How To Overcome a Creative Rut: Bookstagram Edition

by - 13 September

“Creativity takes courage. ” 
― Henri Matisse

For some time now, I have been feeling stuck with expressing myself creativly. Bookstagram is first and foremost a place of creativity and positivity for me, my escape into literature and connection to photography - and lately it has just not been in sync with how I felt. 

In situations like this I tend to go inward and stop engaging, but I started missing the bookish community more and more. That feeling of scrolling through your feed and being inspired by the talent around you, of taking pride in your photography and reinventing your platform, and simply of talking about books. 

So I put pen to paper and let all my thoughts on what I should do to get out of this creative rut bleed from ink to page. Here is what helped me most:

— Have an honest conversation with yourself —

For me, creative ruts might manifest themselves in "symptoms" (not creating anything, being the first), but underlying is always a larger issue. This can be a mental block, an unsolved question or a change I have not acknowledged yet. So, the first thing I did was a form of stream-of-consciousness writing:

Sit down with a pen and paper, and let your thoughts take over your hand. Ask yourself the questions that have been running through your mind. Answer them with the first thought that comes to you. It's a bit like when Harry Potter writes into the diary and it writes back - only less dangerous. It can be surprising what appears on the page before you!

I will put the conversation I had with myself at the end of this post for visualisation, but I wanted to stress that it is important for me to do this before all the other points. To identify the actual problem before trying to solve it. And as convenient as a list of suggestions can be, they will not help you long-term if you are not being honest with yourself about what is causing the rut you are in.

It might make you feel a little foolish or uncomfortable (in my case, those thoughts said 'really, all this over bookstagram??'), but you will see that your feelings, no matter how trivial they seem, are never foolish.

— Reset your perspective & respect your audience —

This is part of practicing honesty with yourself, but the correct perspective may be something more difficult to identify. Often I can get caught up in my own importance and have to remind myself that nobody cares about every little detail as I do. And in the end, it is not really about me.

Knowing and respecting your audience is a crucial part of being a content creator. They follow your work because they find value for themselves in it. In my case, I like to imagine that people follow me because reading is something they want in their lives, and my posts remind them of it. Be that with a book recommendation that sparks their interest, a shared feeling that touches a chord, or the reminder of how much good reading does you that we sometimes forget. Or simply the feeling of enjoying the energy of a person that comes through in their photos and words. Whatever the reason, I respect my followers enough that I know they do not care about what I create, as long as it is what feels true to me. And equally that when they do not feel a connection anymore, I respect them enough to acknowledge their truth, and equally respect myself not to change what I do because of them.

Maybe social media is "not that deep" at all, but however distant we may seem, we create relationships with those we interact with online, and a crucial part of every human connection is honesty. Lying to each other serves nobody. So don't create what you think people want to see, just to fill a certain standard or because it pleases the algorithm or is what everyone is doing. Trust that your followers want to see what you want to put out there. Nobody's opinion about how you express yourself should outweigh your own.

— Find inspiration, not imitation —

The most effective way for me to evolve creatively has been to collect images and posts I love, and find the common factor between them all. Clearly, trying these things yourself requires a certain amount of imitation, and it is of course crucial to say that you should not copy other people's work. Find your own spin on what you admire, see what works for you and what doesn't, and adapt what you enjoy to your own truth. See now why having the conversation with yourself at the beginning is so important?

A way I practice this is to save photos I enjoy in a folder on Instagram, or screenshot feeds I admire, and later take a moment to consider them next to each other. Is the vibe of the photos the same, their colour palette, or the set-ups they use? Good etiquette is to leave likes and comments during the selection process, support the creators and let people know they inspire you. Give inspiration credit under your photos and again, don't steal people's art.

— Focus on the individual photos rather than the feed —

This is something I really need to work on. The way Instagram is set up causes me to consider which photos look well next to each other, what the pattern of angles should be, and thus makes me doubt perfectly good photos that I end up not posting. It even influences how I take pictures, prioritising my feed in my mind, rather than making sure every photo is in itself what I want it to be.

