It never fails: I remove a teabag from its paper sleeve, read the “inspirational” quotation on the dangling tag, and think “Oh, fuck off.” (Today’s gem: “A garden is a delight to the eye and a solace for the soul.” Saadi)
Inspiration does not come solely from a teabag tag; you need to create the conditions for inspiration to strike. For me that consists of sticking to a routine, and allowing plenty of idle time for my mind to wander: walking after dinner, commuting by bike, washing the dishes by hand.
Like seedlings in a forest, ideas need space and time in which to germinate and grow. For me, an introvert who battles anxiety daily, constantly changing my mind and rushing from task to meeting to social event creates a toxic environment in which nothing living can take hold, let alone flourish. And ideas are alive, vulnerable, fickle…if you don’t tend to them, they will wither, die, or simply leave you for someone else.
The irony is that inspiration—those blazes of insight that come from “nowhere”—often arise through careful planning and structuring of a day, a career, a life. For instance, back in December I committed to posting a short essay about writing and creativity every Sunday: mostly off the cuff, with minimal editing. Over the course of several weeks (and about ten hours of bike rides down familiar routes), I put together a list of possible blog post topics. Now I can pick from them according to the topic that entices me that week. But I must choose one, and stick to it, and post that essay—even if I’m not feeling it, man. No one else, not even the fabled muse with her tidy hair and creaseless brow, is holding me to it.
Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration to strike. Create the optimal conditions for ideas to come to you, set a deadline, and pounce. Become a writer who sits down at her desk every day regardless of whether the muse stopped by for tea. Become a writer who follows through.
And if you’re wondering why I don’t just switch tea brands or go “bagless,” well, there is comfort in routine and response, isn’t there? Sometimes these minor, one-sided spats can even lead to a piece of writing.