Thoughts on Inspiration

by Lillie Sauer

What is inspiration? I’ve never really questioned it until recently. It’s usually portrayed as the illumination of a mental light bulb or some similarly sudden “Aha!” moment. Maybe sometimes it is a lot like that for some people. Still, there are those of us who don’t often feel like we have the mental wiring required to spark ideas in an instant; who feel rather like our ideas are small, delicate flames that demand intensive, gentle tending to grow into something impressive enough to share with others. Can such a needy thing be inspiration? Well, I don’t see why it can’t be and hopefully I’ll be able to adequately explain this point. But do we really need to know more about how and when we are being inspired — will it benefit us? Yeah, I think we do, and it will. It will prevent us from smothering that wisp of inspiration (either intentionally or accidentally) and help us to be more aware of its presence when it is especially small or quiet.

In order to begin to understand our creative/imaginative selves (i.e. ourselves when we are expressing our ideas honestly and without hesitation), we shouldn’t be afraid to be still or “unproductive.”  As to the former, we all probably agree we could benefit from more of it and in the case of the latter, it is a fallacy. Society rarely gives merit to those who move slowly and think quietly.  Rather, it more often places value on being efficient, busy, and otherwise overtly “successful.” I write such words derisively because of the connotative quantifiability they’ve been stained with through time. Now when a person is called successful, we immediately take it to mean they’re wealthy, well-known within their social spheres, hold a prominent position in their career field, etc. In short, it’s assumed that success can be added and subtracted in terms of observable changes. But in using the word in this way, we are entirely disregarding the perspective of the individual in question on the matter of their success — namely, whether they feel successful and, most importantly, if they’ve succeeded at the things that they hold personally valuable. I’ll get back to the idea of personal values, but it’s important to talk a bit about creative empathy.

The aforementioned social lack of regard for how a person feels about their own accomplishments is imprinted upon our respective creative processes and blocks our sense of inspiration. For myself, that usually plays out as something like this: a thought comes along at the right time and spurs a feeling of inspiration. But just as the ideas begin to flow, I might get a bit ahead of myself and begin to consider my work’s reception — where it will fit in, how people will react, how it compares to others’ creations – and I’m overwhelmingly reminded of the need to be successful by others’ standards. Then, as quickly as it began, the stream of ideas gradually becomes a bog, and as I look around inside my mind, I’m unable to find exactly what I was so excited about in the first place. At this point, if I were to push myself to stick to my original idea, while still worrying too much about what people will think of it, I know I’ll end up making something stiff and cold and boring. It is always blaringly obvious when someone is uninspired (i.e. disingenuous) and trying to tell you what they think you want to hear or trying to emulate someone else’s truth. In ignoring or falsifying our true feelings about things, we will never create something with which others can connect or share in any excitement, since we’ll have contributed no passion for them to feel or sense otherwise.

The best path we can take to avoid dull and lifeless creations is honesty. In my fairly short and unimpressive life so far, I’ve learned that nothing worthwhile comes from being dishonest with yourself. I tried to write books when I was a kid. They were about the sports I didn’t play or the friends I didn’t have. Even then I knew that my ideas were boring and that no matter how much detail I added or how many interesting words I could come up with, that wasn’t going to change. Of course, I attributed it to my inability to create stories and characters instead of a lack of truth to myself, so I just stopped trying. I never realized that I could just tell stories about the things I did every day. I didn’t have to write about what I thought other people would find interesting. They wouldn’t have been interested no matter how relatable I tried to make blonde-haired Kate who plays soccer sound. I didn’t think my honest feelings were important enough to express, though, so I moved on to other things after a few failed attempts at getting excited about writing. I probably walked away from writing at my computer desk and headed toward the woods behind my house to play in the creek or climb a tree, or biked to a friend’s house to play Spyro the Dragon, or sat down at the dining room table to read or color, or some other endeavor of genuine self-expression that could’ve been the inspiration for my stories. I always wanted to be a creative person, someone who makes things, but would’ve never for a second dared to consider my personal experiences to be worth sharing. Maybe this illustration is more about my lifelong struggle for confidence in myself than of the complications generally faced when dealing with inspiration, but just the same, it is about an inspired individual who mistook inspiration for epiphany and so, never knew just how ready she was to create. And I am certain by now that inspiration is nothing at all like epiphany. It is an experience that requires self-assurance and honesty and joy.

