Most creative folk, immediately upon revealing themselves to be, in fact, creative, will be asked: where does your inspiration come from? I like to imagine a storehouse somewhere, like a root cellar, where inspiration lies around in bundles and stacks, just waiting for me to wander down and grab a clump. Or a clandestine visitor wearing a trench coat and a fedora tilted over one eye, who coordinates late-night inspiration rendezvous in pools of streetlamp light…but only when he feels like it.
The truth is much simpler than this.
I have no idea where inspiration comes from. And neither does anyone else.
We’d love to tell you that we saw an indescribable face in a crowd and were inspired to write our magnum opus. But it’s just as likely that we see indescribable faces everywhere we look, and inspiration didn’t occur on 99.99 percent of those occasions. And besides, who wants to write about an indescribable face? That seems unnecessarily difficult. Better to write about the ones you actually can describe, since a fair amount of writing is dependent upon description…it’s sort of funny that way.
Sometimes, it’s explained most unhelpfully as looking at a star, which appears much brighter when viewed from the periphery of your vision than it does when stared at dead-on. This is probably a very poetic way of saying, “I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but I love stargazing, and I have no new ideas for stories about them despite having stared at the sky for the past four hours, so…what were we talking about again?”
It can also be described as a bolt out of the blue, a sudden, sharp awareness that comes upon you in the subway or at dance class or in line at the grocer while you’re organizing your coupons. It sends you scrabbling for your phone or a scrap of paper and a pen before you lose your bolt and end up angering everyone in line behind you for no good reason. At moments like this, nobody cares to ask you about your stupid inspiration or your good-for-nothing bolt. They just want you to get your Tidy Cat and your triple-A batteries and your spearmint Tic-Tacs and move along before someone who is you gets hurt.
I’ve discovered that the longer I wait for inspiration, the less like it is to favor me. It’s wonderful when it happens, but it’s rare and fleeting and it comes laden with holes that have to be filled in by the inspired at some later moment. To quote the thesaurus, it’s too capricious. I prefer not to wait for inspiration anymore.
I’m in search of ideas instead.
And they’re everywhere.
Yes. Idea Seeking is the new Being Inspired.
I don’t wait for them quietly in a softly-lit room with violin concertos playing, either. Oh, no. I throw on my Idea Seeking boots and chase them down with a net and a little jug to put them in once they’ve been caught. Then I watch them fly around and bounce off the glass, and I choose from the ones I like. I let the others flit about and grow their wings until they make enough noise to be let free in their own good time.
(A side note: who here besides me loves metaphors? Anyone? Good! I really hoped I wasn’t alone.)
Waiting for inspiration is like expecting your waiter to know you need a refill and letting him come around when he’s good and ready. Chasing ideas is like flagging him as soon as your cup runs dry. There’s really no chance that he isn’t going to come to you with a full carafe then.
Works like a charm.
So to anyone out there waiting for the Next Big Idea to bubble up from the depths or materialize out of the ether: Maybe try chasing it down instead.
You’ll be surprised how far that goes.