Inspiration has Destroyed my Productivity

On feeling creative versus being creative.


The list makes me cringe, which is why I feel the need to share it: 10 Tumblr blogs, 4 WordPress installations, 6 Twitter accounts, 3 Instagrams, not to mention Facebook, LinkedIn, Dribbble et al. This is my social media / blogging footprint. I’m probably forgetting some. That’s telling in itself.

My procrastination has made me an experienced curator of other peoples’ stuff. Maybe that’s good, right? Maybe I should work at a museum or edit a magazine. Or maybe I’m already doing that, with Facebook and Tumblr and everything else. Maybe that’s my legacy on the web.

Paid for by the Michael J. Champlin Memorial Fund

That feels kind of sad.

Among all these digital footprints, I make things. My making was, until recently, quite literally how I defined myself. My online bios all started the same way (and some still do, I have so many): “Michael Champlin makes things.” It was true. It’s still true, though I've been having a crisis of balance lately. I've come to a conclusion that is at once obvious and jarring, and that is that inspiration is not inherently creative.

I’ll explain what I mean. Sure, inspiration nurtures creativity, but in the same way a good night’s sleep or a satisfying breakfast nurtures creativity. Our problem as a creative culture? We’re constantly consuming content, much of it beautiful, creative, clever, thought-provoking. And we feel in that moment that the world is full of beauty, that we are also clever, that we are also creative. Our thoughts are, in a word, provoked. We feel a kinship with ideas and art. Our brains are filling that guilty, unproductive void with a false feeling of accomplishment.

Sure, inspiration nurtures creativity, but in the same way a good night’s sleep or a satisfying breakfast nurtures creativity.

As a consumer and curator of other peoples’ content, I think a lot about how to break that cycle. About how it’s important to expose myself to beautiful things, to take a little time to recognize the amazing work people do, but not let myself be tricked into thinking this is an inherently creative endeavor. The only creative act is creation. It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

©Rachel K @wigglewarily

Personally I’m trying to simplify. Posting to all this social media is either a full-time job (at least) or an exercise in futility. I’m trying to make more time in my schedule for making things while concentrating my time consuming. It’s an ongoing process. I’m inspired by people like Caroline Hadilaksono, who has drawn something every day for nearly two years, and my friend Rachel K. who’s taken at least a photo a day since before I met her almost 8 years ago. They have it figured out, and it’s amazing to go through the body of work they’ve created and see how they’ve become great at what they do through practice, repetition, and focus.

I haven’t completely figured this out yet, but if I do, I’ll probably write a self-help book about it and retire at thirty-two. Or I’ll just write “Make Things. Don’t Make Excuses. Don’t Apologize.” on one of those big index cards and tape it to my bathroom mirror. Problem solved. I mean, at least until I open the Tumblr app.

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