The Reality of the Slump (and maybe some new stuff?)

A month ago I whined about one of my most popular creations and then scuttled back into the corner. Today I added something new to Instagram for the first time in a very long while, yet it was a custom request. Yes, folks, this is definitely what a slump looks like.

I’d like to say that the cyclical nature of the creative burst is something you get used to, but it really isn’t. Everyone experiences the slump at one point or the other. The big takeaway is how you handle the slump. Do you just crawl into a deep dark hole and patiently wait for it to resolve itself, or do you do your damn homework and try to kickstart that process again?

I’ll be very real with you: I do a healthy mix of both.

For months on end it will be read, create, read, create. Other months, it’ll be read, read, read, create. Then there is where I’m at presently: read, read, read, meh.

I’m fine with it. This is fine. It happens and it will pass, but it’s something that happens to others and it seems nobody likes to talk about it. I like to talk about everything.

Sooo, I’m going to bore you with the tedium of what I’ve been doing to help rejuvenate my process and leave out the 65% of the time where I’m really just sitting on my ass drooling on myself.

One caveat: this appears to be working for me, it may not work for anyone else in the universe. A lot of it may sound very obvious and simplistic, but, then again, I’m not always the sharpest sandwich in the chicken coop. While my list below may look like an orderly way to approach things, it’s only in this particular order because of my brain spitting things out. Basically, there is no order to this process.

Pivot — I look at what I do, and what I’ve done, and I think about how I could do relatively the same thing with a different impact. My core work is a fantastic example of this. From the very beginning I knew that it would be damn rare for me to have evergreen items. To be super-realistic: how many decals does an average fan need? I am painfully aware that I defined my own max volume from day one. From that realization comes the pivot attempt: what else could I be doing (that isn’t that different) that would appease the fans in a similar way? That one was super hard, but I do have an end result that I’ll be unveiling soon (hopefully in the next two weeks) and I hope you all will like.

Do Something You Hate — Discomfort is a powerful motivator, and nothing motivates you more towards your happy place than doing something you’d rather not be doing. In my case, I really really dislike doing repetitive work that is just slightly different enough that it cannot be automated. Eons ago, I would achieve this task by doing bus schedule layouts. These days it’s whacking out sheet after sheet of core elements to my more complex designs. It’s mind-numbing, but can go so incredibly wrong if you aren’t paying attention.

Find Excitement — It seems like the most condescending bullshit approach that someone who doesn’t get your pain would say, but you have to believe it. I’d suggest trying something in a medium you’ve never played with before. I’ve been plotting some forays into this realm and I’m totally terrified. I’m going to attempt to concept something out that I’ve never seen before (probably for lack of looking too hard), but I am really hoping the result is a success. I’m excited about it, and that excitement lights up everything else.

Quit — Yep, it’s an option. It’s the most dangerous option, but it’s still an option. I bandy about this deepest of darkest wells every so often just to see if I’m serious about it. Sometimes I am and sometimes that’s the right answer. For me, my creative work is an escape from the very structured “there is a wrong answer” world, so I weigh the “quit” decision very carefully. To be honest, I’ve not entertained the idea of quitting for almost ten years. I know wonderful creatives who talk about it constantly, and that’s their knife’s edge of playing both sides that works for them. I have enough stress in my life.

So if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. I try not to rant too much, but sometimes it happens. I guess my unlisted process step is Throw it All Out There, and you’ve just gotten through one of those exercises. There will be new stuff soon: there absolutely has to be. I’m not quitting.

Justin Bowers

Justin is a purveyor of fine code, a collector of many many things, and a sympathetic reader. Aside from here, you can find his inane rantings on Twitter at @aquaphase or on Goodreads.

Justin can be reached here.