I was “inspired” to write this post after reading a great article in The Guardian recently on how top artists find creative inspiration . Creative inspiration is such a strange and fascinating thing to me, like a sort of magic. The Greeks thought inspiration came from the gods. Of course we think we know differently nowadays, but I have a theory that as far as affairs of the mind are concerned we are still living in as much ignorance as the Greeks were thousands of years ago. I hope that in a couple of hundred years’ time scientists will have a much greater understanding of how the human brain works, and that advances in neurology will one day bring an end to mental health suffering, in the same way that advances in vaccines eradicated small pox. But will scientists ever get to the bottom of the mystery of creative inspiration? In a way, I hope they don’t! It’s much more satisfying to think that our greatest ideas come to us by some sort of divine intervention.
Finding creative inspiration
Here are a few things that have helped me prod my lazy muse into action!
- First and foremost, sit down and write! There’s the famous quote from Thomas Edison: ‘genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration’. I see a lot of writing as not so much divine inspiration, more like a puzzle, a sort of a Sudoku. I have an idea where I want my characters to end up. Now I must puzzle out how and why do they get there? If my hero and heroine are such awesome people, why don’t they fall in love on page one? How do I get the reader to understand the characters’ actions in as subtle a way as possible?
I was reading back over some of my old writing recently – most of it pretty dross, but there were one or two passages where I thought “Wow, this is actaully quite good. How on earth did I think this bit up?” I actually had no recollection of where my ideas had sprung from. What I do know is, my ideas very rarely spring fully-formed onto the page. My ideas are a bit like rough diamonds – not that brilliant to look at. I have to take hold of them and work at them and puzzle it out and polish until the writing comes together and looks effortless.
- Having said that….don’t force it all the time with hard work! It’s OK to daydream sometimes. J.K. Rowling had the idea for Harry Potter whilst stuck on a train, staring out of the window. It’s fine just to do nothing from time to time apart from look into space.
- Don’t sweat it and don’t be a perfectionist. You know (or you hope!) that other people are going to read your book, but don’t think about that too hard otherwise their imaginary criticism starts putting you off. I’m no Jane Austen, but that hasn’t stopped people enjoying my writing. I’m no Gordon Ramsay, either, but that doesn’t stop me cooking or stop people asking for seconds of my sausage and mash. If you’re expecting to be the best, you won’t ever do anything.
- It’s OK to be distracted sometimes. Sometimes your domestic life or your family or your “real” work catches hold of you and writing has to take a back seat, but that’s OK. You need the real world to intrude for a lot of the time, because if you didn’t have real life what the hell would you have to write about? (And all writing is about real life, even sci-fi.)
- It’s important for a writer to be a keen observer. I was born into a large, riotous family where my voice wasn’t heard and I was very quiet. This was hard at the time, but it did make me grow up to be a natural observer of others. Maybe a lot of writers are introspective, I don’t know, but if you are naturally chatty, try spending some time detached from the conversations around you and just observing the interactions and the body language.
- Learn new things. If you’re a writer, don’t just stick to reading new authors – go to art galleries, a musical, go to a football match or even the darts. There’s something to be learned in all walks of life. Be curious!
- Don’t wait for inspiration before you start writing. Even if you think the only idea you have is cack, just sit down and write and write. Something will come to you as you write.
It’s a shame the online Guardian article I quoted above doesn’t show the pictures which were in the printed version. A lot of the artists interviewed keep journals and the printed newspaper article contained fascinating photos of the artists’ doodles, jotted ideas, beautiful artwork and all sorts of rambling and disconnected thoughts. The article has inspired me to make my only new year’s resolution – to start carrying around a notepad, so I can write stuff down before I forget it.
How about you? Are you creative, and if so, how do you pluck ideas from your mind and fashion them into something you can share with others? If you have any tips on getting your Muse to work for you, or any comments on the above, I’d love to hear from you!