I’m currently writing a book (because I obviously need more work in the middle of the busy holiday season) and so my goal every morning has been to spend a few hours writing before I head to the studio each day. But rather than beginning by staring blankly at my computer screen, I’ve been starting each morning by reading. Some mornings I read for well over an hour before I start to write. Other days, like today, I only have to read a few pages before my mind is bursting with words I just have to get down.
Because the book I’m writing is about aligning your business strategy with your creative process, I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, how we come up with new ideas, and the problem of copycats.
Because let’s face it, we’ve got a serious copycat issue on our hands.
Many people are apt to blame the Internet, where it’s now so quick and easy to see and share, but I’m less inclined to do that.
Instead, I believe it’s because so few of us have actually learned how to properly take in inspiration and translate it into something new.
Earlier this week, a team from Creative Live was in my studio filming some new promo videos, and while they were there, we also filmed a studio tour.
While I was walking around, talking about different areas of my studio, one of the questions the camera guy asked me was, “Why is it important to stay inspired?” This question stuck with me because, quite frankly, I couldn’t come up with an answer. (And I’m counting on the fact that my awkward stammering won’t make it into the final cut.)
But because I couldn’t come up with an answer, I’ve been stewing over that question ever since. Because it seemed like such an obvious question. It felt like I was being asked “why is it important to breath?” or “why do you need to eat?” The reason, of course, is that if you don’t, you die.
If you don’t stay inspired, your creativity dies.
But I realized that part of the reason that the question stumped me is that it actually positions inspiration as a state of being. But I don’t think of being inspired as something you are. Like breathing or eating, being inspired is something you do.
Inspiration then, becomes something you take in, like oxygen or food.
I prefer the inspiration as food metaphor because it actually lends itself so well to my real point here, which is that we have a copycat problem because so many people don’t know how to take in inspiration in a way that helps them create something new.
There’s an episode of Parks and Rec where Rob Lowe’s character is trying to get everyone in the building to be more healthy. Andy, the lovable goof played by Chris Pratt, is excited to learn how nutrition works for the first time. “Did you know the food you eat becomes energy?” he asks excitedly. Then he jumps and karate chops the air, “That’s spaghetti. Nachos. A cookie.”
Inspiration works the same way. We take in inspiration and it becomes creative energy.
And just like with food, the higher the quality and greater diversity of what you take in, the more energy you have.
And that greater diversity of inspiration is what leads us to move past the copycat stage and create new and unique work.
Because you wouldn’t just eat cookies all day and expect to be able to go out and run five miles. You’d end up puking cookies.
And the same happens with your creative process. When you take in a limited amount of very similar inspiration, you end up just regurgitating the same stuff as everyone else.
As I write this, I’m surrounded by at least ten different books, and I jump back and forth between them as I’ve been working on my book. This ensures that not only does my book represent a broad range of ideas (that I will then pull together to make my, hopefully cohesive, point) but also that I don’t inadvertently copy any single author’s voice.
I do the same thing with my art. I pull together a variety of visual sources (thank you, Pinterest) before I start creating. And while my jewelry is pretty self-sustaining at this point (I get a lot of my new ideas while I’m working) I still dive into that creative well directly before I do a photoshoot. And I make it a point to take in lots of different visual influences (from books to museums to stores) on a regular basis, so that my creative energy never runs out.
I would even argue that I spend as much time looking as I do making.
And because I take in lots of sources (and give them time to percolate in my brain) I’m much more likely to create something new and unique, because I’m never inspired by one specific thing, but rather lots and lots of visual information.
I know many of you are in that crazy production machine that we call the holiday season, so inspiration and designing new work may be the furthest thing from your mind. But January will be here before we know it, and that’s a time when many of us will sit down and start creating new designs for the new year.
Understanding how inspiration fuels your creative process now means that you won’t be out of energy when it comes time to start designing those new collections.
Check out Part 2 of this post, where I share concrete actions for taking in inspiration.
PS. Curious about that book I’m working on? Click here for more details!