To seek inspiration or to create?

When is it enough?

When, and for how long, should you dedicate yourself to seeking out inspiration for your creative work, versus when should you know that you’ve seen enough inspiration to get started creating?

Compare the writer who merely reads great stories repeatedly to the writer who constantly writes but seeks out no inspiration. Who would write a better book? Or the artist who diligently studies the timeless masterpieces of her trade, compared with an artist who takes no formal training and seeks out no inspirational wisdom but merely paints day and night. Who is more likely to create a next historic artwork?

You could spend more than half of your work time seeking out inspiration and exploring options for what it is you want to create, but that won’t do you any good if you aren’t finding the time to actually create something. Additionally, you can’t expect to create something truly great without first understanding other ideas in the same realm of what it is you’re creating.

As a creative: you have to be able to think on your own, to formulate your own ideas. But the best way to come up with something original is to combine inspiration. In-fact: all ideas are a result of combining other ideas, naturally in the brain.

So how do you know when enough inspiration is enough?

It’s too easy to convince yourself that you don’t have the right inspiration, that you need more. That’s laziness. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to convince yourself that you don’t need inspiration when you really do, in order to not create subpar things. That’s egotistical.

To know when you should stop seeking inspiration and just get to work takes effort. You have to continuously keep that in mind to be a successful creative.

There are going to be days when you waste time seeking out inspiration, scrolling endlessly through blogs and browsing around museums or conferences or listening to lectures or podcasts for hours on end. That’s alright. You’re also going to experience times when you dive into a project and realize you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, that a bit of inspiration would have gone a long way. That’s alright too. Both situations are the perfect opportunity to learn what’s the right amount of inspiration for you.

The right amount of inspiration is going to vary from person to person. If you’re just starting out with writing, you’re going to need a lot of time to seek out inspiration every day. If you’re a professional writer, on the other hand, you probably shouldn’t be spending an hour every day reading about writing. That doesn’t mean that the expert writer/artist/dancer/musician/teacher/professional isn’t looking for inspiration because they’re already an expert, it just means they’re spending more time creating than seeking out ideas.

The real key is to realize when you’re tricking yourself into believing you need inspiration or not. That’s something you have to hone over time. Fortunately you can start today, right now. As you’re reading this ask yourself: “Am I just wasting time when I should be creating or experimenting instead?”

If, at any time of the day, the answer to that question is “no” or “maybe” then close the web browser, turn off the video or the podcast, lock yourself in a room and get to work.

Photo by Chase Elliott Clark.