Whenever there is inspiration, which translates as “in spirit,” and enthusiasm, which means “in God,” there is a creative empowerment that goes far beyond what a mere person is capable of.
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
The Oxford English Dictionary sums it up this way; as a noun inspiration is:
the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative; the quality of being inspired, especially when evident in something; a person or thing that inspires; a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea; the divine influence believed to have led to the writing of the Bible; the drawing in of breath; inhalation; an act of breathing in; an inhalation.
Literally, from the Latin, inspiration means “to breathe into” from the verb inspirare.
So, breath is life and the creative life comes through inspiration. Carl Jung writes about this in his autobiography when he remembers carving wood in the 20s:
Only while I was doing this work did the unconscious supply me with a name. It called the figure Atmavictu – ‘the breath of life.’ It was a further development of that fearful tree of my childhood dream, which was now revealed as the ‘breath of life,’ the creative impulse.
The artist breathes in the inspiration. The “breath of life” then goes into a wood carving, musical instrument or invention or onto the page or canvas.
This kind of talk about inspiration makes some writers and artists want to thump their head off a wall. A lot of the time they see it as anything but a magical process, calling inspiration only part or even irrelevant to the creative process. As William Faulkner once said:
I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.
You can go online and find countless writers, articles and creative people commenting the same way, saying that the creative process is almost mechanical, like a mechanic greasing your car (E.B. White) or an engineer thinking about an engineering problem (Doris Lessing).
So, yes, getting to that inspired point is work. But if it is then that means we can all get there. But couldn’t it be both at the same time, work as well as allowing “spirit” to come into us?
Stendhal says something along the same lines:
Had I mentioned to someone around 1795 that I planned to write, anyone with any sense would have told me to write for two hours every day, with or without inspiration. Their advice would have enabled me to benefit from the ten years of my life I totally wasted waiting for inspiration.
Easier said than done.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how frustrating this process can be. Instead of using the word inspiration though, she replaces it with “genius”:
That’s not at all what my creative process is — I’m not the pipeline! I’m a mule, and the way that I have to work is that I have to get up at the same time every day, and sweat and labor and barrel through it really awkwardly. But even I, in my mulishness, even I have brushed up against that thing, at times. And I would imagine that a lot of you have too. You know, even I have had work or ideas come through me from a source that I honestly cannot identify. And what is that thing? And how are we to relate to it in a way that will not make us lose our minds, but, in fact, might actually keep us sane?
So, we need to make time, find space, be consistent, and have the intention to find inspiration by working.