13 Questions to Ask When Your Artistic Career Is in a Rut

What could be more discouraging to a writer, painter, ballet dancer, actor, or composer who is striving to survive and wishes to excel in their craft than to realize that she’s not nearly as successful as she would like and may never be more successful than she has been in the past?  This post looks at the situation of a writer. But the ideas and approaches are just as useful for people in other arts.

Face of woman thhinkingAndrea, a friend—“Andy”–seemed to reach her peak when she had two short stories published in prestigious literary journals at twenty-four and a novel that sold moderately well at twenty-eight. She didn’t think then it would be her peak, but assumed it was a preview of other successes soon to come. But they haven’t come and she’s been wondering what’s wrong with her.

She’s frustrated and anxious because she knows—she can feel—that she has potentials in her that are waiting to be expressed. But there she is, at a standstill at the age of thirty-three  She asks herself privately what she won’t ask in public: “Is this as good as I’ll ever be, experiencing only those three successes?”

But she is not beaten. She hasn’t quit writing as she’s seen so many other once-hopeful writers do. She’ll try to find out what’s wrong and correct the problems she identifies. She’s already on the Car stuck in the snowpath to solving the problem by admitting she’s found herself on a performance plateau—in a performance rut.

She realizes that what she needs now are new ideas, new approaches. Being an intelligent woman, she begins problem-solving by trying to understand the problem. She’s a believer in cause-and-effect and starts with the effect: she’s stuck in the mud. She is not giving up trying to improve and achieve greater success as many writers would in her position. But she is not as successful as she would like to be.

She noodles the problem and takes a frank look at herself. She asks:

  1. Do I have the skills I’ll need to be the writer I want to be? If not, what specific skills should I develop and refine, and how can I acquire them? In each art there is a finite number of basic skills that the person MUST possess if they are to excel.
  2. Do I have sufficient knowledge of my art–making it, sustaining it, and marketing it? Over the long run, superior achievement depends on superior knowledge.
  3. Do I have enough talent, that recognizable flair that underlies a good creatives’ life and their every quality work?
  4. Am I working hard enough? If you study successful people in the arts you will almost always find that they were prodigious workers from the beginning of their careers to the end. Or am I working too hard and burning out (not getting enough sleep and relaxation)?
  5. What are the main goals I’m trying to reach? Are they the right goals and are they difficult as goals are supposed to be, or are they too difficult for me? Goals should be “moderately” difficult–not too easy and not impossibly hard. What exactly are my goals? Andy decides her main goal is not necessarily to “excel” and it is not to be “successful,” but to write as well as she’s able. She feels that if she does that, success will follow. A basic question she asks is: am I pursuing goals at all or am I feeling nervous and drifting?
  6. Am I powerfully motivated to succeed as an artist? Or have I lost my zest? If so, how can I get it back?
  7. Am I able to focus my attention on my work like a narrow beam of bright light or do I have too many irons in the fire? What can I eliminate?
  8. Am I one of the 15% action-oriented, decisive creatives who make up their mind, take the initiative, and make things happen, or one of the other 85% who delay, postpone, and wait for things to happen?
  9. How confident an artist am I, ranging from “not very confident” to ‘”exceptionally confident?” These are the indicators of success in the arts: a desire to succeed, skill, resilience, and confidence. Artists fail more because they lack confidence than because they lack skill.
  10. Am I getting specific, helpful, and honest feedback regularly? Have I made arrangements to do that?
  11. When I meet setbacks and disappointments, am I discouraged, or do I persevere? Do I sink my teeth into my objectives and never let go?
  12. Do I know how to overcome creative obstacles–am I good at analyzing problem and impediments in my way and finding solutions?
  13. Everyone needs encouragement, particularly when their career is dead in the water. Andy asks, whom will I turn to when I need encouragement?

Answering those questions helps Andy dig out of creative ruts she finds herself in from time to time. First thing, she sits down and compares her successful works with her current work and Pink shovel in grey dirtdecides they are different. The earlier work was simpler and more heart-felt and sincere. She  realizes that she has fallen into a trap of “showing off”–of trying to impress readers with what a good writer she is and how brilliant she is rather than in telling a story in a simple, direct, “Here’s my work, take it or leave it”  style.

Andy decides that a big problem usually in recent years has been poor motivation and a lack of confidence because she is so discouraged. She feels that she hasn’t lost her talent and that she is still a good writer and realizes that one or more successes will increase her confidence immensely.  Also, she’s not good at concentrating on work. She wastes a lot of time, including moping. She remembers reading a post I wrote about “programming” to increase productivity. She liked it and plans to re-read it and take steps to become a more efficient writer.

