As one of my favourite writers, Jack London, famously put it: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club”.
Okay, I’ve got my club (pen). I’m ready (poised over blank paper). Angry face is on (twitching with caffeine). There’s a brilliant (vague) idea floating about up there on the tip of my brain. Great, I’ve got this! Oh, just one sec, gotta quickly do that thing… Almost forgot! It’ll just take a minute… Right, where was I? Wait, wha-? No! Which way did it go? Goddamnit, it was just there!
Get your running shoes on.
Inspiration can often feel elusive when actually, it’s anything but. Inspiration is all around us, all of the time. It may not be screaming at us but it’s definitely there. Think of inspiration as a beautiful and mischievous shape shifter that likes a game of ‘tag, you’re it’ or ‘catchy kissy’ if it’s really in the mood to tease. The thing we need to be better at is seeing it, running after it and slapping it with a high five or declaring our love for it. A story can be carved out of anything. If a writer claims to be suffering from a bout of writer’s block, they’ve actually just lost their motivation and misplaced their whittling tools. If you’ve been de-railed from inspiration, you’ve probably forgotten that the club is within the block. Try to remember this and get chiseling, stat!
Stay curious, stay busy.
Whilst we’re on motivational quotes, another pretty popular and talented bloke known as Picasso once declared that “Inspiration must find you working” and I believe this is an extremely valuable little mantra for any creative to keep at heart. It’s a common misconception, particularly for those new to any creative craft, to believe that inspiration strikes before you crack out your tools and get busy. Wrong. Your creativity is a muscle that must be worked and flexed just like any other part of yourself that you wish to keep pliable. It’s also common knowledge that we learn and improve by our mistakes. From a very young age we learn to function through trial and error. Ooh that fire looks interesting, I’ll touch it so I can better understand… Ow! Okay, fire hurts, I’ll not do that again… Inspiration comes with discovery and practise, it’s very essence is curiosity, so make sure that you’re staying curious and keeping busy – sometimes it’s good to burn your fingers.
Practise in pencil.
Creativity is a form of design and it demands prototype. Painters will first sketch in pencil, woodworkers will practise a joint or cut on a scrap piece, musicians will listen back before they record and so on. Writing is re-writing. Get your first draft down and go back and fine-tune later. It’s much easier to continue on somewhere if you have a starting point. You may end up discarding the flint that sparked the flame but, who cares? The important thing is you’ve begun and you can only move forward now.
TIP: If you’re on a roll with something, stop before you run out of steam. It will be so much easier to get the motor running again with a little fuel already in the tank the next time you sit down to it. If you’re sitting down to something fairly long form, take regular breaks before you need them. Just stop. Half way through a sentence, paragraph or scene. It really does help you pick up where you left off much faster than you would have otherwise.
If you’re really stuck, do nothing.
Now, I’ve come to discover that there are two ways to do nothing and they both involve distraction. There’s a pro-distraction method (not to be confused with it’s evil twin procrastination) and an anti-distraction method.
PRO-DISTRACTION: Why do you think people say they get ideas in the shower or when they are driving to work? It’s likely because they are focusing on a simple, routine task that they don’t need to think about too much, which in turn allows their mind to organically wander to other places. Writing or creating does not always happen when putting pen to paper. If you’re a creative, at the back of your mind you will always be creating and cultivating ideas. Stay relatively alert to this. Don’t press it, but be ready to take a mental note (or physically jot it down) when this occurs.
ANTI-DISTRACTION: Most of us lead extremely busy lives and have an unhealthy addiction to screens. Our brains are being continually spammed by information and we’re always striving to be in more than one place at a time. How often do you watch TV with your laptop on your knee or text whilst you’re talking to someone? Hmm. Do yourself a favour and take away all of the distractions around you to give your mind some breathing space. Put all screens out of sight and go for a walk, take a long bath or sit and just damn well be. Allow your mind a bit of peace and it will surely reward you. Consider this your muscle building between reps.
When attempting either of these methods the key is to avoid putting pressure on yourself. Don’t actively seek any thoughts at all, don’t have any expectations of yourself. You’ll either have some thoughts or you won’t, it’s an even bet. Not having any thoughts at all could in fact be even more helpful, it could clear space for your next thoughts to be more focussed. If you do have some, they may seem mundane or non-productive if they are irrelevant but that’s ok. The important thing is you’re putting yourself at ease. The best ideas tend to be born of this state of mind.
It’s closer than you think.
Inspiration is wholly personal and it can be found within your interests, passions and routines. The most important thing to remember is not to lose your drive. Determination is any creative or innovator’s best friend, find it and spend time with it. It gets results.