Let’s talk about the idea of inspiration, and why I have decided not to believe in it.
I don’t want to argue that inspiration in its purest form – some kind of non-physical energy that flies into an artist’s head and gives them ideas – does not exist. I think that most people, including those who work in creative practice, already don’t believe that it literally exists. For those who do believe this – that there is a literal invisible energy, that sometimes gets into your head and creates ideas, and sometimes doesn’t – I regard this more as a kind of religious belief, no evidence for, no evidence against, you choose what you believe. Just as an aside, I also don’t think that having religious beliefs is inherently more irrational than not having them. Literally everyone on earth has certain principles or ideas that they believe in without evidence.
However, I don’t think it matters whether this literal variant of inspiration exists or not. What matters is the idea of inspiration and the way people talk about it.
In his video titled “How much power does the author have?”, Dan Olson has talked about how certain writers will compare themselves to ‘gardeners’ that ‘plant’ ideas and then let them grow organically. Yet, he says, this is merely a self-imposed idea that they choose to believe because it works for their writing method. The writer is still the only one responsible for the outcome of this creative process. In my view, inspiration works in much the same way. There may not be a literal energy that gives you ideas, but the processes that take place in our brains are very complex – certainly too complex for most people to understand – and the idea of inspiration provides an easy way to sort-of understand it, that for most people maps well enough onto their experience that it tracks.
The problem is that I don’t actually think that this idea is a good way of understanding the creative process. And the reason for that is because it removes the person from their own creative work. There are many reasons why a person will or won’t be able to produce their work easily, but those reasons all have to do with that person themselves or their situation. A person could have something going on in their lives that’s stressing them out. Maybe they aren’t feeling well, or maybe they just don’t have a lot of free time. But whatever the reason, all of these are way better explanations why someone is not being productive right now than just saying ‘I have no inspiration’. Saying that only conjures up an image of someone lazily sitting at their desk, with their feet up, doing nothing. It makes it feel as if there’s no real reason that they’re not working, but they’re just making excuses, and that is not fair to anyone.
So, what if you’re someone who does creative work, and you find yourself unable to make anything?
Well, the first step would be to look inside yourself. Have you had food, water, exercise, rest lately? How is your mental state, do you feel stimulated, do you feel motivated, is there something occupying your mind? Are you feeling depressed, or anxious?
I want to state explicitly that I am not out to solve these kinds of problems if you have them. I am not qualified or capable to do so. All I want to do here is illustrate that there are often real reasons behind your creative hiccups that are more substantial and material than the absence of ‘inspiration’.
And what if you feel fine mentally and physically but you just can’t get to work? In that case, the problem could be within the creative process. It could be that you don’t yet have the general idea of what you want your work to sound like, and therefore don’t know what you should work on right now. In that case, maybe you need to go away from your desk for a while. Maybe you need to look at some art, or listen to some other music to give you a better idea of what you want or don’t want.
It could also be the case that you know what you want, but you feel overwhelmed by the amount of mental labor that it will take. In that case, you have two options. The first option is to take rest, prepare, and divide the work into small bits so you won’t be overwhelmed, the second one is to just start and try to power through it. I recommend the first one, but it’s your choice.
Now, what if you know what you want, and you want to realise it, but you find it incredibly difficult to figure out how to do that? Well, the good news is that in that case, you are not actually stuck. Even if you are not able to get anything on paper, you are in fact doing the necessary labour that will eventually get you where you want. It’s very important to remember that even though your progress isn’t directly visible, that doesn’t mean you are not making progress. All you need to do is keep going, while making sure to rest and not overwork yourself.
There are myriad of other obstacles, all with their own consequences and possible solutions. But I think the point is clear. If you are unable to produce the creative work that you want to produce, do not simply write it up to ‘no inspiration’. Instead, realise that your body and your person are directly related to your creative process and output. Then, you can look within yourself to try and figure out what is going on. This does not mean that you will be able to solve the problem – perhaps this will take a longer time than you expect. But staying close to yourself is the most helpful way of understanding your own creativity.