on inspiration – letter no. 4

It is popular these days to talk about creativity as if inspiration didn’t matter. I think this is an oversight. It’s simple to say that the important part of making things is to make them; to keep making and creating day after day without waiting for inspiration. There is nothing inherently wrong with this model, except that it’s an oversimplification. Sure, we shouldn’t be waiting for creativity to find us. We won’t write great American novels or paint masterpieces if we’re lying around, waiting for the brilliant idea to come. Creativity does have to be a habit. I’m just convinced there’s more to “inspiration” than that. 

I think inspiration is important, even if it’s not as vibrant and sudden as spontaneous combustion, or doesn’t go off like fireworks in our minds. But I think inspiration can also be cultivated. If you stop and explore what you’ve written or painted or composed or designed, I imagine you’ll discover that your best work happens at the intersection of a faithful creative habit and inspiration. And when you stop to explore where your inspiration comes from, I think you’d find a consistent source or sources for it as well. 

I used to just think I liked long walks, but now I’m realizing that I have my greatest capacity and inspiration for creativity when I can regularly get out for a walk by myself. Even if it’s not very long, it’s like a reset button. I come home a bit refreshed, a bit energized, and with my writing mind a little bit clearer. Maybe it’s the blank space of being unplugged for a while. Maybe it’s that plus the exercise, or maybe the chance to see beautiful things like light on the willow leaves at the park or a stained glass window in a neighborhood house or even a well-planned garden: something about walking without talking, pushing a stroller or glancing at my phone gives my brain a creative boost. 

It’s not as if I come home with new ideas every time I take a good walk. More often than not, it feels like I’m just stretching my legs. But my best ideas and my best writing all come when I regularly clear my mind, and I do that best when I’m walking. I can’t conjure inspiration, but I’ve learned I can make space for it to land. Maybe it’s a ten-minute walk before the sun gets too hot. Maybe it’s a long walk with a flashlight after dark, watching the growing crescent moon and listening to the crickets. Sometimes it’s just sitting outside on the patio without books or phone while my toddler naps – not walking but letting my mind wander all the same. Regardless, it’s clearing this sort of landing space that I know will eventually invite the good ideas.

Maybe your inspiration comes on Pinterest. Maybe it comes when you lie on the floor with your feet on the couch and stare at the ceiling. Maybe it’s a hot cup of coffee or a good playlist or yoga. But it matters that you know, that you find that thing that creates the most space for inspiration and do that thing repeatedly. It should be as much a habit as your actual work. Don’t let that space disappear under the pressure of life. It’s easy to think that time for self-care is selfish or unnecessary or that you’ll get back to your evening sweat session when there’s more time, but more often than we realize, that ongoing time of quiet is one of the most crucial players in our work and creativity. If you have to let it go for a while, don’t stay away too long. 

I did a study on rest throughout the Bible last year, because I think I was trying to figure out how I could rest in such a busy season of parenting. I mostly discovered that rest is pretty much a commandment in the Christian faith. It seemed a bit odd to me still, but I knew I was getting burnt out on a daily level trying to squeeze seven productive days into each week, so I began trying to find ways to rest. I’m still not very good at it, but I’ve found it’s not only giving me a better ability to function, it allows me to find greater creativity too. 

I’m not trying to make this into a sermon – I’m just becoming aware of a correlation between a tenant of my faith and the way it actually brings my creative goals closer to reality. I’m trying to say Look – down-time is so important it’s even in this major book of faith, the one I believe in. So create some restful space with your hard working habits, and watch inspiration step into that invitation. 

Find your rest: I dare you. Don’t wait for inspiration, go out and clear a place for it in your life, like weeding a garden even when you can’t see the seedlings yet. The flowers will grow, they just need time and a little space to breathe.

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