Not So Divine Inspiration
We’ve all seen it, that movie with the inspired writer who gets an idea out of the blue and writes a
whole book in one sitting, or the one with the painter who stays up all night and has created a masterpiece by morning. We love the idea of divine inspiration, of that Aha! moment. It makes art so much larger than our mortal selves. It lifts the artist to a higher plane, touched by greatness. Enter celestial lights and chorus.
Reality is quite different, though.
Many writers talk about having strict writing schedules, sometimes writing something great, often, not so much. Actors will make colossal mistakes in the rehearsal room trying to find the right moment. Dancers will practice daily, stretching and toning and strengthening and bleeding, until their movements seem effortless. Not quite as romantic, is it? The work of an artist, be it musician, painter, writer, actor, is in the day to day. It is in keeping the creative mind and spirit alive, and working diligently to produce something great.
Unfortunately, the working artist today is often working from their studio apartment in one of the artistic hubs around the world (New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, London, Hong Kong, Berlin, etc) paying rents that are far too high for what they earn through their art. And all too often, day jobs and chores and groceries and payments and preparing food, get in the way of their creative work. So how do we reconcile the two? How do we pay the rent and have time to explore?
Endless artist self-help books have sprung up to help solve this problem. One of my favorites is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In this twelve week course, Cameron guides you through a series of exercises to awaken the creative mind. Working through it, I got to a chapter that prescribed “Reading Depravation,” which implies not reading anything for a week. By reading, Cameron refers to anything that might occupy the mind with someone else’s words: watching the news while prepping in the morning, listening to a podcast on your way to work, reading an article while you wait in line, putting Netflix reruns on while you make dinner, reading a book before bed. It sounds quite daunting when you think of it. Eliminating all those distractions would result in a much quieter day. And what comes with quiet? Our self deprecating thoughts. That voice telling you you’re not good enough. The memory of that one time you said something silly to that important person you were trying to impress. The day in middle school when your friend betrayed you to your favorite teacher. One after the other, boom, boom, boom. Eventually though, your mind gets bored with teasing you, and it starts getting used to the quiet. And that’s when the magic happens. All of a sudden, you’re not thinking how much of a failure you are, but you start coming up with stories, poems, vivid images flashing before you. In the absence of distraction, your creative mind can get to the task of creating.
It’s not the solution, but it’s a start. Taking advantage of those spaces in between to let the mind wander, and then giving yourself a set time each day to harness those thoughts and develop them. That diligent daily work is what will eventually lead to the mysterious Aha! moment. It’s the effort you put in day in and day out that will lead to creative enlightenment. Not as lovely an image as being whispered to by some external force, but so much more gratifying.
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