Category Archives: Creativity

The Practice of Inspiration

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

Professional artists, whatever their medium, say with good reason that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’. Deadlines, word counts, record companies or editors don’t care if you’re having a good week or not. They just need your product delivered when you promised it.

Nevertheless, even the most organized, disciplined artist (which excludes me!) needs and looks for inspiration to stimulate their process or refresh their brains. If a long-term goal is equivalent to reaching a mountain-top, and motivation is what keeps us on the trail, inspiration is the impulse that started us on the hike to begin with. It could have been something as simple wondering what the view from that particular peak looks like. It’s also the moment when an unexpected vista opens in front of us as we make our way upward. It’s something to savor and take a picture of. You catch your breath and rest, and then get back on your way. Inspiration makes you eager to see what you’ll discover next.

What refreshes you and gives that little zap of energy may not do a thing for your neighbor. Just check out all the different boards on Pinterest if you don’t believe me. What we love is as individual as we are. It could be visiting a botanical garden or window shopping at the local mall. The main thing is to find out what you love and take the time to indulge it. As long as you don’t wait for your Muse to drift down on a golden cloud and sprinkle fairy dust on your head before getting back to work, you should be fine. Maybe something wonderful that you can use right now will come to you. Maybe you’ll get a cool idea that you can’t use at the moment — make a note of it somehow so you don’t lose it. Or you might not see anything that really inspires you. That’s okay, you’ve still got your long-term goal to keep you on track.

One nice thing about looking for inspiration on a scheduled basis is that it opens your heart and mind. It can come from anywhere: spiritual readings, the rock you kept since you found it on the beach at age seven, a science journal. Like anything else, finding inspiration becomes easier with practice. And you find out what things inspire you for different tasks.

Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of Georgian houses and listening to movie soundtracks. What gets your brain cells off and running? If you don’t know, take a few minutes and see what strikes your fancy!

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A Circle of (Imaginary) Friends

At some point, even the most successful people on the planet suffers setbacks and self-doubt. As someone who’s moderately successful but still learning, I often have to fight my way through the secret convictions that 1. someday people will discover that I can’t write worth a damn and 2. my mother is right and my hair or whatever I’m wearing at any given moment looks awful.

Hopefully if we confess our doubts and flaws to our family and friends, we will instantly be reassured that we are good and smart and that our dream of starting a heavy metal band of retired electricians isn’t stupid. Sometimes, though, our loved ones don’t understand our ambitions, or because they’re not mind readers, they don’t say the exact words we want to hear. And some people don’t have others around them willing to offer support and encouragement at all.

At that point, it’s time to pick out a charmed circle of imaginary friends to be our advocates. No, I have not gone off to Looneyland. Harnessing mental imagery works — look up the benefits of biofeedback if you don’t believe me. Barbara Sher refers to this process as ‘finding cheerleaders’ in her book Wishcraft: people we admire giving positive feedback about our endeavors. And the cool thing is, we can pick anybody we want!

The imaginary friends can alive, dead, male, female, celebrities, historical figures or fictional ones…it doesn’t matter, as long as you pick them for other reasons besides being cool or famous. For example, here’s my circle of imaginary friends:

-My late grandmother:  As an aspiring concert pianist who set her ambitions aside for love and marriage, she understood that every choice has a price, and that those things not attempted are not gained. She’d say, “If it means that much to you, you should try to put that retiree band together.”

Bette Davis: In my mind, she represents the flip side of Grandma. She was a tough, scrappy, ambitious artist and she didn’t whine when she had to make sacrifices to get what she wanted. I imagine her saying “If you want a geriatric metal band, you’d better make damn sure everybody knows what they’re getting into.”

– Maksim Chmerkovskiy: The Slavic slave-driver is a hot-tempered and outspoken, but this is why he’d be the voice telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back to work. My guess is he’d sound like this: “So you’re old. That means you’d better get your butts off the floor and start playing, because you’re only going to get older.”

Michelle Kwan: The years she spent climbing to the top of the figure skating world did not impair her grace on or off of the ice. “Always make the next performance better than the time before.”

George Clooney: Okay, I did pick George partly for his looks. But he combines intelligence and a work ethic with a sense of humor, so I’m not completely shallow.  He’d be the one thinking of possibilities: “You could go on the road and tour retirement communities.”

The idea here is that even positive feedback from Imaginary Friends is still POSITIVE. It’s a way to trick yourself into seeing your own good qualities and encouraging yourself to work on your dreams. And you thought I was crazy.

Who, real, fictional, alive or dead, do you admire so much you’d like to have them in your circle of imaginary friends? What would you like them to say to you?