Creativity Lesson: Inspiration
When I was in high school, I went tanning a lot. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and between dance team practice, my schoolwork, and my job at the mall there were many long winter days where I barely saw the sun. So two or three evenings a week from October until March (fine, April … alright alright, and sometimes through May), I would drive myself to Executive Tans for 20 minutes of warm, sweaty UV bliss in the lowest bed setting. As a busy, extroverted teenager, those 20 minutes were some of the only quiet, reflective times I scheduled during the week.
My friends always teased me about going in the lowest bed setting for the longest period of time because it was, objectively, a better deal to do a higher bed setting for a shorter period of time. If I wanted to get the most bang for my buck, I really should have just blasted my bod with five minutes of UV rays in the standup super bed. But as much as I was there to “look like I just got back from Cabo all year long” (according to my boyfriend at the time), my main motivation was to retreat into the tanning bed for 20 minutes of sweat and the silence.
I’ve since discovered far more healthy ways to find sweaty silence, and you’ll be happy to know that I haven’t set foot in a tanning salon in over 12 years. However, what I learned back in high school has been so helpful for me with regard to my own quest for inspiration. It was during those moments when I was encased in a tomb of dangerously hot light that I found essay ideas, character descriptions, and plot concepts. I worked out the details of books I had read, thought through relational conflict, and strived to figure out the nuances of my life. It wasn’t until the tanning bed that I knew what it felt like to have a brand new idea fly through my brain and fill my body with chills and tingles. After the timer went off and the bed went cold, I would wrap myself in one of the thin white towels and pull my journal out of my backpack to write these ideas down. I’ve always been a journaler, a note taker, a record keeper of my own reflections, but it wasn’t until high school that I understood the meaning of creative inspiration.
In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve cornered the market on my own ability to access inspiration; I have a lot of non-sweaty inspirational moments, but for me, inspiration and perspiration tend to go hand in hand. As much as I loved tanning (RIP) and have come to love running and yoga, my secondary motivation for any of these activities is always inspiration. My brain turns on when my body works out.
This is not to say that each of you will need to sweat profusely to embark upon your own personal journey of creativity. No, no. You do you. We all find inspiration differently, and while I'm currently in a place where motherhood doesn’t get in the way of inspiration, it does distract from it. Often I feel so depleted from the minutiae of daily life with small people that I forget I can even be inspired. I’m too tired to be original. Too exhausted to enjoy a flash of brilliance, and sometimes even when I do get a big, beautiful idea, I feel like I don’t have the time to pay attention to it.
However, my children seem to be inspired all the time. My son is always coming into the kitchen to share his new “big idea” with me; sometimes I catch him in the midst of his genius and offer some (loving) redirection (sorry sweetie, that zip line you made with shoelaces from your bed to your closet is probably not the safest inspiration you’ve ever had). What I’ve learned from my children is that their inner critic is quite often on mute. Perhaps it doesn’t even exist yet. They’re some of the most creatively inspired people I know because they really don’t believe there are bad ideas.
If it sounds fun, we should do it—that’s their motto.
Because I’m the one to pump the brakes on so many of their inspirations, I think it’s easy for me to pump the breaks on myself, too.
In the last year, I’ve committed myself to embracing inspiration, and I’ve worked to silence my inner critic when her presence is just not necessary. I’ll write down any story idea, any essay concept. I’ll write without direction just to see where my words take me. As a result, I’ve written more in the past 12 months than I ever knew possible. When I silence my inner critic, I’m far more easily inspired.
My hope for you is that you will find inspiration in all things. Seek it where you least expect it and then allow yourself to be changed.
Write a pep talk. For anyone. This could be a pep talk for a brand new mom, a pep talk for your child, a pep talk for your high school self, etc. We want you to take all of the inspiration you found in this lesson, let it simmer and settle, and then offer it back to the world as a gift.
A great way to get inspiration going is through journaling. This month, our writing exercises will focus around journal prompts that help you seek and find inspiration. Dig around inside your creative soul and see what you find.
Fill in the blank—allow this phrase to guide your journal entry. Finish the sentence and elaborate.
When I was a little girl I always …
If I were the ocean I would …
To me love is …
Imagination description—use the prompts to guide your journal entry.
Imagine the sunshine warming your face. What does it feel like? What do you feel?
Close your eyes and listen to a song that holds a lot of memories for you. Write about how it makes you feel.
What is an item you own that holds an intense amount of sentimental value? Who gave it to you? What memories does it have attached to it?
p.s. Want more? Head over to the Creative Marketplace and check out our corresponding Inspiration Workbook.