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Creative people — especially those of us who make a living through the use of our creativity — have an interesting relationship with inspiration.
Of course we want to feel inspired as much as possible. We want to be excited to work and share our creations with the world.
But that’s not always the way it works. Sometimes we have to produce things even when we don’t particularly want to. We have to share things we aren’t in love with.
Inspiration for creatives is important, but we have to know how to live and work without it, as well as what we can do to get it back and hold onto it when it returns.
The Trouble with Inspiration for Creatives
You can’t wait to be inspired in order to work when you have a creative job.
Inspiration doesn’t come into play when you have to write that story about the city council meeting or you need to get a blog post up. When you have a book deadline or someone paid you to make something, you just have to do the work.
But at the same time I want to feel inspired, to be excited about what I’m doing, to have ideas I want to share with other people.
If I’m being honest, I haven’t really felt inspired in a long time. I haven’t had a lot of ideas I was excited about or wanted to make things of my own design. I have mostly been making stuff with other people’s patterns, hoping for a change.
When Inspiration Comes Back
I don’t know what happened or how, exactly, but a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to do some designing again. I brainstormed a few ideas, went and bought some yarn, and quickly knit up my Boxley Scarf.
It’s a simple design, but it felt good to translate an idea into a real thing again.
And it slowly started to turn my mind toward idea generation again, which to me is the first step in inspiration.
I pulled out my knitting machine for the first time in years and started to think about using it to make a sweater.
I saw a ball of T-shirt yarn on my shelf and decided to crochet a basket. There was a little brown, textured ball of yarn next to it that I used to knit a pumpkin (as I write this I’m on my third pumpkin of the season, two from other people’s patterns and one my own devising).
And next to that was this funky textured yarn sent to me years ago by a yarn company. I never quite knew what to do with it, so I decided to just knit a little triangle.
I didn’t exactly know what it was or if I would like it (though it’s super soft yarn and my favorite colors, so I think I do). But liking it or not is really beside the point.
Holding onto Inspiration for Creatives
The point is the making. The creating. That this ball of yarn, in an afternoon at home watching TV, became a thing, an idea made real.
And I know the more I do things like that, the more I want to. The more ideas I will have, the more I will want to explore and play. And not just with yarn, though this time of year in particular I want to make all the things with yarn.
I also know that I, that we, need to pay attention when inspiration does come back. We need to care for it and ourselves. Here are some things that might help:
- Do a little something (or a big something, if you’re up to it) creative every day. It really is kind of like a muscle that needs to be worked daily.
- Remember things that have helped you feel inspired in the past, like going for a walk, to the library or to a museum, and do those things regularly, too.
- Make sure you’re taking care of yourself: enough sleep, water, healthy food, exercise.
- Capture ideas as much as you can. If you don’t already carry a notebook everywhere, start now so you can jot down ideas, sketch, doodle, etc., so you can come back to those ideas later.
- Take it slow. It’s tempting to throw all your time and energy into projects when you’re feeling pumped, but the danger of pushing too hard and wearing yourself out is high.
What to Do When Inspiration Fails
All that said, I don’t really know what to tell you — or myself — to do when you’re not feeling inspired, because I still deal with it a lot.
I know it’s important to not just wait it out. It’s important to try little things: finish something, start something new (even if it’s terrible), do some mending or a little project you’ve been meaning to get to.
A sense of accomplishment can be helpful, even if it’s just doing a tiny thing. Gather the materials you might like to use in a project, even if you don’t know what that project is or you don’t start it right now. Bonus points if you do start it now!
Think of it as doodling, no matter what craft or creative practice you’re actually doing. It’s important to consider it as low risk, exploring, experimenting with a sense of play.
Inspiration for Creatives Comes from Play
I think play is a really important part of inspiration for creative people — having a playful, relaxed attitude.
Blocks can come when we take ourselves and our work too seriously. When we stop having fun. When we think of it as work.
(Yes, some of us have creative jobs so our production is literally our work, but this is a different meaning of work that feels more like struggle and obligation and the daily grind. We don’t want creative endeavors to feel like that, even when we’re paid for them.)
I’m not saying a good attitude stops all blocks and allows you to feel constant inspiration. But I do know that when it doesn’t feel playful, when it feels hard, when it feels like something we have to do, that’s a recipe for losing whatever good ideas and happy spirit we might have had.
I also know that bringing back playfulness isn’t the only step to feeling inspired again, but I do find it helpful.
Make something for no reason. Make something deliberately ugly. Or make something in five minutes or less, using only items in your immediate reach.
Just try something. I know when you are feeling the weight of can’t or just don’t want to it’s hard to take even these little steps. But it’s important to try.
Think about things that have inspired you in the past and see if you can do some of that. Such as:
- looking at the work of a favorite artist or designer
- walking in nature and taking pictures of flowers or just paying attention
- going to the library and looking at art books or checking out whatever you want
- petting an animal
- playing a sport
- doing yoga
- writing in your morning pages about what stuck feels like
- watching an inspiring documentary
Creative Blocks Happen
The point, I think, is acknowledging that lack of inspiration and motivation happens, and that while there’s an extent to which you have to wait it out that doesn’t mean complete inaction on your part when you don’t feel like doing something.
We can’t completely control our blocks but we can work to give them less power. Being mindful of our energy, our attitude, cultivating ideas when we have them and understanding that fallow periods are also part of the process are all things we can and should do.
Because our creativity lies in our minds and bodies, checking in with your physical and mental health is also important.
How have you been eating? Sleeping? Are you getting any exercise? Drinking water? How are your relationships?
If something else is out of place it can often affect other aspects of your life, including creativity.
It’s important just to pay attention. If you’re data driven you can track what you’re eating and drinking, what kind of movement you are getting in, how you are sleeping, your mood and what you made each day.
Over time patterns will emerge that might be helpful.
Or if you don’t want to keep track of everything, maybe just draw a face on your calendar at the end of the day reflecting your mood. Or put a gold star on the days when you felt good and were excited about what you were making.
Sometimes just noticing you’re in a slump will make you work to try to make it better.
I wish there was a way to hold onto inspiration for creatives forever — if there is, I sure haven’t found it — but I do think we can prolong it by being mindful of what it feels like, how we approach it and what we do with our time when we have that feeling.
What do you think? How do you hold onto creative inspiration or work to get it back when it’s failed you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.