on "inspiration"

I've been feeling dejected as the calendar on the top of my page garners fewer and fewer links to entries each week.  So it ends here and now! I mentioned that I've been feeling pretty inept in terms of words lately, but I think everyone who commits to doing something creative on a regular basis has cycles of feeling like I HATE EVERYTHING I DO LIFE IS TERRIBLE WHY DO I EVEN TRY.  I've been there. Often.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert, in her 2009 TED talk, discusses these cycles of creative freedom/stagnation, and she extolls the ancient and recurring idea that inspiration is a force outside ourselves.  Her talk is funny and interesting and, dare I say it, inspired... but I'm inclined to disagree.

Ira Glass is pretty widely quoted on inspiration, saying, "If you do creative work, there’s a sense that inspiration is this fairy dust that gets dropped on you, when in fact you can just manufacture inspiration through sheer brute force."  What he means is what many writers and storytellers have said, that you must create a lot, all the time:

In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can’t tell if it’s going to be good until you’re really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you.

It's difficult.  I know it is!  It's hard to stare at the paper/screen/stage and have this story/dance/sculpture inside you and be completely unable to get it out.  When my uncle died two years ago, there was a poem I was trying to write for an entire year -- a single phrase stuck in my head, itching to be put together with other words, but they just didn't come.  And I kept writing about those thoughts and turning the phrases over and over until finally, out came something acceptable to me.  But chances are good that the next time I read that poem, I'll want to change two dozen things about it.  That's just the way it goes.

Our minds are always changing, and creating something out of those thoughts is a good way to make sense of them.  I've been journaling for such a long time because the simple act of putting my pen onto paper, forming thoughts into actual words, helps me to figure them out.  I've come to epiphanies at the end of journal pages.  I also like to turn on a tape recorder and just start talking about whatever I'm thinking.  It gets your ideas out into the open air where you can actually do something with them, and then when you listen to the recording a few days later, you realize that you are definitely a genius (or a fool).

We can bring inspiration upon ourselves.  Remember what Bob Ross said: "Talent is a pursued interest.  In other words, anything that you're willing to practice, you can do."  It's about doing the hard work of collecting ideas and beating them to death with your creative mind.  Find one interesting thing or person and think about them ALL DAY.  Think about them in new ways and new media.  (I've been dancing about self-reliance lately.)  Think about them upside down, sideways, and in Bizarro World.

Just don't let your mind fall asleep.  That's what makes your pen fall asleep too.