David Heinemeier Hansson

May 6, 2023

Escaping creative downturns

If I'm stuck in a creative downturn, there's usually only one remedy: keep going. That is, accept the downturn, but continue to stare at the computer, waiting for it to pass. While staring at the computer, there's room for menial and managerial tasks put aside during more inspired times. Checking up on things, getting back to people, and reading copious amount of internet. But it's still a creative deadzone.

Then the curse is usually broken when I'm sufficiently bored with the menial, the managerial, and the internet. That's the moment the creativity returns. When all the distractions have been drained of their doldrum. When there is literally nothing better to do than open the editor and code. 

I usually hit these downturns after a dopamine high, like one propelled by a particularly intense creative period. From working fervently on an idea, seeing it bloom, and then feeling the release of summer. As if fall must follow the flowers. As if the creative juices really are juices, and you can chug the jug. 

But it can also happen after being out of the routine for too long. Maybe a particularly bad streak of weeks filled with meetings or travel. Like the mind has to settle back into a comfortable groove before sprouting again.

I used to be more impatient with this oscillating process. Overly eager to get back riding high again. But as I've grown older, I've come to terms with the fact that it can't be eternal sunshine in the productive mind. You need to let weather pass. The grey, wet days of today soak the soil for the sun of tomorrow.

Complaining about the rain won't do you any good, anyway. Don't argue with nature. Just wait. It'll be bright before you know it.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.