How To Get Your Creative Inspiration Back...

Where does inspiration come from? Humans have been asking this question for centuries, but ultimately each of us is responsible for sourcing and maintaining inspiration for use in our creative work. This is sometimes easier said than done. We can employ a combination of curiosity, courage, and skill to find it, but despite our best efforts it can be elusive when we need it most. The very nature of inspiration is that it ebbs and flows, shifting like tide patterns, as we wade deeper and allow it to guide us (hopefully) where we need to go. We might not be conscious of it while it's flowing, but we sure know when it stops.

So how do we get inspiration back? Here are 5 ways to promote its return:

1) Treat its absence like a temporary weather system

  • Understand that like good weather, inspiration will return when conditions are favorable. Don't get hung-up on whether or not you are "blocked" or "stuck". Focus on the larger continuum of your creative life. Take a minute to remember previous inspiration droughts, and the eventual relief that came with new creative ideas and angles. Summon some gratitude for the presence of inspiration in all your previous work, and think of specific examples where it showed you the way. Prepare for its arrival by clearing and cleaning your workspace, and doing a full inventory of your health and wellness. Treat yourself like a worthy vessel to be filled, and trust that it will happen soon.

2) Get out of your head and into your hands

  • Our hands, the part of our bodies with which we do most of our creative work, contain 2500 sensory receptors per centimeter in the fingertips alone. In fact, our bodies are equipped with powerful sensors that are active all the time. Everything we touch, taste, smell, see, and hear has the potential to bring us waves of compelling sensory information that we can integrate into our work. Landscape painters gaze intently at light moving across a snowy valley. Dancers feel the heat of each others' bodies and move closer as they spin. Novelists overhear snappy dialogue at the brunch table next to them. Musicians steal rhythm from the noises of the city. We are constantly responding to external stimuli with creative actions. Spend some time getting your hands dirty, or doughy, or blistered. Run your fingers through your hair, pet your dog, bake a big juicy pie (and make the crust from scratch!), or just let your fingers float in the open air that rushes past your car window. Be completely present and feel the entire experience.

3) Play around in a different discipline or genre than your own

  • Are you a graphic designer? Take a dance class. Screenwriter? Walk around the park with a camera (a real one, not your phone!). Blogger? Bake a big juicy pie (make the crust from scratch!). Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and remember what it's like to be in Beginner's Mind. Re-discover that sense of curiosity and wonder that first drew you down the path of creating. You'll get the added benefit of doing creative work without pressure or expectations that come with your usual job. You might feel a bit of frustration at having to start all over again, but this feeling can trigger some perspective about how far you've come in your own work. Celebrate your smallest triumphs as you dream, discover, and play.

4) Change your brain state

  • Inspiration is a state of mind as much as anything else. If you've been sitting in front of a screen or lying prone on the couch for hours (or even days!), your brain needs to be refreshed before you can ask it to produce anything new. Use proven methods of brain stimulation. Stand up, stretch, walk around the block. Do a quick meditation, sniff some aromatherapeutic scents (ex: peppermint to wake up, lavender to relax, chocolate to bring you to your happy place). Listen to some pop songs from your youth and dance around. Reboot your brain!

5) Visualize how you'll feel at the completion of your next big creative triumph

  • Use the awesome power of visualization. See yourself putting the finishing touches on your next masterpiece. How will it FEEL to be finished, in your body, your mind, and your heart? Will you feel hot or cold, shaky or calm, relieved or revived? Who will you call first? What will say to them about your work? How will you celebrate? See and feel every detail, and breathe deeply as you take in the entire experience. Your inspiration wants to show up again, so let it know that you believe it will.

Why People Don't Learn (And How They Can)

I've been a self-employed Professional Creative Person and teaching artist for 20 years. I've mostly taught individual singing lessons (kids ages 10-18 and adults). I've also done songwriting workshops in public and private schools, taught executives to improve their public speaking, and coached many people through their creative works. This year I started ADMC Creative, my consulting and coaching company, for people who want to make meaningful personal works and huge public triumphs with their creativity (email me for rates and information). 

