Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Does Inspiration Exist?

A friend on Facebook shared this video (aptly titled with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “The Most Inspiring Video on YouTube“), and I have to say: It’s pretty challenging (and hilarious!).

As a writer and creative, I confess that I’ve often struggled with not feeling inspired.

I’ll let you watch it for yourself, but it raises some fascinating questions that we’ve been discussing:

  • What do you do when you don’t feel inspired? Do you wait, or do you act?
  • Can you create your way out of writer’s block?
  • Is lack of artistic inspiration just an excuse to be lazy?

Inspiration: a working definition

First of all, what do we mean when we say “inspiration”? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

Inspiration refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour. Literally, the word means “breathed upon,” and it has its origins in both Hellenism and Hebraism.

I propose a simple working definition of inspiration as: “a prompting by a force outside yourself (or deeply within) to create.”

Sound good? Great. Let’s move on.

When I’ve been inspired

The hard part with all of this for me is that there have been times when I’ve legitimately been inspired. I’ve:

  • Written beautiful poems
  • Composed meaningful and memorable songs
  • Directed compelling plays
  • Come up with creative solutions to problems
  • Created inspiring and motivational prose

That’s not bragging; at least, it’s not intended to be. Those  feats were, in some cases, truly remarkable, and I can’t take the credit. I really believe that what came out of me wasn’t from me. I was inspired.

The problem with creative people

The problem with creative people, according to my friend Ken Davis, is they can be lazy. They are so talented that they can simply use their creative genius to coast instead of showing up every day to do their job.

Maybe, as YouTuber Craig (AKA wheezywaiter) says, when we say that we’re not inspired to create, we’re really dealing with:

  • Our need for perfection
  • The fear of failure
  • Exhaustion
  • Distraction

I have to admit: some of those really resonated with me. While I’m not sure that inspiration doesn’t exist (how’s that for a double negative?), I do know that I’ve often made excuses for feeling uninspired when I needed to just sit down and create something.

The brutal truth about inspiration

I have to be honest: I am often lazy, distracted, and afraid. These tendencies can often cause me to be unproductive, unmanageable, and uncreative.

My only saving grace for getting stuff done is to simply do the work. It is not easy or convenient, but it is necessary.

Someone recently complained about bloggers who post everyday out of obligation, and, as a result, share sub-par content. I totally get that (and agree about the sub-par content part).

There’s just one problem: I have no idea what’s going to be my best (or most inspired) stuff.

All I can do is show up.

The articles that I’m sure will go viral don’t, and the ones that I just slap up there sometimes get a crazy amount of traffic.

I’ve given up trying to figure out what will be successful and what will not be. I’ve also stopped waiting for inspiration and instead just show up everyday, no matter what, to do my part.

I write to write — not to necessarily get published or praised. I write because I have to. And as I do the work, something mystical happens: I get inspired.

Happens every time.

Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is stop.
—Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

What excuses for not being creative have you made? Do you think inspiration exists? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • HAHAHA! I loved that video. “Inspiration doesn’t exist…coffee does…” It’s wonderful to finally get over the fear of failure and perfectionism. (Occasionally I will find myself again temporarily) But, the joy received from creating, far outweighs my apprehensions! Thanks for this!

    • Thanks Eileen. Coffee is my inspiration.

  • Dude, that video is so genius!

    I agree with you that all I can do is show up. I think some of the best songs I’ve written were when I was feeling zero inspiration and some of the others where I was like, “this is going to rock the world!” fell flat, probably never to rise again.

    The truth is, sometimes I’ll write sub-par songs. Sometimes I’ll publish posts that don’t get RT’d much or abound with comments. But it’s still my way of “doing the work” and creating. You never know when the genius will strike.

    Thanks for these conversations, Jeff.

  • Dude, that video is so genius!

    I agree with you that all I can do is show up. I think some of the best songs I’ve written were when I was feeling zero inspiration and some of the others where I was like, “this is going to rock the world!” fell flat, probably never to rise again.

