23:27 Mon 04 Dec 2006
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A while ago, when I was in L.A. and up late and avoiding my AFBH post for the day, I came across this blog (possibly this post), which has the brilliant tagline: “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.” Naturally, given what I was doing versus what I was supposed to be doing, this struck a chord. I was reminded of it tonight, as I was thinking about inspiration.

I think there are two basic kinds of inspiration: the kind that gives you ideas, and the kind that gives you the impetus to work on those ideas.

And yes, without the latter, the former is pretty much useless. Without the former, the latter is hard to come by, unless you can work on someone else’s ideas (and sometimes that’s fine).

But where do they come from? And, more importantly, how do I get some?

I think that everyone has creative ideas. They might start small, but they’re there. If you want more, start with noting down the ones you have already. Or note the ones you had when you were younger. Try recording your dreams and using stuff from them. Try recording what goes through your mind as you’re about to fall asleep and use that. Try taking the next time you say to a friend “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if” and just going all the way with whatever that idea is.

We’re all creative people. I suspect that all of us would accumulate tons of ideas if we tried all the above and recorded it. What really holds us back is the concept that all of the ideas we have are boring, or crap, or unoriginal, or impractical, or too twisted for sharing with others. But that’s a tangent from what I’m talking about. The basic point is, if you really want creative ideas, you can get them by dint of that kind of work. Just accept that you’re a creative person (try The Artist’s Way if you’re having trouble with this).

Deciding which ideas to work on can be a problem, and I’m going to skip over it here.

Now, what about the impetus to work on the ideas? I’m not so sure about where that comes from, or how to get it (which is why I’ve been unable to finish a second draft of my science fiction novel). But sometimes this helps:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
—from “Under Ben Bulben”, William Butler Yeats

When I visited Yeats’ grave, somewhat unwillingly brought there as a teenager by my parents, I was no fan of poetry. I liked prose, but poetry did little for me. I had no interest in Yeats, either. But when I saw those words on his gravestone, cold electricity walked up my spine and opened up some part of my mind. Suddenly, I felt the raw power of words. Not the accumulated impact of a novel, but what can come from just a few words if they are right. (No, I don’t know what “the right words” means. But in Drumcliffe I found out that they exist.)

So that helps. It takes effort on my part, but I can summon the mental state required for creativity by saying those three lines.

That may be a long-winded way of saying that we can be inspired by the works of others. That’s certainly true. We can also be inspired by the attitudes of others. Reading yet another interview featuring Brian Michael Bendis this evening, I was again struck by how much fun he regards writing.

Unlike last night, tonight I wasn’t struck by any particular passage (this is in an interview between Bendis and Oeming, in the Powers #5 collection) but rather his overall attitude. He works hard at it, but he does what he enjoys doing—meaning not just that he enjoys writing, but also that when he feels like working on one thing, he does that, and lets other things go, rather than forcing himself to work on something he doesn’t like doing. Yes, he has a bunch of strategies to make sure this doesn’t backfire on him, and yes, I’m aware that following that tack might lead one (meaning not necessarily you but definitely me, as I have problems finishing off creative projects) to skip around with the fun and easy stuff and never do the hard work of actually getting to the point where something is done, finished, sealed, buried, out in the wild where you can’t stop others from looking at it (even its unpolished bits). But despite those dangers, the simple fact that he clearly enjoys writing so much is in itself an inspiration. Enough of an inspiration that I went and wrote a significant chunk of a short story that’s been in my head for maybe a decade and which I finally wrote a sketch outline for seven weeks ago. That seems like a form of inspiration that’s pretty useful.

You can get it from yourself, and you can get it from others and their works. You have to be open to it, but that really isn’t as hard or as Zen as it sounds. And if you’re stuck in your head and you want to do something but you can’t think of anything (or anything ‘worthwhile’) or you feel you ‘should’ do X but really can’t face it right now, well, just do something. Pick a thing that might be fun, or at the least bearable, and do it for an hour. Or half an hour. Or five minutes. But do it, and then see how it goes. Trying to do it doesn’t count, you actually have to do whatever it is. Who knows? You’ve got creative genius lurking in you, and that might just jar it into the open.

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2 Responses to “Inspiration”

  1. kevintel Says:

    I agree about being distracted by the Internet. Instead of writing my own posts, I read yours coming in on my multitude of feeds, and then spend hours thinking of largely hypothetical, yet fiendishly witty replies to your posts. Sometimes, because i get very argumentative about them, in my head.

    I should really write some posts of my own.

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Well, you should write some posts of your own, and you should also submit those fiendishly witty replies!

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