After you’ve just read an engrossing book, listened to an engaging album, viewed a thoughtful film, or gazed upon a insightful painting, have you ever wondered what inspired the artist while they were involved in the midst of the creating those works? Inspiration , unlike lightning strikes, can be self-generated, focused, and controlled.
What is inspiration? It is simply that which moves you intellectually, or emotionally. Inspiration is the thing that makes you ask why something happened, and how will it impact you, or those around you. Inspiration is the need to share the story of how the protagonist overcame what seemed like overwhelming odds, and it is the source of the nagging question: What would happen if I did something this way, instead of that way? Asking questions and seeking answers is the source of creative inspiration.
Getting the Creativity Rolling
As someone who has created his fair share of music, writing, and even a small film once, I can attest that inspiration truly can come from anywhere and everywhere. If you’ve watched an episode of Law and Order, or CSI, you may have noticed that the stories are often adapted from news events that occurred in real life. Adapting elements from a crime that is particularly insidious, or particularly timely due to the nature of the crime, is a common technique employed by many a mystery writer, as well as many other artists in other mediums.
When I write something, be it fiction or non-fiction, I often use props to assist my imagination and help propel me emotionally deeper into the scene in which I am trying relate. I could imagine a painful moment between two people during medical care, or I could visit a care facility and quietly observe that pain up close and let it seep into my senses. I could write quietly, with nothing more than the hum of my computer’s fan spinning in the background, or I can choose to listen to a selection from a musical score that I know from previous experience will place me into the emotional state that I am convinced is at the heart of the scene I am about to write.
If I find myself firmly stuck while in the midst of creating a new song, or the first draft of an article, and I cannot seem to force myself out of my creative block, I’ll quite often take a break and do something else for a bit. In my case, if I want to keep my focus, I find that taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood will often do the trick. Sometimes, in order to manipulate my mood I’ll move my location while writing. Instead of writing from the quiet solitude of my home, or office, I might relocate briefly to a busy coffee shop, bookstore, or public library. I find that the pattern interrupt can often get my creative juices flowing again.
And of course, consume everything that is creative around you! Look beyond the surface of the painting, beyond just the lyrics, the catchy tune, and really try to hear, see, and understand the cultural references and complexity that inspired the artist who created the work. Seeing others express something elegantly through art can serve as a powerful source of inspiration for creating your own interpretation of that feeling, mood, or genre.
Keeping Yourself In the Creative Groove
Once I am in my creative groove, I try to stay in the groove by allocating the proper amount of time for my work so that I don’t feel rushed. Creating consistently is the key. If I think it might take a half an hour or an hour to write a draft of something, I try to allocate myself two hours, so that I can have moments to constructively daydream. Rushing the creative process can generate stress and tension, which are both antithetical to keeping one in a creative groove. I can always cut my time short if I finish early, but I cannot create more time if I didn’t adequately make room for the process among all of the other countless domestic and work items that require completion as well. If I am working on a project that will take multiple days, or even weeks, I will occasionally keep myself in the groove by consistently eating the same lunch, and drink the same beverages while working on the project. The idea is that once you’ve got yourself in the groove that like a bicycle that is cruising downhill, to merely steer and occasionally pedal, not to radically swerve all over the place, and pump the pedals madly at irregular times. I find that if I eat and drink the same things while in my creative groove, I can keep a bit of a certain emotional intensity and stability. For me this has not been as effective while working on projects that are months in length, as It impacts my diet too much, but keep in mind that this technique is proven, and has been used by some of the world’s master creators.
Michael Crichton revealed in an interview conducted by the readers of The Independent, in August, 2003, that he used this technique all the time while writing his bestselling novels. “It tends to be whatever I eat on the day I really lock in and begin work in earnest.” said Crichton. “I repeat that meal thereafter. At least, I do most days. It can be anything. The worst was while I was writing Congo – open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. I gained 25 lbs by the time the book was finished. ” If you’ve ever wondered what his diet was while he wrote the iconic novel, Jurassic Park? Turns out it was sushi!
Another technique I often employ is to work on multiple projects simultaneously. When I’m stuck on my nonfiction article, sometimes I’ll intentionally change gears and work on some fiction for awhile, or practice my percussion, or create new tracks in my music software, or even remix another artist’s song. Doing each of these activities uses a different area of the brain, so it sometimes allows the nonfiction part of my brain respite and the ability to marinate the idea in the background while I can keep my productivity up by moving forward on something else. The danger with this technique is that it can become quite easy to overburden one’s time schedule, and keep far too many plates spinning at the same time, which means that you may find that you are unable to complete anything! Except for having a complete creative block, nothing is worse than feeling like I’m moving forward on a number of creative projects at a snail’s pace, but feeling unable to actually finish anything, which is why I am suggesting this final bit of creative advice; apply reasonable deadlines to a project, even if you aren’t required to do so.
If I commit to myself that I will finish a certain project by a certain timeframe, and then reasonably allocate the time in my schedule to meet that goal, I find that it is often easier to justify and motivate my creative impulses to go to work when I want them to. There is something about knowing that a project, or part of one, needs to be completed by a certain time and date that can really get the juices flowing. Too much pressure can stifle the process, but so can having an endless open-ended creative process. Remember, if you are creating something primarily for yourself and your friends, you don’t have to share this internal deadline with anyone. If you find that you’ve made some progress, but will be unable to meet the deadline to finish, then you can simply move the deadline once more, if you need to. Knowing that you finished somethin, even if it is just one stage of a larger project, will lead to further confidence and relaxation, which will make it easier to be creative. The point is not to create too much pressure, and overwhelm yourself with expectation, and yet give the project enough importance, that completing it, or at least a stage of it, feels like a reward in itself. Not having a deadline can result in a series of chronic procrastination, which can lead to a diminished passion for the project. The result is an empty portfolio.
These are the things inspire me during my creative process. What inspires you? If you have different things that work for you, I would be very interested in learning about them!