On Inspiration (Part 2)

Pillars of Creation from Hubble

Yesterday I said that I used to think that inspiration was the absolute truth.

Today I tell you that I still find myself believing that, even though I also believe that inspiration is a lie.  A necessary lie, perhaps, but still a lie.

I’ve found that inspiration usually comes to me when I’m in the midst of writing.  I will start a poem without knowing where it’s going, caught by an image or a title or simply putting the first words that come to mind down on the page.  But a few lines in I will have a stanzaic form in mind.  The poem will begin to take shape from the images and words I’ve used so that, soon, what is revealing itself on the page isn’t what I’d planned on or imagined at all, but something new, something inspired.

But that doesn’t make inspiration a lie.

What does is that inspiration is nothing next to craft, and that craft is the key to inspiration.

Or, I should say, craft is the key to effective inspiration.  We’re all inspired all the time, but most of those inspirations die a quick death.  Most of them are forgotten almost immediately as we decide not to write them down, confident that we’ll remember later either because we have misplaced faith in our own powers of memory or because we tell ourselves that “If the idea is that good, surely it’ll come back to me.”  Or we simply decide not to get out of bed because we’re really, really comfortable.  Not that I’m speaking from experience here.

Those inspirations that last a little longer often grow malformed.  If you don’t have mastery of the particular craft you have inspiration for, then it doesn’t matter how good your inspiration is.  A master craftsman can make even the most mundane concept beautiful, and though it may not be a work of genius, it’ll be a pleasure to read, to watch, to sit in, or to eat.

So there you have it, the two things that make inspiration a lie: the sudden bolt from the sky that inflames your imagination, and the belief that if a work is inspired then it is also inspired.

What to do, then?

I guess I’m writing this for all the artists I’ve known and still know – mostly writers, to be sure – who create only when inspired.  The rest of their time is spent lazing by the pool, sitting anxiously in front of the computer, downloading porn off the internet, all in the hope that they will be hit by that bolt of lightning and that their head will explode.  Explode messily, but beautifully, into a bloody masterpiece.

But fuck inspiration (if you can discover where it hangs out, and it’ll have you), because you don’t need it.  We’re alone in this world and the only true thing we can rely upon to get us out of any jam is ourselves, because we are the only ones stuck with ourselves all the time.  We are the only ones who can, finally, take full responsibility.

And your responsibility is this: to create your own inspiration.

No one else will do it for you.  No muse will come down from Mount Helicon to whisper genius in your ear.  No spirit speaks through you but your own.

And if you won’t, then who will?

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