Experiment with new beliefs. Try on an idea to see how it wears. Go around believing in magic. Just try to pretend, and see if you can convince yourself. No one has to know that for a minute, you believed you could pull a rabbit from a hat. Some beliefs grow impractical quickly. Some beliefs feel bad. Some are kinda fun. No one’s judging. Let your mind wander. See what happens.
Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
When I first heard that statement, I was a little perturbed by it because I like inspiration in general, but I also think he’s right. Consistent, abundant, good work comes from having a wicked work ethic.
I was thinking about this in San Francisco because I’d been out of my normal routine and my usual writing environment for several days, and I was finding it hard to sit down, focus, and accomplish anything. I found myself wanting inspiration. It’s like comfort food for the creative brain.
I’ve learned to cultivate it and to work without it when necessary. You have to cook dinner even if you don’t have your favorite spice, and you have to practice your art even if you don’t have that perfect sense of inspiration. In fact, sometimes a slight lack can be an inspiration in its own way, forcing you to innovate and find something interesting where at first glance you only see humdrum.
I used to only sit down and write when I “felt” like it, which was fine when I was a little kid and had tons of free time, no responsibilities, and no concern for income. But when you have even a little pressure to produce, you can’t wait for the mood to strike you. Pus, I find that what I once thought was a feeling of inspiration now feels sortof languid and melancholy.
As a creative adult, you have to know what interestes you because that’s where your inspiration lies, not in some vague passing emotion. What questions persistently draw your attention? What issues never fail to get a rise out of you?
For me, it’s feminism, sex, religion, and the incredible uniqueness of the individuals I meet — the miraculous connection between any two human beings, and the entirely new energetic being that forms amid groups of people. This is all very interesting to me, so when I need to write, I go back to those ideas and see what strikes me. There’s always something, but if it’s not obvious and I just don’t want to write about that right now, there’s always reading.
Read a damn book, y’all. Get a new perspective, a new idea. Absorb as much as you can. Or just go out and live a little bit. Don’t necessarily be writing all the time. Don’t take notes. Just absorb everything. Later, when you’re ready to create, the impressions that are most powerful and resonant for you will rise to the surface.
“It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I’m guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money.”
-Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers
Malcolm Gladwell’s books are changing the way I view success. This quote in particular reaffirms something I have known to be true for some time now. Work that is easy and pays well but is meaningless creates misery. That’s why I’m so willing to work my tail off as a yoga teacher and a writer — these things are meaningful to me.
When I finish teaching a yoga class, the students look calm, happy, sometimes even radiant. They say “thank you,” and they mean it. It’s truly rewarding.
When I finish writing a poem or essay, my brain feels a sort of happy exhaustion not too different from a post-orgasmic glow.
For a long time, I thought that working hard should be enough. I always heard that hard work could be satisfying, and in some ways it was. I was proud to say I’d been handed a series of seemingly impossible tasks and completed them with flying colors. But I still didn’t feel fulfilled by the work. Choosing to do the work that is meaningful to me was a major turning point.
My wish for you as we begin 2013 together is that you find meaning, joy, challenge, and inspiration. That you will do the work of your dreams and be radiant.
I don’t know where I’d be without my notebook. There’s something brilliant about a stack of blank pages just waiting to receive your thoughts.
This week, look around for a notebook that you would love to write and draw in.
Your notebook gives you a visceral, physical connection to your creativity. All your ideas, dreams, images, and fleeting fancies only exist for a split second in your brain as they flutter by, but writing them down gives them grounding in reality. Even if you never act on half of what you write down, the notebook is proof that you had that idea, and you can go back to it any time.
Here’s an assortment of my favorite notebooks from recent years:
Here are some things to consider as you pick your notebook:
1) How big should it be? Personally, I like to carry a purse that’s big enough to hold my notebook and at least one book, so I buy full sized composition notebooks. You might prefer something that can fit in your back pocket.
2) How much should it cost? Expensive notebooks (leather bound and the like) can actually make you feel more pressure to do something outstanding, and that can be creatively crippling. Choose a notebook that you won’t feel bad beating up or scribbling in.
3) Lines or no? I like lined paper because my handwriting will go berserk without it. Some people like wide open spaces on the page because it feels more free. The more mathematically inclined might like grid paper like in these Moleskins.
4) Decoration? Some people like notebooks with pretty pictures on them. Some people like blank notebooks they can decorate themselves. Some folks like all their notebooks to match so they look great on a shelf. Others (like me) like every notebook to be unique.
This one is my favorite notebook, which I filled up during high school and have carried with me ever since. I love it because you can tell how much it’s been through.
Got your notebook? Post pictures on your blog or tell us about how you pick a notebook here.