Is Inspiration Overrated?

aaron-burden-521422-unsplashInspiration. It’s that nebulous idea that there is some sort of awesomeness out there just waiting to bring our senses–and our writing–to life. When we think of it, we conjure images of trees in a profusion of pink blossoms–or the opposite–with their colors ablaze in autumn glory. Or we think of big events: weddings, funerals, graduations, and the sermons, eulogies, and speeches that go with them. We remember the day our children were born, the night of our first kiss, the prom that did or didn’t happen.

But what if we could find inspiration in the not-so-inspiring everydayness that makes up the bigger part of life? What would happen to our writing then?

I’m not trying to contradict my own writing or advice here; I’m just looking at both sides of the same coin, hoping you’ll look with me. Life is full of inspiration, full of wonder, indeed. But isn’t it also full of conversations that go a little something like this?

“Hey, how was your day?”
“It was a day. You know, work. Same ol’ same ol’.”

Or like this?

“How’s your husband?”
“Oh, you know. Pete is Pete.”

Recently I’ve written about a few of the art pieces that have truly and deeply inspired me down here at the Racine Arts Council. But what about those days I’m not here? What about those days I don’t have something new, some big event, or something as cortisol-inducing as a deadline to inspire me? Do I not write? Do I rest on my laurels, satisfied that–an entire week, or a whole month ago–I wrote something we were satisfied with?

Truthfully? Sometimes I do. But that “sometimes” eventually leads to this vague feeling that I should be do more than patting myself in self-congratulations. Not that there’s anything wrong with those feelings of satisfaction. I just don’t think sitting around with them too long leads to much in terms of productivity, craft-improving practice, or the play that enriches my life.

So what do I do about that? What do we do about that? What follows is a list exercise I learned during my time as a student in Valerie Laken’s creative writing class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It was something we had to do seven days a week in our inspiration journals. I know that sounds a little dorky–the idea of an “inspiration journal.” but it turned out to be something that eventually provided fodder for tons of poems, short stories, and mini-practice sessions. It was inspiration when it seemed there was no inspiration to be found. Here’s what to do:

Quickly, without thinking too much, spend no more than minutes each day to create a few lists. First, find a special pen that you will use every day for this purpose. While you can use any pen, Professor Laken had us all using a Papermate Flair, which, if you’re interested, can be found here:

Once you’ve got your special pen, as well as notebook dedicated to this purpose specifically, draw a big cross to divide the page(s) in your notebook into four approximately equal sections. If your notebook is small like mine is, you can use two interfacing pages. If it’s bigger, just one page will do. Date the daily entry, include the time, head each quadrant/section, then start your lists. One for…

  1. Ten things you heard
  2. Ten things you saw
  3. Ten things you did
  4. In the last section, draw a picture of whatever you’d like, as long as it’s something different each day. It doesn’t have to be particularly “good” or artistic.

After a while of doing this regularly, you will not need to go in search of a source of inspiration for your creative pursuits. You won’t need to spend all your cash on a pricey writer’s workbook either. Whenever it’s time for a practice session from this point on, and you feel you have nothing to inspire you, just go to your inspiration notebook, page through it to find something from your own experience to inspire you, and get writing. It really works!

If you have other sources of inspiration, tricks, or tips you’d like to pass along, share them in the comments or in this post on our Facebook page at

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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