We’ve all experienced stretches of time when our productivity is slowed by creative blocks that drain our strength and drag us down. If you’ve been there, you are not alone. The ebb and flow of inspiration is a natural part of the creative arts. Making media always involves an amount of angst, because the process of creating content is an artistic act, not a scientific fact. If making media were merely a matter of math, you could follow a formula that would allow you to achieve inspiration in a clean clinical manner.
Inspiration is rare and fleeting. It doesn’t come often and it doesn’t stay long.
A lot of editors want to approach production this way. Some devour technical tutorials hoping to discover a secret code that will unlock media magic. But there isn’t one. There are most certainly efficiencies that can be realized by creating templates for recurring tasks (and arguably, discovering them is in itself an inspired event), but much of the time, most makers of media function in modes and patterns that are stale and devoid of anything we would refer to as inspiration. Nevertheless, while there are no simple paint-by-numbers solutions to your creative conundrums, there are active steps you can take to increase your odds of encountering the inspiration you so desperately desire.
The word inspire comes from the Latin word inspirare, which literally means to breathe upon, or to breathe into. It carries the connotation of an outside source bringing a feeling of energy, excitement and enthusiasm that exerts and gives rise to an extraordinary act or creation. It often implies divine influence. In short, inspiration is about finding air and finding awe; it shocks your system with a blast of fresh wind that revives and fills your creative spirit while it simultaneously takes your breath away. By nature, inspiration is rare and fleeting. It doesn’t come often and it doesn’t stay long, so to capture it, we need to know where to look for it, and how to capitalize on it when we cross its path. If you want to harness inspiration, this article is for you.
1. Take a New Path
Routine is the enemy of inspiration. Inspiration isn’t often found amidst the mundane repetition of everyday routine that defines the little limited worlds within which most of us are forced to function. It requires searching, which demands that we step out of our ordinary orbits to investigate other avenues. If you, like most people, find yourself in the rut of a rigid routine, you need to stop, change direction, and do something different. Consider, both literally and figuratively, exploring new and different paths. The majority of us mindlessly follow the same patterns day in and day out by default. You wake up at the same time, shower with the same soap, get dressed in the same clothes, eat the same breakfast, then leave home at the same time to take the same car down the same road to the same office where you sit at the same desk in the same position in the same room staring at the same software on the same monitor wondering why you lack the fresh ideas and enthusiasm you need to tackle the new creative tasks that are in front of you.
Many fall into similar production patterns. We shoot and light and edit the same way we always do, and we fall into uninspired monotony. When you follow deeply ingrained routines, you reach the point where you move mindlessly and your creativity and originality wane. When we mindlessly follow the same trails repeatedly, we no longer see the scenery. We’ve been there and done that and as a result we can’t see the beauty right in front of us that a newcomer might soak in with awe. The good news is that you can find fresh air by choosing to break out of your predictable patterns. Challenge yourself to take different roads to work and to establish different routines at work. Try rearranging your office or edit suite so you physically face a different direction. One of my uber-talented editor friends has started taking 10-minute breaks to go outside for quick mind-clearing constitutionals two times a day. Things like this force you to step out of automatic mode and heighten your awareness. The goal is to mix things up, not to merely establish new ruts. Making conscious choices to change your routine is an effective way to get out of a creative slump and increase your chances of encountering inspiration.
2. Spend Time With Inspiring People
Inspired people inspire other people. It’s hard to find inspiration in isolation. It is more often caught from other creative people. There are a few guys that I can go to who are always able to hear my ideas and offer insight and advice that both encourage and challenge me to raise the bar. These are big-idea friends who I respect, admire and trust. They are able to help me think through scenarios and identify solutions that get me past my roadblocks and back on the fast track to creative excellence. Spending time brainstorming with them lifts my spirit and gives me new hope. If you have friends like this, invite them in especially when you are facing a creative crisis. If you don’t have your own big-idea people to call on, make a concerted effort to find some and begin building your own creative trust today.
You don’t need naysayers who merely meet you in your dark moments to multiply your misery (those people are a dime a dozen). You need to align yourself with an elite enclave of positive people; energetic encouragers and proactive problem solvers who are able to spur you on to success. It is important that these people be of a certain caliber, but they don’t necessarily have to be professional media makers. Look around for someone who has these key character traits and invite them to connect with you over coffee. Be on the lookout for creative collaborators. Inspiration is contagious. Sometimes the best way to catch it is to get close to someone who is already a carrier.
