Inspiration Is A Habit, Not A Lightening Strike

As a writer, I’ve encountered far more than my fair share of folks for whom inspiration is a fickle muse, a sporadic enigma, a ghost who haunts at random. I think it’s a common attitude: inspiration comes when it damn well wants, and you just have to be ready and waiting for that moment. People use it as an excuse for procrastination, an explanation for writer’s block, a justification for a prolonged silence on their blog or their YouTube channel, whatever.

For some people, this is a source of exasperation: “I want to write, but the muse isn’t coming!” they lament, or they ask, “How do you get the muse to visit you?”  For others, it’s a reason to brag: “I never work on a schedule, I wait for inspiration to strike!”  Either way, it’s an attitude that relies on a lie.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a pure hobbyist who paints because it’s calming, or writes poetry as therapy, that’s 100% fine.  In fact, it’s great—but this post isn’t for you.  If you’re someone who wants to build a career out of your art or your content, or at least some recognition in your field, listen up.  Even if you’re doing it just for fun, but you want to improve your abilities as a writer or a photographer or, hell, even a chef—listen up.

Inspiration doesn’t control you.  You control your inspiration.

It’s always a good idea to decorate your space with things that inspire you, to keep your
~brain juices~ flowing throughout the day.

Inspiration isn’t an external force.  It’s not a heavenly hand bestowing ideas upon you.  It’s just your brain making connections, having ideas, doing the things a brain is meant to do.  Inspiration is just the practice of seeing new possibilities and larger meaning in the mundane world around you.  It’s the practice of recognizing that the world around you isn’t mundane.  It’s the practice of seeing everything as stimuli.

The keyword here is practice.  To be inspired, you need to keep the inspiration pathways in your brain warm.  Limber them up—look for inspiration.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  There is inspiration all around you, all of the time, but if you’re not looking for it, you’ll miss it.  It’s truly a habit that you need to cultivate.  When you scroll through pictures on Instagram or tumblr or wherever you like to waste your time, don’t just let the media wash over you.  Think about it.  Figure out why it speaks to you, and get inspired!

Do this all the time.  Do it while you walk.  Do it while you shower.  Do it when you’re sitting in class, or in meetings, or in a coffee shop.  The more you look for inspiration, the more you’ll find it.

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Once you find inspiration, make sure you catch it!  I always carry a small notebook with me for recording ideas.  Right now I’m carrying the fish, which I got for 25RMB at the famous
Fang Suo Commune bookstore here in Chengdu.

I know this from experience: at certain times in my life, everything from news stories about criminals to obscure facts about Ancient Egypt to the sight of a leaf on the sidewalk sent me scurrying for my notebook to jot down an idea or scribble a stanza.  At other times, my brain has been a dry well while I prioritized things like washing dishes and getting to work on time and ignored the magic and intrigue of everything around me.  (Not that washing dishes and getting to work on time are incompatible with a creative life—it’s just a matter of balance, and I think one or the other tends to slip before you reach your balance.)  But now I’m getting it back.  I’m getting back in the habit of being inspired.

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