The Quest for Inspiration
Before we get started, I’m going to let you in a little secret. The only reason you’re reading a blog from me this week is because of my wife. Not because she’s actually the secret author behind all my ramblings, but because this time she provided my inspiration. The past week was full of late nights narrating my current audiobook project, leaving me feeling exhausted, more than a little drained, and completely uninspired regarding what to blog about. Seriously, I considered just posting a big BACK NEXT WEEK sign because my creative juices are running on fumes.
If you do happen to enjoy this week’s blog and/or take away anything of value, all praise and accolades can be addressed to my better half.
Anyway, inspiration is a funny thing when you think about it. Sometimes it flows in abundance, eliciting some of the most creatively creative creations of creativity in all of creation. And other times, it’s as elusive as the mind-blowing metaphor that’s currently eluding me, and you wind up with things like my previous sentence… Look, I warned you that my mind is a bit fried right now.
Research suggests that inspiration is a key ingredient in facilitating important psychological resources including mastery of work, perceived competence, self-esteem, and optimism. Most of us are aware of and already consider inspiration to be the bedrock of creativity, but studies also show that it promotes progress toward goals and increases well-being.
But what even is inspiration? Where does it come from? Why does it matter? How is it that it seems to come and go so sporadically, gracing us with phenomenal artistry one moment and mind-numbing ineptitude the next?
Recently, I watched the film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! I’m a lover of musical theatre in general and Larson’s other claim to fame, RENT, specifically, so it’s no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. In semi-autobiographical fashion, it tells the story of Larson’s early attempts at writing a musical to break into the theatre industry. One of the threads that runs through the entire story is Larson’s struggle to write the pivotal song missing from his show. Scene after scene depicts him plunking out notes on his keyboard or staring blank-faced at an empty Word document on his computer.
*SPOILER ALERT* Are you still there? Okay, I guess that means you’ve either seen the film or don’t care about spoilers. So we’re moving on.
At the turning point of the film, when time is running out before a workshop of his musical is scheduled to premiere, he is struck with sudden inspiration and writes an incredible song. Despite a successful workshop, though, his show isn’t picked up and his agent encourages him to start on the next one. After spending the better part of a decade working on his first project, he’s at an utter loss of how to begin again. Her parting advice alludes to where he ought to find further inspiration: “Write about what you know.”
Bestselling author Shauna Niequist has a similar perspective on inspiration. As a professional writer, she recognizes that writing is her job and she feels a responsibility to complete that job, regardless of how she feels on a given day. In an interview on the Live Well Anyway Podcast (hosted by fellow VO artist, MacKenzie Koppa), she says, “I don’t have the luxury of [questioning], ‘Am I feeling inspired?’ Being inspired is part of the job. So, I go to museums. I go to shows. I read a lot. I spend time with people who are interesting and creative. I go for walks. That’s part of the job—living as a person who is deeply committed to noticing and learning about the world around me. The artist’s job is taking responsibility for their own inspiration.” To put it another way, Niequist writes about what she knows.
Not everyone approaches the concept of inspiration in such a pragmatic way, though. Coming from a different perspective, psychologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot note three core components to inspiration: evocation, transcendence, and approach motivation. In short, inspiration is unintentionally and spontaneously evoked; it transcends our self-serving concerns and limitations, bringing about moments of clarity and awareness of new possibilities; and it motivates the inspired individual to actualize their vision or idea. In other words, we are inspired by something in order to do something, but it’s not necessarily something that’s within our control.
So, is inspiration something we can deliberately tap into, derived from our personal journeys—what we know and experience? Or is it a spontaneous, unintentional force that strikes from without like a bolt of lightning, remarkable but ultimately unpredictable?
As with most things in life, there’s probably not a right or wrong answer to that question. For me, though, I tend to believe in the notion that an artist does have a certain degree of agency in their own inspiration. I can choose to believe inspiration is totally random and continue sitting here, hoping that some vague, amorphous something will alter my state of mind and ignite the fuse of a creative bomb. But that could also just leave me sitting here with nothing to write about.
Alternatively, I can take stock of the world around me and seek out inspiration. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I find deep wells of inspiration from stories. (Quick shoutout to another fellow VO artist, Theresa C. Ho, for her recent blog post about the importance of stories; check it out here!) I read interesting books, watch entertaining movies and shows, play narrative-based video and board games. Embedding myself in the creativity of others helps draw out the creativity in me. Just look at the modern fantasy genre we have today. So much of it has its roots in what came before. We wouldn’t have something like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time without J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The goal, of course, isn’t to copy or try to top our predecessors, but to build on the foundations they laid to create something new and exciting; something that, hopefully, will go on to inspire others in the future to do the same.
These same methods of seeking inspiration apply to my pursuits as a voiceover artist as well. Though it is an artistic endeavor, like Niequist, I see voiceover as my job—albeit one that I adore and receive abundant joy from, but a job, nonetheless. In order to be a competitive player in the VO game, I constantly need to be prepared to deliver creative solutions to help solve my clients’ problems. I can’t afford to be uninspired. So, I’m listening to highly rated audiobooks to hear what other narrators are doing. I’m watching popular animated shows and movies, taking note of the ways the voice actors are performing. I’m examining the character sketches for an audition, discerning whether there are physical attributes that might affect how that character sounds. As my favorite Disney villain proclaims, it pays to “BE PREPARED!”
It’s so easy to sit in an uninspired place and moan and groan about being in said uninspired place. It’s a lot simpler to just embrace a “woe-is-me” attitude and blame the inspirational force for not being with you. But being an epically creative individual has never been about easy. It has never been about simple. Anything in life worth pursuing requires some effort and hard work. It’ll take time. And yes, it will likely require some inspiring moments now and again. Those moments aren’t completely out of our control, though. We don’t have to wait with our fingers crossed and hope really hard that the little cartoon lightbulb will magically flash above our heads. Go ahead! Get down with your creative self and start the journey. Seek out your sources of inspiration and allow them to lead you into greatness.
What do you find inspiring? Are there certain activities, routines, or practices that you’ve found particularly helpful in kick-starting inspiration in your life?
Until next time, friends, keep telling stories.
Voiceover Artist | Storyteller
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