3. Study Other Programs
When I take on a new project, especially in an unusual genre or on an unfamiliar topic, I make a habit of searching the Web (and Netflix) to see what type of work is being done in that category. Even a few quick Google searches return a useful sampling of other people’s work that I can use to build a collection of reference material. I leverage these samples to help hone in on the style, pace or approach that I am looking for. I use a simple four-step process to analyse my search results. 1) Collect 2) Dissect 3) Reflect and 4) Select. In the Collect phase, I run a series of keyword searches to locate comparable programs, clips and graphic elements. The key is to look for shows that are similar to the ones you will create. I then populate a folder with clips, images and links to the items I like the best. Next, I dissect these elements, scrutinizing them closely and making notes as to what aspects of them I like or dislike. These notes may include comments (pro or con) on pace, personality, organization and flow of content, graphic treatments, color choices, lighting, mood, camera positions, and other observations of this nature.
Once I have gathered and assessed my reference materials, I reflect on my notes to help me select which elements to emulate and which ones to eliminate. These collections of reference elements also help me on future projects; I oftentimes combine components from two or more program styles to create something original. I’m not a big fan of “knocking off” other people’s shows shot for shot, but I am a proponent of borrowing good ideas from others who have implemented them well. For instance, I recently needed to develop a concept for an interview segment. After a bit of research, I determined that the desired feel was one that might be between Entertainment Tonight and 20/20. Pulling small bits of inspiration from the lighting, composition, graphic styles, sets and pace of both of these shows allowed my team to create a high quality broadcast look that took bits of the best of both programs without directly copying either. I also like to borrow a style and approach from a show in one genre and apply it to another genre; for instance, borrowing heavily from the look, style and pace of a cooking show and applying it to a video production training series.
4. Be prepared!
A fascinating aspect of inspiration is that it comes at crazy and unpredictable times. Because of this, you need to always be ready to recognize it when it shows up. Inspiration doesn’t keep office hours. Capturing it is a challenge and an adventure. It sometimes shows up in the middle of the night, or when you’re in the shower, or when you’re mowing your lawn. You might bump into inspiration when you’re pumping gas into your car, or while you’re watching your kid’s soccer game. Sometimes the greatest inspiration comes when we aren’t obsessed with finding it. And often times, as quickly as it comes, it goes. It is there one moment and gone in a flash. Armed with this knowledge, you need to be ready to capture those moments when they arise. This is why many writers keep notepads on their nightstands. When an inspiring thought is upon you, write it down. Snap a picture. Text yourself or leave yourself a voice message. Tell the idea to someone else who is with you. Whatever you do, don’t miss it, and don’t let it slip away.
5. Be Proactive
Thomas Edison, my favorite inventor and fellow Jersey boy, famously said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. The underlying truth is that success requires activity. Sometimes we wait passively and patiently for inspiration to find us, but it doesn’t come. Some of us look again and again in the same places we have already looked a hundred times before hoping to find something today that was not there when we last looked. We scratch our heads wondering who moved our proverbial cheese. But inspiration doesn’t come to you where you sit; it meets you in your movement. In order to reach your destination, you need to start the trip, even if that means starting with limited information instead of complete inspiration. This is particularly good to remember if you need to find your inspiration under deadline. In those moments when the job must be done whether you “feel it” or not, I encourage you to press ahead with whatever amount of inspiration you can muster. Many times you’ll find that the farther down the road you travel, the clearer things will become.
Ultimately, truly inspired work is rare. I have worked on hundreds of productions and there are only a handful that I would point to as work that I feel was truly inspired. Most days we are content to operate within degrees of inspiration that give us enough enthusiasm for the work that is in front of us at that time. Inspiration is truly a precious and highly-sought-after commodity. If anyone could package it up and sell it in a can they’d make a million dollars. Until then, we must each endeavor to practice good habits in regards to the paths we take, the people we interact with, the programs we study, our preparedness and our proactivity as we all search for our elusive daily doses of inspiration.
Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award-winning writer and producer. He is currently VP of Production at KIDMO/Rivet Productions.
Now that we have paid homage to inspiration, we must also address the reality that a lack of inspiration is no excuse for not getting things done. In a professional setting, delivering at a consistently high quality and with predictable reliability are absolute expectations, regardless of whether you “feel” inspired or not. So while inspiration is something we should all seek, not having it is a poor excuse for late work or a subpar performance.
Inspiration can come from watching the work of others. Collect some ideas, Dissect what you like, Reflect on how youâd make your own changes, then Select and develop your own ideas.[/caption]