.

  25. ps: I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and although farmhouse style is not my particular thing, I really love how you take forlorn or abused and neglected things and create objects of beauty. I very much appreciate the creativity and love of beauty you bring to us.

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