In case I haven’t alluded to this idea enough by now, it’s extremely important for each of us to take the time, if we haven’t already, to think long and hard about what we care about in life. If you truly are convinced that you can be happy/satisfied/content with pursuing meaningless (to you) work or relationships or activities in your spare time, then no one should be trying to stop you or convince you otherwise. I only say that because it’s unlikely that you are both (a) happy and (b) willingly living a personally meaningless life. But my thoughts here aren’t meant to make you care more about anything in particular or to care about something other than you do. The thing is, you absolutely care about something, so be honest with yourself as to what that is. Whether it’s one thing or a few, if thinking about it excites you, if it’s something you would hate to live without, if it’s something that you find yourself willing to sacrifice sleep, food, and attention for, then it’s probably exceptionally valuable to you.

So what? Even if we know fully where our values lie, not all of us can reasonably pursue only those things and get by comfortably in life. But I don’t believe we have to take into account every person’s situation, disposition, or values in order to say that ultimately, if you’re discontent with your life and have resigned to feeling that way indefinitely, then you’re taking your ability to find inspiration for granted and no amount of good things happening to you will save you from such resignation. If you truly value something — anything at all — you’ll find the motivation to pursue it regardless of costs. And if you’re still not sure if there’s any passion to be found within yourself even after a long time of thinking about it, don’t be discouraged. Not everyone is lucky enough to find that tiny flame of inspiration on their own. I most definitely couldn’t. If that’s the case, then talk to people, read books, play video games, explore new places and ideas, and something’s bound to ignite you.

So, what is inspiration? It can happen quickly, sure. It can come on slowly, either with minimal effort or pure intentionality. But it is not mindless. It is not just for the excessively ambitious, the gifted or the expert. Rather, it probably looks and feels a little bit different in each of us. If you make yourself slow down enough to really tune-in to the moment — watching the sunset slowly change colors, actively listening to another’s thoughts, fully experiencing a cup of great coffee – whatever you take pleasure in, without the usual distractions that prevent the rest of your senses from taking part in the moment – then you’ll start to know when inspiration is approaching and what to do about it.

Categories: Essay, Essays

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37 Comments »

  1. Lillie:
    Do we pursue inspiration or do we wait for it to arrive? That I believe is a false dichotomy for it may be that sitting quietly allows the emergence of a new form which is so different from what was there before that it seems to come from outside. “A professional does his best work when he doesn’t feel like it” said the actor Dirk Bogarde. Profound boredom is an indication that inspiration is not far away. Our normal bright shiny ideas lie lifeless about us and that is a mood that a serious thinker must cultivate whilst knowing that there is a single small thing that will release the flood. The cure is close to the disease. Look deep into the elements of your boredom and consider that Wittgenstein’s lectures were known as ‘the toothache class’ by his students. His wrestling (gk. agonia) was with a detail.

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  2. The golfing great, Gary Player, after playing a hole in one, was congratulated on his lucky break. He famously replied – luck is where opportunity meets preparedness. The same could be said of inspiration. Inspiration happens when opportunity meets preparedness. The key thing is that people who are well prepared create more opportunities. It is the alertness, the openness to opportunity which is the hallmark of inspiration.

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  3. ombhurbhuva,
    Do we pursue inspiration or do we wait for it to arrive?

    The main thrust of De Bono’s books was that, with suitable training, we could make inspiration happen.

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  4. Labnut:
    De Bono’s book Lateral Thinking should be in every school satchel and every briefcase. It is absolutely not pop self-help psychology. How can you generate the new creative solution that avoids the engramatic tracks that we naturally follow. I see that ‘stuckness’ as being valuable. It prevents us from moving into the deep rutted paths that are economical of mental effort.
    Intentio’ is ‘straining after’ which sense is retained in the philosophical concept of intentionality. It is this very straining after, this tension, this aporia, the I don’t know how to go on feeling that is creative. A new comprehension is required. The emergence of the creative solution involves finding a catalyst that crystallizes the new vision and it is inspririted by the stuckness.
    Can we ‘command poesy’ (Goethe)? Can the spirit be brought down? As in mystical method there is the cataphatic and the apophatic, positive methods and negative. De Bono and others cover the former. The negative requires a form of kenosis, an emptying out of self-will. That blank page is the dark night of the A4. I think it was Flaubert that said ‘I hate the ego’.

