9 Things To Do When You’re Feeling Stale

Being a professional creative might seem like the ultimate dream job for some–and for many of us it is. But it ain’t always easy. In fact, staying inspired is really hard work. I recently received the above tweet (to @chasejarvis) and it got me thinking. Here’s 9 things I’ve done over the course of my 10+ year career that have helped me overcome those times when uninspired or stale work invades:

1. Make a major life change.
For me, I was in a stale spot in 2005, unsure of what to do next, so we up-and-moved to Paris. It changed my work, my career, and my life. Moving might sound like a huge deal, but it doesn’t have to be. Try Berlin, New York, or anywhere on the planet that inspires or scares you. Things like this can be done cheaply – and once you put your mind to it, barriers just fall away. Inspiration points = 10.

2. Travel. This can take many forms depending on your budget and timeline, but the gist is to shake up your routine. I can be lots of long weekends regionally, or the other side of the globe. Don’t rely on your standard morning cereal to inspire you. Have fish soup for breakfast in Japan, baked beans in London, or a tuna fish sandwich on Route 66. Sleep in tent or a hostel, or a castle. Travel by train, foot, bike or rickshaw. Mix it up. Meet people.

3. Set the Camera Down. Give yourself a break. Live a life without your camera for a predetermined time frame – a month or two or three. For me, this made me miss shooting soo much. I noticed things in the world that I longed to photograph. And when I picked up that camera again, I was hungry.

4. Watch films. And I’m not necessarily referring to summer blockbusters. I mean track down some art films. Documentaries. Fantasies. Seek out your local art house cinema, or downloa some films that you’d not ordinarily put atop your list. Reach out to friends and colleagues for their most inspiring flicks. This will get your mind going both conceptually and visually.

5. Look inside. Deal with that stuff in your life that you’re not dealing with, or point a spotlight on those things in you that you know not what they are. Personal sacrifices…[click the 'continue reading' link below]

…and insights are a huge key to individual creativity and often bring out the best in who we are. These experiences can be humbling and challenging. Haven’t talked with your brother in 2 years because of that fight you guys had? Reach out. Not sure why you have an aversion to hard work, success or failure? Explore that. And let yourself experience those emotions, those pains, or those moments of clarity you find on that journey. Those things can drive incredible work in your creative self. What pictures could you take that no one else in the world could take? Those can only be found by looking inside. You want a “signature” style? That’s where you’ll find it.

6. Become a voracious reader. It seems like a cycle for me – when I read a lot I’m creative, and I’m creative when I read a lot. The material I’m reading matters a little, but generally I chow down on a steady diet of biographies of artists I admire, classic fiction, philosophy, books on cultivating creativity, and monthlies in design, obscure fashion rags, or inspiring foreign design magazines. Blogs too – especially ones that keep me guessing on their content – less how to and more ‘why’. Whatever your ‘thing’ is. Read about it.

7. Carry a sketchbook or an iPhone. All the times in my life when I’ve been on the creative rocketship have included a sketchbook as a part of my daily routine. I’ve never sat down and particularly drawn a ton, but I jot notes, make sketches, and take notice of things that inspire me. For me, this has really transformed into a role for my iPhone. The camera is my visual notebook – a snap here or there, a dissection of the visual vocabulary around me. I couldn’t live without it. Voice memos that I mail to myself in brief moments of inspiration, or notes I jot and send myself via email. Whether it’s a notebook or a handheld computer, the important thing is that you’re recording ideas, inspiration, emotions for later reconsideration.

8. Get healthy. There’s a longstanding tradition of artists in every culture being exceptionally unhealthy creatures. Complete overindulgence to the point of destruction. While I’m a strong advocate of experience, experimentation, and sometimes living loudly – I’ve found that for me these are ultimately best if they’re short term methods to blow off steam or to temporarily avoid what’s going on inside. Necessary evils I’d argue–but definitely not the key to creativity. I’m far more creative when I’m in a healthy place. Balanced, energized, alive, honed, exercising, taking time for myself, my friends, and my family.

9. Do something creative everyday as a practice. If you sit around waiting for the perfect inspiration, you’ll make a lot less stuff, and the stuff you do make will be of a lot lower quality because your skills will be in the gutter. Creativity can be fostered. There are neural pathways that you’re opening up, blood that your pumping around your brain. Again, enter my iphone. I post photos almost every single day (follow this on Twitter and Facebook). Some are great, quirky, unusual or evocative; others not so much. Banal. Purely experiential. Not everything you make will be great, but you’ll be more attuned to the things you make that are great, and you’ll have the wisdom to recognize those things that beg for more of your creative attention when they hit you like a freight train.


