What Inspires Me? The Joy of Getting Out of a Creative Slump.

Nothing encourages creativity like the chance to fall flat on one’s face.  ~James D. Finley

Hey everyone, I hope you all enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend.  It was extremely hot here in Philadelphia, which made it hard for me to get motivated.  When I get like this, I find that the best way to ease back into my groove is to spend time away from photography and blogging, with people who I care about or just spending time enjoying the world around me (without my camera in tow).  A really good towel and some cool water helps in the case of dealing with the oppressive heat as well.

So I wanted to continue my What Inspires Me series by examining the inevitable question of what happens when you just aren’t inspired enough to be creative.  Let’s be honest.  Sometimes it’s common for creative folks to run into creative slumps.  Have you had this happen to you?

When I used to write grants for a living, some days, when I was on deadline, I would sit in front of your computer screen, turn off all my distractions, close the door, pour a cold beverage, clear my calendar, crack my knuckles, all prepared to pen (or type) that next masterpiece, but nothing flowed from my fingers. My brain was not having it, and I was definitely losing.  Nothing is worse than feeling like your brain is on vacation, and nothing you do or say to yourself will jumpstart the grey matter into doing what it is you need it to do.

Sometimes the same feelings of dread and fear creep up on me even now that I’ve traded in my thinking/writing cap for my camera.  I have a fear of failing, of no one liking or appreciating my work, or worse yet, someone telling me I need to give up and find something else to do, like waiting tables or standing at the deep fryer at McDonald’s.  Perhaps I have obsessive thoughts?  Who knows.

What I do like are lists (it’s a Virgo thing), and when I came across a list of “10 Creativity Killers,” from Crit365 I read it and could totally relate to things like 1.) Self-sabotage;  2.) Excess noise (unnecessary distractions); 3.) Deadlines and pressure; 4.) Burning out; 5.) Multitasking and lack of focus; 6.) Dried up knowledge; 7.) Procrastination;  8.) Thinking about (and obsessing over) the competition; 9.) Listening to miserable people; and, 10.) Financial insecurity.

Go check out the post in its entirety; it’s really good and offers some great, common-sense solutions to obliterate (or at least mitigate) the effects of these “creativity killers.”  These, and many others, can push you over the edge where you will find yourself in a full-blown creative slump.

As I was reflecting on the list and my own experience, I came to the conclusion that there were a couple more creativity killers that needed to be added, particularly from a photography standpoint, along with ways I’ve learned how to work through them.  Tell me what you think about these:

The Weather.

“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.”  ~Author Unknown

There is nothing worse than waking up on a day where I’m really excited about going out and shooting and I hear the weather forecast and/or look out the window…. some days it makes me want to crawl back into bed and try again the next day.  Excessive heat, whiplash-inducing winds, rain that precedes flood-level events, 3-4 feet of snow and extreme cold, all of these things can put a damper on my motivation to go out and shoot.  But I realize that the weather shouldn’t hold me back, and I don’t like the idea of being a wuss, so I out on my big girl panties, lace up my boots, zip up my parka or lather on my sunscreen or whatever, and get out there and do what I have to do anyway.  And after a while, the weather becomes a non-factor, especially when I find that zone of zen-like calm, and the shots come to me like milkshakes drawing boys to the yard.  Besides, I don’t have control over the weather anyway.  Perhaps I was one of those National Geographic photographers in a past life,  I don’t know.  What makes it all worthwhile is going out in 100-degree heat (or extreme cold or whatever) and getting good images and overcoming the overwhelming need to make excuses about things I can’t control.


Not That Tired (loynon07) Tags: notes quotes tired emotionsLack of Sleep and Other Health Challenges.  There’s a myth going around that highly creative people are like Energizer Bunnies and can produce quality work on demand.  We can burn the candle at both ends, on little sleep, no exercise and a diet of candy bars, Red Bull and cigarettes.  What a bunch of crock.  Insomnia, poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are creative killers that will sap the life force from your brain and your spirit.  The solution:  Make it a point to get a good night’s sleep (every night); make sure to eat better and drink water, and try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 days a week, if it’s nothing more than walking at a brisk pace.  Not only will you begin to feel better and have more stamina, but your brain will thank you in the form of generating new ideas for how to take whatever you do to a new level.  I struggle with insomnia from time to time, but since I began taking charge of my physical well-being I’m pleased to report that my bouts of insomnia have plummeted, and my stamina has improved tremendously to the point where I can walk around for 8-10 hours on days when I go out shooting.  My joints don’t ache and all of my senses are on full power, which is important for creative expression. I can’t stress the importance of taking care of your health enough.

Camera Envy.  Ken Rockwell said, “Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster or more convenient for you to get the results you need.”  Your Camera Does Not Matter, 2005


This is in a way, related to the creativity killer of “thinking about the competition,” but for me, it goes deeper than that.  I bought my first DSLR camera last year thinking I was the ish, and I quickly found out that my little camera wasn’t much compared to the higher end prosumer models (and let’s not even talk about the models the pros use).  And let’s not even go into discussing lenses and the other requisite bells and whistles that a lot of photogs like to brag about in different corners of the Internet.  When I slip into camera envy mode, I have to remind myself that my camera situation is not that bad, and I should really appreciate what I have.  One of my sisters in photography wrote a really good post that speaks to this very issue.  

So, in the face of occasional bouts of camera envy, I have learned, with a little self-love talk and listening to people I trust, that it’s not about the camera I use, it’s really about my ability to see the world in ways that other people can’t.  Furthermore, it’s about appreciating my talents and recognizing that I’m very blessed to have a chance to do what I love.  Many people just don’t have that opportunity.

Nothing is worse that facing down a “creativity killer” and losing to the point where you find yourself in a deep creative slump.  Sometimes the loss is temporary and steps can be taken to turn a loss into a win with a little work and encouragement.  Slumps do come to an end you know.

There is no greater feeling than staring a creativity killer in the face and telling it that, although it may bend us, take us out the game for a moment, it will never break us down to the point where we lose all desire to be in the game at all.  The bottom line is that if we really love our creative selves, we will find inspiration in the most unlikely of places to overcome any creative killer sent to destroy our spirit.

Keep being inspired, and if you’re so inclined, leave me a comment or a private message on your strategies for overcoming creative slumps.

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