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  5. Hi Lillie

    I wonder to what extent Romantic ideas (about human creativity) are being assumed here. Or are you seeing inspiration and creativity in a more stripped-down sort of way (as I would want to do)?

    “In order to begin to understand our creative/imaginative selves (i.e. ourselves when we are expressing our ideas honestly and without hesitation), we shouldn’t be afraid to be still or “unproductive.” ”

    I’m entirely with you on the stillness thing. This also makes me think of the existentialists who dealt with things like “authenticity”. Didn’t Sartre talk about about a waiter who was merely playing at being a waiter, and so was not acting in an authentic way?

    Sartre was a perceptive and gifted writer, and had lots of arresting insights, but I’m not a fan of his. If I was to look at this sort of notion (authenticity) I would not go to philosophy but to literature. I’m thinking of the way the narrator of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye used the word “phony”. Authentic is just the opposite of this. It’s something you can sense. (And I suspect that eventually we might be able to figure out how our brains process information coming from others and distinguish between authentic and inauthentic. A smile for example. Judging ideas would be more complex but may call on the same kind of mechanisms.

    I agree that with thoughts and ideas, what counts is their trueness or authenticity rather than the extent to which they are developed etc.. What’s the use of developing ideas that are fundamentally ill-conceived? And yet (successful – and unsuccessful) people are doing it all the time – building dead structures.

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  6. Dan-K,
    You really think we are going to have a physiological account of authenticity and inauthenticity?

    Yes. It is called a lie detector.

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  7. Mark,
    I agree that with thoughts and ideas, what counts is their trueness or authenticity

    You speak like a true[!] scientologist (my pejorative name for a scientismist. It trips off the tongue in a more satisfying way 🙂 ). My first objection is that trueness is not the same thing as authenticity. With the term trueness you are tapping into the general concept of truth while authenticity deals with one state truthfully representing another state. They are related concepts but differ in crucial ways.

    Secondly, we know already, from the three transcendentals, that the value of thoughts can be characterised by the true, the good and the beautiful. You have omitted the good and the beautiful, which is an omission a scientologist is prone to making.

    Thirdly, I believe that inspiration contains within it an overarching concept that transcends even the true, the good, the beautiful and authenticity. This is the concept of creativity. Creativity is the realisation of an unknown and logically unpredictable future from the ground of the present. It is an act of pure free will and it is only in our creative acts that we exercise pure free will.

    It is in our creative state that we exercise our highest nature. Let me explain. We alone in the animal kingdom have the capacity to conceive of the future. Every moment of the present we are falling into the future and the future is fraught with dread possibilities. The rest of the animal kingdom, lacking the capacity to conceive of the future, fall into the future unprepared, becoming victim to the dread possibilities contained in the future.

    We alone, because we can imagine a future, can prepare for the future and thus avoid the dread possibilities inherent in the future(and thus defy the the inexorable logic of Darwinian selection). That is the first great gift of the possibility of conceiving of the future. The second great gift of this god-like capacity is that we can imagine a better future and this better future is encapsulated in the concepts of the true, the good and the beautiful. All of our progress has resulted from the realisation of this capacity.

    But here is the key thing. Imagining an unknown and unpredictable future is an act of pure creativity and the trigger of creativity is inspiration. When we exercise inspiration to become creative we are fulfilling our highest calling. In these moments we become god-like.

    I will go further and claim that creatively conceiving of a better future is necessary for our subjective well-being. Our capacity to imagine the future is the source of our existential dread as every moment of the present we knowingly fall into a potentially dread future. Our subjective awareness is finely balanced in the present with the past containing memories of all that can go wrong and the future containing the threat of further and perhaps worse wrong. The result is anxiety, fear, dread and unhappiness. The antidote is to tilt the balance into the future by creatively conceiving of a better future and focusing one’s energies on the realisation of that better future. That better future may be focused on the true, the good or the beautiful, according to one’s aptitudes and goals.

    Acting creatively goes to the very heart of who and what we are and is the source of our fulfilment. It is our highest calling. It starts with inspiration.

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  8. Lillie: You seem to have a very Cartesian view on this cluster of issues, and it’s one I just don’t share. I would argue that whether or not something is “successful” is a public, not a private matter. If one is a creator of content — whether fine arts, popular entertainment, etc. — the point ultimately is to engage with the public, which means that all of the relevant measures of success and failure are going to be public. Put bluntly, someone may very well think that he is a brilliant writer, but if no one else thinks so, it really doesn’t matter very much. Anyone can be a genius in his or her own mind. The real question is whether one creates things that resonate with others. So, while I understand your derisive attitude towards public conceptions of success, I cannot agree with it.

