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On the nature of inspiration

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I’ve written a blog entry about ways to encourage inspiration. But what I have not included in that is my view of what inspiration is. I think that would be useful before any further discussion on the topic, so here it is.
Firstly, there is this view on inspiration as this kind of lightning strike, out-of-the-blue piece of incisive or creative thinking – the Eureka Moment. It’s a feeling I am familiar with from earlier in my life, though I would guess the moments were less frequent than my memory would have be believe, and certainly did not always produce the magical results that the lightbulb-above-head picture of inspiration suggests. Typically, this picture also dictates the image of a creative person. The Creative Person character is a tortured soul, compelled to practice their craft by the double edged sword of having so many wonderful ideas, but also having to get them out of their head in order to function in the real world at all!

Needless to say, this is not a practical view of inspiration, and puts any kind of creative art on a pedestal named ‘talent’, beyond the reach of normal people. Also, it seems to dismiss the notion of any hard work being involved – it just sort of happens. And yet this view of inspiration still persists, and can put some people off. You might well be inclined to believe that you’re not a creative person if you don’t possess this magical ability. You might dismiss yourself as simply not having what it takes (and this may be true if you give up so easily)!

I don’t subscribe to this kind of thinking about inspiration. Or rather I should say that I try not to. For some reason it still lurks in my mind as a kind of default definition until I force myself to remember that it is entirely unlikely that this is the case. Consider another popular view of inspiration. It comes in the form of a question, normally posed to a creative of some kind on their latest work:

“So, what inspired you to come up with this?”

The answer is never, “oh, it just popped in there, without any prior thought on the subject or anything related to it”. More likely you’ll get sentences that start something like,

“I have always been interested in…”
“lately I had been thinking a lot about such and such, and then I saw…”
“I was looking for a way to…”

In other words, they were already looking for information on the subject, or were at least paying attention to it in some way. Although I am rationalising after the fact to a degree, this is the basis for my upcoming blog entries on finding inspiration (and getting it to find you). They will be up next week and I will update this post to link to them.

It may be true for some people that ideas seem to come out of nowhere, but I would bet money that they were looking out for an idea in some fashion, even if it was subconscious. It is likely that their brain is more sensitive (naturally, or through training, witting or otherwise), to whatever stimulus is around them that might generate an idea. But it pays to be aware of how or why you get inspired, because you may be able to enhance the trait. Or, if you lose it, you will at least know how to get it back!

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