What Inspires You?
We’ve all heard the cliché advice to go follow your inspiration and see where it leads you. But what if pretty much nothing is inspiring you right now...and you just don’t seem to care?
Every artist, musician, writer and creative person in general, go through periods of apathy. It’s like you’re on the couch with a glass of wine and the remote control is wayyyyy over there and you just don’t feel like getting up. Anyway, ‘Friends‘ is on and you haven’t seen this episode in at least a week.
From both direct personal experience and from the zillion books on creativity that I’ve read, there are two basic pieces of advice that work. So, without any sugar coating, finding inspiration boils down to this:
Be creative. No matter what.
1. Oh, you don’t feel like being creative today? That’s nice, get up your lazy ass up and do it anyway.
There’s a lot of Creative Coaches and professional creatives who have, and encourage others to maintain a daily practice. This works quite well because it takes your lame excuses and over-thinking out of the equation.
Author Julia Cameron wrote, “Writing is like breathing, it's possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.”
In case you didn’t catch it the first time, it’s the “no matter what” that is the part to pay attention to.
I know how difficult it can be to pick up a paintbrush or dust off the piano. Recently I’ve been going through this thing where I don’t at all feel like painting. To be honest, that's hard to admit.
I have a lot of very valid excuses of course. I’ve had some crazy hard things going on with my parents and we've been working on some DIY home renovation projects. Of course, just being a father and husband also deservedly take up a lot of my time.
I’ve also been planting seeds that may someday blossom to diversify my income streams. These little seedlings include the Podcast that I do with Chelsea, and doing Creative Coaching. I love all of these new parts of my career and it's been a lot of fun to explore my creativity in other areas.
I’ve also still been writing my first book for what feels like a few decades but in reality, is closer to 3 1/2 years so far. My developmental editor tells me I'm almost there and reassures me that it's worth the wait. (yay!)
Quite frankly, going in this many directions for this long has me feeling like I'm running on fumes. As a consequence, I have been experiencing total burn out. However though, none of that is reason enough to take me away from my first love, my painting, but it has. I seem to have forgotten the “no matter what” part of my art practice. Until last night that is.
Getting back to creativity.
Basically, I was starting to annoy the piss out of myself. My inner-dialogue has been like living with an annoying roommate stuck in my head saying the same things over, and over.
I got tired of all the complaining and procrastination. So, after getting my kids to bed last night, I walked downstairs to my art studio in my pajamas. I’ve had this wooden panel sitting on my easel for a month now patiently waiting for me to come home.
And just like that…I was back !
Getting back in the zone.
I ritualistically set up my palette with paints and with the mood set, the paint started to fly. I didn’t return to my paints because I had some burst of inspiration. I picked up a paintbrush because I missed that magic feeling of connection. I just needed to find it again to prove to myself that it was still in me.
I seemed to have had artistic amnesia about how important that self-reflective time in front of the easel is. As soon as the under-painting started to take shape, I felt something within me come alive. That spark that set ablaze that obsessive need within me to see what comes next. That burning desire to see how this will turn out. I have to know now, no matter what.
Neil Gaiman wrote this about how important it is to keep up with your regular practice, “You have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.”
I did say there were two basic strategies to finding inspiration didn’t I ?
Here’s the second strategy to stay inspired.
Some folks like to get away…Take a holiday from the neighborhood.
2. It’s ok (and important) to escape once in a while.
When it comes to mastering the mechanical aspects of your creative medium, I think there’s truth to doing it as much as you can. There is a muscle memory aspect to playing the guitar and dancing and that whole “10,000 hour” rule.
However, on the other side of mechanical skills and academic know-how with being an artist, there are other very important parts of the equation. The mental and emotional side.
Yes, sure, I can say that I’ll paint everyday and if I did. If I did I’m sure that I’d be able to blend a bit better or have a few new tricks to add to my repertoire.
But would my paintings be more inspiring? Would they be more original and unique and overflowing with passion and fervor?
I think that we confuse ability with inspiration. They are not necessarily the same thing. We see singers all the time with immense talent on reality talent shows. Their vocal abilities are impressively fine tuned and they have what it takes to execute a song flawlessly, there is no overstating this.
However, are they inspired? Are they even creative? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Creativity is making up something new. Conjuring up something from nothing. If they’re singing someone else’s song, are they being creative? Are they inspired by some force greater than them to do what they do?
“Ability” is not the same as inspiration nor creativity.
This isn’t a good or bad thing, it just is.
For me, I’d prefer to view a Van Gogh or Gustav Klimt painting where proportions are way off and technique is rough and dare I say, a tad sloppy in some parts rather than a perfectly rendered realism painting.
Clearly, a good realist painter is talented and skilled beyond words, but if you’re copying exactly what is and not adding your creative flair, is that better?
Anyway, my point here is that I say creativity and inspiration are at a bare minimum at least as important as technique. Sometimes you just have to find or wait for those things, you can’t force it.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”.
When you’re not inspired, I think it’s better to just do something else for a bit. This is a great time to get those other things done on your list that have been weighing you down subconsciously.
Do something fun to lose you up. I’ve been taking time to get back to the rock climbing gym, get back on my yoga mat and playing guitar again.
For me, a little hiatus has served me well. I have been able to get some other parts of life taken care of. That kind of self-care has been fulfilling me and bringing me the inspiration and energy I needed to get back to painting.
What’s the best advice to find artistic inspiration?
I think a little of both. You need to nurture your skills regularly. You can’t ignore the importance of building up that muscle memory, so don’t go away too long on your vacation from creativity or you might forget how nice it feels to be there.
On the flip side though, don’t be a slave driver either. No one likes a pushy boss who won’t let you take a lunch break. Sometimes you need to just get away.
When I work with Artists as their Creative Coach, we diagnose what’s the biggest obstacles and find real strategies that work. In almost every case it’s beyond something you think it is.
It’s so hard to see the problems from within your own bubble. Especially when you’ve been away from your creativity for so long that you don’t even remember why it used to be important to you in the first place.
If you’re ready to work together, you can find out more about one-on-one Creative Coaching here.
What do you think? Everyone’s different, so I’d like to hear what works for you?
Leave your comments below.
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