Where do you get your inspiration? Wrong question.
Today I had someone ask me “Where do you get your inspiration”. Initially I thought about the things I do that spark my imagination—reading, walking, speaking to fellow artists, etc.—and that is all 100% true. But as I really thought about it, the more it dawned on me that this is the wrong question to be asking.
Inspiration is incredibly sporadic. The same song or quote that seems to cause a flood of creativity one day will not so much as give a trickle on another. Yes, there are certain activities and situations that you will find better fuel you—and it would be wise to seek those out often—but I believe a much more important (and difficult) question is “What do I do when I’m not inspired?”
There is an excellent distinction in Steven Prescott’s The War of Art between a professional and amateur artist:
“The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.”
If you’ve ever had a job (and I’m sure you have), you’ll understand what it’s like being a professional; You show up on time. You do the work. You collect the paycheck. It would be ridiculous to take the day off your job as a line cook because you aren’t inspired. So why is that okay with your art? Can you physically not make anything when you aren’t inspired?
If art is a hobby and strictly something you do for fun—awesome, keep it up! But, deciding to be a professional artist (and yes, it is a decision you make) means that you can’t be at the mercy of such a fleeting phenomenon as inspiration. There will be work to do. Sometimes you will feel like it more than others, but despite us artists putting so much emphasis on feelings, it would only work against you here.
If producing art is something you truly love and something you want to make your life about—and it’s totally fine if it isn’t—you’re going to have to push through. It’s frustrating at times but believe me, it pays off. Sure, when you create work that has been fueled by inspiration, it feels awesome. But when you create work in the face of no inspiration, it just feels straight up powerful.
And when you create work day in and day out, regardless of your internal state, you will find you have formed a habit to create work no matter what instead of your habit to create work only when you’re inspired. And, ironically enough, that tends to be pretty damn inspiring.