Breaking Free of the "Creative Rut"

Courtesy of Max Monahan

It happens to everyone sooner or later: you hit a wall. In a few weeks, you'll barely remember the whole ordeal, but when you're staring at a blank piece of sheet music wondering where to start, the situation can seem pretty daunting. 

Wouldn't it be great if you could just do away with creative ruts and maximize your creative potential? I can't quite promise that, but this article will help you get out of your creative ruts faster. So read up and don't waste another second.

1. Talk to an old teacher
You're stuck in a rut, lost, you don't know which way to go. A great way to push yourself forward is to give an old teacher a call. You never know what sage advice may pop up for your benefit that you may not have been ready for previously.

Who better to give you pointers than the person who (maybe to a huge degree, or maybe just a bit) helped get you to where you are today? Chances are, they've been where you are now, and maybe they'll tell you about a time that they were stuck in a rut, but moved past it!

2. Go to a museum
It's no secret that the link between visual art and music is a strong one. Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Miles Davis, and Joni Mitchell are just a few musical legends who are also accomplished painters. A few years before his death, Miles Davis professed that visual art is "like therapy for me, and it keeps my mind occupied with something when I'm not playing music." When you're blocked up with music, and all the sounds have become contrived, art through other senses (I suppose primarily visual art, although sometimes a great meal can do the trick) can keep the constructive ideas flowing in your head.

It provides an enormous contrast and is relaxing in its own distinct way – completely different from music. As a physical piece, it exists in a completely different relationship with time. There's no time frame, it doesn't stop or start like music, and it just sits there for your pleasure. So give your ears a break, go to a museum, and learn something new.

3. Make a subtle change in your life
It's no joke that diversity is the spice of life. If your routine has you doing the exact same mundane tasks day in and day out, void of any kind of variation or change, you might want to spice it up. Artists get their inspiration in all different ways. You could get it from nature, meditation, other people, or other forms of art. If you're beating yourself over the head with the same old things, you're never going to grow – even if those things are really comfortable for you.

This is where it can get tricky. You've found a good thing, and if it's not broke, don't fix it, right? Well, artists don't exactly follow the crowd. You need to step out and choose the path less taken if you want to do something extraordinary.

But here's the cool thing: I'm not telling you to quit your job; your change can be as small as you want. I mean, hey, if it's possible to torture people with a drop of water, you can freshen your life just by talking a different walk, talking to someone new, going to a different restaurant, anything! Mix it up, and you'll thank yourself.

4. Read a book
Somewhere out in the creative spectrum lies the art of the written word. Books are things that are right in front of you, completely in your control for you to intake however and for however long you want.

On the other hand, books are to be interpreted in the mind much like music. They tell a story for you to weave together in your mind, quite unlike paintings, which generally wear their identity at face value. A good book can connect you to fulfilling feelings, much like a movie, but a movie is like a hybrid of a painting and a book. The book is the truest way for a story to be enjoyed by the recipient. Pick one up, and find out what I mean.

5. Go back to your roots
Art, new restaurants, good people, good books. I'm giving you a pretty sweet to-do list here, but this last one might just be the most fun. When you're stuck in a rut and wondering why you're even trying to accomplish something that seems impossible, think back to why you first picked up your instrument. Even better, remember the music that first drew you to the instrument.

Plug your nose and dive face first into nostalgia. If you haven't done it in a while and you find something really poignant, it may strike a very serious chord with you. Just a snippet of a song can send you into a whole other era of your life, with feelings from 15 years ago all rushing back at once. It's different for everyone, but if that's not inspiration, I don't know what is.

Max Monahan is a bassist and a writer living in Los Angeles. He spends his time working for an audio licensing website and shredding sweet bass riffs.