Creative Life Truths: Inspiration is a Myth

Creative Life Truths: Inspiration is a Myth—Write RightA couple of days ago, someone asked me what I do to get inspired. I found the question a bit puzzling. “Get inspired”? It sounds as though inspiration comes on tap or can be pulled out of the ether.

Most people who work at their crafts for any amount of time know inspiration arrives in no such way. It doesn’t appear as some mysterious force whispering thoughts in the ear. If it comes, it usually enters the brain uninvited—the euphoric epiphany that inevitably occurs in the shower or car or in the dead of night.

Those moments of “inspiration,” though, result from accumulation. The brain works in secret, organizing, considering, and combining things. It pauses and proffers a suggestion. In other instances, someone else speaks, and the mind offers a related thought or responds in kind: “Yes, that’s it exactly!”

Of course, the mind loses those thoughts. The artist gets busy with the business of living and forgets the idea. Because of that, and because the mind can’t possibly keep track of all the details, the artist creates a commonplace book. She or he gathers quotes, images, and other items of interest. Sometimes, the artist perceives the germ of an idea. Other times, the artist simply collects and trusts the items to become useful at some point.

The artist studies, too. If inspiration comes through accumulation, the mind must constantly feed on good art. Jesus says what goes into a man’s mind and heart comes out in words and actions. He means right or wrong living, but his words could also apply to creative efforts.

Collecting and studying aren’t enough, though, to “get inspired.” Inspiration requires another step, the step of practice and paying attention, hard work and Jack London’s “club.” Luci Shaw puts the concept this way: “I knew experientially my powerlessness to make a creative moment like that happen. A tree can’t thrash its branches; it waits for the wind to move them. I can manufacture neither poems nor spiritual power, but my task is to be on the spot, watching, ready when they breeze picks up (emphasis added).”

Shaw may not be able to manufacture anything, but she doesn’t diddle around in hopes that inspiration will appear. A few sentences prior to the passage quoted above, she is found with her camera. She stands ready and takes shot after shot, attempting to capture the perfect moment.

I like her thought because it enjoins me with God in the work I do. I may not use such fine words as Shaw does — I fall more into the Jack London and “This is Sparta!” camps — but my spirit rejoices in being on the spot, watching, ready for when the breeze picks up. I get to work, and as I work, inspiration comes.

Image: See-ming Lee (Creative Commons)