Well, after having a few random moments of inspiration in the days before writing this article, this made me think about creativity itself. In particular, the unusual, ironic, counter-intuitive and downright paradoxical parts of creating anything.
So, here are a few of the paradoxes you might encounter when you try to create something. And, yes, this will be a slightly weirder article than usual.
1) Self-expression and self-censorship: When you feel really inspired – the kind of brilliant inspiration where making stuff feels almost like a spiritual activity of some kind – it is usually because what you are creating feels relevant to you in some way or another. It is a part of yourself, your emotions or your imagination that can only be expressed through the medium of art, fiction, comics, music, poetry etc…
Of course, these types of creative works feel absolutely amazing to make. But, one of the pitfalls of this is that you’ll sometimes look at this wonderful piece of self-expression and suddenly think “Oh my god, this is far too weird, cynical and/or personal to show anyone else“. And you’ll probably end up self-censoring it in some way or not showing it to anyone else.
And, to further compound the irony of all of this, most of the creative works made by other people that will really inspire you to create stuff are the kind of unique, weird, subversive, satirical, rebellious, introspective, irreverent, funny, quirky etc… things that will probably lead to you self-censoring when you try to make your own “equivalent” of them.
2) Improvement and nostalgia: If you’ve been practicing creating stuff regularly, then you’ve probably run into this one at some point or another. Either you get nostalgic about an inspired time you had several months or years ago, or someone says something nice about something you created ages ago. So, you go back… and it looks nowhere near as good as you remember it being!
As bizarre and frustrating as this might be when it happens to you for the first time, it is very much a good thing. It means that you’ve improved as both a person and an artist/writer/musician etc… That old creative work was probably the best thing that you could create at the time. It was something which you poured all of your creative practice, imagination and life experience into. Because it was the best thing you can create, it will look really good to you at the time.
Of course, when you’ve had a few more years practice, life experience etc.. and been exposed to even more creative inspirations, you’ll see it for what it actually is. A snapshot of your imagination several years ago. Something made by a younger, more limited and less practiced/experienced version of who you are today. So, it’ll probably make you cringe.
But, and here’s the pardox, don’t get too smug about the stuff that you’re making today. Because you’ll also experience this exact thing with it at some point in the future. I can pretty much guarantee it.
3) Getting inspired by other stuff (means your stuff has to be different): When you see a truly great creative work, it makes you want to make something like it. This is a perfectly normal part of the creative process and, when handled well, can be a great source of motivation that also helps you to improve and refine your creative works.
However, there is a massive paradox that you have to be aware of here. If you try to create something like the creative works that have inspired you, then it won’t work. At best, you’ll produce an amusing novelty pastiche/parody but, at worst, you’ll produce something crappy or something that makes you feel less enthusiastic about creating things.
Ironically, to actually use these types of moments to your advantage, you need to produce something very different to what inspired you. Why? Because your imagination, personality, worldview, circumstances, experiences and sensibilities will be different to those of the artist, writer, musician etc… that has just inspired you. You will never be able to write exactly like your favourite author, draw exactly like your favourite artist or play exactly like your favourite musician.
And this is a good thing! The reason why these great creative works have inspired you so much is because they are an expression of that person’s unique imagination. They are something that only that one person could make. And, if you want to make things that have this quality, then you need to make stuff that only you can make. Stuff that feels relevant to you, that is a part of your imagination that screams to be expressed.
Yes, you should still carefully study anything that inspires you to see if it can teach you any new technical skills (eg: art techniques, writing techniques etc..) and if there are any general elements that interest you enough to make you want to create your own interpretation of them.
You should also try to have a wide range of inspirations, because this also helps to add originality to your work. But, if you want to make something as great as the thing that inspired you, then you need to look inside yourself at your own unique thoughts, emotions, daydreams, fascinations etc… and use them as the basis for what you are making. Because this is exactly what your favourite artist, musician etc… did when they made the thing that inspired you.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