Finding Inspiration: 6 Inspiring Tips for Creative People

The inspirational MindSometimes finding inspiration can be harder than finding healthy food in a Costco. Not knowing when or where your next song, essay, or poem will come from, can make completion seem like a far-off dream.

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve ever come up with anything at all. What did I do last time? How did I get through it? When I did think of something good, where did I find the time and energy to execute? After beginning a project, how did I deal with less-than-inspiring results? At times like these, I remember a quote by radio host, Ira Glass:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.”

Whether you’re a beginner or not, I think it’s important to recognize how much our sense of taste influences our art. It’s possibly the most important tool we have. And the frustrating thing about having good taste is struggling to produce work that meets your own standards. Ira goes on to say that having good taste does not mean that we can make great art right off the bat. In fact, to begin with, we fail and make lots of bad art. But it’s our good taste that gets us through. We keep trying. We keep failing. Eventually, we get it right.

Here are 6 techniques that should inspire you and help you build a better relationship with your own impeccable taste.

1. Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Someone once said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Moments after its utterance, this phrase was borrowed and stolen. In fact, it’s been uttered by so many artists and authors that no one knows who is the original source of the quote. Talk about irony. Well, if you’re looking for inspiration, your fellow artists and creators are a great resource. But also don’t forget to listen to the art of everyday people. Observe nature. Observe children. Don’t be afraid to use what you love and are inspired by in your own work.

2. Pay Attention to What You Like

I experience great art, movies, radio, and music all the time. What I sometimes forget to investigate is why I like it. Why did I love that movie? Why did I love that turn-of-phrase my 3-year-old nephew uttered? Why did I love the way that chord progression turned minor, or the way that actress spun on her heels? Pay attention to what moves you. Write it down. Look for trends in what you are attracted to. These can be great bits of inspiration.

3. Pay Attention to What You Don’t Like

The negative can inspire you as much as the positive. What disgusts you? What makes you angry? What do you find, ugly, annoying, or amoral? Write these things down. Ask yourself why you feel this way about these things.  Sometimes the answer can be expressed in a work of art.

 4. Spend Some Time Alone

Set aside time to be alone; to sit down with your notebook or take a walk. Live with your thoughts. Sleep on them. Observe the world in a meditative state. Sometimes we simply need to clear the fog in order to see what has been there all along.

5. Share Your Process

Talk about what you’re working on with your friends and colleagues. We artists like to hide our works-in-progress. We don’t want anyone too see how ugly our work is in its early stages. We also relish the surprise of unveiling a finished work. But talking about your art is often the best way for you to give structure to your ideas. Talking, after all, is composition. The more you talk about your project, the more real it becomes.  Some artists will have a single confidant they share their ideas with. Other artists will tell anyone with ears about what they are working on. Just remember that telling the story of your art is often a painless way to develop your ideas and quicken your process. Heck, you may even get some useful feedback and direction.

6. Let Your Ideas Breathe

I can stare at a blank sheet for hours. I can get caught up on a single sentence for hours. Sometimes I feel like something I’m working on is totally hopeless. Then I’ll go out for a sandwich and everything falls together at a traffic light on Burnside and 23rd. The creative process involves much more than your creative mind. It involves the magical, mystical recesses of your subconscious. Sometimes you need to stop forcing things and let your subconscious take the wheel.

What inspires you to create art? How do you struggle with the burden of having impeccable taste? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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39 comments to Finding Inspiration: 6 Inspiring Tips for Creative People

  • Laura Lisbeth

    this is great – i want to steal it and put it on my blog.

  • Mitchell Sternbach

    I won’t borrow this, I’m a-gonna steal it.

  • As long as you link back to the source, I’m okay with it :)

    Chris B

  • That’s great Christy. Journaling is a great way to discover, learn, and improve your creative process.

  • Thanks Monty! Share away. :)

    Chris B

  • Anonymous

    Nice article, Chris. Thank you.

  • Michael Yolch

    Here’s another HUGE tip I’d like to add that has greatly attributed to my success. This is great for ALL creative types… especially songwriters and musicians. The tip is to… do mundane tasks. That’s right. Do mundane tasks. When we perform tasks such as showering, washing dishes, running the sweeper, waxing a car, dusting etc., our minds are opened up greatly because the task requires very little concentration while still remaining mildly engaged. There are many hugely successful people in a variety of fields who have adopted this “tip” as their very most creative time. One bit of advice… do not go into that mundane task with the “plan” to be creative. Just let it happen. Give it a shot! Sure works for me! 

  • Marcus

    I usually have a problem of too many great creative things going on. I feel like a lot of it falls between the cracks of my distraction. See, falling between the cracks of my distraction could be turned into something really cool, if I remember it, which I probably won’t, since I come up with upwards of 50 phrases at least that creative every day. It’s a high quality problem I guess.

  • I find it helpful to write everything that comes to mind, and to edit it later.

  • sawbuck

    don’t wait for ‘inspiration’ to hit. set aside time each day to write, record, etc. many artists, like paul simon, stephen king, etc, treat writing like a 9-5 job. i find that if i sit down and do it, i often surprise myself with how ‘inspired’ i get as i work. 