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101 Responses to 9 Things To Do When You’re Feeling Stale

  1. Christopher Hall August 18, 2009 at 8:21 am #

    What an excellent article! Thanks!

  2. Scott Webb August 18, 2009 at 8:21 am #

    Some great pointers. In short, I think it's great to do something you normally would never do. Make the effort to get up at 5am and go out and take pictures. Something so simple but you never make the time for.
    It can change your entire perspective 360 degrees and inspire you for months and months to come. Being mindful of these things is so important. Taking time to reflect can help bring these kind of moments of clarity too.

    My reading goes in amazing cycles and recently I've been inspired by a great person that has nothing to do with photography. Sometimes you have to look outside your niche. I'm trying to promote and review his work on my website to help other photographers.

    Again, great list and thanks for your commitment!

  3. Andy J Scott August 18, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Good tips… I've been thinking about moving across the country lately and think I'm going to have to go through with it before I got stale.

  4. Downtown Imagery August 18, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    Well said Chase,

    I think your ideas about travel and living are spot on. The world is there for seeing and living; we should take the chance and go see a part of it rather than watch it on the travel channel.

    Thanks for this post.

  5. Kyle Tunney August 18, 2009 at 8:28 am #

    Some great points there Chase! I've done almost all of these while only being 24 and shooting for a few years!

    Thanks,
    Kyle

  6. Jurgen August 18, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    No 3 would be a tough one for me. I did that once for a year. It was important for me to do it then. At the moment it would feel like torture not to photograph.

    Good challenge.

  7. Stephen Ip August 18, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Thanks Chase for another inspiring post. I especially find the tip about looking within yourself helpful. I notice often that I get into my creative ruts when I have other things in my life bringing me down. I'd like to learn to use these emotions to create work as well as those I feel when I'm in a better place.

  8. djs August 18, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    An addendum to #6 in my opinion (though it's not quite reading) is to buy photo books. Seeing the work of great photographers in 8×10 (or larger) pages instead of on screen has always been very inspiring to me. Same to going to going to museums to see photo and painting exhibitions!

  9. Anthony August 18, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    Definitely agree with what you say here. I am a big advocate for major life changes. For me, anything that gets me out of the routine of life tends to get my creative juices flowing!

    http://www.anthonygrimes.com

  10. Neil Corman August 18, 2009 at 9:10 am #

    Great list Chase. For me I have started posting iPhone pics as well on twitter and facebook and find this has been fun and also growing myself creatively as I am looking at things differently.

    The travel is interesting as I enjoy hitting the road, and have been looking at a road trip to take. This may help push me even more. Last time I traveled on my own with an extended trip some major changes happened in my life, so you never know when the the various points above will combine.

  11. Matthew Dutile August 18, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    Good read and great thoughts.

  12. SethT August 18, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    great post Chase. It's how I try to live every day. The challenge is huge and daunting (I know I'm preaching to the choir here), but the rewards are totally worth it.

  13. www.robhammerphotography.com August 18, 2009 at 9:47 am #

    awesome post man. It's very helpful to read stuff like that once in a while. thanks

  14. Crash Taylor August 18, 2009 at 9:47 am #

    That was one awesome blog post Chase!

    Crash Taylor

  15. Anna Jaye August 18, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    Really enjoyed this article. Thank you!

  16. ThatcherDorn August 18, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    Thanks Chase! Music also helps me a ton. I like to just really listen to the words and understand what the artist is saying.

  17. Joshua Mauldin August 18, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks for the article. Nice points, too! I'm a big fan of doing something creative every day, even if that something comes out looking bad. At least you tried and know how to improve on it next time.

  18. artmeripol.com August 18, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    i'm at the airport, headed out for three days of shooting. The constant changes in my day-to-day world continue to rock me, distracting me from the bottom line, making cool images. Yet, all those changes are a steady diet of my work process…the dread office. Getting out, getting away and then turning my head to creating again is very difficult but HAS to be done. Your work continues to inspire me. I have embraced my iPhone and find it's brought back the simple beginners joy of being a photographer. I only have to please myself with it, not a photo director/art director/editor etc.

    your list here will be reposted on my FB page for my fellow creatives who might not have seen it. Not all of it will apply to everyone, nor is all of it even possible. Still, there's something for everyone. Thank you Chase.

  19. my. August 18, 2009 at 10:15 am #

    Great post, Chase! I agree with every single one. Thanks!

