“Inspiration” is a buzzword among creative types, especially now with the explosive popularity of Pinterest and Instagram. It’s a subject that rises to the top of most interviews with artists and writers: What inspires you? Where do you find inspiration? Where do you get your ideas? I love hearing the answers to these questions. Maybe it’s that I hope to discover a trade secret. Maybe I’m hoping for a shortcut that bypasses wasted time and materials.
Whatever the reason, I love compiling inspiration and I’m in good company. Yet, as a generation, our pursuit of it often borders on gluttonous. We search and pin and repin and curate in our online worlds, stuffing our minds with images, quotes, products, and ideas, ideas, and more ideas. We stockpile it all as if there will soon be a shortage. But in my own work, I’m starting to see that too much inspiration can make me sick. Or at least, lazy. There comes a point when input becomes demotivating and turns me into someone who’s no longer willing to do the hard, messy work of sending my own ideas into the world.
The tension between waiting for the muse and doing the work is not unique to our time. It’s always been easier to dream about what you might create instead of doing it. As an artist, it’s natural to wait for the mood to strike you. Or to think that an accumulation of experiences and pretty pictures is the cure for your writer’s block. I want creative work to feel beautiful and magical as it’s happening. I want my process to look as beautiful as a pinboard. Yet in reality, those moments are rare. In Stephen King’s On Writing, King likens the writing process to sweeping the floor. Sometimes writing feels like that. It feels like I’m on my hands and knees scraping crumbs out of the corners.
It’s been said (and this is a paraphrase) that Mozart didn’t sit down to work because he was inspired, he was inspired because he sat down to work. I’m no Mozart, but next week I’m going to do an experiment. I’m setting a goal of completing one drawing or painting each day—just for the sake of sitting down to work. It doesn’t matter how bad my paintings or drawings are (the perfectionist in me had a hard time typing that part), the point is to get something on the page and develop a skill that regularly accumulates rust. I’ve heard about people doing 30-day challenges centered on the same idea, even 365-day challenges. But I know myself. I can go from zero to zealous in under a minute then back again. I’d never make it to 30 days. A 7-day challenge seems more manageable. Stay tuned while I find the broom and dustpan. Or maybe, try a 7-day challenge of your own?