  • Eric Elven

    Einstein once asked Rollo May (I believe I read this in The Courage to Create though I don’t remember for sure), “Why do I always get my best ideas in the morning when I’m shaving?”  I can’t remember May’s response but it has something to do with what Chris is referring to in the post when he writes, “Sometimes you need to stop forcing things and let your subconscious take the wheel.”  The part of the mind that “forces” (the ego) is not the creative part but rather the part that wants, desires, clings, is impatient, is attached to some kind of preconceived result, etc. Mundane tasks seem to be an effective way of tricking the ego, in a sense, into stepping aside, or, into “getting out of the way” so that creativity can shine.  Anyway, thanks for sharing.  This works for me too. 

  • Hey what a great post!  Thanks Chris.  I especially like this line, “Sometimes we simply need to clear the fog in order to see what has been there all along.”  Now isn’t that the truth?  I am a creative type too and I find all of these techniques to be helpful.  Here’s another one that I like.  It goes along with number one of the post:  Listen to and/or read interviews with artists.  I’m not one for DVD commentary as I feel like it kind of ruins the experience of the art for me but I do love to listen to Fresh Air, for example, or read an interview with an artist.  I don’t know, there’s just something about hearing from the artist directly that I love and often find motivating.  And speaking of artists sharing their experiences, would someone be willing to recommend a favorite musician’s blog of theirs?  I’m not interested in the tech stuff or album reviews so much but in the writing, recording, performing, touring and music business stories of the working musician.  Thanks!

  • If you haven’t already done so, try entering those phrases into a searchable database. Then when you need to use a word in a line in a song you can search the keyword and come up with a catchy phrase or metaphor instantly. I have done this over the years and have collected over 6,000 phrases that I can refer back to when writing a song.

  • F.A.R

    This is really good advice. Yep just clearing yur mind helps. But you can’t try to clear it just let your subconscious takeover. Yeah , at times its difficult but just remember and believe its very possible and the songs will keep coming. If you feel really stuck , take sometime off get some LIFE EXPERIENCE guaranteed to bring some very creative ideas. Live and learn baby

  • Thanks Eric! Artist interviews are awesome for inspiration.

    Chris B

  • Also a great point. Thanks Sawbuck.

    Chris B

  • GREAT idea Taylor! We can all come up with lots of ideas that can be turned into something really cool..the key is finding a system to lay ’em down & get ’em out for everyone to enjoy.

  • MJ

    Notepads and handheld recorders are awesome!  Inspiration is like catching a wave, you’ve got to do it when the wave is there or you’ll just float around until the next one comes.  I find that getting an inspiring idea is much harder than completing the work, though it takes an exponentially smaller amount of time for the inpiration to happen.  But if you don’t capture it then, it’ll be gone forever.  Very cool article, but the comment about journaling is essential no matter what inspiration you find, you’ll lose it just the same.

  • reality in your face

    creativity flows through you, you either have the magic or you don’t. you can’t stop it you can’t control it. People trying to do so is why there is so much shit put out as music these days. You are either an artist or you are a product ( manufactured , fake & useless with no longevity & no hope of repeating any success you may have achieved once) the record companies have tried this approach for some time now & that’s why they are in the shape their in now. The better approach is the old one: find an actual ARTIST , develop them, help them grow & understand. Then if they have something hit they can repeat it & have an actual career instead of being nothing a year from now. You guys must have grown up on disco. Think about what was before that interference & distraction.

  • I agree.  Sometimes when you talk about a project before actually doing anything gives you a sense of satisfaction, as if you had already done it.  And so you loose your drive.

    I’ve actually started not talking about my projects until they are advanced.

  • I agree.  Sometimes when you talk about a project before actually doing anything gives you a sense of satisfaction, as if you had already done it.  And so you loose your drive.

    I’ve actually started not talking about my projects until they are advanced.

  • And yet, Picasso said, ‘good taste is the enemy of creativity. What comes prior to our good taste? raw, pure creative….. that’s where the good stuff is. Forget you even have TASTE…. good, bad or otherwise

  • Totally agree with you MJ and I recently saw the benefits of this… I went to bed sort of bummed about about some of my progress on songs I was working on and had a sleepless night. The next day, I just happened to start looking through my 4-track app on m iPhone and there was a recording called, “Sun is Shining??” on there. It was something I totally forgot about. I assumed I had some kind of working lyrics and was thinking of that title but the question marks must mean I was unsure. Well, I listened to it and it was a nice little chord progression. I picked up my guitar, started working it, and about 2 hours later I had a solid structure and lyrics to a whole song!

  • Flastic

    Yep you’ve all said it already but I only ever use lyrics that just ‘come to me’ – I can spend a day bashng my head against one line of verse two then I’ll give up and go to bed – then while I’m brushing my teeth, BOOM! The song finishes itself.
    Weird isn’t it? I sometimes think of it as if the song already exists, it’s just up to me to find it and put it on paper. (Paul McCartney talked about songs as if they were butterflies, and all he had to do was open the window and wait for one to fly inside… The lucky bugger!)

  • Seth Irby

    This is a great post! As a song writer I find this article so true.