  20. Sol Tamargo August 18, 2009 at 10:47 am #

    Been there…, it can be stressful to know that you are expected to be creative, some days i'm just not!.. I read a lot.. looove watching artsy movies, and reading cool blogs like yours, there is always something good for the mind or the soul.. gracias chase!

  21. Jeffrey Chapman August 18, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    This is sage advice. I highly recommend doing them all.

  22. Carl August 18, 2009 at 11:05 am #

    Great stuff! Sometimes it's difficult for me to convince myself to do some of these things, but whenever I do these things, my fire instantly reignites.

    A possible addition to the list: Keep vibrant, passionate people in your life, and make plenty of time for keeping company with them.

  23. Will Foster August 18, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    #4 films:

    "Night on earth"

    or

    "Brainstorm"

  24. Nathan Black August 18, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Hah, for me the major life changes were made for me. I was laid off from my comfortable day job about year ago. I've been working in bars to make ends meet and pushing my photography since.

    Now I'm taking the opportunity to travel. That JetBlue all you can fly for a month deal came along at just the right time in my life.

    I'm hitting the air for a month and making a travel log out of it. Wish me luck!

  25. Joshua Gunther August 18, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    Such awesome advice! I don't think you could have said it any better!

  26. snoop August 18, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    Great post Chase, just one thing I'd like to say something about is the iphone mention. This seems to be a ubiquitous mention on all photog blogs and I have a slight problem with it, simply because you are pushing the product by one manufacturer. It is not the only (or arguably even best) cameraphone out there, and even if it were it's a bit annoying to have one manufacturer's product shoved at you erpeatedly.

    Just venting. Carry on.

  27. Josh August 18, 2009 at 12:28 pm #

    Great post, but what I really like is the power of the twitter-blog combo. What would be great is if we heard back from the orig. twitter question asker.

  28. Eric Mehl August 18, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    Good ideas, being in a rut is a terrible feeling. And you can apply these things more conservatively too – if you just can't move or take a trip, I've found it useful just to change the daily routine.

    Small things can add up like going to a different coffee shop than usual, like Scott said to get up at a different time, stay out later, go to a neighborhood you haven't been to in a while or just take a different route to the places you have to go.

  29. Sean Austin August 18, 2009 at 12:49 pm #

    Eh, throw in sex and you'd have an even list of 10.

  30. Carl-Johan Rådström August 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm #

    Great blogpost! I'm using my Iphone to keep my inspiration going.

  31. SleeplessInKL August 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    i like #9 a lot. i find that having a phone camera with me all the time keeps my eyes open for photo opportunities all the time. although i always end up wishing i had my DSLR bec of the lag :) but yeah, it keeps the creative juices flowing (never mind if i'm just a photographer-wannabe and far from being a high-flying commercial photographer!).

  32. Ghislain August 18, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    All your ideas are pretty cool… but I guess you don't have any kids huh ? :) Not that easy when you have those littles angels with you! :)

  33. Pontus Höök August 18, 2009 at 7:59 pm #

    And that's the reason why I'm reading this blog. Inspiring.

  34. SleeplessInKL August 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    @Ghislain: Kids, aside from making a nice subject (if yr camera is fast enough), also provide a fresh perspective on things. When I start thinking like them, I see everything differently. We go for walks and see all sorts of "new" things by the roadside, some of which end up making cool subjects for photographs. (I got 5 of 'em!)

  35. Danie Nel August 18, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    Yup – these are great. Read Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way". That gets the creative juices going.

  36. Alex August 19, 2009 at 12:28 am #

    Wow, great list!

    Currently I'm doing no. 1, 6, 7 and 9. Yes I'm moving to Spain next week for 6-9 months. Hoping to get inspired!

  37. Amy Lynn August 19, 2009 at 4:51 am #

    nice stuff, definitely got my wheels turning

  38. car blog August 19, 2009 at 7:34 am #

    Nice stuff. What about going on a vacation?

  39. edhallphoto August 19, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    Those are great tips Chase, all of them right on track. I have put the camera down for the last 2 months and it has made me start to actually look at things closely and think about how I would photograph them if I did have my camera.

  40. Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    Very well said and making me think from the inside. Thanks. It is good to change it up once in a while for normal people! My problem, is that I change it to often and never tries the next step. Like, takin my photography from hobbist, amateur, to seriously doing it. But, as you say, I need to look inside and figure out what inspire me. Yeah, but when you want to do it all, photo, touchup, advertissement, creativity, web design, animator,… I get stuck at the same place all over again!

  41. Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 9:56 am #

    I needed this today…thanks.

  42. nik west August 19, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    Been feeling stale lately…great insights. Thanks.

  43. John Classen August 19, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    Chase,

    As usual, your blogs leave me with lots to think about and challenge me to do things differently.

