On chasing creative inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere.

I'm not exempted from the many people who advocate this hopeful phrase. While I do believe in its ubiquity, sadly inspiration remains such an obstacle to pin down. This is never more true than when I sit before a blank page, canvas or screen, pregnant with a vision yet nothing to bleed. Where does inspiration hide when this happens?

But first, real quick, Inspiration — what is it again?

According to Wikipedia, Inspiration (from the Latin word inspirare, meaning "to breathe into") refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour... It is prior to consciousness and outside of skill.

Perhaps my favorite delineation comes from celebrated author and literary sage, Vladimir Nabokov:

"A prefatory glow, like some benign variety of the aura before an epileptic attack - something the artist learns to perceive very early in life."

Is it just me or does Inspiration sound like it really should be the next epidemic?

In Greek mythology Inspiration is personified in The Muse, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). They are known as the goddesses who inspire literature, science, and the arts. Other names given to them are the Unconscious, the Self, the Creative Genius. Whatever it is, it is deemed as the unseen mysterious element where ideas and artistic spark come from.

Your recent song composition, a business model you're pioneering, the name you're calling your new comic strip series: they all "come from" The Muse. When any creative work results to a masterpiece, it is often seemed as "The Muse having her hands all over the artist." So it follows, in order to tap the subterranean river of artistic genius, we must first call on the attention of these mythical guarantors.

Am I about to say then that I believe in this rather absurd negotiation with a magical girl gang?

Before you shake your logical head in dismay, it's not so much a matter of giving credence to their existence as it is about having something to serve as representation of artistic spark. In other words, I don't swear by it for nothing. I believe in these representations because it helps me deal with the elusiveness of the inspiration.

There is a wealth of information available online that suggests different ways to find creative inspiration.  But excuse me while I gently set aside others' 2 cents in place of a gem of wisdom I had learned the hard way from my own journey. For some reason, I find it more noble to pour you a glass of wine I had subconsciously aged myself. 

So the one sure way you can track the muses down?

Show up.

 
 

A few months back, a long period of unthinkable, heart-shrinking creative dry spell had me looking back on all my "best" works. I started severing each piece like a chipper detective, probing myself: "Where was I when I made this? Was I on vacation? Was I, by any chance, at my 'happy place'? How many of these did I make in the day time? Did I stay up late for this one? Was there a particular figure who inspired this artwork? Was I listening to music at that time? Did I meditate pre-production of this piece? Was I going through a heartbreak?"

See, maybe I was on a vacation... Maybe I was in a brooding mood... Maybe I was sipping on some muscat tea in my happy place... Maybe someone did inspire this piece... Maybe I did after all meditate... or maybe not. Despite the conditions, I can't remember in what exact way I felt inspired to make them. What I do know with certainty is, regardless of the situation, I was there. I was holding my pen or typing on my laptop, and I put something on that gaping empty page, rid of thought for what it exactly might become. I just showed the hell up.

 

“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” - Isabel Allende

Elizabeth Gilbert echoed this in her viral TED Talk when she shared her encounter with "the muse" while writing what she then didn't know would later become a modern classic:

"When I was in the middle of writing Eat Pray Love and I fell into one of those pits of despair that we will fall into when we’re working on something that’s not coming and we think ‘this is going to be a disaster, this is going to be the worst book I’ve ever written — not just that but the worst book ever written … So I just lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room and I said aloud ‘ Listen you, thing! You and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see I am putting everything I have into this, I don’t have any more than this, so if you want it to be better then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal, OK? But you know what? If you don’t do that then I’m going to keep writing because that’s my job and I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up and did my part of the job!"

As if the Internet didn't already say it with the number of views, a million times, YES!

And so, may I interest you to not worry about catching her. Inspiration doesn't know how to knock. Doesn't even respond well to invitations. She barges in and eludes you just like that. The Muse has her eyes on you all the same. And when she sees you penning down that next act of your screenplay or poring over the details of your next clothing line, this will make her smile and she will give your art a boost if not its breakthrough. Meanwhile, forget about making a masterpiece and just show up for the record.

“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.” - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

So, dear artists, it is by this very common — yet so easily forgotten (and even harder to practice)  strategy that great art, poems, scientific discoveries and adventures are born...

By not waiting for the clouds to part and wish for an angelic bunch to come bless you with ideas...

By facing the demons of your critical mind otherwise standing there, lined up for a morning fix of fearful you...

By just putting one foot, word, stroke or breath next to, above, or in front of the other, against all your excuses not to...

By simply beginning. Here and now. You and tea and spilled heart.

This is what it means to show up. This is what Inspiration is wild about.