Don’t wait for Creative Inspiration to Get Work Done

Inspiration – it’s a fickle beast. We all know that. Sometimes I’m inspired, sometimes I’m not. Still have a deadline though, still need to get paid. One of my big priorities and motivators though is also to enjoy the experience as much as clients will (hopefully) enjoy the music I’ll compose for their film or play. Though it’s quite a nice bonus, that feeling of creative inspiration, of having ideas spring into mind as if from outside of us, isn’t really a prerequisite to said enjoyment.

Enjoying your work comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose says Daniel Pink in Drive; I know for me this is so so true – they were all factors I found intensely important for my work and life, even before I read his book. However, autonomy, mastery and purpose all take work to make happen, in and of themselves.

Autonomy asks that you structure your own time and/or way of working and requires discipline. Resistance and procrastination are ever present threats.

Mastery requires years of focussed, deliberate practise, experimentation and learning from your mistakes. It takes grit, determination and a somewhat obsessive drive. Or just… discipline.

Purpose requires thought, introspection and interrogation. The why of what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s obvious; often it’s not, and needs work in itself to get really clear on. What is your reason for doing the work? Be honest…

  • is it for the money (that’s ok, it’s high on my list, I gotta eat)?
  • is it in service of a joint venture to create something bigger and more awesome than you could do on your own (ooh a big juicy yes)?
  • is it to make your clients happy – and maybe get some much-needed ego validation (maybe the basis of the entire media industry)?
  • is it to work with people that you like hanging out with (guilty as charged)?

I call this ‘finding my in’… which I just realised might be a subconscious abbreviation of inspiration, hmm. As in, an alternative to this ephemeral, unpredictable feeling. A replacement inspiration strategy, something more reliable and practical and less dependant on forces outside of my control. Ooh interesting…

But back to the point – when starting work, inspiration is irrelevant. It’s a nice feeling though! And lovely when it does happen, no argument here.

However, I’m wary of it, and this is why: I experience anxiety on a fairly regular basis. I think my amygdala is a bit over reactive and sees or looks for threats where really there are none. My lizard brain is just tying to keep me safe, so I’m not annoyed with it. I’m thankful that such a trait kept my ancestors alive long enough to have spawned me.

However, said anxiety is so not helpful most of the time, so I acknowledge it, compartmentalise it and do my best to ignore it. Because it’s low level and semi-constant it’s easy to consign it to all the other background noise of life.

But sometimes it goes away and – this is the awesome bit – I’m left with a feeling of complete and delightful euphoria. It’s hard to describe. It’s as if I’m on holiday, the sun is shining and warm, I’m in a state of flow and everything I have to do just seems so easy. My thoughts are clear, my logic is sound, and I feel such a sense of connection to the world. But it’s fleeting. This too shall (and does) pass etc etc.

The euphoria, as delicious as it is, is so similar to that feeling of creative inspiration. It comes, it goes, but the work still has to (and does, mostly) happen. Experiencing random bouts of euphoria has led me to view such related feelings as just as random and unreliable.

Ironically, getting down to work when I’m just not in the mood can trigger feelings of inspiration. You may have already discovered this – is it old news to you? If so, bloody well done. Took me years to work it out. Back in 2009 I thought it was essential, oops.

I know for me, the creative impulse, that feeling of inspiration, isn’t a reliable instigator of action. Inspiration has become a reward for putting in the work. Just like it did for my ancestors – an evolutionary, cosy little way of signalling I’m probably on the right path.

Note to self: Dont wait for inspiration. Just do the work.

Image: Flickr