    Well, I've done it, errr, am doing it. Shooting product can leave you wanting to slit your wrists some days, so instead of bitching and whining, I'm doing something about it.

    First off, I've LLC'd my company and am expanding to newer things. But secondly, I feel I must give back or rather, help people experience something different. As such, I am organizing a wildnerness safari to Africa in 2011 (I'm from there originally) and am contracting the services of a top photographer and guide to take a small group of 8.

    I won't give the address here, because I do not plan to use this as a means to advertise.

    I wanted to thank-you for helping me to see beyond the stale bucket.

    John

    PS. You wanna come? :)

  44. ali_rimmer August 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    As always, great post!! im studying over in new zealand and those tips will defiantly help me through the end of the year! Me and a few people from my class are taking a wee trip in the weekend to try get re inspired and to forget about the assignment s for a while :-)

    Cheers man, love your work!!!

  45. ThatcherDorn August 19, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    Check this out. And watch the Dope, Soap & Hope video (scroll down a bit to see it)

    http://www.zarias.com/

  46. Cynthia Wood August 19, 2009 at 11:10 pm #

    This is great advice, Chase, even though I already practice most of these things and haven't necessarily been feeling stale lately… (I've never thought to put them on a list, or even to put them in this context. So thanks for that.)

    But..is Apple paying you for endorsements or something? Because honestly, I've been carrying (and using) a small point-and-shoot camera with me everywhere I go for the past three years — i.e., since before the first iPhone came out in January 2007. It doesn't have to be an iPhone!! It can be ANY kind of camera that you would be inclined to carry with you at all times. Just sayin'.

  47. Greg August 19, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    Man really feel moving to Kuwait and eating some ice cream!!

  48. michalgarcia.com August 19, 2009 at 11:49 pm #

    I've been reading the ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography as per a video recommendation that you made and another business book about negotiation. Those aren't the most creative books in the world but the latter uses some creative examples and while I was swimming yesterday many great business ideas were flowing through my head.
    It also doesn't hurt my creativity traveling 'round Asia almost once a month. It's just so cheap to fly out of Hong KOng :-)
    Oh crap, I almost put #Hashtag# on that last sentence…too much twitter!
    Rocket Sauce.

  49. Jason August 20, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Chase,

    I agree with the reading part. As an avid reader, what are your top 10 books you have read in the last year or two?

  50. Nick Masters IKON XVI Photography August 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    Quite Ironic.. I'm planing on moving to Berlin in May for just this reason. Anyone have any tips on getting a visa – I know they used to offer an 'artist' or sole proprietor style visa if you could meet certain financial requirements but I have heard they amended that to non EU citizens several years back.

  51. Diego Lorenzo Jose August 23, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    I can suggest a 10th: Carry an iPod everywhere! Music can be great for fueling creativity.

    What're your favorite books, Chase?

    Diego

  52. Cate August 25, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    Great ideas. One more tip that I have done recently when I was in a "Photo Phunk" was to join a local camera club where there are monthly meetings and competitions. It keeps the creative juices flowing.

    Regards,
    Cate

  53. Andrew Woodhouse August 27, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    What a fantastic post, I agree that it's all too easy to fall into a creative rut especially if you do the same thing regularly. Great pointers and thanks for sharing them with us.

  54. Leowell Gonzales August 27, 2009 at 2:21 am #

    Hi Chase,

    What sort of creativity books would you recommend?

    Thank you.

    Leowell from Singapore

  55. M August 28, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    What a fantastic post, so glad you wrote your thoughts on this. I'm a data analyst by day and photographer at all other times and my day job really sucks the creativity out of me. These nine points will be a great help if for no other reason than to conciously make the decision to do something different to be inspired! Time to start the next chapter… All the best, Michael.

  56. R. J. Kern September 1, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    Great inspiration, Chase.

    A few guys and I had our own little iPhone photo contest to spice things up.

    Details (and results) here:

    http://www.kern-photo.com/index.php/2009/09/mobile-photo-contest-the-winner-and-looser/

  57. Sebastien D'Amour September 17, 2009 at 10:24 pm #

    I wanted to share an experience after reading this.

    Since I was looking at working on my style, artistic side. I decided to start a project call 25 600.

    I am pushing the ISO up to the limit and shooting images at night. It's pretty crazy to get 1/400s at night with a 2.8 lens.

    You can see some of the results here:

    http://sebmour.smugmug.com/gallery/8794167_Fb2yY/1/582270041_MZ2Bp

    Thanx for the great Blog Chase. It's fun to read you!

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