Are you a creative waiting for inspiration to arrive? Most likely you’re out of luck. Inspiration is fickle and lazy. It is far more reliable and rises to the occasion when you exercise it every day.
Why Waiting Doesn’t Work
Inspiration isn’t a spontaneous burst of an exciting original idea. Nor does inspiration mean you immediately get up and take action and create something. We can’t go out to the garden and pick the latest ripe fruits of inspiration. And there’s no department at the hardware store where you can pick up a batch of inspiration.
Why do we think that inspiration comes through inactivity? It probably goes back in history. The Greeks had their muses to pray to and get inspiration from. Perhaps it goes back to cave men’s tall tales told around the campfire. I think it comes from the emotional response we often have when we see an original idea displayed as a completed project. We think, wow, I would never have thought of that. With that thought, we transform the work the maker put into that creation into something mythic. Inspiration like that becomes an unattainable goal only reached by some sort of magic.
There are lots of writers who tell us inspiration is spontaneous, it comes without intention, and it’s transcendent. Well, yes, and no. Inspiration appears to be spontaneous when you don’t pay attention to how your creative brain works. In other words, you don’t know where that idea came from or why. Often, inspiration comes without intention, in that you hadn’t thought of that approach or idea before. And it can be transcendent.
Unfortunately, when you sit and wait for inspiration, it rarely happens. Inspiration is fickle and lazy unless you set up the right environment for it.
It isn’t Biological
Unlike hunger, inspiration isn’t a biological need. If you don’t eat, you get hungry. If you ignore that need, your hunger gets stronger and stronger and stronger until all you can think about is getting food. You go long enough without food and you’ll die. But when inspiration doesn’t happen spontaneously, there are no signals from your body that you are missing it. There’s no biological need to find it. Some say this is because inspiration isn’t natural. I say it’s because inspiration is lazy. It comes from our subconscious mind. And our subconscious mind only allocates the amount of energy needed to reach a goal (whether that’s a goal we’ve chosen or it’s a subconscious choice.)
Inspiration and Excitement aren’t Enough
We’ve all gotten an idea, gotten excited about it, maybe planned out all the steps to take it from idea to completed project. Then, the excitement passes and somehow we never get around to doing anything more about that idea. Why do we do that?
Excitement isn’t motivation. According to Merriam-Webster, when something excites us it is “a call to activity” or it arouses “an emotional response,” it “energizes.” But excitement’s energy is limited.
So, waiting around for inspiration—you aren’t putting any energy into it. It’s doubtful you’ll get energy or inspiration out. Waiting for inspiration your motivation, your drive is to maintain the wait. And wait.
Instead of waiting, rewire your brain and your habits to encourage and be ready for inspiration.
How Inspiration Works
According to “The scientific study of inspiration in the creative process: challenges and opportunities,” by Victoria C. Oleynick, et al., “Inspiration is a motivational state that compels individuals to bring ideas to fruition.” I disagree. Inspiration can happen without the motivation to complete the project.
Motivation is a stimulus, or influence, or incentive, or drive. When you combine the proper motivation with your inspiration, that incentive or drive keeps you going to complete the project. If you have a deep desire to be creative, that’s at least part of your motivation and where I think the study got confused.
I think this short video gives a much better explanation of how inspiration works.
So if you feel uninspired, how do you wake up your fickle and lazy inspirational muscles?
ReWire Your Brain
Stop thinking that inspiration is out of your control. There are ways you can cultivate inspiration and if you’re ready, you can pluck ideas like fruit off a tree.
Instead of creating an environment that waits and hopes for inspiration, set up a nurturing environment where inspiration can grow. Make certain your work area is pleasant, well lit, and has bits of inspiration around you. Bits of inspiration? You know, that piece of art that wows you or the photo that reminds you of a time great inspiration. Music, or figurines or toys or books, can be inspirational. Give it some thought. Maybe you’re inspired by a crowded and cozy office with overstuffed furniture. Or you might find a minimalist office to be best for you. Some studies suggest that the color blue inspires creativity . Maybe you find a rainbow of colors to be more inspirational.
Be mindful—everywhere and all the time. Observe people and creators and nature… By being mindful of what is happening, what sensory details exist, you’ll start noticing things you’ve never noticed before. You may have to practice. Go to a park, a museum, a coffee shop and take five minutes to be mindful. Don’t take notes during those five minutes, just be present. Take it all in. After the five minutes, record what you noticed. Writing it down or sketching it helps solidify the practice. It makes it easier to do the next time… and you’ll get better at noticing random details. Inspiration thrives on random details.
Recharge Your Curiosity
Did I mention inspiration thrives on details? Give yourself permission to do a deep dive into something that sparks your curiosity. Did you ever wonder how they make boards bend for curves or what some foreign country was like? Indulge your curiosity. Build your sense of wonder. I wonder if… If you are like me and can get lost following detail after detail like Alice followed the White Rabbit, use a timer to limit your “lost” time. True, the bit you indulge learning about today may not be today’s inspirational moment, but it’ll be sitting in that subconscious mind of yours waiting for the right mash up that will spark the next idea.
Practice Pie-in-the-Sky Thinking
Set time aside to dream the impossible. Consider even the most outlandish ideas. Force your lazy inspirational muscles to stretch and come up with new ways of thinking. The fantastic will open you up to possibilities. At first, this might feel as if you are wasting time. Don’t give in to the logical brain. Let that creative, imaginative, subconscious feed you crazy ideas. This teaches your subconscious that it can mash together things your logical brain wouldn’t dare. Record your crazy ideas. You never know when that crazy idea crashes into another and becomes the best inspiration you’ve ever had.
Find the Practice that Works
What you find inspirational won’t be exactly like what I find inspirational. I offered 13 ideas on how to be more imaginative in a previous post. Repeat after me. Inspiration is fickle and lazy, so I make it work for me.