The Myth of Inspiration

Most of us have the wrong idea about inspiration. Popular culture tells us that inspiration is a force that strikes out of the blue, often when we least expect it, energizing us to write, paint, think, make a plan, a decision–even a phone call. And this popular conception leads many of us to believe that we should wait until we feel inspired to write, paint, think, even make plans. That there’s not much point in trying to do any of these things unless we feel inspired. And so, we continue with our ordinary lives, waiting for the “muse” to strike.

But what happens if the muse strikes when you’re making the six-hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles? Or in the middle of an important work project that cannot be postponed? Or when you’re cooking dinner for the family? Waiting for a doctor’s appointment? Having your hair styled? Visiting your elderly mother? Shopping for food?

You see what I’m driving at. Inspiration does exist. We all experience flashes of insight or energy for a new idea or project. But such flashes are, by definition, short lived. If we’re not available to receive and act on them, they fizzle out, and we’re left to continue plodding along until we’re visited by the next flash—and we have no idea how long that will be.

A much better way to make sure you fulfill your desire to create is to provide a regular opportunity for inspiration to visit you. This means you need to set aside a predictable and frequent time to write—or to paint or sculpt or throw pots. Once this creative window exists and you throw it open most days, you’ll be ready to receive inspiration whenever it happens to arrive.

Not only that: you’ll find that even without that extra charge or surge of energy or sense of transcendence, you’ll put many more words on the page–or pots in the kiln or sculptures in the world—than you would have had you continued to wait for the muse.

By engaging with your art regularly and predictably, you gather the momentum that eludes you when you wait for inspiration. And this momentum creates flow in your art, saving you time and energy spent in gearing up after a stop-and-start engagement.

It turns out that momentum is more important than inspiration. Athletes know this. If the opposing team is on winning streak within a game, the losing team will call a time out. In basketball, a player may deliberately foul an opponent. All to interfere with the momentum on the other side.

As a writer, I’ve learned how essential momentum is for my writing. If I come to the page on a regular basis, even for a short time, the paragraphs and pages accumulate much more quickly than if I sit down to write for several hours only once a week.

When your writing sessions resemble islands, you land on only once in a while, it inevitably takes much longer for the juices to start flowing and for you to get the lay of the land. But if you visit the territory consistently, you know instantly where you are, and don’t have to spend any time getting your bearings.

Even more important, the territory—or your current writing project—remains with you even when you’re not visiting or writing, and you find that you cover so much more ground the next time you land on its shores—or on the page.

Warehouse Wall

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