“Inspiration is for amateurs!” Alex Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant) yells at Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) in the 2007 film Music and Lyrics. So often, when I tell people that I’m not “feeling writey” or that I haven’t written anything real in a year, they think I mean that I’m not inspired. That isn’t the case.
For the last few weeks I’ve been riding a creative high that has me more energized, more prolific with writing, than I have been since 2007, which was the year I first joined Comedy Sportz.
Since August 9th, specifically, I have created a podcast, which I produced almost daily from the 9th-30th of August (18 episodes) and plan to continue once or twice a week going forward, written three chapters and two one-shots for a personal project, written a good chunk of the pilot episode of a television series I hope to pitch, written three new additions for my ever-expanding collection of cafe vignettes, and been cast in two new voice roles (and am waiting to hear back on two more.)
All this would be pretty impressive in and of itself, but it comes at the end of a year that has been nothing but struggle for me, writing-wise. Oh, I turned in these Sunday Brunch columns mostly on time, but I did so after grumbling to all and sundry that I had nothing to say, and no idea what to write about.
So, what changed? A few things.
First, the work I do for money – a lot of which is copywriting and corporate blogging – began to shrink in volume. The people I contract with still love me, but the market for what they do is changing, and that means less work for me while they find a new direction and hone their vision. Summer is almost always a light time of year, anyway, but this year that lightness came when I was feeling completely burned out.
Second, I committed to a project that was visible (audible) to other people, and required participation in a community. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m an introvert; I don’t need people,” but the whole introvert-extrovert thing isn’t actually absolute. Like so many things, it’s a spectrum. I’m fine on my own much of the time, because I have a rich inner life, but put me on a stage, and I thrive on the energy of the crowd.
That podcast project forced me, not just to perform, but also to be accountable to something. If I didn’t post, people would know. If I didn’t comment on what other people were posting, I would not be holding up my part of the bargain. That sense of accountability seemed to permeate the group, in fact, because I’m not the only participant who – at least once – posted something like “This is a two minute podcast because I have so much going on that I couldn’t write something new, but hi, I’m here, and I listened to this other podcast today.” My personal blog used to give me that same external accountability, but it isn’t enough anymore.
Finally, just as productivity breeds productivity; creativity breeds creativity. A two-line part in an audio drama gets me juiced enough to audition for more. Once I’ve finished writing a column or an essay or a vignette, I can usually jump into another piece and keep going. Conversely, doing the same thing forever numbs me into a stupor. Five years of writing, almost daily, on a single topic was killing all the other parts of my brain. Three months of “rest,” and I’m bouncing around in a way that makes the Energizer Bunny look narcoleptic.
I can’t say I don’t miss the money – things I didn’t have to think about buying, I now do. But maybe there’s something in that whole “starving artist” thing. I don’t think there’s anything noble in poverty, but I think sometimes when we don’t have to work for what we want, we stop trying.
“Inspiration is for amateurs,” Hugh Grant’s Alex Fletcher says to Drew Barrymore’s Sophie Fisher. But he doesn’t mean that inspiration isn’t real, that we shouldn’t be inspired. He means you can’t sit around waiting for that lightning-strike moment because it isn’t going to happen.
But…you also can’t keep plodding along in the same rut and expect your creative energy to do anything but diminish. I might have been practically forced out of MY rut, but it’s my own fault for becoming complacent and not paying attention to what was happening.
Now, I have new eyes, and a better sense of my own plan, and a strong helping of purpose. I’m no longer burned out on anything, and I’m not just surfing a wave of creativity; I’m mainlining it.