verbal croquis

how to bust out of a rut

Posted in advice by verbalcroquis on February 15, 2007

“Don’t force it,” my brain tells me. I tell my brain that it’s starting sound like that “If you build it, they will come” voice–benign, but annoying. My brain doesn’t like this and starts whispering all sorts of other insane stuff: You’ll never design another great collection again. You’re a hack. You’re plateauing, my friend, and it ain’t pretty. Just because you are physically able to be a designer doesn’t mean you should.

Insecurities seep in, your heart starts listening to your brain. You yell “shut up!” to your brain so loud, you almost say it out loud. Careful, or they’ll cart you away to the funny farm…

It’s MAGIC time, which means most designers are absorbing as much input from the currently selling collection right now, wringing their hands that their blood, sweat and tears will not be for nought, while trying to come up with the next collection. Sometimes it’s easy–you’re a designer because you’re so full of ideas, right? Right?

There will come a time when you feel “tapped out”. It happens to everyone. You know the lastest Dior Couture collection? The one everyone swooned over? Everyone was also buzzing over the fact that it was done in just six weeks. I’d put money on it that that was because Mr. Galliano, also being human and all, probably was stuck in a rut, panning bad idea after bad idea before he was able to knock out this collection. Trust me, no one decides they’re gonna put together a 45+ piece couture collection in six weeks just for kicks.

Sometimes ruts happen after a “bad” or “not selling” collection. You’re insecure now, you don’t trust your gut anymore. Sometimes you’re not feeling challenged anymore. This isn’t as fun as it used to be. You can’t remember a time when it was still fun. Your last collection rocked so hard, you’re afraid you won’t be able to beat it. Store X is finally paying attention to you–this just has to be the best collection ever.

So step 1 in how to get out of a rut? Let go of your ego. Quit thinking you’re special. What I mean by that is just acknowledge the fact that it happens to everyone, it’s definitely not the end of the world, calm down.

Step 2: Get a life. Or more specifically, get a life beyond what you know and are comfortable with. The geekerati have this term “the echo chamber”, where the entire tech blogosphere is writing about the same thing for a short period of time. My husband has told me on several occasions that he loves the fact that we work in unrelated fields so that we don’t create an echo chamber at home.

Dismantle your own echo chamber. Go drive or walk around an unfamiliar part of town. (Of course, be safe, do this with a small group of people or in broad daylight–you know what I mean.) Go observe a welding class. Take a class in something you’ve never studied before–chemistry, glass blowing, obscure French lit. Go hit up stores that you’ve never been in before–I stopped by this really cool store with saddle-making supplies yesterday. Go read things you’ve never read before–not necessarily fashion related. Read some fun “love and relationships” blogs, funky gadget blogs, go read up on the potential dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program. Get out of your own head and be a sympathetic ear to someone else’s problems. Throw a party–maybe the theme can be “The person with the costume that inspires my next collection gets a prize!”, although that can be pretty echo-chamber-y.

Step 3: Release some physical energy. When a deadline was looming before me in school, it would suddenly occur to me that my bathroom was “filthy”, and I would proceed to scrub every inch within it for the next two hours, often in the middle of the night. Pleased as punch with my spotless bathroom, I could concentrate on my flats. It may sound weird, but you’d be amazed at how many of my colleagues could relate to this story with their own versions. One would decide, at 3am, that she wasn’t going to have time to cook the rest of the week, so she needed to make a big stew to eat through the week. She chopped her vegetables vigorously, imagining her hated illustration teacher was her carrots. Or go get laid. Or go to the gym you keep meaning to go to when you “have more time”. I got so royally pissed I got a “C” on a particular project my freshman year, I took a kickboxing class. It was great.

Step 4: Do your chores. Take this time to emerge yourself in other aspects of your business. Never got a complete grasp on costsheets? Mastering Excel is a better use of your time than staring at blank pieces of paper, and it’s still doing something to benefit your company.  Take the time to pay your bills and analyze how much money you’re spending. Tinker with the pattern of that one dress you didn’t have time to get *just right* before tradeshow season. Return all those emails, clean your workspace, replenish your toolbin, go buy some more muslin, get your machine serviced. Ticking off items on your to-do list, no matter how small, gives one a feeling of accomplishment.

This post comes off the feeling of disappointment in myself in my last project. While I really appreciate everyone’s feedback, all I keep thinking about are all the little bad decisions I made along the way to create this tepid collection, so I guess I’m trying to motivate myself too. While these are not fool-proof tips (I’m a designer, not a motivational speaker), these tips have worked for me and for those I’ve told about this 4-step method. Take with a grain of salt, and I hope I can be of some help to at least one reader.


3 Responses to 'how to bust out of a rut'

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  1. Tudor said,

    Dear verbal croquis. My wife and I have just shared your blog. We sometimes enthuse a bit, and you had us both enthusing a great deal.
    Sue had just heard of the composer who lost his manuscript score after many weeks and when it was nearly finished. I said I remembered the three chapters of that book that hadn’t been backed up ….
    We try to do the ‘walk around a museum/Woolworths/zoo’ bit when possible. A German friend whips out his Teutonic collection of Black Forest and Techno FLICR images. He also found different cultures have different special places for creativity (Japanese get more ideas in the toilet – honest).
    One of my self-saying is ‘do it. Put it on paper. You can always do another after that’.

    Once we had a plastic globe (from Canada) with zillions of words in it which appeared on the lens of the globe when you turned the handles..

    Good luck and thanks for the ideas (we will be sending you post to friends)

    . Tudor and Susan

  2. Rebecca said,

    My brain tells me horrible things from time to time too. Lies.

    This post was timely for me, for reasons having nothing to do with fashion or creativity or anything:

    I have a tendency to get big in my own mind. – Step #1.

    I have also recently been way too absorbed in thoughts relating to things that are only marginally within my influence. – yeah, Step #2.

    And my bathroom is dirty – Steps #3 AND #4!

    Maybe you’re a little bit motivational speaker after all!

  3. […] I took vc’s advice on how to bust out of a rut and went to work on my blog chores today, AFTER puttering outside in the sunshine this afternoon. […]

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