    I do agree entirely, however, that as a creator, to set out simply to please a public in a cynical fashion is likely to result in one’s producing crap. And depending on whether one cares, that may matter or not.

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  9. On that remark I made about the way notions like the authenticity might relate to brain processes, let me just say a few things. First, it was meant as a parenthetical remark (though, perhaps significantly, I did not close the bracket!). Secondly, with respect to smiles, “social” smiles can be distinguished from more genuine smiles by certain physical features. As I understand it, a genuine smile normally spreads across the upper face (especially around the eyes) in a way that a more deliberate smile doesn’t. So it would not be unreasonable to imagine that we could get something out of examining differences in the way the brains of people who were naturally good at perceiving this kind of difference operated compared to the brains of those who were not. You could also possibly train an expert system to make these distinctions.

    But these distinctions are not just about basic perception, they are also about emotion and emotional judgment – friend/foe, truth teller/deceiver… (Animals like dogs are making this sort of distinction all the time, though, given their poor eyesight, they would not be relying on subtle visual cues relating to facial expression.)

    The other thing I have in mind is a fairly common neurological condition (which I have observed) of someone recognizing a partner, close friend or family member but having the strong intuition that this person is not “really” the person in question. This is caused by a (usually temporary) brain malfunction which involves the *emotional* sense of trust and familiarity which is normally activated when a particular face is seen not being activated. We are talking about a disconnect between two normally connected brain regions. So the sufferer has the sense that this is not *really* my husband, son or whatever. The person may *look* identical but is judged not to be the genuine article and is distrusted and treated with great suspicion.

    I know this is getting away from Lillie’s themes but I wanted to explain what was behind that parenthetical remark of mine.

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  10. Mark,
    ” So it would not be unreasonable to imagine that we could get something out of examining differences in the way the brains of people who were naturally good at perceiving this kind of difference operated compared to the brains of those who were not. ”
    Maybe; however, it really just takes training (how else do you think we discovered the micro-expressions of authentic/inauthentic smiling?). I strongly urge considering the work of Paul Ekman. Admittedly he’s a terrible writer, but the substance of his work is worth considering. Speaking as one of those so talented, I also have to say that this talent is something of a curse, and possibly develops more quickly among those of us raised in families where no one was to be trusted. Not something to be wished on others.

    Lillie,
    I echo Dan’s remarks and (with qualifications as above) Mark’s reservations.

    You have all the pieces of the puzzle, but you seem to prefer not to bring them together in the larger picture. Clearly the inspiration involves bringing seeming separate experiences together through intuition and then driving them together to develop something the subject feels desire for.

    I used to write stories because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read; and songs because no one else seemed to be making the music I wanted to hear. But these were not brought forth whole cloth, they involved combining and recombining elements from the writers and songwriters I admired. There was nothing magical about it.

    We have a lot of essays extolling the virtues of inspiration. What we need are more essays like Poe’s Philosophy of Composition, explaining the process of bringing inspiration into the material reality of an actual performance, or work of art, or even just decision making. Academic literati have long dismissed Poe’s essay on the writing of The Raven, because it dispels the myth of the ‘mad genius’ poet; but in fact many poets report similar considerations, from Wordsworth and Shelly to Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsberg. The inspiration means nothing if there is not a quite practical process to bring it to fruition.

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  11. Dan-K,
    I would argue that whether or not something is “successful” is a public, not a private matter.

    I agree this is largely true for creative work, as it is generally understood. But it is not necessarily true. I will give just three examples to illustrate my point, one simple, one complex and one extravagant.

    1) I recently made a a cell phone holder from a piece of Kudu hide(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_kudu). This, for me, was a creative act. I am intensely pleased with the result and feel that I have a high quality cell phone pouch that is particularly well suited to my purpose, is durable and has a most luxurious feel(and appearance). It was “successful” by all my criteria and the public judgement is irrelevant where I am concerned.

    2) In all my IT projects I endeavour to respond creatively with innovative solutions that go well beyond my client’s expectations and solve his problems in unexpectedly effective ways. The “success” of that is of course a matter of public judgement insofar as the client represents the public, but for him success is more a matter of cost, timeousness and functionality. Usually he couldn’t care less about the expression of my creative urges. But it goes deeper than that. The internal structure and layout of the programmes can be a satisfying thing of beauty and is another expression of creative urges. This is seldom visible to the client and I have never known a client to express an opinion on the matter. Its success is not judged publicly.

