“Inspiration isn’t about output. Output is what you get when you work at unloading a ship or digging a ditch. Working in a cement factory or whaling centre gives one output. Constructing bridges gives one output. Being a poet isn’t about output.”
(Miss Iceland, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir)
Do you agree with that quote?
The words are spoken by a character in the novel I’m reading at the moment. He’s wracked with daily, handwringing guilt over the words he isn’t writing, because he doesn’t feel inspired enough.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend – the novel’s eponymous heroine – writes daily. She doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike; she just gets on with it.
It’s easy to feel that we need a fizzing bolt of creative lightning in order to write a book, compose a song, or paint on canvas. Those things are difficult… they take time, persistence, and huge helpings of mental energy. That’s why finding the right inspiration is so important.
I think the promise of inspiration smothers creative potential with a chloroform-soaked cloth, then lets it gently wither away.
For all the grand talk about sparkling starbursts of imagination and bright flashes of genius, the day-to-day business of creativity is about doggedly putting the hours in, just as you would for any other job.
It’s the secret no-one really talks about, because it’s much more compelling to hear about how Stephen King dreamed the entire plot of Misery as he dozed on a plane, or Michelangelo enthusing about how his sculptures formed themselves in marble as if by magic (“I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”)
But if there’s a vague idea for a creative project turning itself around in your brain now, ask yourself honestly: do you need inspiration, or do you just need to put in some time?
It’s OK if You Don’t Want to Create!
People often talk about one day writing a book, or starting a blog, or doing some painting, or making music.
If you talk about things like this, but you’re not actually doing them, why? Is there not enough time? Are you worried about not being the best?
Or is it that you don’t want to do the work?
Admitting that you don’t actually want to write a book, for example, can feel like a huge weight being lifted from your shoulders. Because, you know, not everybody has to write a book.
Contrary to what the self-help gurus and motivational quotes keep telling us, the universe isn’t holding its breath, waiting for us to share our stories. If, deep down, you like numbers more than words, or you prefer video games to oil painting, the universe won’t mind a bit.
(I once worked with a man who was an actual maths genius – he’d won awards and everything – but they made him miserable, because he didn’t want to be the “kind of person who’s good at maths.” He tried to write short stories instead, but he never got past the first paragraph of any of them. Rather than enjoying the process of writing, he just wanted to think of himself as someone who writes.)
If You Do Want to Create, Find a Way that Works for You
If the very idea of admitting you don’t want to create leaves you feeling angry and misunderstood, good!
Now you can get on with finding a way to create that works for you… with no flashes of inspiration required.
That could take the form of a strict schedule, with specific blocks of creative time added in, or letting a creative habit form by linking it with something you already do (James Clear calls this ‘habit stacking’ – an example could be linking half an hour of writing time with your first coffee of the morning.)
Remember that not only do you not have to be amazing at whatever it is you create, but that you probably won’t be, especially at first. But if you end up learning a lot, and loving the process anyway, you win.
In fact, you could say that actually doing the work is all the creative inspiration you’ll ever need.
(If you’d like some extra support on your writing journey, my private and free-to-join Facebook group The Writing Gym will help you flex your creative muscle in a safe and friendly space.
Oh, and if you’re interested, I also offer dedicated mentoring sessions for writing projects, mostly because they’re bloody hard. A bit of guidance and some words of encouragement from someone who’s been there and done that can go a long way.
And finally, I can even write the whole thing for you in your own style... and nobody else has to know!)
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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