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Working Out of a Creative Slump, Literally

Working Out of a Creative Slump, LiterallyMore often than not the advice I’m given when I hit a creative slump is to do more creative things. Make a collage. Write in my journal. Draw or doodle. Read a book or watch a movie. Find a new way to reorganize or rearrange my workspace.

But when I’m not feeling creative, creative fixes don’t sound appealing. The more things fail to sound appealing, the less I do and the bigger the slump. It seems like it will never end, and I start to wonder if maybe I’ve already had all my best ideas.

Hitting a creative block leaves us lost and bored. It can make us doubt our abilities, our choices and our livelihood. You just don’t feel like yourself. What’s more, we have a tendency to think it will go on forever, as if we’ve used up our last good idea, written our last song, composed our final poem. A sense of hopelessness creeps in that makes it even harder to find that spark.

When inspiration and imagination seem to have left me, I prefer to ground myself in something I can accomplish quickly and immediately: exercise. There is something about moving the body, whether that’s taking a walk or doing rigorous circuit training, that puts us in touch with our abilities. When I feel stuck, it’s time to get moving.

Of course, this doesn’t have to mean working out. You can fold laundry, do dishes, take out the garbage. The point is to focus on simple activities with reachable goals that don’t take a lot of thought.

The point isn’t necessarily to get the brightest idea to finally pop into your head; the point is to reinforce self-confidence. You can accomplish your goals. With patience and perseverance you’ll get through this slump. If at the end of the day you still don’t feel the creative juices flowing, at the very least you got some exercise and maybe even a few chores done. You can rest with a sense of accomplishment and wake tomorrow with a new sense of possibility.

Activity raises serotonin in the brain and enhances mood, according to this 2007 review of the literature published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience.

When I’m feeling particularly tired and uninspired, I get moving and feel as though I know who I am again. I feel capable, productive, and strong. It may not get the creative juices flowing immediately, but it helps to take the pressure off and brightens my mood. I feel I will get there, eventually.

New research in the journal Nature from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute suggests there may be a way to develop a drug that will trick fat cells into burning excess energy — an “exercise pill.” But I can’t imagine foregoing those 30-minute intervals that make me feel so adept and accomplished. There are few healthy activities that can enhance well-being so quickly and last. A pill can never give you a sense of achievement.

Getting into a creative rut can leave a person feeling defective or broken, and the less we do during that time the more we reinforce those misperceptions. Forward motion can bust those misconceived notions and prove creativity isn’t all dried up.

Working Out of a Creative Slump, Literally

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Working Out of a Creative Slump, Literally. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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