Creativity is often represented as a sudden flash of inspiration, followed by a rush of activity, leading to a finished product. It’s misleading to say the least – it might make for good drama, but it won’t help you on your own creative path.
Even for a short poem, one idea won’t be enough. One flash of inspiration may give you the shape of a thing or get you started. Creating isn’t one action – when you’re writing, every word is a moment in the process. When you’re drawing or painting, everything you put down on the paper, one move at a time, is a process. It’s the same in all creative endeavours and applies as much to how you cook a meal or design a garden as it does to writing a symphony or building a house.
Inspiration isn’t just the starting idea, it needs to be present for much of the time. Not all inspiration is dramatic and self announcing. The eureka moment, the fire in the head experience will really get your attention. However, the inspiration to decide how to deploy details from your research may be more understated. Feeling moved to practice that piece of music one more time, or to dig in to studying the history of your chosen form, is also inspiration. It needs to be there in those small editing decisions, if the editing and revision process is going to make the original work stronger.
It can be easy to get distracted by the power of big inspiration moments, and to prioritise the rush of creativity that comes from those. It’s a great feeling, making something when there is a fire burning inside you and you feel compelled. But, it’s not the only way. The slow, gentle flow of inspiration is just as valuable – maybe more so. Big rushes may leave you exhausted, and if you depend on them you may get really stuck if they don’t show up. It’s hard to court that kind of big inspiration and it may only turn up infrequently.
Courting the small flow of inspiration is much easier. You can invite it simply by trying. If you’re having a go at your chosen form of creativity, you are making room for some inspiration to happen. Seeking your inspiration by engaging in this way opens the possibility of stepping into a flow. Any kind of engagement will do this – study, learn, practice. Look at work other people have done, listen to music, read a book, watch a video… make room for something to inspire you and those small pings of idea can find their way in. By this means it is possible to spend much of your time feeling a little bit inspired.
The things to avoid are the things that make you feel numb. Boredom is ok, because that can push you towards action. It’s only a problem in an environment where you aren’t allowed to be anything other than bored – this can certainly be a workplace issue. Escapism is fine, and you may bring back riches from those adventures. Killing time is going to rob you of inspiration.
The other trap to watch out for around inspiration, is daydreaming about the outcome rather than investing that energy in your work. If all of your creative energy goes into imagining what happens after you write the book, or the song, or do the painting you can end up emotionally rewarding yourself for things you haven’t even done. The fantasy of creative success can mean you never get round to making anything. Inspiration that might have created something can easily be lost to indulgent fantasy. While daydreaming is generally a good thing, daydreaming about success can become a substitute for action, and takes you further from your creative potential.