The secret to inspiration and the danger of overthinking

LOLcat please to stand byHappiness is when your boss’s boss’s boss asks you what inspires you—and you have no answer.

I experienced this joy a couple of weeks ago. It went like this…

Head Guy: “So what inspires you?”

What I thought: Oh crap. Why don’t I know? I should know. Why is he so bald? Why am I thinking about that? I should say something smart. Oh God, what if I blurt out something about his bald head? I need to say something. Just not about his head. Not the head!”

What I said: “New experiences.”

Yay! I side-stepped all head remarks!

Head Guy: “Huh.”

For two weeks, I was stuck for an answer. So I cruised the Internet to find out what inspires other people.

What I discovered did not make me feel better about myself.

Now, I’ve written about keeping your creative well topped off. This time, I wanted to know what fires other people up in the first place. I see the difference between creativity and inspiration as this…

How I come up with ideas.”

Why I want to come with the how in the first place.”

Some of today’s creative powerhouses find inspiration by:

  • Traveling the globe
  • Contemplating ancient philosophies
  • Deconstructing 1,000 pages of classic literature every day
  • Trekking through a jungle to coexist with native villagers to gain a deeper understanding of mankind and how small we are compared to the vast cosmos that can finally be seen above the trees now that you’re free of the light pollution of our modern society

Case in point, director Julie Taymor’s TED Talk: Spider-Man, The Lion King and life on the creative edge. She’s done amazing, award-winning work. In no way do I take away from her 20 years of work and obvious creativity.

But she speaks a different language than I.

I live in the suburbs of Seattle and enjoy a rain-free trip to Starbucks. I contemplate why my local grocer sometimes double-bags my canned goods and sometimes doesn’t. I’d rather read a Harry Potter book than anything by Homer. And voluntarily trekking through any jungle will wait until either I no longer need to hold down a job or until I want to (which I never will).


So, where does that leave the rest of us who have day jobs?

If we can’t take time off to explore the world and the cosmos and the inner workings of human nature, where do we find our inner fire?

There’s no one blanket answer.

You might think that this is “well, duh” information. Yet there’s so much out there about finding inspiration that you know people still look even though logically, they already know there’s no one blanket answer.

So here’s my answer if ever I’m asked again…

I write because I have to, and I find ideas however they find me.

My brain matter starts whirring and my inner hamster gets excited at the smallest thing. A joke, a leaf, a passing phrase heard in a crowd, one of my many many many strange thoughts throughout the day. New socks do wonders. Big idea, slight whimsy—it’s all good.

I’ve found that when I try to figure this stuff out, it takes energy away (and, quite frankly, sucks the fun right out of) actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing: my work and my writing. My biggest takeaway is that trying to figure out inspiration and asking too many questions (Hi, Gift Horse. Can I peek at your molars?)—roll with it.

Overthinking inspiration is not your friend. Even looking for it is another way to avoid what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s analysis paralysis.

So if you’re reading this hoping for some great insight into where to find inspiration, stop overthinking and you’ll get there. Also, it’s rare that I manage to squeeze out any great insight, but please keep coming back anyway because I like the way you hope. 😉

What inspires you? Do you ever feel uninspired and how do fix it?

6 thoughts on “The secret to inspiration and the danger of overthinking”

  1. Argh! I’ve been hit with these huge words lately – inspiration, vision…and I realize it’s not carefully defined. Thanks for this post!!

  2. I get a lot of inspiration from motion. I’ve always been restless, so motion helps calm some of that. If I have the gas and time, I drive for hours (mountains and coast aren’t far from me). I talk out loud (yes, to myself). I work through ideas, issues, plots and posts, and whatever else comes up. When needed, I pull over to the side and write things down.

    If I don’t have the gas, but I have the time, I use the city bus. No, I don’t talk out loud there; don’t want the driver or other passengers to know how crazy I really am. It’s hell on penmanship, but it’s motion, which helps me think.

    If I’ve neither gas nor time for the bus, I write longhand until I get to where my mind has wandered.

    Other inspiration comes from reading, whether a book, others’ posts, the signs of the seasons, and so on.

    1. I’ve never thought of motion as inspiring, but I like it. Will have to try writing while I’m on the train. Thanks for the new perspective. 🙂

  3. I think my inspiration is possibilities. I’m intrigued by what could be, that leads me to how I would do it. As that applies to my writing, may be why I veer towards the technical (figuring out how things work or should and how to do things/processes). Otherwise, I have this doghouse I won at an auction made totally out of recycled material that my dogs don’t fit into and refuse to use. I’m thinking it would make a great raised garden bed…

    1. That’s one of the best sources of inspiration I’ve come across. It’s nice that you’re inspired by what could be. Makes me think of a few of my own household items in a different light.

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