Katy Bourne

Our Creative Lives: Inspiration

POSTED ON June 28, 2011 | POSTED IN: My Blog, Our Creative Lives | 10 Comments

“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.

-Piano lessons.

-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


10 responses to “Our Creative Lives: Inspiration”

  1. Hilary says:

    Trite but true: I’m usually most inspired by the mundane, small moments of everyday life. I love to watch the seasons shift and settle, and observe the resultant changes in people’s attire, restaurant menus, my own mood, and storefront displays. Whenever I find myself digging, digging, digging for a “Big New Idea,” I usually feel lost at sea, hopeless, and very un-creative. Conversely, when I write about an everyday occurrence or sing a simple song I’ve always loved, people respond warmly and I feel happily rooted in the creative process. All this to say, honesty seems to be the bedrock of my creativity, and big-picture clarity emerges for me when I allow myself to be inspired by the minutiae of everyday life. I like this new blog series! Thank you, as always, for your writing.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Hilary. I agree, pushing for the “Big New Idea” usually doesn’t work very well. I tend to start from a less-defined space-inspired by any number of things-and let the idea evolve through the process. It’s kind of like throwing creative spaghetti up on the wall of my psyche and seeing if it sticks.

      I love that you draw so much inspiration from everyday life. It reflects presence and immediacy. There is enormous potential in the tiniest of details.

      I’m so glad you dropped by the bloggie. Please come again!

  2. Vicky/Jap Dharam says:

    My inspiration comes from what is wanted and needed or even just plain old fun. When I wrote songs they came from what I liked or my personal experiences and it was fun. It has been quite awhile since I created anything “artisitic”. My time was taken up by using creativity fueled and inspired by the needs of the lives of my two sons. Yes, I was one of those moms who tried to make sure her boys were happy and productive every minute of their lives. I had a lot of fun doing it, too. Then it occurred to me or I was inspired to back off and let them figure it out for themselves; something that was wanted and needed at the moment. I now teach Kundalini yoga many times a week. Each class is different, each set is different. I can teach the same set to three different groups of students and what comes out of my mouth and body I feel is Divinely inspired for the well-being and safety of the student(s) in front of me. My latest project came to me as I drifted off listening to a mantra sung in Spanish…why not use this mantra in the less fortunate Spanish speaking communities to empower those who could really benefit from it? Again, something that is needed. It is not based in marketability but what is useful and again, FUN!. Fun means I am in, it could be called another man’s passion. The feeling Katy speaks of when the workaday life just drains you is not often inspirational unless it finally makes you angry. Our inspiration is meant to move us away from that drudgery, whether it’s cooking dinner every night, doing accounting or in the old days picking cotton (oh those beautiful spirituals), hauling water, mining coal or building pyramids. The songs, paintings, petroglyphs all are there to give us a little fun (like coffee through the nose) to uplift. Bottom line: my inspiration comes from wanting to uplift others, let them have fun and make them feel good.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the comments, Vicky. Lots of great points here.

      I actually think we don’t necessarily have to be making something “artistic” in order to be living a creative life. Parenting, for example, is wildly creative, if you’re open and good-humored, which I know you are.

      One of my favorite bloggers-Ashley Ambirge of the Middle Finger Project- says that bloggers should always seek to “inspire, educate or entertain.” I think that’s great food for thought and could be applied to any creative endeavors. This sentiment seems to align with your sensibility of “what’s needed.”

      And fun always inspires….always, always, always.

      Thank you for sharing!

  3. I am inspired when I have to be and when I don’t have to be. Sound contradictory? I suppose. Here’s the deal. I like space. Freedom. I like having nothing that I “have” to do. If there are things I “have” to do my brain gets clogged and bogged down. It’s like trying to cook with the kitchen full of dirty dishes. I need SPACE. Clear space. Clean space. Open a free space. That way my mind can wander. It can wonder too, and fumble and tumble upon wild and crazy things. Things that often make no sense. Until I find a way, my way. The trick is to balance the freeness with the urge to control it and make sense out of it.

    On the other hand, I’m good when given a deadline. As if a bulldozer up in my head is running block. Pushing away the clutter display. Making room for the creative rush. And, then I have my space. Clear space. Clean and open space.

    Which do I prefer? Depends on how much I am being paid!!!

    Love you,


    (Hope this helps)

    • admin says:

      I get that Chic. It isn’t contradictory at all.

      Speaking for myself, I create for a variety of reasons. With writing, for example, sometimes I am writing something very specific for a client. Other times, I am writing for myself and the people who read my blog and newsletter. Each requires inspiration.

      I also tend to like a sense of spaciousness in order to work, be it writing, working out new music or whatever. I love time, a clear schedule and an uncluttered work environment. That’s the ideal anyway. But we create for a living and sometimes have to create words or music from a space that might not be the most conducive to our highest creative output. But we do the work anyway and, I like to believe, do it well. We’re professionals, after all. That’s why I included the Pearl Buck quote and also why I said that sometimes “inspiration is about grit.”

      I’m so glad you came to the blog. Love you.

  4. Cara Francis says:

    Oddly…(or not) other people inspire me the most. When I see that someone else has accomplished something that speaks to me, it takes that notion from impossible (or wildly impractical) to possible. No longer can I hide in the nobody-does-that shadows. I can’t settle into the soft fuzzy gray…I’m -surviving-what-else- do -you- want-ness. Shaking off complacency is a big part of inspiration for me. There are always all kinds of reasons why not. We are our own Republican led congresses, full of “no’s” and not too big on “Here’s how it could be dones.”

    Focus is also important…and in focusing on what is life giving and important, the ability to jettison some of the crap that doesn’t matter is necessary as well. This last trick, I struggle with a great deal. I am constantly beset with “shoulds” and the judgements of some invisible forces that seemingly work for Martha Stewart Living- and never shut the hell up in my head!

    Your invitation to respond is inspiring! Love you KT Bourne !

  5. Dina Blade says:

    I’m with Pearl. I push myself to keep practicing and working at something creative daily, even if it during my last gasp of the day. I also agree with you about the exhaustion factor and guarding against it, though old habits die hard, and I am a woman with many interests. I get the most inspired when I am rested, without a doubt, but inspiration is everywhere and I know if I’m centered, I’ll see it.

  6. Hi Katy. This is long overdue. I like to say that inspiration is the felt recognition of your own true nature. We are all creative beings, each one of us. And when we as Dina puts it are “centered” it is truly everywhere. This a matter of what I call the evolving heart, which is the conduit to our own limitlessness. It is through the heart that we are moved to communicate, moved forgiveness, moved to romance, moved by music and moved to love.

    The word in inspiration actually means “in spirit”. And I believe, feel and experience that being moved by the heart, connecting to people and sharing is inspiring. I have spent many years cultivating my inner life off the bandstand. Through the deep art of relationship it joys, it pains, it turn ons, it aversions and truly finding the infinite and inspiring depth of my SELF through it all.

  7. […] process of chewing this over, I reread a few older posts that I’d written, in particular, one on inspiration. I’m reminded that the artists who inspire me the most are the ones who go all-in emotionally and […]

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Katy Bourne is a Jazz Singer and Writer.