Last month, I wrote about inspiration and the awesome experience of having inspiration strike. What I didn’t write about was how this happens because frankly, I haven’t completely wrapped my brain around it yet. The notion that inspiration can come from some source outside of me is a little too big for me to process. Thankfully, it’s a topic that Elizabeth Gilbert covers well in her book Big Magic and in a related TED talk. In Big Magic, she describes inspiration as like a wind blowing through containing ideas. If an artist or writer catches the idea and holds onto it, it’s theirs. If not, it will just keep flowing until it finds a willing body. She shared some compelling stories of inspiration landing or passing along, such as one from a poet who described poems coming to her and having to race to get pen and paper before the poem passed right through. In her TED talk, Gilbert describes inspiration as a Muse, likening it to a house elf like Dobby from Harry Potter that stays with you unless you send it away. Though I find the notion of inspiration as a house elf a much more vivid and funny one, I have to say that I’d rather be visited by an idea-carrying wind than a house elf.
I don’t think that it’s an either/ or situation though. I think that both of these concepts describe different methods of inspiration. Inspiration coming in on a wind is just like I described inspiration striking in last month’s newsletter. The key is to catch the inspiration when it comes – to take the idea, accept that it is yours, and start planning – or to release it to find someone else to be its creator. Inspiration as a house elf, however, implies that the inspiration is always with you and that you have to call on it when you need it. Regardless of the method, the key takeway for me is that inspiration is all around and will come when you call.
I never knew what that phrase “inspiration strikes” actually meant. Until recently, inspiration was really more perspiration for me. I’d decide to start a project and then I’d think through options until I planned what I wanted to do. I might start with a piece of fabric or a block design and go from there and I thought that I was “inspired” by the fabric. I have since come to realize that working on a design that grew out of something else wasn’t inspiration at all. Inspiration is a design that grows out of nothing at all, that comes flitting into one’s imagination unbidden.
Having this experience of inspiration, these moments when inspiration does truly strike has been one of the unexpected outcomes of my creativity journey and my experiments with creative play. As I have started to play more with no goal in mind, to experiment more, to try different media and generally just open myself up more to chance, I have had more and more moments of true inspiration. These moments are truly awesome, as in creating awe.
My first experience with true inspiration came over a year ago. I was merrily sewing along, minding my own business, but I was thinking of the Orlando shooting that had just happened that week. Then, in the midst of those thoughts, I thought about making a quilt and the idea for my “Victims” quilt began to form. I negotiated with the source of the inspiration for a bit like a petulant child. “Oh no,” I said. “I’m busy. I don’t want to take this on. This is a big project. This is a difficult project. No way.” I didn’t get a response. But, having read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I realized that if I didn’t take up the project, the inspiration would leave me and move on to someone else so I sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.” Then, I grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketched out the whole design in a few minutes.
Since that time, inspiration has struck more and more often and I have gotten better about accepting it. I now skip the step of complaining and go right to grabbing a pencil. In truth, however, the pencil is totally unnecessary. These ideas that come dropping into my mind when I least expect it are also tenacious buggers. Many times, they just stay there lodged in my brain poking at me until I get to work. The good thing is that once I do start work, these inspired projects have come together amazingly quickly with nary a broken needle. (Again, awesome.) The best part of all of this? The works that I have created from these strikes of inspiration have been the most powerful, most meaningful pieces that I have ever done. They come right out of my soul and when I see them finished I am truly amazed.