    The truth is, sometimes I’ll write sub-par songs. Sometimes I’ll publish posts that don’t get RT’d much or abound with comments. But it’s still my way of “doing the work” and creating. You never know when the genius will strike.

    Thanks for these conversations, Jeff.

  • Anonymous

    So so true. I’m sure you’ve read The War of Art so you know about the whole Resistance thing. I had never really attributed my laziness to my being a creative person but perhaps that’s really what’s going on? There have been so many times I have ideas for blog posts or songs or photographs swirling around in my head but I don’t act on them because I don’t feel that outside force of real inspiration.

    Do the work.

    • Sure have. I’ve started capturing my ideas on an ongoing basis so I never have to wait for inspiration. I always have an idea (or a few) going. Thanks Sarah.

  • Kerrianderson77

    My biggest excuse for being uninspired is distraction…I have six children whom I love dearly, but in between diaper duty, decoding teenage lingo and booger detail I really don’t feel inspired to write anything so I tell myself that I’ll get inspired by surfing the web for hours and hours and hours until the day is gone and I got zero done. Yesterday I was uninspired but I made myself branch off into the living room floor and write and to my surprise I actually got a lot done! Not only did I get a lot wrote, but I actually loved what I’d written! Inspiration does exist, but I have to learn to turn my everyday moments as inspiration and make the best out of what I have.

  • Such a great post! I follow Michael Hyatt on Google Reader and came across your blog. Congratulations, you’ve been added as well.

    Thank you for introducing me to the Wheezy Waiter. Hilarious yet thoughtful.

    I think the idea of “showing up” is key when it comes to creating and chasing dreams. I’ve been frustrated before with “art” types who bemoan writers block or whatever and are really just lazy and waiting for inspiration to strike.

    Have you ever seen Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity? While I don’t agree with her life philosophy (Eat, Pray, Gag me!), the video was excellent.

    • Cool, KC. I’m honored. I’ve followed you pm Twitter for a while now. Appreciate the feedback!

  • I don’t write a thing until I’ve had about two 16oz cups of coffee. For real. Coffee is inspiration! 😉

    Seriously, like you, I show up and am usually amazed by what comes out. It’s a kick!

    • I love what’s being spoken thru you lately Chad. Keep being a mouthpiece!

      • Thanks, man! You likewise.

        Sent you an email “sneak peek” of an upcoming post. Would love your feedback.

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  • Alvin Reid

    Thanks for this and for your kind words at my blog. This for me has been one of the best reads online in a long while. Bookmarked it!

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  • I’m super late on this…  But this is currently (read: 3 years) my greatest source of frustration.  Before I had “adult responsibilities” I both laid around waiting for inspiration to strike and had plenty of time to hash out bad material until it did.  Now that guilt pervades my life if I do anything during the day that doesn’t feel productive (writing 1000 words of absolute drivel being one such thing), I pray desperately for the same inspiration that struck me before to strike now, with very little luck….   YES, inspiration exists.  And I wish I knew how to bottle and keep it!

    • thanks for sharing your frustrations, Brynna. i wish i knew how to do that, too. one of the ways to “bottle” it (I think) is to show up and do the work every day.

  • I think inspiration does exist. I have been inspired out of nowhere many times. But I definitely use it as an excuse to be lazy. I’m just now figuring out that it takes dedication and lots of work and hitting your head against a brick wall a lot. 

    I’m learning that inspiration comes to you when you seek it. 

  • Normahinkens

    Musing on this topic all week! Sitting around waiting for inspiration is a recipe for mental atrophy. Far better to put one foot in front of the other and shape our ideas in process. We can harness even the smallest flashes of inspiration to initiate the creative process. Think Kaizen!

     

  • Riz

    You hit the nail hard in the head on this one, Jeff. (Just like many of your posts.) Thank you for sharing, and for always doing your best to get over your fears so that you can inspire the rest of us.

  • Clara Meierdierks

    This is really Motivating. It is as if someone is directly talking to me. Thanks Jeff for this inspirational Post ! Love it.