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What To Do When You’re In A Rut

Here are 5 tips that’ll come in handy when you find yourself in a creative slump.

By Zach Collier

We’ve all been there: The creative juices stop flowing. The lightbulb burns out. You get writer’s block. Your muse takes an extended vacation. You’re stuck. Whatever expression you use, one thing is certain: you’re not writing new music any time soon.

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So what do you do? How do you claw your way out of this artistic hell hole and jumpstart your creative process again? Here are 5 tips that’ll come in handy when you find yourself in a creative slump.

1. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Thanks to social media, you no longer have to worry about comparing yourself to musicians in your scene. Instead, you have to worry about comparing yourself to every musician in the world, past and present, all at once. And you have numerical data to make that comparison extra soul-crushing.

Look: 99.9% of people in the world will never be as successful as Taylor Swift. Still, there are thousands and thousands of musicians who are able to make a good living from their music. This success comes from patience and persistence.

Instead of comparing yourself to everyone around you, compare yourself to yourself. Take a walk down memory lane. Look at old photos of yourself doing music from 5 years ago. Let yourself cringe at who you used to be. Then compare yourself then to where you are now. Once you’re through, write down an exciting (but reasonable) expectation of where you could be in 5 years and get to work obtaining that vision.

This is my first show ever. We’re at a coffee shop in Vancouver, Washington. I now know to bring a guitar strap, a tuner, and a pick to gigs instead of forgetting them at home.
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2. Practice Letting Go

Feel like everything you create isn’t as good as you imagined it would be? That’s because taste improves faster than skill. It takes a long time for muscle memory to set in.

Instead of killing yourself trying to perfect your live sound or your studio recordings, take a little break to create something in a medium you can’t control. Or set crazy limits that push you to try something new.

The 24 hour album is a perfect example of this. Give yourself 24 hours to create a new band name and write and record an entire album (no matter how good or bad) and release it in some form before time runs out. The end product won’t affect the image or quality of your main project, and you’ll walk away with an exciting story and some fresh new ideas.

3. Get to the Root of Procrastination

Procrastination is really just a form of fear. You procrastinate because you’re worried about the possible consequences of putting forth effort. Are you worried about people’s opinions? Are you worried about feeling like a failure? Maybe even becoming a success? Confronting these fears and learning how to recognize them when they creep in will make it easier to stop procrastinating.

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Now’s also an excellent time to put in a plug for therapy. It’s hard to be creative when you can’t even get out of bed to brush your teeth or get the mail. I’ve been there. If you’re struggling with severe depression or anxiety (as most artists do), it’s okay to get help.

4. Realize Your Next Jump Might Be Around the Corner

Do you feel stagnant? Like you’ve hit a plateau? Progress isn’t always linear. Sometimes your growth flatlines and you need to figure out how to kick things into a higher gear.

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Instead of grinding away doing the same old thing you’ve always done, take a break and spend your time having new experiences, making new connections, etc. Get involved in your community. Join a new side project. Take “more successful” musicians out to lunch and ask for advice.

Maybe when you’re looking back at your past (see step #1), ask yourself: What are some jumps that I took in the past? How did they come to me? Then try to replicate those experiences.

To quote Darren Hardy, publisher of SUCCESS magazine, remember: “Whatever I want in life, I’ve found that the best way to get it is to focus my energy on giving to others… If I want more success for myself, the fastest way to get it is to go about helping someone else obtain it.”

Alex Rainbird is a perfect example of an indie creator who has built a successful career by helping other creators.
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5. Be Patient

Success comes differently to everyone. Sometimes you’re in Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz signs you to his label. In a Del Taco. After you’ve played your first (and only) live show at a Mormon Stake Center in Las Vegas.

Other times you’re Charles Bradley, and you stick with music for decades until you get your big break at 65 and become a modern soul icon posthumously.

No matter which route your music takes you, you’ll never reach your goals at any point if you quit.

Creative slumps don’t last forever. Be kind to yourself.

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