Overcoming Your Creative Plateau
I don’t know about you, but I love to learn new things. I enjoy the rush I get when the lightbulb turns on and I “get it.” But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten stuck at the “I get it” phase. I plateau. It’s like I want to want to get better but I feel like I just can’t move forward. It’s like I’m okay with being okay. As a creative person, plateauing can be especially frustrating because it leads to making a lot of really mediocre art and writing just okay songs. Enough is enough!
For the past few months, I’ve been exploring possible solutions to this problem and have found five principles that are helping me, and will hopefully help you overcome your creative plateau. Here they are:
It’s funny how discipline and consistency are often painted as opposing forces to creativity when they are, in fact, essential to it. All of the creativity podcasts, blogs, and self-help books I’ve read say the same thing: Consistency trumps talent. You could have potential to be the most amazing oboe player in the universe, but if you don’t practice consistently, you’ll only be okay. You could have the talent to write the next “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” but if you don’t write consistently, you’ll be songwriting at the mercy of divine inspiration—which occurs very rarely if at all. The great composer, Bach, wrote 1,128 compositions, Mozart wrote 600 songs, Emily Dickinson wrote 1,800 poems, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 152 sonnets…all the greats did great work consistently. So clear time in your schedule to practice, write, make, create, learn, and get better. Do a little every week and you’ll gradually work your way above the plateau.
Finish what you start
Ideas are super fun, starting a project is thrilling, but trying to finish a project is THE WORST! I can’t tell you how many half written songs, kids’ books, and paintings clutter up my hard drives and attic storage. I tend to excitedly start a project, hit a plateau, get frustrated that I can’t get the thing to look or sound right, get bored, give up, and move on to something new. But I’ve come to realize that the more I push past the frustration and finish the project, the better my work becomes. Finished projects are better than perfect projects. Finishing a small project brings a sense of accomplishment that helps push us to the next level in our work. So set some goals, push through to check those off your list, reflect on what you’ve learned, and feel the thrill of a level up.
Taking risks can be scary but nothing breaks through a plateau like a little out-of-the-box thinking. Trying new things changes our perspective. A new perspective breaks the autopilot thinking that causes us to plateau and allows us to learn with different eyes. So let’s get out of our comfort zones, soak in the freedom of failure, and be open to changing the way we see and learn things.
“We ought not only to do what is plainly before us, but also with holy ingenuity to search out various ways by which we may render fresh praises unto our God. His benefits are so many that we cannot number them, and our ways of acknowledging his bestowments ought to be varied and numerous in proportion. Each person should have his own peculiar mode of expressing gratitude. The Lord sends each one a special benefit, let each one enquire, "What shall I render? What form of service would be most becoming in me?" —The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon
Sleep on it
Honestly, sometimes we plateau because we’re tired. Too often we stress because we don’t feel like we’re getting good enough, fast enough. Sometimes we just need to take a break, step away from our work, and trust the grace of God at work in our lives.
Take a sabbath. Reflect on your art and yourself. Look at the big picture. Short-term worries tend to block us from long-term progress. So let those worries go, get some sleep, and fight for progress in the morning.
Hang out with the pros
I heard someone say, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Are you putting yourself around inspiring and like-minded individuals? Do they challenge you to be better? Do they teach you to think differently? If so, send them your work. If not, find those people. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re making with people who will give you honest and constructive criticism. Find a mentor. Listen to great music. Look at great art. Google your favorite band/artist/writer until your eyes hurt. Let other people teach you how to get better at what you do.
"Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men." - Proverbs 22:29