ignoring inspiration and getting to work

The comments on my previous post about inspiration being the reward got me thinking some more. I described inspiration coming as a result of my work, which is not the usual definition. “Inspiration” is usually defined as the ideas that initiate the creativity. And I do experience this form of inspiration. But oddly enough, I have learned that following it is not a productive way for me to create art.

This regular sort of inspiration comes at me all the time. And if I let it, it can quickly become overwhelming. When I open myself up to inspiration, I get bombarded: ideas, plans, brainstorms come at me from every angle… to the point that I get nothing started. I spent years of my life wanting to be an artist, yet going nowhere because I could never settle on one thing. Drawing? Writing? Sculpting? Animation? Coding?? I dabbled with it all and never got off the ground.

The word “inspiration” comes from the Latin meaning “the act of breathing in”. And I found that the act of breathing in can often lead to hyperventilation — too much intake with no benefit. I have learned that if I want to accomplish anything, I need to quiet those voices of inspiration. I need to focus, limit myself, and slow my “breathing”. Once I started to do this, the art I so long desired started to come to me.

This is why for the past decade, I have created so many pictures of one seemingly limited subject: fallen leaves. This simple, “limited” subject has allowed me to quiet the flood of ideas that normally pour in. Focusing myself on one creative task, ignoring inspiration, has allowed me to settle down. To stop dreaming about being an artist, and to get to work and actually become one.

Now I have to admit, working this way is not as fun. It’s slow, hard work, often with little progress. You miss this thrill that comes from blindly following a burst of inspiration. But I know from experience that that thrill evaporates quickly, often leaving me stranded. So while ignoring those flushes of passion and just plugging away isn’t as romantic… my god, the results! The results may be slower to come by, but when they do, they are so much deeper and more real.

This is when the real inspiration hits. I’ll be working on a new leaf, plugging away for days or weeks, getting sick and tired of staring at this dried, decayed thing, when suddenly…. I notice some tiny thing. I feel a hit of adrenaline and look closer, barely breathing to not disturb anything. Yes, there it is! The adrenaline changes to excitement, and the excitement generates a flood of ideas. And, by working slow and being patient, I have found the real inspiration I was looking for.

P.S. I just notice a quote from Jack London that @rebeccalatham posted on Twitter:

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

Yep, that sounds about right.

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  1. Well said. I’ve had the same problem with too much inspiration, needing to shut it out and focus as you’ve described. I’ve always referred to it as turning down the volume, shutting out the noise.

  2. Great article! I linked your article from my blog as well. I know exactly what you mean!

  3. I think there’s something to be said for sticking to it..working at something daily and consistently. ‘Practice’. It becomes inspiring all unto itself. Beautifully written..wonderfully said. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts!!!

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