You could say that I've devoted my entire life to helping people with their creative endeavors. This is a sacred privilege that I take seriously, and it's informed the way I see the world. Most people learn at a rapid rate when passion and enthusiasm are driving them. A good teacher mirrors this energy and helps the student direct it toward their goal. While it is inevitable that obstacles will occur on the road, there is only one true impediment to learning (and here I'm talking about adult students). Unless and until a person can work through this issue, no viable progress can be made. The obstacle is this: the inability to enter, and remain comfortable in, Beginner's Mind.

As children we embody every single growth metaphor, all at the same time: we are like sunflowers stretching toward the sun, like sponges soaking up the ocean, like birds struggling to fly, and like foals learning to walk. In fact, we're learning so much so fast that it can feel exhausting. Yet we rise every day with a ferocious hunger for the world and all the things in it. We are ravenous, wonder-filled beginners. We're surrounded by "experts", adults who seem to have the answer for every question, and we don't hesitate to ask them again and again for help when we need it. In our learning process we experiment; we listen to instruction, attempt, fail, try again, take suggestions, fail again, shake it off and try something new. We repeat this process over and over, with our eyes and ears open, until we have enough confidence to go forward on our own. 

When we become adults we're suddenly faced with the prospect of Failure (with a capitol F!). The fear of it shadows everything we do. We work hard to outrun this fear, yet it clings with diabolical tenacity. Success is the goal, eternally shape-shifting in front of us on the road, distorting our field of vision. Failure is the rabid dog on our trail. Fear of failure can motivate us to do our best work, but the price we pay is steep. In allowing fear to drive us we lose our ability to be vulnerable, to falter, to feel uncertain and lost, and to find our way forward one careful step at a time. We forget how to be beginners because we're so afraid of not appearing like experts. We take this fear with us every time we start something new, and that's part of the reason that we abandon so many efforts at the early stage (think back... how many hobbies, relationships, jobs, and creative works have you started and quit before you got good at them?). In order to experience our full creative potential, we have to be willing to think like beginners. 

In my years of teaching I have observed that the learning process can trigger an avalanche of struggle. Symptoms of resistance to Beginner's Mind include being easily distracted, deflecting answers to direct questions, boasting about unrelated accomplishments, crying, sweating, and not showing up. Quite often, when we are fighting against Beginner's Mind, prickling embarrassment torments us and makes us stammer, blush, and stutter. Our vulnerability scares us. We become intensely frustrated, and ashamed of our frustration. We mutter that we don't know what's wrong with us, then make an excuse that is not truthful. In short, we do everything possible to regain our composure and feel safe and strong again. But that strength, rather than supporting and encouraging us to relax our fears and trust the process of learning, actually puts a giant wall between us and the creative success that we so long for. In fact, that wall can keep us from having any creative satisfaction at all.

So how do we break on through to the other side? With simple curiosity. Rather than struggling to cover up when we feel vulnerable, we can step away from our ego, look at the task in front of us, and ask, "what's cool about this? how does it work? what can I try that I haven't tried before?". We may have undertaken a creative effort because we want more enjoyment and fulfillment in our lives, and that's a good choice. But here's the thing: If you want to learn (and improve) you're going to have to get comfortable with being a beginner. No one gets to skip this step

When you are in Beginner's Mind, be infinitely curious. Find a good teacher and ask a thousand questions.  Practice your art diligently. Examine the fine details of what you're doing, and compare them with the larger picture. Work with a steady hand and a light touch. Step back from time to time, observe your progress, and make note of improvements. Read about others who have tread the path before you. Take comfort and inspiration from their journey, and know that you are part of a much larger community of dedicated artists who were once, every last one of them, beginners.

Finding your way back to Beginner's Mind, and staying there through your learning process, is a heroic act. If you attempt it, expect to feel your own resistance rising up like a mountain in front of you. Don't despair. Melt yourself down like fresh glacier water, and flow around it. Ask yourself what's on the other side, and go find out!