Keeping creating when inspiration has fled

Jamie against a brick wall

I’m passionate about my creative career, and when people ask me how I work, one of the first things I say is that I make time to produce creative work every day – even if just a tiny bit. Why do I do that? I’m often uninspired, I struggle to figure out what to write, I sit and stare at my screen, and at the end I have a poem that I’m basically disappointed in.

Sometimes inspiration strikes me like a bolt from the blue. I wrote my poetry pamphlet Shield in three desperate weeks at the beginning of the pandemic – hardly stopping. My upcoming pamphlet, Magpies was the same. So why bother when I often create my best work when I get a bolt of inspiration, not when I’m forcing myself to produce work I’m fundamentally unhappy with? Because the reason I get inspiration is because I create work, and take work in – I read, and I make myself write. I get far more bolts of inspiration when I’m actively working than when I’m in a bit of a fallow period.

So, quality and quantity?

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about a pottery class in high school. The tutor divided the students into two groups. One group would be marked on the best pot they produced during the course. The other would be marked on the weight of their combined pots, regardless of quality.

Who produced the better pots?

Apparently, the quantity group – they were testing, learning, experimenting, and improving. The other group were trying so hard to produce something perfect, that they eventually didn’t succeed. It sounds counter-intuitive right? But it’s what I’ve found with my own creative work – that roughly 80% of what I produce isn’t up to scratch, and I like 20%. If I only create when inspired, then I’m producing far less work to get that top 20% from. If I just create constantly, I’m far better at producing that really high-quality work.

My main piece of advice whenever anyone asks me about my career and creativity is that it’s always better to be producing lots of work than very little. But how do I do this?

  1. I make time to write something every day. A committed practice which makes me far more likely to be inspired
  2. I wait before I edit. My opinion on my work often changes radically with time
  3. I write when inspired, but I also write when not inspired. Basically, I write all the time

What’s your top tip for creating successfully?

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