Earlier this year, I wrote a guest post on Alice Osborn’s blog about Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell found that people who become great at anything, without exception, do so by logging 10,000 hours of practice at their craft. Although Gladwell doesn’t say this, I believe that no one logs 10,000 hours without being inspired by something. But what does inspiration come from? And why is it that some people have it, and some people don’t?
My answer to this question is going to sound a bit circuitous, partly because I don’t completely understand it myself, and partly because what I do understand, I find virtually impossible to describe directly. But here’s the best place to start my answer: I don’t get myself inspired. That doesn’t mean that I’m helpless; far from it. I have found that there are a good deal of things I can do that increase the likelihood of my getting inspired. However, I cannot take direct control of the inspiration process. That appears to happen as a result of something outside me.
Here are a few of the habits I’ve found that increase my chances of getting inspired:
- Writing consistently whether I’m inspired or not (really important)
- Getting outside of my comfort zone
- Exercising 30 minutes per day
- Keeping myself hydrated
- Avoiding foods and beverages that are unhealthy, particularly high-glycemic foods that create a “spike and crash”
- Public speaking (one of the reasons I go to Toastmasters)
- Getting up early
- Having pressing things done, scheduled, or managed before writing
- Batching my tasks (e.g. doing all of my bill paying for the week at one time)
- Doing one thing at a time until it’s done
- Staying on top of my finances and knowing exactly how much money I really have
- Blocking out sources of distractions (e.g. shutting off my phone)
- De-cluttering my work space and computer files
Here are some things that seem to decrease my chances of getting inspired:
- Writing in tiny slivers, whenever I happen to have 10 minutes between doing other things
- Attempting to write while angry, stressed out, or preoccupied
- Drinking coffee
- Spending a lot of time idle
- People-pleasing, or saying “yes” when I should say “no”
- Spending money frivolously
It was partly based on my reading of Outliers that I decided to start the Million-Word Challenge on June 10, 2012. To date, I am approximately 28,000 words ahead of schedule on the challenge. What really works about the Million-Word Challenge, for me, is the fact that it forces me to focus single-mindedly on the outcome. It also makes it easier to adopt the habits that create inspiration, while at the same time making my inspiration-killing vices less tempting.
The bottom line: I’ve found, for myself, that there is no fast-food approach to getting inspired. When the appointed writing time arrives, I’m either inspired, or I’m not. Either way, I write. If I had to pick only one thing that has made the difference, I would say that this is it. There are days when writing feels forced and sluggish, and on those days, I have an opportunity to take a look at where I can bring a higher level of integrity to the way I’m living. Those days are the exception rather than the rule, but I still appreciate the lessons that I can learn from them.
I would highly recommend reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield if you really want to know what it takes to get inspired. Pressfield does a masterful job explaining this.
But if you’re looking for a silver bullet, you might as well stop looking.