Protect Your Inspiration

A Valuable Commodity

If you’ve been reading my blog at all, you may have gleaned that I see inspiration as a highly desirable tool of motivation. It shouldn’t be a crutch, as hard work is really the best way to hone your craft, but let’s face it, when you have inspiration it makes things much easier. So when you’re having one of those highly inspired days/weeks/months, how do you hold onto the magic? How can you keep it as long as possible, free-riding on the waves of momentum you’ve created?

I see several ways, the primary one of which is just to not stop working. It’s the snowball effect: scoop up a handful, push it down the hill and don’t give in to anything that might try to steal your momentum as your creation rolls down the snowy mountain, growing all the while. But another way to keep the ball rolling comes in at a close second: protecting what you already have.

Beware of the Abyss

At the end of November 2010, I was at a pretty amazing place, inspiration-wise. After National Novel Writing Month, I had a rush of momentum: fifty thousand words of a new novel—that’s one heck of a snowball. When December hit, I took a small break from writing, standing back to look at the creation I’d begun—and to jump into a whirlwind of last-minute Christmas knitting projects. I snuggled onto the couch with a cozy yarn from my stash, put on a show and started knitting like a crazy lady with a mean deadline.

I was really enjoying the change of pace. Switching creative gears from writing to knitting is refreshing and I’ve found from time to time it helps with writer’s block. Not having turned on the television in what felt like ages, I was excited to start a new series. Time in front of the tube felt like such a splurge after NaNoWriMo, but I could rationalize it since I had to get my knitting projects done.

But after watching an episode of the show (I won’t name the series), I felt like a little bit of the creative juice had been sucked from me. The premiere felt unresolved though, so I watched another episode…and another. After three, things were still unresolved (and not in a mysterious, good plot writing sort of way) and I wasn’t feeling any better. Actually, I was feeling quite a bit worse—unmotivated and on the verge of depression. Way past my bedtime, I decided to turn it off and accept the lack of closure, vowing I wouldn’t watch any more of that show.

With it still on my mind the next few days, I wondered how something so trivial could hold such a power over me. How could three hours of a silly television show leave me feeling like I was spiraling down into an abyss from which no creativity could ever escape?

Inspiration Sucks

I knew it wasn’t just watching television in general that had sucked the inspiration from me—I often find nuggets of creative ideas in great shows and movies. The culprit in this case was a show all about the meaninglessness of this life and the one beyond it. It was one of those stories where the whole concept made you believe there was no greater purpose in life—and if that’s true, then what’s the point of doing anything? Not that I believe that, of course, but watching the show was like trash for my brain. You know what they say: “Garbage in…Garbage out.”

After that experience I realized how dangerous it is to subject myself to things that might steal my inspiration. TV shows with humor so base and unintelligent that sometimes I think watching them has to be killing brain cells (again, I won’t name specifics). Video games that get you hooked for hours…or days…on end, but leaving you with absolutely nothing of value in return. (I won’t mention my guilty pleasure in college, playing the Sims for five hours straight some days… Whoops, I said I wouldn’t mention it.) I’ve read books that are inspiration suckers, too. I’ve also hung out with certain people who have the same effect, leaving you feeling dull and lifeless after they drain the motivation right out of you.

The bottom line is, we creative types need to be on guard against anything that could be an Inspiration Suck. We must hold closest that which is most precious, protecting it from any outside force that could crush it. When Droids from enemy armies try to bash your snowball, use the force and keep them at bay. I’m not saying it’s wrong to take a break and watch some meaningless TV from time to time or that you should cut off relationships with people who leave you feeling depressed. I’m just saying that it’s important to keep the radar active, watch for things that might suck inspiration and be ready to battle it out when necessary.

Maybe it’s just me. Do you find the same holds true for yourself? What things, people or activities are Inspiration Sucks for you?

8 thoughts on “Protect Your Inspiration

  • Bec, you have really hit the nail on the head here. I know this has happened to me before. You’re right though, we have a choice as to how something we watch or who we spend time with will affect us. It’s interesting when you start to really take notice of it though. It’s really easy to just mosey along in life and not really pay attention to what we expose ourselves to and how it affects us.

    Being deliberate in life. It’s important in so many areas!

  • Rebecca. Liked your post and Tanya’s comment. I believe the key is to be clear about who’s controlling our emotional state and, if we’re watching TV, it isn’t us – also true for radio, but maybe less so. If I’m trying to be creative or get a load of work done, I avoid like the plague giving control of my state away. Have enough trouble managing it myself without someone else interfering!

    Like your WordPress theme BTW.

  • Until recently, I had a massive set of shelves above my desk. I don’t know why it took me over a year to figure out why I couldn’t write at that desk…but I finally realized that the shelves were sucking my inspiration. They loomed over my head, their weight pressing down and squashing every bit of creativity out of me. When I sat at that desk to write, it was like I couldn’t breathe. So I quit writing there. I haven’t written at my desk in two years.

    Three weeks ago, we took down the shelves. There is now lovely blank space above my desk, interrupted only by a few inspirational quotes I stuck to the wall. I haven’t started writing there again yet — but that space no longer suffocates me. My desk and I will become friends again.

    My other main inspiration suck is negative people. There are people in my life whom I love dearly but whose conversation revolves mainly around everything that is wrong with their lives. I nod and express sympathy and, as I listen, remind myself consciously that their negative emotions are not mine. And for every negative hour I spend with those people, I try to spend two hours with the ones who encourage, uplift, and invigorate. 🙂

  • Tanya — Exactly. I think watching that show was a wake-up call for me. I started to become aware of what external forces could impact me and how so.

    David — Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right. If we want to stay in the “create zone,” we need to keep those creative blinders on and remember who has the reins.

    Courtney — interesting about the shelf and how it affected your productivity. Was it the structure itself or what was on it? And also, I completely know what you mean about negative people. It’s a delicate balance because on the one hand I know I need to be a support and encouragement to them. But on the other, if I get too close or spend too long with those types, they end up pulling me down. There’s nothing like having several hours of intense conversation with someone and then parting with a feeling of general depression hanging over like Pig Pen’s dust cloud.

  • David — Pretty well, I think. I’m a pretty positive person. Because of my patience level I tend to “get out” before letting the “negs” seep in too deeply. I typically hang with people that inspire me.

  • Entertainment can definitely zap my motivation and make me feel tired. I like listening to music when I work on paintings and sewing but I like movies when I scrapbook. Sometimes my environment can bring me down too. Other times, I have the “mean reds”, this just means I’m feeling down or the negs.

    Getting out of the funk is sometimes easy but more often hard. I love finding something new to through myself into, a new sewing project, a new awesome book, or a totally different kind of music.

    I guess what I’m saying is do something different. Try something new.

  • Becca, it was a combination of the structure itself and what was on the shelves. The whole thing was this monstrosity that actually sat on the desk and reached all the way to the ceiling. And I kept all of our “business” documents on it. So every time I sat down to write, the weight of our finances and other responsibilities just suffocated my creative spirit.

    And I’m still learning the balance between encouraging those negative people and not ending up as a Pig Pen!

    Trish — “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” right? I love it! My phrase for the “mean reds” I got from “Gilmore Girls”: having ennui. 🙂

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