There have been times, which quite honestly come way too often, when I have felt uninspired and not wanted to do anything for a long time. I have procrastinated, produced work below my standards of quality and hence have been miserable. On the other hand, there also have been times when I felt a flow, was inspired and thought about something deeply and produced the best work that I can.
Obviously, we all want to maximise the latter and do away with the former. But, for this I do not want to rely on factors that are out of my control. Hence, I’ve found myself a few actionable items, hacks if you please, which have helped me stay more in the inspired zone and allowed me to produce good, meaningful work that I can be proud of. This post is about those things and I hope some of these are useful to you too.
Inspiration, for me, is something that drives me to create, to do and sometimes even consume. A good book inspires me to write stories and pen down my thoughts as well as inspiring me to pick up another good book to read. Inspiration moves you to act, it pulls you away from inaction. It instills a sense of optimism as if everything that you desire is in your reach and shows you a clear path to achieve those. But, where does it come from?
A good book, obviously. A moving speech, a thought provoking movie or a good conversation. But, apart from these external factors, I believe our own thoughts are our biggest sources of inspiration. Don’t we all know how our best ideas have a habit of arriving to us in the shower? But, how do we tap into this source?
The best way is to put yourself into those positions. I am not talking about the long walks, showers, long bike rides kind of thing. I mean a step after that. Start recording during that time. I am deeply influenced by and believe in a brilliant TED talk says that how the inspiration fairy grabs you and you have to act in that moment or else that fairy will move on to the next available, better prepared seeker. Keep a notebook at hand, record a voice message to self on your phone, tell a friend. Once these inspirations are recorded, you can work on them at a later time.
But, there are times when even after knowing all this stuff, you can’t act on it. What to do then? Don’t we all have a few brilliant ideas in our heads but nothing to show it for. Try these:
1. Change things
Our mind gets bored with repetitive things and seeks constant change (an oxymoron, I know). Whether it be in foods we eat, things we do, our hobbies or even our relationships. But, the irony is when we do seek out changes, it resists. Mind is a weird creature, seeking change but resisting when the moment to change comes along. Come over that resistance and change something. Move to a different location to work or change your posture or use a standing desk. Change helps to bring fresh perspectives and hopefully it can drive you back into flow.
2. Just get started
Starting up something is the biggest step and requires the most effort. At times, I write random stuff just to get started. Sometimes I even write about the fact that I don’t have anything to write about. But, after substantial number of minutes have passed with me putting pen to paper, something good starts to emerge. And it has served me well in other activities as well.
3. Get a good tool
An instrument or the tools of a trade/skill are very important for the kind or even the amount (and maybe thus the quality) of work produced. It is easy to say that a good artist excels irrespective of the environment she lives in. But, there is no harm in using all the help that you can get. I have not been much of a snob about it though - I still use a worn out Dell which heats up after 10 minutes of usage which also happens to be the amount of time it takes to boot up. But recently, I got a beautiful notebook and a Staedtler as a gift and I bought myself a writing desk. They make me want to use them. Beautiful tools call out to you. They want to serve the purpose they were built for and thus help you get into a flow.
4. Keep your personal and work tools separate
This is to ensure that there is no context creep between the two and it lets you focus on each thing separately. I have set up my personal, albeit slower laptop for personal projects and I keep my office laptop just for that - office work. It lets me be more involved in my day job and allows me more time or atleast a perception of more time for personal work.
What to do after you are inspired and have recorded your thoughts? Elaborate, even when you are not in the flow. Neil Gaiman once said that if you write only when you are inspired, you can be a good poet at best. But, to be a great novelist, you have to slog it out through drudgery even when you are not inspired. You have to put in those extra hours, one word after another and hope that you can get into a flow.
Related watch - Jack White on Inspiration