    Then there is the matter of outsider art(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outsider_art), sometimes known as art brut. Jean Dubuffet described this as

    Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade

    .

    3) We have our own wonderful example of outsider art, the acclaimed Owl House, created by Helen Martins in Nieu Bethesda, near Graaf Reinet. She created it in a frenzied outpouring of creative urges, in near solitude, with no art training and with no contact with the art world. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Owl_House and http://theowlhouse.co.za/

    I am of course talking about creativity in a much broader sense than you are but I maintain that this broad sense is the true sense.

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  12. Lillie:
    Write to please yourself if you are writing novels or short stories. If you don’t you will probably end up being a hack, writing to some formula and achieving success on that basis will be an empty triumph. In any case a lot of people try to do that and fail. I am wary of writing workshops and fine art programs as leading to a masking of your own voice. One good reader with a keen flensing knife is enough.

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  13. Write to please yourself if you are writing novels or short stories.

    That depends on whether your goal is pleasure or excellence. The achievement of excellence is the finest pleasure but getting there requires that we be open to the critical voices of others.

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  14. Hi Lillie, I agree about being honest with oneself and also finding things by slowing down. I am wondering however, and this is a question, if you have combined a few elements of the creative process? You seem to be treating motivation as if it were the same thing as inspiration. I’m not sure I’d agree with that.

    I tend to view the creative process as containing inspiration, motivation, and interest (or mood). So something can inspire a work, but then something else might motivate one to do it in general, and then there is the rhythm (biological?) which is needed to feel like doing it right now.

    The professional may find motivation in getting to pay the bills, or have strong control to create even when they are not much in the mood… yet the inspiration for a piece be “genuinely” artistic, or emotional.

    I have also been surprised when I found inspiration when simply thinking of something I was not previously thinking about (writing on a topic or in a voice or in a certain word count) as a challenge. Then when I get a few things created I find further inspiration… and it really takes off… from the elements I just made.

    In any case, while I usually find inspiration pretty easily, it is rare that the inspiration is enough to deliver motivation and mood. I guess this is to say I find creativity to be a nexus, an alignment, rather than having a single force driving it along.

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  15. I agree with much of what Labnut wrote.

    And while what Dan says about brilliance or success having a public dimension is true in some sense, it depends on the goals of the creator and even then it is not so simple.

    In the social sphere, a work can be successful financially, critically, or popularly. But there is no guarantee of being successful in all three. So which is the *true* measure of success? And if one has a purpose beyond finance, critique, and popularity (as Labnut gave an example) for a piece of art, must those public measures be used to judge its *success*?

    And brilliance isn’t even a thing that the public can judge properly. A work (or artist) can *work* for one person and so seem *brilliant* and yet not so much for others. Some works and artists have to wait generations before an audience comes into existence who can really appreciate what they made. So then is the artist extra brilliant, being way ahead of the curve, seeing what no one else could, or were they a deluded fool at the time they were creating for thinking themselves (or their art) brilliant?

    This is interesting, because we just had an essay which used an extremely popular and long-lived TV series as an example of “stupidity”. Yet it was successful on the social dimensions I mentioned except… perhaps… critically?

    Was the creation of Jed Clampett brilliant and a success? Back then yes, today no? Always yes, always no? If Buddy Ebsen felt fulfilled and satisfied with his role on that small stage set within the larger stage of life itself… couldn’t he claim success of some kind?

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  16. Labnut:
    Doing good work gives one pleasure. It’s also nice to get paid. But that can’t be the goal. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 21 times. As Wordsworth noted  “every great and original writer in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished” He was helped by having a great reader in S.T. Coleridge, William Hazlitt, etc. Ezra Pound edited The Waste Land for T.S. Eliot. Hemingway had great editors. The list is long. Feedback from the public is mostly noise influenced by the latest cool thing, as shifting as the murmuration of a flock of starlings.

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  17. Hi Lillie:

    I find there are two pretty reliable sources of inspiration not mentioned so far: sleep and walking. The mind’s ability to throw up ideas through sleep always amazes me. Walking also does the job remarkably. “Solvitur ambulando” is my favourite motto. I think I first read it in Kierkegaard. It has an interesting history, touched on here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solvitur_ambulando

    In classical terms, walking is very Apollonian. (I mean mere everyday walking, steady strolling, not hiking or power walking or anything athletic.) I find that the Dionysian experiences (sex, alcohol and Bach-and-Mozart) may be enjoyable and uplifting, but for me they don’t lead to light bulb events. Perhaps that’s just me!

