For those of you that don’t know, I work in Children’s Mental Health in the Education System when I’m not writing, and just like the students, that means I have summers off. I started the summer with a foolproof master plan to treat these two months as an opportunity to write full time. Thus far it’s been more like “part time” as I struggle to dedicate time to writing – I’m more of a “when the inspiration hits” type. I write primarily poetry, though I do sometimes write short stories and have made several attempts at the elusive novel, though they have all met variations of a tragic demise. I have a million and one ideas but being both indecisive and a tad bit of a perfectionist, many of my novel ideas get tossed to the wayside, and all of my attempts to write a novel have eventually ended up with a date to the recycling bin – both electronic and tangible. The problem for me is never inspiration, it’s dedication to the idea. But I digress… This post is about inspiration, after all.
Writers across the world are forever being asked “Where did you get the idea?”. Sometimes this question is asked out of sheer interest and sometimes it’s because the person questioning is hoping for a magic formula that help them generate their own million dollar ideas. Either way, I wish I had a more concrete answer for people when they ask me how I managed to come up with enough material (and then some) to publish three poetry anthologies in a little over half a year, or where the ideas for my short stories came from. There is no simple answer. I look at the world through an “artist’s eye” and truth be told that’s where my inspiration comes from – everyday life. This is especially true since the bulk of my poetry is based off my own experiences and thoughts, but the basic concept also goes for my creative writing. Story ideas come from simple walks down a trail in the woods, the way I wish a certain situation looked, dreams, and the thoughts that come after “I wonder what would happen if…”. The same goes for characters, they take on some of the characteristics I love/hate from people in my life or sometimes are outright based on the people I know. The point is, the best place to write from (or do any art for that matter) is to come from a place you know and explore from there. Not only do you sound more genuine, you have the opportunity to see your own world through a completely different light.
Speaking of art, we hear the term “artist’s eye” dropped a fair bit, but what does it actually mean? For me, it’s attention to the detail and interconnection of the world. It doesn’t just apply to what you traditionally think of as an artists (the painters and drawers of the world), but it goes on to play a huge part in all art forms. It’s the ability to see the beauty of the big picture and then break it into smaller parts which are equally as beautiful. Look at a tree, what do you see? If your answer is “I just see a tree”, then you’re going to need to adjust your lens a little bit. What does the tree remind you of? What does it symbolize? What are the colours, the textures, the way it moves and changes? How does it look against the rest of the world? These are just some of the things I start to think when I look at the world for inspiration. Of course, this doesn’t apply to every single object I encounter. If it did, I’m not sure that I would ever get any work done. There are things and people in this world that stir up emotion, those are the places where my inspiration comes from. Trees in the forest, rainstorms, rivers, the smell of something cooking, a cup of warm coffee, turning yourself into a tangle of limbs on the couch watching Star Trek with your favourite person – the list goes on. An “Artist’s Eye” is merely a way of finding the beauty in everything, especially the people, places and things that you love.
There’s another side to the process of inspiration process for me that I’m going to go my best to explain. Picture “Little Jess” (this is the rather affectionate pet name I’ve come to use for myself for anything pertaining to years 0-12 of my life), running around the forest in the dead of winter climbing snowy hills while everyone else was ice fishing. In her mind she was an adventurer looking for hidden beasts in a snowy ice kingdom with a small village not too far away. Pretending that she slept under the trees that kept a watchful eye, but also houses all sorts of magical beings. I have yet to meet a kid that isn’t creative. They tend to have a unique way of looking at the world – they’re dreamers hungry for knowledge. Do you know why? Wonder. I’m not talking about the book (now movie) but the actual verb. They’re always asking questions like “what if?”, “why?”, and “how come?” and I think that’s such a crucial part of the creative process. There’s a desire to know more, to wonder at the possibilities, and to understand and to connect it to other ideas. There is something about growing up that shunts our creativity, and I think it comes down to the way we look at the world. As adults, a lot of things become mundane and that’s a sure fire way to stop the creative juices from flowing. We also become preoccupied with other things, dreaming and wondering seem to take on predetermined confines that tell us what is and isn’t “normal” for our age. Creativity requires you to embrace the wisdom and maturity that comes with age, while staying true to who you were a child. It makes me think of one of my favourite quotes by Madeline L’Engle from a Circle of Quiet. “I am part of every place I have been… all the places I have ever walked, talked, slept, have changed and formed me. I am part of all the people I have known… I am still every age I have been.” For me, that is the foundation of creativity.
From my stand point, inspiration is a combination of love and wonder. There is no magic formula that pumps out brilliant ideas, and not every great idea translates into what you hope for. Circling back to how I started this post, inspiration is far less important than the ability to commit to an idea and see it through to completion. If you open your eyes, your mind and your heart a little wider you’ll find inspiration all over the place. Maybe even so much that so you’ll turn into me, jotting lines for a poem in the sidelines of a mosh pit, or taking a line from a phone conversation with someone you miss and turning into poem. I hope that you venture out into the world today and see more than “just a tree” and find inspiration and beauty in the otherwise mundane. So that next idea you have, follow it to the end and see what happens. I guarantee you’ll not only start to be more attuned for inspiration, you’ll grow exponentially as an artist, in whatever medium you chose to express yourself.
In the words of I’m not sure who, “The World without art is just eh”.