Good god, why is it 5 a.m.? And why will my brain not shut off? I regret every sip of caffeine from the day before. I curse the sun for sleeping in later than me. But then after tossing through the day’s to-do list, wondering if I still have Cheerios left in the pantry, and worrying over my crippling self-doubt, I actually start to form the edges of what might be a new idea.
I wish I had a road map of the exact places inspiration strikes me the most. I think I would camp out there and be the most inspired person in the world. But what I have learned from a life of having a brain that doesn’t ever seem to turn off, inspiration can come from anywhere without warning. I recommend keeping a pen and notebook with you at all times. Who am I kidding? It is 2020. Your smartphone will do.
1. The Pitch-Black Bathroom
It is midnight, 3 a.m., or two hours before sunrise. Who can be sure? It doesn’t really matter what the time is, my brain is awake and I guess that means so am I. This leads me to crawl from bed, careful not to wake the boyfriend up, and slip into our master bathroom without touching a light switch. Even though my phone is at the lowest brightness setting, I am a vampire and it is the painful rays of sunlight about to turn me to a pile of dust.
Sitting on the side of the tub, the floor, the toilet, or wherever, I start jotting the idea that was so demanding it drug me out of bed. Soon a stream of consciousness flows from my brain into my notes app. Feverishly typing, I discover my fingers can never move quite as fast as my thoughts.
Sometimes I only need a few minutes, other times the sun has fully risen by the time I return to bed. But on days when the muse strikes and convinces me I have an idea so brilliant I need to get out of bed, I feel a lot less guilty hitting the snooze button 3 or 7 times.
2. On Bus Rides
Yes, smelly, public buses seem to be a jackpot for idea generation. I believe this all started when I would board the big yellow bus that would take me to elementary school. On the less than 20-minute trip from my house to school, I had the marvelous opportunity to stare out the window and be alone with my thoughts and no other distractions (well, except the other kids who would sometimes be armed with spitballs).
Fast forward a few years to college. I lived in Pittsburgh and frequently made the round trip along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Ah, the open road. The monotonous expanse of landscape provided excellent scenery to just zone out. A window seat was the only essential requirement. I would step off the bus after a five-hour journey, with several new ideas.
I am fortunate to not be heavily prone to car-sickness. And so reading and writing in a moving vehicle doesn’t bother me too much. I do not recommend for the easily motion sick.
3. At the Movies
This one is the WORST! Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the movies, in fact I usually go to the cinema at least once a week. But from time to time, when I am sitting in the dark, cool theater, I see something on screen, and voila, I am feeling inspired.
Whether it is a hilarious line of dialogue, out of this world scenery, remarkable plot twists, or just a general way that a film captivates its audience, little pieces of inspiration fleck from the film and gift themselves to me. While this is great for kick starting my creative muse… it sucks.
What am I supposed to do with the inspiration at that moment? I can’t just storm up to the projection room and kindly request that they pause the movie. And if something on the screen is good enough to inspire me, I am certainly not going to excuse myself from the theater to go and write down my ideas. That is how the best parts are missed!
My only solution is to sit back, enjoy, and pray that I am still feeling inspired when the movie ends.
4. Lost in the Woods
To be fair this one is not nearly as dramatic as it sounds. I am an avid runner. Times that I feel low on inspiration or writing motivation, I often throw on my sneakers and head outside for a run (weather permitting). The more I can just let my mind wander the better.
When I was growing up, there was a bike trail near my house that would cut through the suburban wilderness and pass by an abandoned factory. I dreamed up several stories about what went on in that factory, both in its prime or years later as a dilapidated heap of scrap metal.
Thanks to a variety of running trails and google maps, I have been able to get lost in the ‘woods’ on several occasions and return to tell the tale. There is something about losing myself in the great outdoors that gets my mind gears churning.
5. On a Blank Page
I am not talking about a blank word document. That right there is nightmare fuel. But aside from running, my other hobby is drawing and painting. A blank page in a sketch book doesn’t seem to taunt me as much as a word processor.
I, for one, am no Picasso. But whenever I do put pen to paper and just concentrate on making lines, I start to feel that rush of inspiration. It might just be the snowball effect of creation. That by creating one thing, your mind kicks in autopilot and continues to create more and more.
Or it could be that I can never focus on one thing at a time. By having my hands doing something on a sketch pad, my mind can filter through the jungle that is my subconscious. Either way, having a little break from sitting poised at my keyboard, awaiting ideas to flow out, is never a bad thing.