February 1, 2016
What is inspiration? Where does it come from? Where does it go? (Where does it come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?)
Inspiration is a fickle thing. It’s so fleeting! It’s also difficult to define. Is it an overwhelming emotion? Is it a state of flow? What is it that compels the artist or writer or musician or activist to create and move others? How does it instill such passion? Let’s burst a few bubbles. Shall we?
If you are someone looking for inspiration, stop. If you only create when you feel inspired, you’re not a “creative” at all. Inspiration, or lack thereof, is a scapegoat used by the lazy and the amateurs. Inspiration is a crock. Let’s elaborate.
I have a goal. Many do. My goal is to become a successful writer. One step I’m taking to get there is to write two or more pages (~600+ words) each day. It’s not a golden ticket, but it’s a start. Whether I feel like it or not, every evening and most mornings I write – on something. Most days I’m worn out from other things going on, but I make time for it because it’s my goal to become great at this. That’s what you could call my “inspiration,” the desire to be great. Many others go through this same experience everyday.
If you think we only create when we feel particularly inspired, you’re wrong. I’m writing this piece specifically because I don’t feel inspired at all! In fact, most (if not all) successful creatives will say they worked on their craft even when they didn’t particularly feel like it. And they would strongly encourage others to do the same.
William Faulkner is credited with this beauty: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.” To be perfectly clear, he’s saying that creative inspiration is the act of, and commitment to, constantly working at your craft. Or rather, that inspiration does not exist in the way commonly thought of by dreamers.
What you know – what you’ve seen, what you’ve experienced, what you’ve heard, what you’ve learned all come together to help form your “inspiration.” You see a gorgeous sunset. It evokes a whirlwind of emotion deep within, and you’ve got to create. What you’re able to create from that is based on your experiences. It’s material you’ve gathered throughout your life, restructured and repurposed. The sunset is just a cue.
A creative is one who’s had enough relevant experiences and has practiced their craft enough so that everything becomes a cue. “Inspiration” is always a blink away. Inspiration is not a dreamy, ethereal state of creative genius, but rather a focusing of thoughts and reactions into something artful in which others can find value. Inspiration for the professional creative is not an emotion or fleeting state, but an intentional act.
Are you committed to creating, or do you use “inspiration” as a crutch?
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