As I look back at stories and poems I’ve written over the years, the ones I composed in a feverish rush of “inspiration” are mediocre, at best. Cutesy, at worst.
The ones I worked and reworked over months, or in many cases years, still surge with energy and relevance. They’re built on a firm foundation.
Would you believe I’m still working on a poem I began in 2003? It’s a good poem, but only recently have I realized that the narrative voice isn’t mine. It’s the voice a young man 15 years younger than me.
I’m not one for giving or trusting advice. But this one has held up over the years, at least for me: Work, don’t wait, for inspiration.
Also, don’t assume you’ll recognize it. Just because you can’t see or feel inspiration, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
To me, inspiration shares qualities similar to love. Many mistake infatuation for love. Just like many mistake an idea or spark of energy for inspiration.
Inspiration is much deeper and more complex than a fleeting emotion. Take its root word “spir”. It means breath.
That’s what we’re really after: life-giving breath.
I prefer to think of inspiration as something achieved, rather than received. It is a breath discovered or uncovered. It lies outside us, but isn’t something the gods of art sprinkle on the chosen few.
Like coal, gold or old artifacts, inspiration is buried and awaits someone with the intelligence, skill and tenacity to extract it. Not to hoard or hawk, but to share it.
Inspiration rises out of our struggle to create—which is essentially a struggle to dig deep within ourselves in search of our identity, place and purpose.
That sudden, serendipitous spark we mistake for inspiration tends to be an imposter. Just like that rush of attraction and excitement toward someone has little to do with love.
Inspiration is choice. And it awaits the few who pursue.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on July 21, 2013.