And then there are days where you can't write fast enough for all of the ideas sparking through your brain like a fireworks show. Those glorious days where you could write for hours and not feel drained by it - on the contrary, you feel stimulated by it, and the only thing that stops you is the fact that it's one in the morning and tomorrow is a school day.
We'd all like to have more days like the latter and less like the former, wouldn't we? But how? Inspiration seems to strike at random and with no particular pattern: it can happen late over a Friday night after-work drink, while you're at the gym, sleeping, commuting, or just gazing out of the window. Quiet and loud times, day or night, perfect or terrible timing, inspiration is a mistress that taps your shoulder when she is ready, regardless of whether you are or not.
Or is it? I believe that inspiration is more like watching wildlife: there's a certain amount of luck, yes, but there's a methodology to maximizing your chances of success. Here, then, are 10 ways to encourage inspiration to strike you at a time you need it, and how to hold onto it.
1. Find your space.
Think of all the places you regularly spend time: your desk at work or school, your living room, the garden, the shower, your bed...in which space do you feel most creative, where ideas seem to come thicker and faster than usual? The answer may surprise you, because it may be a place that on the surface doesn't seem like an inspirational place. We balk at the idea that our work desk or the chair at the back of geography class is our place of inspiration!
But while there's a multitude of reasons why certain places encourage creativity more than others, one common thread is that it's a place that overlaps with little else in your life. Your inspirational place is rarely the same place you relax, study, or play games. Your chair in the living room where you watch TV, play video games, browse the web and occasionally eat is so tied up with other aspects of life that creativity has no means to cultivate here. It's the reason people have “shower thoughts”, why so many novelists write in their sheds or on long train journeys.
It's not the same as a boring, distraction-free environment though. It's about finding a space that you can mentally partition as being the place you write, so whenever you sit yourself at that place your brain begins to associate it with writing.
2. Inspiration isn't a random chance, it is cultivated.“But I don't have a place like that!” you might say, “I don't have a shed, take trains or think of anything in the shower, I'm too busy singing!”
But that's the thing: inspiration may seem to be random but that doesn't mean you should just go about your day waiting for it to sneak up on you. You need to cultivate a place within your life where the magic happens. It can be any place, so long as it doesn't cross over too much with an area in your your daily life that your brain associates with other things (for example, you may want to avoid using your bed because it's a place your brain associates with sleep, so if you try and get creative on the mattress don't be surprised if you fall asleep after 10 minutes!).
I tend to use my dining table, because it's a place where I eat (not much brainpower associated with that). Was it a particularly inspirational place at first? Hell no - it's a plain table in a cold room - but in time it became the place I'd sit down for an hour each day to create. It doesn't make inspiration happen by default but it did become the place where I'd flesh out my art, and so cultivated the seeds that would attract inspiration to fly my way like bees towards pollen.
Now whenever I sit down at the dining table and there's no food there, my brain knows the deal: it's time to open up the valves for creativity - and increasing the likelihood of inspiration hitting me.
3. Look in the small things.
Inspiration. It's a big word, and I don't mean that by the number of letters. It's a word that seems to conjure images of the greatest experiences, the deepest emotions, the most spiritual side of our humanity. That’s inspiration, right?
Well, yes, but these big events aren't the only ways you can get inspired. You don't have to stand at the top of a mountain or be moved to tears by an orchestra. It can be found in the simplest of things, the small details - even in the mundanity of daily life. Who here loves being tucked indoors, warm and snug, watching rain patter down windowpanes? Or people-watching in the local park on a sunny day? Or - and this is my favourite - going for a midnight stroll?
Inspiration lives in all things big and small, and one should never undervalue the inspiration found in the small things and daily experiences. Indeed, big moments of inspiration can be tricky because words can fail to translate it into practical creativity. But inspiration nestled in daily life is more meaningful, more real, and can be more easily captured and used for ideas. Sunsets are nice, but raindrops racing down a window is just that little bit closer to home.
4. Write in white, live in multicolor.
While finding your physical and mental space for writing requires some forethought and will differ from person to person, in general when you write you want to be free of distractions. Some prefer absolute silence and solitude for their work, while others prefer a bit of background noise. Nobody wants overt distractions when they're trying to concentrate and be creative. You “write in white”, so to speak.
But when you put your pens and pencils down, you must let life in with both arms wide. Go for a walk, meet friends, watch a movie, read a book…”live in multicolor”. It's not just for the sake of having fresh experiences and fodder for ideas, mind: being creative and weaving something practical from the creativity (be it writing fiction, making music, graphic design etc.) is a big drain of brainpower. The trouble with being a creative mind is that even when you step away from your assigned workspace you never 100% switch off.
You can't stop ideas from coming to you - on the contrary, the more you live life, the more your creative juices will flow. But it does require a certain amount of discipline, a balance, so you're able to bottle the inspiration that strikes while you're out and about and use it for later while not actively running for a notepad every five seconds. You don't want to feel you live just for the sake of your writing: you'll quickly grow to resent it for invading aspect of your life, and you'll begin introducing aspects of your creative lifestyle into your everyday life - quiet, solitude, constantly needing time and space to think.
You will begin fading the many colours of life you desperately need, which will make your writing poorer - you didn't allow your batteries to recharge, and you've been living a reduced life that is starved of experience.
So make sure that when you step away from your work that you go out and properly live, not just for replenishing creative juices but to put life in perspective and there's more to it than writing. And when you return to your writing, you will be ready and willing.