Sophie Ioannou considers the fabled ‘perfect’ place and moment to stimulate transcendent creativity. “Inspiration has a really shitty sense of timing”, she argues…
“It comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers…” Leonard Cohen is addressing the Spanish audience at the Prince of Asturias Awards. He is explaining, in his deeply charming and humble manner, how he finds his inspiration. “In other words”, he continues, “If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.”
It’s easy to imagine that there is a solution to the problem of finding inspiration. I tell myself almost every day that I’d be a better writer if I just got out of the city; if I only had the right air and space and light and time (and maybe a fancy new pen) then I could definitely have written at least three novels by now. But imagine if we all waited until we were in the perfect disposition to create. Nothing much would ever get done and, very quickly, it would become not about what we do, but about what we could do under the faraway ‘perfect’ conditions we invent for ourselves.
The problem is, inspiration has a really shitty sense of timing, in that it has none whatsoever. Sure, watching the sunrise over the warm, sprawling, infinitely quiet Mojave desert could move you to write a collection of haikus that knock the socks off those hippies in the commune you exiled yourself to three months ago, but inspiration could just as easily hit you like a freight train when you’re sitting in rush hour on the M1 and someone flips you the finger for boldly trying to cut across three lanes of traffic. It cannot be commanded or conquered, as Leonard suggests; it makes me wonder whether we too often use inspiration as an excuse for the catalyst of our creativity.
There are artists and writers who insist that creating in your given field is just a scratch that wills to be itched; that you either do it or you jump off a bridge. Chuck Close, for instance, maintained that “inspiration is for amateurs” and if you’re truly cut out for what you do, then timing doesn’t even come into play. That’s a scary thought when the majority of us are plagued by creative blocks that lead us to blankly stare at walls for a good portion of our days. But perhaps that kind of stoic outlook gives us the push we need.
I don’t think I could ever be that kind of writer. I’d probably sooner jump off the bridge, than write the story if I wasn’t in the mood to be creative. But, perhaps, believing in your far off potential is enough, sometimes. As long as you don’t wait too long, maybe telling yourself it’s not the ‘right’ time means that every day is an opportunity for it to, eventually, come to life. Maybe you just don’t know enough things yet to carry it out, or your information isn’t refined enough to do it justice right now. What’s important is that you stoke that fire every day until something happens.
Or, maybe, if you just got that new goddamn pen you’d get off your ass and start being the creative hero you always intended to be.