    Alan

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  18. Alan,
    Walking also does the job remarkably. “Solvitur ambulando”

    Yes, indeed. I wonder why it does the job so well?

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  19. It’s puzzling. Oxygen to the brain and steady muscular activity? I find cycling requires too much attention for inspiration to get a look in. Rowing might be good.

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  20. And let’s not forget coffee and tea. Steven Johnson is good on this. As he says, coffee and tea created the environment of the Enlightenment.

    I wrote my PhD on Joseph Priestley, a polymath and co-discoverer of oxygen much admired by Johnson and featured in his “The Invention of Air”.

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  21. Hi ombhurbhuva,

    “Doing good work gives one pleasure. It’s also nice to get paid. But that can’t be the goal.”

    Why not? There are examples of successful works that were created for either of those reasons.

    ……………

    Hi Alan, I had never heard that phrase before, it sounds cool but doesn’t seem (according to the link) to mean the same thing as you are talking about?

    In any case, I completely agree that sleep and walking are fantastic for both creative and analytical processes. To answer Labnut’s question, I think the reason why is that the brain is “freed up” from processing information about the here and now, and so can wander or “free associate”. By testing different combinations of ideas/experiences something new or some new vantage point can be found.

    If stuck, either are great choices. The idea people are better at solving problems chained to their desk, head in hands, is nuts. That is not necessarily “working on the problem”, and often enough (if it is an intellectual issue) can be an impediment to getting a solution.

    I also agree about Dionysian experiences, and it likely is the same explanation. Those are about high processing of the moment, rather than relaxing and letting the mind go where it will. Well… Alcohol is a slight exception. I find some amount is great for lubricating the wheels for creation, especially writing. Just not Dionysian amounts!

    …………..

    Hi Lillie, one thing that occurred to me, especially in light of the commentary, is that your essay concentrates on (what Mark might call) a Romantic vision of inspiration, in that it seems to belong to an individual. The artist finding inspiration on their own.

    A lot of works are collaborative efforts, where the inspiration must belong to (be found, held, and nurtured by) several people. Not sure what your view is on that, but I have known people who feel that is somehow lesser. There is a push to find the sole person who was key, who had the first inspiration that got the thing done.

    To me that is sort of sad, incomplete. I’ve enjoyed collaborative works, feeling the inspiration grip more than one person at once and the ideas building off of each other, so it is really impossible to pin down who gets credit for the final work. And why should it come down to one person, and one idea?

    This is not the same, but works along the same lines as getting feedback or having good editors (as others discussed).

    For some artists I’ve known, it may be they are not so functional on their own, yet are fantastic in a collaborative setting. It is not that they lack inspiration, and cannot do a thing. Just that they do not have it in isolation. They come to life in social, communal processes.

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  22. Mark,
    You are likely quite right to question how much of this is assuming Romantic ideas, as I can’t say that I don’t naturally lean towards a Romantic mindset, especially when it comes to the subject of inspiration. I think I may have let too much of that slip through unchecked, though, and that was not my intention for this piece. Mostly, I wanted to express the idea of inspiration as something that largely requires mindfulness and intentionality, by which I mean something like thinking about our thoughts and dissecting them unflinchingly.
    I agree very much with your statement that authenticity is best observed in literature. Especially since I see trying to explain our personal experiences in a way others can easily understand — as opposed to merely focusing on expressing oneself in a way that is largely unedited and un-summarized — loses a lot of authenticity in the process. But (as I’m realizing here 😊) it can sometimes be hard to balance authenticity and clarity.
    I’m also very curious to see what developments can be made in our understanding of the brain in terms of such abstract concepts and I’m convinced that what is found will add valuable insight to the conversation of inspiration.

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  23. Dan,
    I’m not asking facetiously, but what about what I said is “very Cartesian”? As I’d like to be able to recognize those ideas in myself and remedy that confusion.
    I totally agree with you about the success of people who create for others and I see how I was lacking clarity on this point. When it comes to being successful, I see us each having to make a choice: do we want to stick to our own standards of success and ultimately answer only to ourselves, or will we not be satisfied with simply knowing that we created with a genuine and honest voice, but also that other’s response to that voice echos or feelings of success? I think I skimped on the discussion this dichotomy in my essay when I mentioned the pursuit of “meaningless” things.

