I’m convinced every creative person experiences inspiration differently. Some people’s imagination is sparked by visual stimulation that gets them reacting and making things in response, while others can take a walk outside and find the answers to all of their writer’s block there in the rustling of the trees and the howling of the wind. But however you encounter inspiration, there’s one truth I think we can all agree on: it’s a weird, ambiguous thing that’s both unpredictable and intangible.
For me, inspiration works in a flash – one moment my mind is utterly blank, and the next I am fully immersed in a creative idea. I can have an entire writing piece come into my head that just flows out onto the page. Sometimes I’ll even experience a conversation between two characters like they’re there with me. And my favorite form of inspiration is when I am inside it, daydreaming a full movie scene in my head. If I don’t take the time to write down these bright moments when they happen, they will dissolve back into the air as quickly as they came. Which is why I like to think of inspiration like I do dreams: you can remember them vividly when you first wake up, but if you let too much time go by without taking note, you’ll never be able to fully remember what made them so special.
In the past, I used to treat my inspiration exactly like I did my dreams, watching them as they passed by like a shooting star. In fact, I think I didn’t know until recently that it was inspiration I was even experiencing. It seemed so random and unexpected, and sometimes so unrelated to the project or idea I was currently working on, that I’d just ignore it. I’d get an idea, pay attention to it for a moment, and then immediately go back to what I was doing. The inspiring moments that stuck with me, that I could remember over and over, were the ones I actually acted on.
When I was young I didn’t realize how fleeting those ideas were, and how fragile they are. Inspiration gifts you with these amazing thoughts, visual pictures, and forms of expression, but if you don’t grab them when they’re there, they’ll be gone forever. Some people, like the brilliant writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, even believe the idea will float off to inspire someone else! It was only recently that I became more disciplined about writing ideas down and keeping track of them in notebooks and on scraps of paper. Sometimes I’ll just open a new document and begin writing whatever is coming out. That stream of consciousness is unique and special, and it should always be caught and cherished.
And like dreams, you can’t always control what your inspiration will manifest as. I am excited and interested in many things, but I honestly have no idea where some of my ideas come from. They sort of plop down in front of me as if from the sky above – a little gift without a note, just a pile of creative goodies that I don’t know what to do with. This has been happening a lot to me lately. I’m working on a series of short stories, and I’m just finding the oddest thing keeps happening. I have no intention of write science fiction, or anything like it, but I keep getting ideas for the genre. What makes it so strange, is I haven’t read any science fiction in a long time, and though I do like it, it’s not something I ever thought I’d work on myself. But the inspiration keeps coming, and it’s so unique and exciting that I can’t turn away from it. Which is really how inspiration works – you can either take the gems as they are, or let them float on by.
One thing is for certain, I can never control the timing of inspiration. In fact, it usually shows up at really inconvenient times, like when I’m talking to someone or completely drenched in the shower. I haven’t quite reached the point where I’m keeping a waterproof notebook in my bath, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Many people get their best ideas in the shower – the place where we allow our minds to wander, the relaxation inducing our greatest creative thoughts. But why don’t we have any control of when we’re inspired? I think it’s because our minds are stewing on a collection of creating thoughts, and then like an Easy-Bake Oven, pop out the idea perfectly baked together. It’s ready when it’s ready, and there’s nothing else you can do except wait.
Even with all the unpredictability of inspiration I feel lucky about how much of it I receive. I never run out of ideas, which is awesome, but surprisingly this is not always a blessing. Inspiration comes in so fast and hot that the new idea feels exhilarating, relevant and fresh, but when you’re already working on a creative project, it can be distracting. Sometimes I feel like that new idea is so good that I should abandon the other things I’m working on – which isn’t so great. And having a collection of half finished projects is not something you should aspire to. You can’t be ruled by your inspiration, and it’s important to recognize the difference between it and hard work. One will get you excited to start a project, but it wont hold you to complete it – that challenge is up to you.
It has taken me years to sort out how my inspiration works, writing down what I can and letting some things go when I don’t have the time, but I am so lucky to have it just the same.
How do you experience inspiration? Where do you come up with your best ideas?