  • Dreamspeak

    Encouraging theft (Plagerism) is NOT how one becomes a “Great Artist”. And for an artist to share his/her original creations with other artist’s (before release) is absolute stupidity! The public give’s the approval….. and ones relationship to the source is reward – and oneself is the success satisfaction acid-test.

  • SJ

    How does one get thru the paralyzing state when creativity flows but the finances aren’t there? 

  • Very creative job applications?


  • reality in your face

    I’ve made about $62 million from my music & the studio group has too many grammys to list. How are you doing? week to week, pay check to pay check?

  • reality in your face

    Nice attempt Jason. I’m not sure your thoughts are that coherent & your facts are wrong. The last 3 remaining major labels are in the red & they have huge archives of un-sellable beat oriented stuff with chanting over top. It’s sad when the sales charts are populated  at the top with AAA artist. Disco worked , it stopped people from protesting war & government by offering up dance beats w/ sex lyrics. Lowest common denominator. In case you didn’t notice increased income equality also ended then, since then your mid class income went up 18% the top class up 256%. Both of these things were done TO YOU.    Back to the article… most of the tips are good in my opinion except beg borrow & steal. Pop eats itself enough already. Having something to capture fleeting moments on is the best, if not you may forget what it was an hour or so later. If you have nothing else most answering machines have a memo record feature, it’s crude but does the job. I think ART is best if you work on it until it’s what pleases YOU, then if others appreciate it all the better. You win !

  • sd

    As I read what every one wrote on their wall.  It all make sense to me because I’ve been on almost every same inspirational situations.  My question to “Reality in your face” what is your marketing strategy in generate $62 million?. I am a singer and a song writer and I have 14 song CD coming out pretty.

  • So, here’s the thing.  “Reality” does not divide or separate although it IS as near to us as one’s very own face.  The ego is the great divider and it does so because it’s nature is that of fear (of non-existence).  Reality simply unites.  Why divide human beings up into the “haves” and the “don’t haves”?  We’ve been doing this long enough.  Clearly there are those that are more naturally talented, or, perhaps, more inspiring at art and those that are better at business, etc.  By all means let them get discovered, developed and nurtured.  But what about those that aren’t that still possess the impulse to create?  The piece here is about inspiration which literally means “in spirit” and who among us, past, present or future, isn’t that?  And, if one is not spiritually inclined then who among us, past present or future, does/did not draw breath?  If you can breathe you can be inspired – artists, scientists, producers, business people, millionaires, paycheck to paycheckers alike. 

  • reality in your face

    Constant work, keep your eyes open for every opportunity, try everything, never stop recording, cover all the bases (get yourself ISRC’s so you’ll get paid for internet play, use BMI/ASCAP/others)keep your publishing, try to create something original don’t follow trends or you’re already too late, use your own vision- create art that pleases YOU completely- others may catch on eventually- people always love something they have’nt experienced before, communicate with your fans, keep them involved as they ARE were your street army, offer them something new all the time (seeing that nothing has changed on your website the next time they go there sucks & bores), pitch your music to music supervisors for tv shows & movies, think globally not locally- every country has potential fans- but be careful in those who don’t respect Intellectual Property Rights (China, et al), Play live as often as possible, promote and promote more, CDs sell at gigs, get paid- never pay to play, money is a tool not a treasure only use it to make more don’t be a consumer, come off as having the time of your life while playing- that’s what people want to see, be fearless- submit your stuff to music mags for review- no one buys it if they don’t know it exists, make sure there’s a way for everyone (wolrdwide) to easily buy your music.    It’s a tougher road to hoe now days, there’s not much support from the majors, they just follow trends & the indie labels mostly make you do all the work yourself anyway so you might as well learn what that means, the Internet is a great tool but ONLY if it’s used to it’s fullest extent. When I started (in the late 60’s early 70’s) the Music Industry made 6 times more that all sports profits combined & much more than the movie industry, this is not the case anymore but you can still get a piece of what’s available. 

  • reality in your face

    I think it’s perfectly clear that my post was only about creativity in music not creativity in general. It certainly wasn’t meant to divide or separate anyone.  Just for clarity, I’m a Nietzschean so my concept of ego is different from yours (not that yours is any less valid), but I wonder, in your comment ” it’s nature is that of fear (of non-existence)” are you talking about reality or religion . Relating to the latter is more applicable in my opinion. The pay check comment was meant to question the value and validity of the attempted insult above it by an uninformed uncreative. Obviouly my goal in every blog is to reverse the devestating effect on music that disco gave us, sometimes that irritates people, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. One more thing, I did not pick the name “reality” the site picked it.

  • Ceejosephs

    I am living paycheck to paycheck, and not from the music.i am humbled by your success. Any assistance please?

  • $62 MILLION and that’s all you have to offer as a comment???

  • Technique #1 is why all music sounds the same UNTIL someone who DOES NOT follow Technique #1 comes up with something completely original and then the rest of the “not-so-creative” go back to Technique #1 and the whole cycle of mediocrity begins again…

  • Fred Spek

    Tom Waits says, “gotta get behind the mule, in the morning and plow…”

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