Where does inspiration come from?
I recently watched a TED Ed video about inspiration, because I felt stuck and my inspiration, lacklustre. 30 odd minutes later, my view on inspiration was enriched. The very fact that I was looking for inspiration also made me think about how we seek the external to feel an internal change. 'I have now watched/listened to this, so I feel refreshed and more equipped to return to that idea', is the general gist. Writing takes its many edits and drafts and the process can sometimes feel draining. The pressure we place on our creativity can be difficult, because we want to be as original as possible but part of understanding inspiration, is removing our ego, embracing the imperfections and our struggle.
Perhaps this is why it could be healthy to take on a ‘wabi-sabi’ approach and embrace our imperfections along the way. Japanese culture has a way of thinking, (‘wabi-sabi’) that embraces these imperfections and see’s such imperfections as beauty and an opportunity to teach us something. When we write and the idea begins to fray or a character’s dialogue is off, perhaps we should be more wabi-sabi and see what we can learn from this and eek out its hidden value. Wabi-sabi means to embrace that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. If we adopt this notion, we may find ourselves feeling more inspired and more able to write.
Imagine if the pot had no cracks in it, would it be seen as its most beautiful? Or do we perceive the object with more fascination more because of these embraced cracks? Let’s walk the playing field of imperfection and really embrace it.
Part of the hardest thing about keeping the creative embers burning is feeling like we must draw from our own genius. But the truth is, we need to look beyond ourselves, into whole other dimensions. Even poets like Homer, Virgil and Ovid were thought to have no raw talent of their own. They received inspiration from the gods who were believed to be the only beings who held any power. Of course, they were incredibly talented, but they lived in a time where creativity was sought from outside yourself and you were influenced by a divine spirit. This was just common knowledge.
What are the origins of inspiration?
The Romans understood the genius as a magical divine entity as a sort of guiding life spirit, rather than an innate human quality. The ancient Greeks believed that the genius acted as a personal spirit that mediated between the gods and mortals. So, the idea of inspiration and creativity wasn’t about what you thought alone, but what was speaking to you. This wasn’t your subconscious or your own thoughts but a creative entity that you could actually sense. Perhaps not an easy idea to digest in today’s world, where we let our own genius take credit for what we may produce. It is not to say that there are not extremely gifted people in the world but the idea of the genius has shifted so far from something that is not our own, to being the very DNA that we embody and it being so deeply human, a far cry from Greek and Roman thought. It is perhaps entitled of us to say that anyone is a ‘genius’ but instead, know that in order to get to where they got, they worked incredibly hard and travelled a more arduous path to arrive where they did and thereby accessing the divine in their own right. When you need to access your creativity reflect on what you are doing to encourage creativity and its subsequent products.
Our mindset is also important to take stock of when we are trying to create and recognise that we may or may not be in the best mindset to create. Plato described poets as becoming ‘possessed’ and for writers I think we can resonate with this. When we are writing, we are almost taking on another persona and we have to work outside of ourselves to produce, quality, excellence, even genius. When we are in the flux of our creativity it feels like we have become more than ourselves. Our creative visions are inspiring us, and it is advisable to run with this creative spirit and let it take you to its furthest places and along the way, assume the wabi-sabi state of mind.
Inspiration is ours to engage with, seek and nurture. There are no ‘rules’ for how we access inspiration but it is worthwhile to remember that our creativity fluctuates and we have to engage in thought and feeling to access it. Work with your guiding spirit, however that might look and feel to you, and engage in a joint partnership just as the Romans and Greeks did. Though the world has changed beyond measure since, starting with authenticity and humbleness is no bad place to start.