Inspiration is not spontaneous. As much as we romanticize the idea of being struck by genius before we create, reality doesn’t work like that. Our muses are flighty creatures — we must make safe spaces for them in our lives.
I am usually (constantly) wrestling with my muse. There was a time when inspiration came easy, but during that time, I was a miserable teenager with a lot of feelings. (I still have a lot of feelings.) Because I want to make things but still keep my adult sanity, I have to find ways to summon inspiration that don’t involve crying into a lyric notebook or ignoring what people are saying to me while I’m spinning in word loops in my head. Here are a few rituals that have succeeded in bringing my muse down from heaven (or whatever planet she lives on).
1. Morning Pages
The Julia Cameron Artist’s Way classic: write three stream-of-consciousness pages longhand every morning. What you write will likely be utter crap, but that’s okay. That’s the point, actually. If you can train your Inner Critic to be quiet enough to let all of your early morning crankiness take form on the page, you can teach it to be quiet when you actually have good ideas. Plus Morning Pages have the added benefit of getting negative thoughts out first thing in the morning so they don’t play on loop in your head all day.
2. Dream Journals
A variation on Morning Pages. I used to be in the habit of recording my dreams first thing in the morning, and once you’re in the habit of remembering dreams, you remember them with more vividness and regularity. This ritual resulted in metaphors for songs and landscapes for stories that I’d feel too square to come up with during my waking hours. Last night I dreamed about a seasonal dance party in abandoned subway tunnels during which people destroyed a symbolic body of Christ and then paraded out an oversized paper skeleton. Some yuppie women were afraid to join the party because they were worried about the chemicals in the fake blood poured on revelers. There’s just so much going on in that dream that I can’t even.
I used to get lots of song ideas driving on highways in Florida. Then the same kind of inspiration would come to me when I commuted by bike through Manhattan. Navigating familiar routes requires a unique amount of attention that’s not quite the total space out that I often do during my subway commute these days. When your body is occupied with muscle memory, your mind has freedom to wander productively. You could also stimulate the same kind of brain activity by walking repeated paths.
4. New Moon/Full Moon Rituals
This is a new (if embarrassing) ritual I’ve added to my routine. I don’t actually believe in astrology or moon worship or any of that that, but the lunar cycle provides me with regular reminders to check in with myself. Every two weeks, I reassess what I want to hold onto and what I want to let go of. This holistic view of life helps me create more space for my creativity.
5. Make Appointments
Let’s be real: sometimes creating is awful. But if you can make regular dates to noodle around with your art, it can become less awful. I go through periods of complaining that I don’t have any ideas until I remember that I often get my best ideas by simply sitting down to improvise on the piano. If I don’t make time to do that, I don’t get ideas. The same could be said for writing or anything else — the easiest way to ensure you’re going to make something is to put your butt in the chair and make it, even when it sucks. Make it in an appointment in your calendar and go do it.
What rituals are you using in your life?