That’s my thesis, and it’s pretty simple: contrary to popular cultural belief, inspiration is not something that descends on you like the dove of peace or the Holy Spirit.
It’s something you cultivate. Like a garden. Exactly like a garden, as a matter of fact.
(NB: I love it when I stumble into just the right metaphor. So let’s see just how far I can take that analogy, shall we?)
If inspiration is the fruits of the garden, then to get to a successful, bountiful harvest, here’s what you, Farmer Artist, must do:
Prime the Soil
Like any seeds, the seeds of inspiration must find fertile soil that’s been prepared for the new plant’s arrival and development.
How do you create that metaphorical soul-soil? By keeping the rest of your field clean. (OK, the analogy starts to break down a little …)
Daily life is going to throw up road blocks to your creativity. Like so many rocks in your garden (there we go!), these obstacles will obstruct your inspiration and flow of creativity by taking up space.
Clear the field by:
- Getting a handle on all the stuff you’re carrying in your head. Our brains were not meant to contain massive to-do list items. Get ’em down on paper or in a digital file.
- Delegate what you can, i.e., any non-essential tasks. Caring for your children is not optional. Volunteering for the book drive is. Ditch what you can — whatever doesn’t feed your soul and enthuse you — whatever creates that cement-block feeling in the pit of your stomach. And learn to say “no” up front from here on out.
- Clean house. That’s not a euphemism. I mean, literally: clean your house. Clutter and dust and dirty dishes will keep your creative flow from … well, flowing. And if you’re particularly susceptible, as I am, it’ll literally keep you up at night.
Secure the Right Tools
Farmers need tractors, hoes, irrigation systems … and … I’m sure some other stuff. Artists need tools, too. (I suppose that’s obvious, right?)
Here’s a thought: why not get the best you can?
Look, nobody understands how tight things are these days better than me. (Trust.) Once you’ve been bitten by the miser bug, you tend to go a little crazy and start looking for ways to save bucks (or pennies) on everything. (Maybe I’m projecting here.)
Instead of penny-pinching on your creative tools, though, try splurging once in awhile on the best you can afford. Save for that premium quality oil paint or hand-crafted brush or the really good violin strings or the kick-ass software if you must, but get the good stuff.
When you invest in high-quality tools, you reinforce within yourself the belief that (A) you are an artist and (B) your art is worthwhile.
Which are useful beliefs for any artist, no?
Sow the (Right) Seeds
Every garden needs a variety of viable, productive seeds to yield a lush bountiful harvest of brilliantly-hued flowers, or a tasty bumper crop of juicy, life-sustaining vegetables and fruits.
If you want to cull the artistic equivalent in this overstretched analogy, you’ve got to open yourself and your senses to the seeds of your art.
In her bestselling book The Artist’s Way (which I highly recommend to any artist who’s looking to create more and better stuff, and yep, that’s an affiliate link) Julia Cameron calls it “filling the well” and advocates weekly “Artist’s Dates” to go in search of the experiences, sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile impressions that, like compost, yield a fertile imagination.
I call it “sponge time.” As in “soaking it all in like a ____.”
Think outside the box on this one. If you’re a musician, the instinct might be to go out to nightclubs and concerts or buy CDs or digital files of other music. Or if your thing is screenwriting, you might gravitate as a matter of habit to scripts online or new movies.
Instead, why not shake things up? If you’re a novelist, how about spending an afternoon in a pottery studio? Or if you’re a dancer, how about hanging out in the park on a sunny Saturday afternoon?
Maybe the sensation of the clay squishing through your fingers will suggest a character or a plot … maybe the kiddies flinging themselves off swings will suggest a new dance move …
Whatever you choose, and I suggest you play this one spontaneously, allowing yourself to be drawn to things intuitively, go in with a completely blank mind — what we call “beginner’s mind” in Zen, which allows you to ramp up your experience to 11 and process it at a deeper level.
Give It Time
The worst thing any artist can do? Rush the process.
Just as the gardener has to exercise patience and let nature take her course with the growing plants, we need to allow sufficient time for our creative projects to take shape, evolve, and generally ripen before we can start manipulating them.
Start cutting into the idea too soon, and the fruit may be bitter.
Pluck the Weeds
From time to time, it’s a good idea to conduct a little inner creativity review, looking for projects and ideas it’s time to let go of.
This alone is a great reason to maintain some kind of diary or notebook in which you can list ideas as they come to you. It frees you up to return to the work in progress without fear that you’ll lose your train of thought when it’s time to take on the next manuscript or canvas.
Extend it further by reviewing your to-do and active projects lists. You’re human, and therefore you will undoubtedly experience changing circumstances. Commitments you made three months ago that seemed like brilliant notions at the time will become dead weight around your neck when things change.
So, take a deep breath and every so often, have the courage to say “yeah, I’m not so into that anymore” and scratch off the dead-weight stuff. This frees you — and your artistic energies — for the stuff that makes your heart beat a little faster.