Andy feels that if her concentration improves and she absorbs herself in her work, she will become more excited about it, her motivation will climb, and she will complete more works. Her mother is Andy’s biggest supporter in times of disappointment and discouragement.  Her mother inspires her. Andy plans to talk to her more often.

Woman in aqua sweater writing in a bookShe also plans to read biographies and autobiographies of writers living and dead who will inspire her.

She is aware that one reason she hasn’t had successes recently is that she doesn’t submit enough of her work to magazines and publishers. She has become afraid of failure. Overcoming her fear and submitting more will increase her chances of being published, so she will do that too.

Thinking carefully about the answers to these 13 questions sets Andy on a path out of her rut and on to future successes. Perhaps these questions can be useful to you as well.


© 2020 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Advice, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Performance Rut, Persistence, Success, The Creative Process, The Writer's Path

9 responses to “13 Questions to Ask When Your Artistic Career Is in a Rut

  1. Excellent questions to get me thinking, David. I want to work on too many projects. I have a focus problem. I’ve switched gears this week to once again work toward publishing the 174 local history columns I wrote for a local newspaper (2006-2012) plus my research notes for the columns I didn’t get to write because the newspaper ceased publication. My interest in this project has been rekindled. I had 292 pages formatted for CreateSpace, but Amazon KPD absorbed CreateSpace before I finished the book. Now, of course, the CreateSpace formatting is all for naught. Bummer! The story of my life seems to be that I do everything twice. LOL! Stay well.


    • Hi Janet. Good to hear from you. Annoying that your formatting work on your project was wasted, but your rekindled interest in the project will carry you through, I’m sure, to finishing the project and getting it published.

      Best wishes,


  2. Good morning David,

    Having read the questions carefully, my first response is to ask ‘What is success?’

    Or maybe I should describe what success means to me. As you know I am primarily a painter and a writer – I feel that both disciplines need the same sort of attention.

    Success for me means that an artist is able to work at their craft for their life span. For me that has been working since 1972 as a professional artist…not including art school which was a wonderful experience but I believe has nothing to do with the ultimate success of an artist. It is like a taster before a big banquet……at best it excites, stimulates and inspires….but the real work doesn’t begin until one is outside of the art school walls.

    It doesn’t take too long for most artists to learn that there will always be peaks and valleys in terms of work output and quality of work. That living a life of ‘feast or famine’ must be accepted, unless of course there is some wealthy benefactor in the background….certainly not in my case:). Which means that we artists have to find creative ways to make our livings…I could run off the list of things I have done, starting with the obvious, teaching in many different ways, mural painting, demonstrations, commissions, portrait painting, and more – all of this while working on series of works for me!.

    The key is that one must want this more than anything else…..Nothing can be allowed to get in the way, which is why I believe relationships for artists are very difficult. I do see long suffering partners of artists who keep their artist partner afloat financially and in every other way….but that wouldn’t work for me either. It would remove my creative freedom.

    Encouragement is wonderful but ultimately it is all down to the artist to perform. and do the work. Encouragement is a blob of nice icing on the cake.

    Focus is key…and we all need time and space to focus. Space can be a small studio but it is a space that is sacred to your thinking and working process.

    Keeping a routine is key for me and understanding one’s body rhythms….and living by them. All these things take time -meanwhile we work and experiment.

    Thank you David for getting my thinking juices flowing….Janet :)x


    • Dear Janet,
      It does not take much for me to get your thinking juices going. I think they are ready all the time to go into action.

      I’ve found in myself–and I think you have in yourself–that a benefit of long practice and varied experiences creating work, that the valleys are fewer and fewer and the peaks much more frequent; in fact, the peaks occur almost all the time. I don’t think it is possible for you to do bad work anymore. Everything is good and professional. I’ve found that in my writing. The work might stink at the start, but by the time you finish it, it has become good Weight Reed or Rogers quality. That’s the result of endlessly renewed effort and a drive it is too late to resist.

      Thank you for your thoughts. I think they will be meaningful to anyone who comes upon them.

      Lovely day here; sun shining brightly. I hope you have a lovely day too.


  3. Thanks for this mindful post, David. These are good questions. It is important that we always ask ourselves questions to understand what we do and why. Although I do mean *questions* not self-doubt.
    Have a wonderful new week. Hugs on the wing.


    • Thank you Tegan. True, self-doubt can be harmful to anyone in any field, but especially those who are trying to create something oroginal.A little is not harmful,but too much is debilitating. Most of us need all the self-confidence we can muster. Stay well, dear friend.

      Liked by 1 person

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