Let’s consider these points:
1) Picasso once said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
2) Jack London thought the same. He said: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
3) Most wannabes–it doesn’t matter if writers, sculptors, dancers and so on–speak a lot about what they’d love to do, but never even take the first step to turn their wish into something more tangible.
Yet, from the above quotes it’s apparent that one of the most important differences between the layman and any professional creative is how differently they consider the role of inspiration in artistic achievement.
In fact, while the layman thinks that inspiration is something essential to start working, the pros know it’s the other way around. Namely, that inspiration is the result of a process, of work. A process that at times can even feel tedious, dry, and boring. But that at the end of the day pays good dividends to those who stick to it.
The reason for this apparent paradox is simple. In the overwhelming majority of the cases, in order to create great art, we have to create a lot of art. And, given we are all fallible humans, this means having also the courage to come up with a gazillion of bad works.
This might seem terrifying. After all bad works can ruin a career, can’t they?
Not really. In reality bad works are quickly forgotten. Just think of all the bad books, bad films, or bad paintings you have come across in your life, and you’re bound to discover you can remember next to nothing about them.
(If you do, you must be a masochist. So maybe you’d better go and seek psychological advice… =D)
Sources of inspiration
Keeping in mind the above premise, here is a list of things that usually inspires me.
Natural landscapes and sunsets
This one has likely been one of the most ancient sources of inspiration for us humans. But this ancientness doesn’t diminish in the least the power nature yields.
Really, for me sitting alone on a vantage point, taking in the natural scenery unfolding before my eyes is a precious opportunity. Because there’s something primal and powerful in nature’s show and I can feel it in my bones.
It’s a feeling I don’t even try to translate into words and coherent thoughts when I’m experiencing it. I just let it course through my body like a low voltage current, or a tidal wave. And when I finally reemerge, even if everything seems the same, I know that inside my head small thoughts have began to unfurl their sails under a new sun.
Sure, scenery descriptions find little space in today’s literature. But this doesn’t mean we can’t exploit natural landscapes.
For example, we can describe characters, or the way they speak, trying to convey the same mood of a particular sunset. Words like dark and scudding clouds in a pinkish sky could be used to hint at a contrast between the general disposition of a woman and her present bad mood.
Also, the fast receding light and vague sense of dread that the end of the day sometimes engenders in us could be used to describe the effect a character exerts on the people he meets.
We can even study the way colors and different shades all merge together to form startling and yet appealing conformations. Because they can teach us about pacing in writing, and contrasting techniques. They can teach us about what we like most.
After all, a sunset is an infinitely more interesting variant of a Rorschach test. Don’t you think?
People represent another inexhaustible source of inspiration. I’m not referring to famous people. Nor to stunners, ethereal beauties, and all those handsome specimens you can find in any of those rags devoted to keeping tab on who’s screwing around with whom.
I’m not referring to iconic public figures either, though they can certainly be inspiring at times. The problem in this case is that biographies, and to a greater extent autobiographies, are just stories. They are only vague and distorted reflections of the lives they claim to portray… oh, so truthfully.
As for whatever iconic figures you can watch on TV… Well, maybe the rags I was speaking of a minute ago were not so bad after all.
No, here I refer to people we can meet in our everyday activities. People we can bump into and have a word with.
The reason is simple. We can observe these people a lot more closely and in what is their natural environment. Of course, to effectively observe someone we have to keep our eyes open and be willing to really think at what we are looking at.
It seems obvious, but it’s not. In fact it seems the average Joe is so unobservant he doesn’t even properly notice the face of the people he is speaking to.
But if we strive to be observant the dividends can be generous.
For example, years ago I met a woman whose walk made me think of a goose. But in her amble was also an unmistakable measure of elaborate grace that intrigued me. So much so she made me think of Dalì’s elephants–though I don’t know why I came up with such an association.
The above example is a small one. But I think it’s apparent how mixing geese with Dalì’s elephants to describe the gait of a woman could lead to some interesting outcomes.
I love reading. Both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, I would say the two types of books complement each other. Fiction is the land of ‘what-if’, but not all what-ifs are created equal. And to ask the most interesting ones, it helps a lot having a solid grasp of how the world works. Even if we’re planning to write a fantasy or a supernatural horror.
The reason? It’s like with grammar. We need to know it perfectly to break its rules effectively.
By the same token, let’s say we need to know a lot about black holes to make them as terrifying as they can be.
This doesn’t mean you have to be rigorous to be credible. But, by god, fiction doesn’t mean everything goes.
Luckily, these days books are nearly everywhere. So we only have to choose what we want to read and go for it.
These are just some of the books I read lately. I could praise them for many different reasons. But I think the most interesting aspect of great books, irrespective of their pertaining to fiction or non-fiction, is that they offer their readers a wealth of food for thought.
This is another terrific way to get inspired. However, with traveling I simply mean visiting a new place, not necessarily a distant one or an exotic one.
Indeed, many people fly around the globe to go on vacation. But then they often end up in touristic resorts that are pretty much the same all over the world and offer only a highly stereotyped experience of the place.
This is the equivalent of reading a formulaic novel brimming with cardboard characters and hackneyed expressions. We don’t learn anything new. We only get more of the same old slop.
Sometimes this can be exactly what we want. But if we want to find inspiration and set our brain on fire with new possibilities we’re going to need something different.
An intriguing place. Off the usual routes. Maybe an abandoned place. Or a place seen under very different conditions from the ones we usually experience.
For example, a few kilometers from where I live there’s a small lake where at the beginning of October you can find thousands and thousands of toads and frogs all together, mating and frolicking about.
I can assure you that if you go there in that period you’re bound to have a completely different experience of the place from the one you would experience in the middle of, say, July.
It’s a matter of distillation
Of course, we don’t have to literally incorporate all the associations and ideas, all the inspirations we come across, in what we write. That would most likely end pretty badly. That’s to say with a majestic clusterfuck.
But if we write down in a notepad all the ideas and impressions, all the bits of inspiration we come across, and then we revise them and think about them regularly, all those associations and the ways of thinking that led to the images, to the bits of ideas, will gradually and organically seep also into our writing.
Because the art of fueling one’s own inspiration is like running. Maybe at the beginning we take up running because we want to shed a few pounds. But if we keep at it long enough, we end up continuing running because it offers us many more benefits than the ones we had anticipated.
Above all, it offers us a way of life. Just like the art of fueling your own inspiration does.