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  24. EJ,
    Along the lines of my response to Dan, it seems I’ve definitely been fairly imprecise on some points. That said, I very much agree with your comments on the practicality of the process of inspiration. You are of course right that no magic is involved here. I had hoped to illustrate that inspiration is an honest effort to express oneself in some way. Going along with that, as you mentioned, are all of the endeavors of those we admire that fuel our creative processes along the way.
    It is foolish to think that we can magically come up with new ideas purely from ourselves, since we often cannot account for subconscious motivations. But it is equally foolish to think that our perspectives are not unique to some extent, even if that extent is only the unique combination of ideas we’ve collected from others.

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  25. Dwayne,
    I like your view on the creative process. I agree that it involves all the individual pieces you mentioned, which combine to form the whole picture, each exerting their particular force upon the creative process. The idea of some sort of rhythm is especially poignant to my experience, as it is often the part that requires the most effort from me to find/set in motion. But once the rhythm seems to be in place, it’s often a lot easier to ride that momentum and enjoy the process of creating.

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  26. Hi D.B. Holmes –

    Ombhurbhuva:“Doing good work gives one pleasure. It’s also nice to get paid. But that can’t be the goal.”

    D.B. Holmes:Why not? There are examples of successful works that were created for either of those reasons
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    I’m going to assume that you meant ‘neither’ instead of ‘either’. Are you suggesting that creative writers, Lillie’s demographic, can write good work and aren’t satisfied thereby or aren’t satisfied but the work is still good? The latter is possible and may even be a good thing, complacency is the enemy. However persisting in doing anything which gives only misery is an indication of an addictive personality not a creative one. Yes there is graphomania and writers have notoriously been addicted to substances other than ink.

    Writing for money according to some formula and getting it is a form of success. This does not address the problem of authenticity which is Lillie’s concern. Again it is just possible that you could write with the aim of making money, be successful and accidentally create decent work. I can’t think of anyone offhand but you seem confident that there is or are such. Names please.

    Writing these days, in Lillie time, with money in mind (creative writing) is foolish. Very few make any. Even writers who make money continue to write long after they have all they need which indicates that this was not their sole aim.

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  27. I don’t mean ‘Cartesian’ too literally. What I was getting at is that you focus very heavily on the internal mental state of the creator and are dismissive of public reception and judgment.

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  28. Labnut

    “Our subjective awareness is finely balanced in the present with the past containing memories of all that can go wrong and the future containing the threat of further and perhaps worse wrong. The result is anxiety, fear, dread and unhappiness.”

    This bit, at least, I relate to. 🙂

    “The antidote is to tilt the balance into the future by creatively conceiving of a better future and focusing one’s energies on the realisation of that better future.”

    Seriously, I can relate to this too.

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  29. ejwinner

    ” “… differences in the way the brains of people who were naturally good at perceiving this kind of difference operated compared to the brains of those who were not.” Maybe; however, it really just takes training (how else do you think we discovered the micro-expressions of authentic/inauthentic smiling?).”

    Yes, but I was suggesting also that emotive elements (which derive from deeper, unconscious parts of the brain) play into this: the gut feeling of trust and approval etc.. And that these two elements – cognitive and emotive (it’s more complicated, no doubt) – have to work together in the healthy brain to get the full insight.

    “I strongly urge considering the work of Paul Ekman.”

    I’ll have a look.

    “Speaking as one of those so talented, I also have to say that this talent is something of a curse, and possibly develops more quickly among those of us raised in families where no one was to be trusted.”

    Growing up like that must have been terrible, but I can’t see how the skill of distinguishing the fake from the genuine in facial expression would be a curse.

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  30. Hi Ombhurbhuva, I meant either. Basically, I wasn’t sure what you meant by “that can’t be the goal.”

    Yes a person can write something that others feel is good, but the writer is not satisfied. They may even feel that it is good, but did not turn out (perhaps capture) what they wanted. Or maybe they think it is good, but is mistaken by others about its meaning and appreciated for all the wrong reasons… thus it is good, but not good in the way others think, and so not as satisfying.

    I just got done reading Fight Club for the first time, and this edition includes an afterward which suggests as much from the author. It started as a simple experiment, he extended it into a romance, it is thought to be many things except for that.

