Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stop Waiting For Inspiration

I'm reading a fun book written and compiled by Mason Currey called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Although scholars might not fall into the category of "artists" in the conventional sense, there are many parallels between the nature of an artist's work and the nature of a scholar's work.

1. both are time consuming
2. both often go unrewarded for extended periods of time
3. both require the discipline of a self-starter
4. both require a kind of dedication that seems crazy to others
5. both are plagued by ideas of inspiration and revelation

I'm sure there are other similarities, but it's the last one I want to talk about for a minute. What I like about Currey's book is that he includes artists with incredibly different working methods. Some get up at dawn and work tirelessly until lunch before resting all afternoon. Some work through the middle of the night. Some rise at lunch and work in the afternoon then drink all evening. But there are also some common practices that nearly all abide by and some common philosophies that guide most artists approaches to their work. My favorite philosophy is that you shouldn't wait for inspiration to strike, but rather just get to work.

While there are a few folks in the book who conceive of their work in terms of a series of "lightning strikes" (Arthur Miller), even most of these figures get/got up everyday and followed some kind of routine.

The American visual artist Chuck Close captures this philosophy best: "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work" (Daily Rituals 64).

In the daily grind of the grad student, the lecturer, or the junior professor this maxim is especially true. Study is a joy but it's also a job. Reading is thrilling (most of the time!) but it is also a responsibility. Stop waiting for inspiration to strike because even if that's the way your brain works, it's more likely to strike when, like Arthur Miller, you "get up in the morning and ... go out to [your] studio and ... write." Miller would then tear up his work again and again until something would stick before going on to follow that trail. But even the lightning strike was the result of a daily ritual.

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