When I first started writing about how to get inspired, I realized the truth: I don’t believe getting inspired is the answer. Instead, we need to be inspired. All the time. Don’t roll your eyes! I know it’s a lofty goal. But you’re a writer: you’re built to do this.
I find everything inspiring. But it takes work. Inspiration is a muscle, not a muse. The more you actively develop an attitude to suit your creative needs, the more it will come naturally. When your whole world is interesting to you, you don’t need to hunt for ideas. They grow around you organically and wait for you to pluck them out of your life.
So how do you become inspired all the time? You cultivate an attitude of inspiration. We’re talking about growing new eyes, new ears—a whole new set of senses here. Or rather, really turning on the ones you’ve got. No more autopilot.
What does this mean? Here are a few exercises that work for me.
1) Every day, learn something new.
This one sounds pretty obvious, but my rule is: if you haven’t written it down, it doesn’t count. Gone are the days of “oh, I’ll definitely remember this!” (You won’t.) You’re a writer, after all. Act like it, and write it down! The goal here isn’t just to get smarter (though that’s always a benefit), rather to go deeper into your own world.
That coffee in front of you? Do you know what part of the world it came from? What other uses could humans have for something like coffee? What’s the Swahili word for coffee? Take something that you enjoy that’s right in front of you, and challenge yourself to learn something new about it. Google it, ask someone smart, anything you need to do to grow a new connection in your mind. And when you’re done, write it down.
Creativity is born from two seemingly unrelated things suddenly making a new kind of sense together. This exercise will build your repertoire of “seemingly unrelated things”. Think of it like an encyclopedia of your life.
2) Never, ever censor or judge your own interests. This kiss of death for any project is when you think it’s something you should do. Leave the shoulds in your life to your bills, your taxes, and getting food on the table. Let your creative side tackle the things you want to do. Don’t box it in. Don’t expect it to be something it’s not. Do not compare your interests to those of anyone else. (That’s a biggie.) Their version of what matters most won’t match yours. That’s a good thing.
Let your true passions and interests breathe, no matter how quiet, untraditional, un-trendy, unsellable, or downright bizarre they are. Reminder: the things that make you strange are the things that make you memorable. Honor them.
You know how, when you’re house training a dog, you’re told to make a big, hairy deal every time they get it right and go to the door when nature calls? That is how you need to respond to your creative self here. Every time you feel that familiar buzz of energy that comes from learning, discovering, or contemplating a thing that excites you, make a gigantic fuss about it. Get excited. Praise yourself (“Ooh, I love this! Go, me!”), and again, write it down. This tells your brain and subconscious one very simple yet crucial fact: I will pay attention and I won’t judge you—send me more of this!
The sooner you get your brain on board, the better.
The way to be inspired all the time is to surround yourself, and your mind, with sources that feed it. Don’t discount a single thing that lights you up. Give it the time of day. Treat it like a special guest. Invite it in for a scone, and pay special attention. It has something to tell you.
3) One final tip? Open a dialogue with the world around you.
Too often, we bookish folks live in our heads. But the downside to existing only in your own head is you miss out on, oh…pretty much everything outside of it.
Something magical happens when you go about your day looking to have a dialogue with the world.
Meaningful, inspiring things have a tendency to find you. Why? Because you’ve made some space for them. The best way I’ve found to do this is by playing a little game with the world. Set yourself up to succeed here.
In your notebook, before you start your day, draw an empty box or a circle on your page. Write the words, “one amazing thing” above it and leave it blank. Then, walk away.
Challenge yourself to be on the lookout for one amazing thing that sparks your curiosity. Curiosity is your heart’s way of telling you to pay attention. The minute you give yourself this exercise, your awareness will go on overdrive. The forced “limit” of that little box is also incredibly freeing. You’re not asking yourself to solve world hunger. You’re just looking for one amazing thing to fill that little box.
Suddenly, your day takes on a different meaning. Maybe you notice the snow piling up in funny angles on the railing outside. Or the way the squirrels’ tails seem to floop around as they run. Or that tiny, shy grin the cashier at the grocery store gives the teen boy buying gum. (Is a new romance afoot?!)
Don’t look now, you’re actively looking at the world with that attitude of inspiration we were talking about! Go, you! You’ll know when you come across the thing that belongs in your notebook.
Do this for a week and you’ll notice some fun insights about what finds its way to your awareness. Do this for a year and you’ll need ten notebooks a day for all the amazing things you’ll notice.
Why are these three exercises so helpful to grow that inspiration muscle? Quite simply: what inspires you is what matters to you. By approaching what matters to you from several perspectives like this, you’ll begin to uncover some truths about what makes you tick creatively. Your viewpoint suddenly becomes amplified.
And, lucky you, you’ve written it down!
Everybody has themes to their lives, and they operate like hidden train tracks beneath our stories. These exercises will shine a spotlight on those emotional tracks so you can build stories that truly resonate with you. And that’s the first step behind creating something that will resonate with others.
This month, (and every month) don’t tell yourself you’re generating ideas. Instead, you’re waking up to the ideas that want your attention. They’re already there, waiting for you. Your job is to pay attention and create space for them.
So…what amazing thing have you noticed today?