There are two types of creatives in this world; those who are hounded day and night by ideas forcing their way into the mind with jagged teeth and sharpened claws refusing to be ignored, and those who sit before an empty notebook eager to write, to paint, to compose, but don’t have any inspiration.
There is torture in both, but as someone who has been plagued every second of her life by uninvited muses and ideas that she will never live long enough to utilise, believe me when I say that not having enough ideas is a lot easier to remedy than having too many.
If you are someone who enjoys the act of creation but struggles with inspiration, then let’s first look at why you may be having trouble getting started.
Art is magic. Real magic. Turning a thought from one person’s mind into something tangible is a very special kind of alchemy. In fact, it’s more than that — it’s a gift and an honour.
And this can be why the blank page means different things to different people. It can be an endless world of possibilities, and likewise it can be the most terrifying sight to behold.
Doubt, fear, and struggling to find joy often stand in the way of an artist and their art. Scottish philosopher, David Hume, once said “Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.”
It’s the search for beauty that ignites us and leads us to great ideas — but when you’re unable to take that step forward with your work, that leap into the unknown, that’s when creativity turns from feathered wings to a binding tie.
It is human to doubt oneself, but that doubt can create writer’s block or make you discount every idea that you have. What if your idea isn’t special and it’s been done a thousand times before? What if people will laugh? What if you’re not good enough?
Considering every book, song, or painting began with one thought, often accompanied by a mark on paper, it stands to reason that making that first step of committing thought into ink can be incredibly daunting. Taking something that has only ever existed inside your mind and making it into something that all can enjoy often feels like a huge responsibility.
If you struggle with these thoughts then step back, take a deep breath, and remember that the pen in your hand may be mightier than the sword, but it’s no scalpel. You won’t hurt anyone if you get it wrong the first time.
Say it again — ‘you can’t make a mistake when it comes to art.’
The very act of trying to create is part of the art’s journey. Is there anything more wonderful that seeing the light pencil sketches visible beneath the paint of an old masterpiece? Or getting to read the deleted scenes from a bestseller? Even the parts of a movie that ended up on the cutting room floor are fascinating to watch.
The journey matters — including the parts we first deem as a mistake. That’s what makes each of our creations so special. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a ceramic bowl or writing a novel, because it’s you who’s creating that piece. It’s your touch that will make it individual and unique.
There are no mistakes in art, and everything you do makes your work unique, but where do you start?
Let’s take a look at inspiration:
Towards the end of 2019, I found myself in a really big creative slump. It wasn’t that I was short of ideas, I simply didn’t know what direction to go in. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic changed my life. Yes, that’s a rather grandiose statement, but it’s true. OK, perhaps not my entire life, but definitely my creative career.
Gilbert’s book is about the power of creativity and ideas, and in it she says, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
And she’s right.
Over the years, I’ve written many an article listing all the great places where you can find inspiration for your next novel. I’ve suggested long walks in nature, listening in on conversations in cafes, flicking through old family portraits, and scrolling through social media.
All of these ideas are valid and useful. It was a Twitter thread that inspired me to write my thriller debut Good Girls Die Last. A dream inspired my fantasy trilogy, The Path Keeper. And the book I’m currently writing was partly inspired by a movie I watched when I was a teenager and a real-life story I read about in the newspaper.
Yet, hunting for ideas isn’t it. That’s not what’s going to create a masterpiece.
As Gilbert says in her book, the strange jewels are already hidden inside of us — because we are forever soaking up inspiration without ever going out to look for it.
And that’s the magic that makes great art. Not the idea itself, but the emotional connection you have with it. And much like the emotions that get in the way of you and your creations — the fear, doubt, and uncertainty — it’s the emotions that make you really feel something that will wake up your muse monsters.
So instead of thinking about whether to draw a tree or a boat, or whether to write a romance or a horror novel, ask yourself what makes you feel. What gets you angry? What do you miss or long for? What makes you anxious?
And with those emotions come memories. This process can be painful, it can even take you to dark or uncomfortable places, but art is not meant to be easy. If you want the people listening to your music, looking at your painting, or reading your book to really feel something…then you too need to feel something powerful.
So start there. Start with the emotion.
When I wrote my feminist thriller, Good Girls Die Last, I was spurred into action by a tweet and inspired by the movie Falling Down. But in reality, it was the feelings of anger, frustration, and fear that propelled me. Anger over the kidnapping, rape, and death of Sarah Everard at the hands of a Met police officer. Frustration that no matter what women do, we can never be safe. Fear that what happened to her could, and did, happen to more women. Tapping into that unearthed the plot of my book, the characters, and the themes.
Prepare yourself, because once you tap into your feelings, a trickle can soon become a deluge.
Pouring your emotions into your work can unearth a lot of trauma that you may not realise you were harbouring, but it can also be cathartic, therapeutic, and freeing. But most importantly of all, if you feel something big as you create then the person you are creating for will feel it too.
And that’s what art is — making people feel.
So, next time you find yourself staring at a blank page, don’t think you have to fill it. Instead feel it. Ask yourself what is really on your mind, what is really standing in your way, and channel it.
Make your mark. Just start. That first scribble on your crisp white paper may not be perfect, hell, it may not even make the final cut — but you jumped. You did it. You started to create.
And the rest? The rest is easy.