More To That

The labor of inspiration 👷

Published 3 months ago • 3 min read

Hey friends,

The first long-form story of the year is here.

Today’s post is a 4,000-word, 30-drawing story on the nature of inspiration. This is a topic I often think about, as inspiration is one of those magical elements of the human condition that amazes us all.

Well, here’s my attempt to make sense of this fascinating feature of life. And in doing so, I hope it helps you cultivate inspiration throughout your days as well.

When you’re ready, let’s dive right in:

The Labor of Inspiration

The main thing I want to highlight today is today’s post, so instead of the usual stuff I include in the newsletter, I’ll be putting the opening section of the story below. If you enjoy it, feel free to share it with your friends, family, or audience.

And as always, if you have any thoughts on today’s piece, hit reply to let me know. I love hearing from you.

Have a great rest of your week!

-Lawrence Yeo

P.S. Thanks to Michael Maddaus, Jean Desgagne, and Jack Stein for adding your support on Patreon! It means so much. If you’d like to support my work and get access to exclusive AMAs, book recommendations, offline posts, and other reflections, join as a patron today.

The Labor of Inspiration

When I first started writing, I did so only when the desire emerged. It was largely reactive in nature, a way of responding to whatever pulled my attention at the time.

So if I read a book that revealed an interesting idea, I’d write to contribute my own perspective.

Or if a musing struck me while walking, I’d rush back home to start unraveling that thought on the page.

There’s a common belief that inspiration is fleeting, and that its arrival is largely unannounced. While you can set up elaborate rituals to encourage its arrival, you can’t command it to serve you. It’s akin to the rain dance: you can trick yourself into believing that water will fall once you shuffle your feet, but the rain doesn’t give a damn about your sense of rhythm. It will come when it comes.

With this view, inspiration is whimsical, following no governable pattern or physical law. It’s the closest thing to magic, as it evades scientific explanation of any sort. As a result, inspiration is commonly referred to as the muse, but I visualize it more as a fairy, going around sprinkling magical dust on people that are open to receiving it.

Seeing inspiration as this fairy-like creature does two things:

(1) It removes the internal pressure you may put on yourself to conjure up your “best work.” Since inspiration is an external force that visits you on its own accord, you can free yourself of the feeling that everything rests on your shoulders. You can offload some of that burden onto the unknown.

(2) You can give yourself permission to do things that don’t look like work because that’s how inspiration finds its way to you. Taking a leisurely walk or chatting with your friend may not look like a creative act, but these activities can attract inspiration in a way that sitting in front of your computer cannot. Living life outside of your workspace can be seen as a source of creativity as opposed to a repellant.

Overall, there’s a relief knowing that you can be more serendipitous with your time, and that if you didn’t think of anything to create that day, it’s okay. The fairy didn’t get to you that morning, so maybe it’ll arrive tomorrow. After all, there’s a lot of people it needs to visit, so perhaps you just need to be a bit more patient.

But here’s the thing with this approach. One day of this may be fine, but what if it becomes one week? Or one month? Or one year? At what point does your belief in inspiration’s whimsical nature become a form of justified procrastination?

This is where this caricature of inspiration begins to break down.

The downside of viewing inspiration as an external thing is that it becomes a scapegoat. It’s much easier to blame your lack of creative output on the poverty of inspiration than the poverty of personal effort. If your lack of motivation can be attributed to a third party, then it’s far too tempting to point the finger everywhere else but yourself.

So to correct for this, another caricature of inspiration was introduced. One that placed the responsibility squarely back on the shoulders of the artists themselves. One that emphasized routine over spontaneity, consistency over serendipity, and hard work over whimsical play.

Say hello to inspiration as the laborer:

More To That

by Lawrence Yeo

Illustrated stories on the human condition.

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