You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
– Jack London
The quote from Jack London seems terrifyingly aggressive, but rather fitting. Artists of all kinds – writers, musicians, and painters, to name a few – often owe much of their work to muses, or inspirations. And inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms, often elusive, often ephemeral, always hitting you in the head when it comes and drilling an idea that festers under your skin until you actually work on it.
And the argument is that inspiration comes when it comes – which, as the quote has already pointed out, can be contested. Because while artists thrive in un-productivity to prepare themselves for producing quality work – and so wait for inspiration to come – the time spent in waiting for inspiration that might or might not be coming may, in fact, turn out to be wasted time. A friendly reminder to artists out there – in particular, to the writers who look at this site: inspiration does not owe you anything, and so will not come to you as if giving you a sort of privilege. You owe inspiration something, harsh as it may sound. You need it but it does not need you, and so waiting for it may be a fruitless exercise.
Therefore, Jack London.
But what, exactly, does inspiration provide for us? And why do we need to actively chase it down? Enter the famous quote by Thomas Edison:
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Any artistic work, regardless of its nature, needs inspiration at some point. Inspiration completes the equation, because it makes up the heart and soul of your piece. That is, it constitutes the part that illuminates what you have worked on, highlights the beauty of your piece, coats it in the very thing that is needed to activate its brilliance and stir emotion within someone. But, let us also not forget that it is ninety-nine percent perspiration, so Thomas Edison puts it, and so we must actively work not only on the actual piece, but – to even start the piece, to begin with – on what the inspiration that will fuel our piece.
In other words, dear writers, go out there, and find inspiration. You may or may not have a concrete idea of what you find inspiring – more often than not, you don’t have an idea at all – but it will, most likely, strike you, when you finally lay your eyes on it. Writing, or making art, in general, lives on experience – whether firsthand, or witnessed. You need not go out with someone to find inspiration that fuels writing centered on love. You can go to, for example, the park, and watch people interact with each other. You can go out early in the morning, just as the sun is shining, and walk around while you watch the city wake up from its slumber. There’s a multitude of things happening around us that we tend not to notice because we focus on particular things, but if we are willing to expand our viewpoints and our horizons, we may be able to find the very thing that will serve as our inspiration.
Once, however, we have finally found our inspiration, we do have to toil on it, work on it, make it as part of our work but never as our work. Despite what a lot of people like to think – that when inspiration comes, the words come flooding out along with it – inspiration is there to cheer you on, not write half – or whole – of your work for you. You do not become a medium through which inspiration channels its great, divine power. Rather, you become the person who tries to manifest what you draw from what inspires you.
Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.
– Johannes Brahms
There are, meanwhile, different kinds of inspiration, and some are more sustained while others are ephemeral. So don’t just draw inspiration from experiences lived by others. It’s fine to be inspired by a work someone has made, but do not make it influence you so much that you eventually realize that you’re not working on your own piece but on someone else’s. Find people that inspire you with what they do. Find people that sustain you, that help you, that push you, and let them serve as inspiration as much as other fleeting things can.
In the end, the idea is this: chase down inspiration, and once you find and know what inspires you, hold on to it and let it help you, but in the end do your best, as well, to make a work your own, and not just a derivative of what that inspiration is.