An artist had better not wait to be inspired before beginning to work, since inspiration typically only comes to artists who are willing to work when not inspired. Tchaikovsky put it this way: “I’m inspired about every fifth day but I only get that fifth day if I show up the other four days.” This is one of the great truths about the creative process, that if you sit on your hands waiting for inspiration you will likely still be sitting there next month or next year.
That being the case, how can you stay motivated on all those days when you aren’t feeling inspired? Over these 5 weeks I’ll present 5 tips. Here’s tip #2!
2. Remember that work in the service of meaning may not feel meaningful. Meaning is a certain sort of psychological experience that we crave. But to get that feeling—to get that fleeting feeling of meaningfulness from the painting, novel or sonata we’re working on—we must work, even if the work is tedious, even if we doubt ourselves, even if the work is taxing. A week of drudgery may get you only a split second of meaning—but you wouldn’t have gotten that split second otherwise.
That inspiration is only an occasional guest means that not everything we do will feel inspired or look inspired. We may make a few dull paintings for every lively one: so be it. We may spend a month unhappy that our creations look so dull: so be it. There’s a reason that every great artist’s work has a varied impact on us: some of it is more successful and some of it is less successful, some of it is more inspired and some of it is less inspired. Every artist must live with that reality, you and me included.
Tip #3 next week!