On Inspiration and Delivery: The Creative Process

Man in hiking gear sits on rocks and views mountains, a lake, and a sunset. The post's title, "On Inspiration and Delivery: The Creative Process" is superimposed on the top.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Writers sometimes joke that the worst question to get from readers (and one of the most common) is “where do you get your ideas from?”

I recently read Light the Dark, edited by Joe Fassler, (I received a complimentary copy from Penguin editor Sam Raim). One of the cool things about this book is the fact that it has lots of different writers’ thoughts on where they ‘get their ideas from’…and it doesn’t only cover inspiration, but creativity and the artistic process itself.

Inspiration is a tough subject.  It varies from writer to writer. Sometimes, I think, we don’t even realize exactly what inspires or influences us. In Neil Gaiman’s essay, “Random Joy” for the collection, he talks about this:

It’s like when you put the scraps onto your compost heap: eggshells, and it’s half-eaten turnips, and it’s apple cores, and the like. A year later, it’s black mulch that you can grow stuff in…Trying to figure out what’s influenced you is as difficult as taking the black mulch, and saying this used to be half an apple.”

How can you be sure to collect scraps for your creative compost heap? Although popular advice is to get out of the house and experience life and people, I think we can also get our creative scraps from other books, films, and art–or reading about or watching other people talk about making art.

And we can gather inspiration by slowing down, in general. I remember, as a child, the two characters who fascinated and disturbed me the most were Mr. McFeely from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (speedy delivery! Always too much in a rush to really visit) and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The faster the two characters hurried, the more I longed for them to slow down and really experience life. David Mitchell’s essay in the book, “Neglect Everything Else” covers this concept. He receives inspiration from a poem placed above his desk (James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”.)  The message Mitchell gets from the poem is:

Stop! Just stop. Calm down, be quiet, and look around. It’s an homage to, and an exhortation of, the act of seeing.

Jane Smiley in her essay “Nobody Asked You to Write That Novel” says much the same thing about inspiration:

Dickens was extremely observant…He was observant not just visually, but aurally–he was a practiced eavesdropper. Many moments that the rest of us might pass over, he would note and they would filter into his work.”

So inspiration can be all around us, influencing us all the time and in ways that maybe we don’t even realize. Frequently, I’m drawing on past inspiration to power through my own writing sessions. I rarely sit down to write, filled with the muse’s voice. Most of the time I sit down and it’s more like muscle memory–this is what I do in this very spot every day at this time.  And that works for me 99% of the time.  That’s how I deliver.  It sounded like Angela Flournay also worked this way (this is from her essay, “A Place to Call My Own”):

I’ve found that, if I focus on doing the work every day, the imagination part starts to take care of itself. The beautiful thing about imagination is how it keeps opening doors for your characters to walk through.”

But what if your delivery process needs some help? David Mitchell also has some tips for that.  His method of making time to write is:

Part One: Neglect everything else. Part Two: Get Disciplined. Part Three: Keep the Apple homepage, because it’s rather boring.” (Don’t get distracted by the internet.)

Where do you find inspiration? What’s the hardest part for you…the inspiration or the delivery (completing the project)? Have you read “Light the Dark?”

Well-known authors' tips for inspiration and the creative process (via @joefassler and @sam_raim ‏): Click To Tweet

Photo via Visualhunt



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18 thoughts on “On Inspiration and Delivery: The Creative Process

    1. Oh, no, I’m a huge Mr. Rogers fan! I could watch it today and feel my blood pressure dropping. :) It was just Mr. McFeely’s rushing that I found troubling, ha!

      Trying to slow down is on my (huge) list of things to do!

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on inspiration, Elizabeth. I agree with you that what inspires us is different for each person. Sometimes slowing down and just…looking works beautifully. Well, for me, anyway. In my opinion, writers are observers. That plus the regular discipline of sitting in that chair and writing can get the creative juice flowing.

  2. So agree that we are all different in what inspires us and that we just have to look around to get ideas. One of my favorite questions when I interview authors on my blog is finding out how they got the ideas for their books. Often it’s just a random observation that leads to an interesting question and story.

  3. Many times, my inspiration and creativity come from just kicking back and turning off all the filters and the walls one builds in one’s mind. I just let my mind run free and it usually produces ideas I can use, albeit most of them are pretty weird. And that’s a good thing.

  4. Elizabeth, I enjoyed reading your essay on the creative process. The part about “gather(ing) inspiration by slowing down” reminds me of Eknath Easwaran’s eight-point programme for translating spiritual ideals into daily life. One of these points includes “Slowing Down” as a means to succeed in everything we do, provided we take up one task or activity at a time and focus all our attention and energy on it. I can see how it’d influence and shape creativity. Easwaran was an Indian spiritual teacher who founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in California in the sixties.

    1. Hi Prashant! Thanks for coming by. I’m not familiar with Easwaran’s 8-point program, but it sounds like something I need to read up on. I love the idea of total focus and energy on one thing. Thanks for sharing the info!

  5. What a fantastic topic, Elizabeth. Slowing down is so important. I find I miss so much if I’m always rushing about – and it’s not just physical rushing about. It’s mental as well. If my thoughts are rushing about and always thinking about the next thing, I’m not where I am and missing something for sure. Nature is a huge inspiration for me. There’s something about looking at sheer natural beauty that inspires me and opens my heart and mind to new thoughts.

    1. Me too! The day becomes a blur that way, and it’s so hard to be creative that way. Good point about nature…sometimes when I have a few minutes, I’ll just slip into the backyard. Even though I’ve seen the same landscape thousands of times, I always find something different.

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