    I agree that writing for a paycheck does not guarantee authenticity, particularly if it is done conforming to formula. Those will work against authenticity. However writing for a paycheck or to fit a formula does not necessarily eliminate authenticity. It may be challenging, but it is not impossible, and some artists enjoy those kinds of challenges. How do they get their voice, their stamp, what they want to say, out through the vehicle of XYZ. And I don’t think that has to be an accident.

    Does industrialized art, pressing artists to create work using strict formula, with the only goal (producer and artist) to make $ hinder the creative process and so make it less likely to get good art. Yeah I’d agree with that. At the same time, many argue letting artists have free rein can result in equally dismal results as they are often bloated, self-indulgent garbage.

    Off the top of my head I am more familiar with actors and directors that have done work for $, that turned out to be good. I was at an event with Cristopher Lee where he told us some of those movies he is famous for he never wanted to do, but was basically guilted into making them because the studio needed money, and others he had to because he needed money. The latter is almost a cliche in movies. Mark Ruffalo (I think it was on Bill Maher’s show) discussed making the movies he is famous for, the popular ones, in order to do the “artistic” ones that few people care about (but he does). Which is the success then, the blockbusters many people love, or the ones he does? Patrick Stewart made Captain Picard what he is, famous, yet he took it with basically no knowledge or care about Star Trek… he needed the $. Heck much of the cast of the original ST did not know what it would become.

    In fact much of the movie classics were made in a real movie *industry* which was run like a hard nosed business, and writers and stars like normal contracted employees. Same goes for TV series. You think all the episodes of a TV series were written by people starting with and sticking to inspiration?

    “Writing these days, in Lillie time, with money in mind (creative writing) is foolish. Very few make any. Even writers who make money continue to write long after they have all they need which indicates that this was not their sole aim.”

    I’m not saying that pleasure or $ *is* or *should be* the sole aim of an artist. I’m saying one can have varying degrees of success following either, or neither. Thus I didn’t understand your admonition they *can’t* be the goal.

    On writing with money in mind. Banking on it might be foolish, but never trying is a guarantee you never will.

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  31. D.B. Holmes:
    We started out talking about Lillie waiting for ‘the spark from heaven to fall’ ; the writer alone watching the accusing cursor’s blink, her pencil’s all sharp, her preferred paper still white. Now you have changed to the writer in a collaborative role in an industry run by philistines whose bottom, top and middle line is money. There’s a name for that fallacy, amplificando terminorum. which I just made up. What is well known is that creative writers such as Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner had not a good time in Hollywood. Hemingway who sold his rights said their treatments were like pissing in your father’s beer. It’s the rare exception where the good novel meets a great director and the movie is not a shameful travesty. Fat City by Leonard Gardner who also wrote the screenplay for the John Huston picture is an example.
    He also did Moby Dick by Melville and Treasures of the Sierra Madre by B.Traven. In general the rule appears to be that mediocre books can be fashioned into superior pictures but that good ones rarely translate well to the screen. It’s the inward thing that gets lost.

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  32. There’s a name for that fallacy, amplificando terminorum. which I just made up.

    I like it.
    In plain English – terminal exaggeration or perhaps reasoning by extremes

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  33. Hi Ombhurbhuva,

    “Now you have changed to the writer in a collaborative role in an industry run by philistines whose bottom, top and middle line is money. ”

    I haven’t changed anything. You are the one who argued that people *can’t*, and I simply asked why and pointed out that it can be done. You asked for examples as if there were *none* and I gave *some*. And I do think it is a bit more common than you make out, having discussed some cases which you don’t deal with at all. As I said some of this is so common it is a cliche. Perhaps less so for writers? Ok, but not so sure that is true given all that is produced.

    Remember I agree that such things tend to stand against authenticity and perhaps producing one’s better works. I’m just questioning your extreme stance of *can’t*.

    “In general the rule appears to be that mediocre books can be fashioned into superior pictures but that good ones rarely translate well to the screen. It’s the inward thing that gets lost.”

    But what you seem to be talking about here are translations, and not about those things written directly for the screen which is what I was talking about.

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  34. Hi Lillie,

    “But once the rhythm seems to be in place, it’s often a lot easier to ride that momentum and enjoy the process of creating.”

    Exactly. And it is sometime heartbreaking when I realize that the moment I finally have a gap in day to day work does not sync up with my rhythm to write.

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