The Myth of Inspiration When We Discuss Creativity

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myth of inspiration
myth of inspiration

I use the word “inspiration” a lot, however when I use it, I usually mean the myth of inspiration in terms of wanting to achieve a greater good or aspire to a greater goal because of something or someone I have encountered along the way.

Let’s use Nelson Mandela as an example. What he was able to do, to accomplish, despite the circumstances in his life (or perhaps because of those circumstances) proves what humans are capable of, given the proper amount of passion and commitment. He inspires me. 

How about Bono. What he has done with his fame and money, the good he has achieved, the minds, bodies, societies he has affected in positive ways proves that money and power can be used for good. That inspires me. The ocean inspires me. It is a grand and powerful example of the miracle of creation and the small, important place we have within that.

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I am inspired by spontaneous expressions of affection, by anonymous acts of charity, by conspicuous acknowledgment of good work and good deeds. I am inspired by those who come to see their potential, and those who strive to fulfill it with dedication. I am inspired by much in my life. Even, sometimes, chocolate cake, if it is dark and rich enough.

Writers, artists in general (and I include myself here, on those days when I’m pretentious enough to call myself an artist) use the word “inspiration” with a different meaning. They (we) think of it as some sort of divine spark, the kiss of the Muse, some still, small voice whispering eloquent ideas that bypass all our mental faculties and allow us to create spontaneously. Many even wait around for this inspiration to hit, all the while producing nothing, affecting no one.

I think, for the most part, that inspiration thought of in this way is a myth. With the right knowledge, and lessons, the right education software and training, anyone can be creative, right?

I can hear the hoots from artists everywhere. My own inner artist is hooting right now, as I type. I’m sure I will get people wanting to express to me in the most vehement terms the almost out-of-body experiences they have had when deep in the creative process. Yes. I know. I have experienced those wonderful moments, also. 

Or rather, not moments, they seem outside of time. When in that kind of creative state, time no longer exists for you, nor do the needs of your body. Or your family. Or that noisy cat who hasn’t been fed for the fourteen hours you have been under the spell of it.

This is not really inspiration. Many artists use that notion to exclude the general populace from thinking they can create art. “It is something only we special people have.” Pheh. Anyone can learn to have those experiences. It is not a Muse whispering new thoughts into your ears. It is not from outside yourself. It is, instead, the flower that grows in a well-tilled garden. Those thoughts, those creations, occur because you have cleared the way for them, sometimes over a very long period of time, often without you realizing that’s what you are doing, however you can do it consciously.

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Steve and I are often asked where we come up with our ideas. The easy answer would be “we were inspired”. It’s one we rarely use, even when we’re being lazy. The truth is that we have trained our minds to think, and when your mind thinks, it will come up with some surprising things. We observe all the time. 

However we observe in a way that many people don’t. It’s a simple adjustment that anyone can make, and I recommend making it: We have trained ourselves to notice our observations. Sometimes they then become dormant for years, bubbling and boiling in what Paul Sheele calls the “other than conscious mind.” However if we hadn’t noticed them consciously, they would remain external, unusable.

To go back to the image of the flowers in a well-tilled garden, a farmer can spend years clearing the land, pulling the rocks out, softening the soil, fertilizing it with good, old-fashioned cow dung. This is you being educated, you reading, you letting other art wash over you, letting the world wash over you consciously. 

The farmer plants the seeds early. Some bulbs get planted years before they bloom. It can take an acorn up to a half century to produce another acorn, however that does not mean that second acorn spontaneously appeared after being whispered to by a Muse.

After the allotted time, the plants then grow. Some of them surprise you with their beauty, their strangeness, their originality, they seem effortless, however you have worked hard for them.

Leaving that myth of inspiration analogy behind before it twists itself into something unrecognizable and unusable, if you train your mind to write, it will write. Journal. Jot. Train your mind to observe. Notice and admire stray thoughts. Notice and admire stray happenings. Notice and admire the mundane. Reduce stress in your life. As you notice and celebrate life you will “attract” more life worth celebrating because that’s what you’ve trained yourself to notice and it’s always already around you.

The more you encourage yourself to do that, the more you will be able to produce your art. You can call it the myth of inspiration if you want to, you can call it a gift from nature, but you have it, so enjoy it!