Curating a cohesive feed can be fun and help structure your ideas, but I want to move away from the rigidity it can create, and stop limiting myself this way. I want to trust more in the creative process and that my personality and style come through in all my posts when I take them the way they feel right to me - rather than trying too hard to make them look uniform.

— Take "bad" pictures —

I sometimes feel almost paralysed by my own limitations, feeling the need to get it all right - the colour of my previously posted pictures, what props I had already used, and this angle looks exactly like that, and I cannot possibly have two similar photos next to each other... This thought carousel will stop me creating any content at all if I just can't get it right. What I hope will help is to take any photo, any at all, no matter how I feel about it, and then move forward from there. You just need to start, and especially when you are trying new things in your photography, the only way you will learn is through practice.

I am a believer in (though not a good practitioner of) confidence in imperfection. Even if the photo doesn't turn out exactly as you would have liked, you are now one step closer to achieving the vision you had in mind. The simple rule is that more you try, the better you will become.

— Trying new things —

This is an important thing in itself. If what you have been doing previously is no longer working for you, the only logical conclusion is to try something different. I have been very attached to my white theme that has been serving me well and taught me so much, but kind of knew for a long time that I had grown out of it. It was time for something new.

For bookstagram, it could be a new angle in your photos, different places and locations to shoot, trying out props you never used before, putting more or less items in a photo... whatever idea you have, just give it a go. Maybe a new editing app might help put a different spin on your photos, too. Personally, I have embraced darker colours, different lighting, and am using the Adobe Lightroom editing app for my new pictures.

— Take your time, and take breaks —

It's important to work through all the aspects you identified at first, and not expect yourself to adapt instantly to new phases in your creativity. I believe it gets easier to "reinvent" your work and get more comfortable with change, but as with all things, it is a matter of practice.

Recognise that you can only work in your own timeline, and that trying to force something is often what gets you stuck in the first place. Sometimes, all you can do is to remove yourself from a situation and return to it later with a fresh perspective.

It is important to remind yourself that you do not owe anyone productivity. Trust the process, and that you will find a way through every issue you are working on. Look how far you've come - you have never failed to find your way, and you will do so this time as well.

You know, maybe it really is not that deep after all.

I believe in you.


— My stream-of-consciousness conversation with myself —

"I feel stuck, trapped almost, by my own feed. My perfectionism is holding me back. I want my feed to reflect what reading is like for me, why I love it so much, and maybe what I fail to reflect is that it always changes. Books are not things of perfection, but of feeling. And somehow I lost that feeling in my photos. It's why I did not write blog posts for a long time. Somehow I lost my honesty and authenticity behind themes and posting schedules and statistics. None of these things are inherently bad, but they must return to tools I use, not borders that cage me. I must do what preserves my genuine thoughts and my creative freedom, above all else. Books and reading always change, and I want to have the courage to show that. Even when it challenges the limits I imposed on myself because I thought it was the right thing to do. Especially then. I don't want to give up deliberation, the intent and thought behing the images and words I create. I just don't want them to cage me anymore. I don't want to force things to fit together. I want to create them as they should be, as they feel right to me. And I believe that then they will find naturally how they fit together, after all. I feel that at a certain point, after you have some sort of "success" with your work - be that number of audience, readers, followers, likes, collaborations, whatever - you naturally seek to recreate what got you to this point. But what I failed to admit to myself is that was not a theme, certain props, colour schemes, angles and patterns. What got me to this point was my passion, imagination, and creativity. Sometimes I feel that these things are never stronger than when you feel like nobody is watching. Or, when you practice honesty with yourself and realise that whether few or many people are watching does not matter. I want to remind myself that comparison is the death of honesty. I want to be inspired, but always come back to myself. I want to stop worrying how I will be perceived - I cannot influence that. Ultimately, all any of us can really know is who we are, and find our ways to express it. And I realise that this has been my goal all along."

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