“Our Creative Lives” is a new blog series dedicated to the examination of the creative experience. Throughout my own evolution as a writer and a vocalist, I’ve often been curious about how other artists think and feel about what they do. I am interested in everything from the inner workings of the creative psyche to the day-to-day challenges of working our craft, whatever it may be. Each month, I’ll throw out a topic, put in my two cents to get the ball rolling and then open up the comments for your insights and thoughts. I am very interested to learn about how the rest of you tick and what the creative experience means in your life. I hope that you’ll join the conversation.
I’m kicking things off with the subject of inspiration.
I’ve been thinking about inspiration quite a bit lately as I recently went through a 2-3 week stretch of being uncharacteristically uninspired. Part of the problem was that I was burnt out. I had just finished up a ten-month teaching gig that left me completely depleted physically, mentally and emotionally.* Although it was liberating to finally be finished with the gig, I found myself unmotivated to do much of anything. I couldn’t seem to find the fire to jump back into the full-time flow of writing and singing. It was if my right brain had gone belly up. With a brand new freelance client on board, jazz gigs on the books and several summer writing projects to get going on, my lack of inspiration was troubling.
Perhaps it is odd to start a blog post about inspiration with a story about being uninspired. However, it actually gets right to the heart of the matter. Where does inspiration come from? And how do we keep it going when we’re burnt-out or broke or discouraged? How can we find inspiration when we need it the most?
For me, inspiration is both an external and internal proposition. Outside influences often generate an inner spark that kick starts the creative engine. However, just as often, the drive to create comes from an internal space: a mood or feeling, a rush of love or a soul conundrum. Sometimes the line between external and internal are fuzzy. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as long as the train is running.
Some things that inspire me are:
-Artists who bravely put it all out there, who lead from a place of emotional honesty and openness. Carmen McRae and Rachelle Ferrell come to mind.
-Underdogs and unexpected heroes.
-Great scat solos.
-Dance (Doing as much as watching.)
-Working on new material or shedding some vocal technique.
-Humor. If I spew coffee out of my nose while I’m reading it, I’m inspired. (And probably insanely jealous of the writer. Ha!)
-Great performances, especially Big Band performances oddly enough.
-My own successes. There really is something to the notion of building on success, as cliché as it may sound. When I feel like something I’ve written has resonated with someone or when my band and I have had a particularly swingin’ show, then that definitely keeps things open and flowing. When the muse’s belly is full, inspiration is more readily available.
Ultimately, I was able to pull myself out of my inspirational drought. The first thing I did was simple self-care. I got back to the basics and focused on bringing my physical self back to life. For me, this meant a lot of sleeping and yoga. There was one day that I slept from roughly 7pm at night until around 9am the next morning. I think my body was making itself very clear as to what it needed. It’s impossible for me to create anything when my body is run down. While this might not be the case for other people-God knows that history is full of artists who have created great works from alcohol and drug ravaged bodies-it’s definitely true for me. The second thing I did was to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I just started writing. I also got going on learning some new songs and resumed my daily vocal practice. Sometimes inspiration is about grit. It’s about getting down to business and doing the work even when I don’t feel inspired. And somewhere within that M.O. is the underlying faith that inspiration will indeed return. It always does.
Now it’s your turn. Please talk to me. What or who inspires you and why? Where does inspiration come from? What motivates you to keep doing what you do, day after day and year after year? What keeps you going when you’re not inspired or when things are difficult?
How do you make it happen?
The comments are open. Please jump in.
* Interestingly, when I accepted this job back in August, I had a gut feeling that it was a wrong turn for me. Funny how your instincts will let you know when you’re wandering away from your creative best interests. Not so funny when you override your own instincts and continue wandering anyway.
“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has to get down to work.”
– Pearl Buck