[Create 101] ⚡ How to Find Inspiration, Part I

We have a new understanding of inspiration that'll blow your mind. 🤯

💡 Introduction to Inspiration 

When I was 10 years old, I was assigned to read a book called “The Rainbow Fish” by Marcus Pfister - don’t we all miss picture books every once in a while? Anyways, the primary message of the book was about the value of sharing with others. After reading the book, each student was given a cut-out of a fish to color in, and I remember being extremely engaged in this very exciting project. I spent my lunches and nap times coloring it purple, filling it with stripes and polka dots and swirls.

That is until one girl in the class started following what I was doing. In fact, she wanted to help me color in my fish - and soon I saw that she had the same designs on her fish as I had on mine. And despite the message of the book pointing me in every direction as to not get upset with this girl, 10-year-old me did. She had copied my designs, and I was irritated - frustrated by how my incredibly original polka-dot scheme was being copied by this wanna-be. 

Graphic by Ryun, CC Designer

I think we all have experienced some version of this story: someone’s project seems a bit too similar to yours, and you just think - “I must have come up with that first.” This argument sneaks its way into adolescence, and then into adulthood, as we humans crave that one thing that is so praised in society: originality.

You may have clicked on this article because you happen to be lacking inspiration at this very moment. But unfortunately, this article isn’t meant to provide you with immediate solutions. Sure, it can provide you with some tips that could potentially help you - resources and such. But for the most part, it will hopefully stimulate you to think: What is the meaning of inspiration, scientifically? Is effort equivalent to creativity? And finally, is anyone entirely original?

💭 A Psychological Inquiry: What is Inspiration, and Where Can We Find It? 

Before we try to “find” inspiration, the first step - an obvious one, but still important to mention - is to understand what inspiration really is. 

The Latin origin of “inspiration” is inspirare, meaning “to breathe or blow into.” Early understandings of inspiration were actually religious, which makes sense considering the modern use of it. We still tend to think of inspiration as almost supernatural, or connected to our spirit, which is why we don’t always understand what it really means or why we sometimes lack it.

But how do these murky, supernatural origins of inspiration actually help us find new ideas or overcome creative obstacles? 

A few psychologists in 2014 delved into that question, and published a study focusing on the challenges and opportunities of inspiration. One of the first issues they identified was exactly what I just mentioned: the meaning of inspiration is a bit unclear. When we don’t really understand the meaning, how can we expect to “find” it? 

The meaning, according to the study, can be broken down into two processes: a passive process, and an active process. See the graphic below. 

Graphic by Ryun, CC Designer

In a way, inspiration acts as the mediator between the passive and active phase - between the external source, and that moment when you finally express yourself. 

For example, imagine you’re sitting on the slope, and watching a beautiful Ithaca sunset. You might feel inspired. But you really only enter the “active” phase of inspiration when you go back to your dorm, and create a graphic of West Campus, or maybe you write a poem about Ithaca sunsets. 

🌟 Effort vs. Creativity: A New Understanding 

Often, people may mistake inspiration as equivalent to the amount of effort you put in - and we Cornellians are experts at the latter. You may think that the more effort you put in, the more results you’ll see. However, just as we are often told that the quality of how we study matters more than the quantity - inspiration might work the same way. 

You may have heard the famous phrase by Thomas Edison - “what it boils down to is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Psychologists from the 2014 study concluded that inspiration and effort simply measure different things. 

For example, a writer who is inspired may produce more creative work, while a writer who puts in more effort might have more “technical merit” - meaning maybe the essay flows better, or they have gathered more references. 

All this is to say: maybe “inspiration” isn’t as hard as people make it out to be, if you just have patience and understand a little more about what inspiration means. Here’s one thing I’m pretty sure about: constantly thinking about how you are not inspired doesn’t help. And sitting and staring at your computer, hoping you come up with the next art movement doesn’t either. 

I challenge you to think about inspiration differently. Think about the psychology behind your lack of inspiration and try and find something to “evoke” your creativity - and then make sure to write it down!

Stay tuned next week for some specific resources that might help spark your creativity.

CC Writer

Ainav is a sophomore majoring in Government in Arts & Sciences. She’s a writer for CC, but also loves anything art related, from painting to digital illustration!

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