A Super-Secret Conversation About Inspiration

Dena Ogden
Feb 15, 2017 · 8 min read

Editor’s note: This month, the two founders of The Woodsy (me, and Creative Director Julia) had a chance to discuss our current theme of inspiration over chat. The conversation covered what the topics to each of us, how we handle it when it shows up, what we think when life throws new circumstances that aren’t conducive to it, and how Julia likes to work in small spaces.

Dena: lol, you are a good sport


Dena: Okay, since we’ve already been chatting I’m not going to greet you again, but for the record I’m glad we’re talking about inspiration today.

Julia: Me too! Is it weird that I find having a conversation about inspiration, well, rather inspiring?

Dena: No? like who normally makes time for this stuff? (us, apparently)

Julia: And people we’d probably want to hang out with.

Dena: ooh, yes

Julia: This question about inspiration is also at the heart of practically every book reading and writer’s conference I’ve ever been to, so there’s that too. I suppose it’s part of our job.

Dena: So true. And actually, that’s a good segue (that we definitely didn’t plan) to one of the things I wanted to discuss…what does inspiration look like for you?

Julia: Ha! Ooh, you started with a tough one! That’s like asking me my favorite book or movie. It kind of depends on what I’m doing at the time.

Dena: do you want me to go first? I wouldn’t dare ask you something I wouldn’t be willing to answer myself.

Julia: We can have a typing race…3…2…1…As someone who has always used writing as a way to organize thoughts, entertain myself, and (sometimes, I hope) entertain other people, I’d have to say my go-to answer is writing, quotes about writing, writers discussing writing, pretty pictures of writing desks, things along that very specific line.

Dena: For me, at my current stage of life and career, inspiration has morphed into this weird relative of motivation, and its mostly tied to creative pursuits, and as of late, some forms of activism and advocacy.

[pause, so we can read each other’s answers]

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Ooh, interesting. So you’re talking about what brings it to you, and I’m talking about the feeling of it.

Julia: Yes! I try to push myself to do one creative thing daily, because it really helps with my general mood, and most of the inspiration I gather from moving through my day comes out in my sketches. They are very reactive in that sense. You know how some people feel edgy when they don’t exercise? Unless I’m utterly wiped out, I feel better if I’ve done something creative. It’s like it allows my brain to relax for a bit.

Dena: You’re good. For a while I tried to do specific/creative things daily, and it ended up getting me down when I wasn’t able to stick to it as regularly as I wanted to. I’ve since landed in kind of a hybrid space of just staying satisfied with keeping momentum in my creative projects, even if it’s happening, say, 4–5 days a week instead of 7. I’m not lying awake over that kind of thing, at least not right now.

Julia: In response to the feeling of it, inspiration to me is like an extra bit of confidence in an idea — the feeling that I’m getting something right (though, who knows if I actually am!).

Dena: And to elaborate on the feeling, I’d add that it almost feels like “IF I DON’T DO THIS NOW, I WILL NEVER HAVE THIS EXACT SPARK UNDER THESE EXACT CIRCUMSTANCES.”

Julia: Yes! I will be just dozing off in bed and get an idea for something and have to scramble to write it down. The worst thing EVER is when I say to myself “Oh, I’ll just remember it.” I NEVER just remember it. I have to turn over and write it down otherwise it’s gone. Regarding not putting undue pressure on yourself, and this is an obvious thing to say, but I think certain types of stress are inspiration killers. Deadlines are 50/50.

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Dena: Having frequent deadlines in my life has given me great practice in accepting when something is as good as I can make it, given the parameters I’m making it in. Which is very different from “as good as I can make it under optimal creative and inspiring working conditions”

Julia: That’s a wonderful thing to have. I’m terrible about that. I’ll obsess over things even after I’ve hit “send” which doesn’t do anyone any good.

Dena: If you want me to start throwing arbitrary deadlines at you for practice purposes, just holler (just kidding, I’d be terrible at enforcing them).

Julia: What are “optimal creative circumstances” though? Given infinite time and no pressure, I think I turn out worse things than when I have some sort of deadline or structure.

Dena: I mean, I think optimal conditions vary. Sometimes it’s even another hour or two, or a night of sleep, or sometimes it is bigger picture, like “damn, if only I didn’t have all these other adult responsibilities plaguing me and requiring my attention.”

Julia: That’s a good point. Inspiration really kind of fits what we need it to be at the time, I suppose. I’ve had nights where I literally can’t sleep because I just need to DO SOMETHING creative. I’ve ended up writing in my walk-in closet because of that. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just go down to the kitchen table. It makes no sense.

Dena: there’s something poetic about that

Julia: Not the next morning when I had to go to work.

Dena: Jinx! I was going to say that I’ve had nights where I was up until 3am editing a side project, and then showed up at work at 8am. But I didn’t go in the closet, I just worked from my laptop in bed. I’m not as hardcore as you.

Julia: I don’t think that’s hardcore. That’s “people in my house are light sleepers.”

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Dena: Ha! Actually, we’re close to another q I wanted to bring up. How has inspiration changed for you over the years? When I thought about this earlier, I was thinking about very recently, with politics and current events becoming a big influence.

Julia: Well, in the staying up really late and writing in small spaces, not much has changed…

Dena: Tell the people in your house to get ear plugs :o)

Julia: …with today’s events and politics, it’s not that there weren’t worthy causes before, but with the current cultural and political climate, it would seem that inspiration is up on a grand scale on all sides of all issues.

Dena: I’d agree with that. For me, it ties into the question of being inspired without being sure of what to do with that inspiration. Personally, I’ve struggled with that lately. In fact, “inspired” seems like a generous word because it’s got a more positive connotation than what i’m actually feeling. And, it’s different than the inspiration I feel when it comes to creativity…I suppose it’s more closely related to motivation, and being driven to action.

Julia: I guess that’s an interesting pivot a lot of people are making right now — turning feelings of frustration, anger, or even despair into a productive, tangible response.

Dena: and I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that countless writers and artists and creators have drawn on those kinds of feelings and turned them into great, great works, too, so it’s not like creativity and advocacy are mutually exclusive when it comes to inspiration. Actually, to be fair, I’ve done it too (although I’m not putting myself in the ‘great great work’ category).

Julia: And, it’s like the inspiration we were talking about on our last phone call — sometimes it will take you off on a course you didn’t expect, but that’s half the fun.

Dena: Okay, I have 2 more things 1) what is your best advice on the topic of inspiration? and 2) what are some smaller, simpler, everyday things that you find to be inspiring?

Julia: Oof, ok..

Dena: Hehe, no pressure

Julia: 1) Don’t let inspiration pile up. Use it as soon as you feel it creeping in. The way I see it, you can never have an overabundance of it, so you might as well not waste any of it.

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and 2) I find bunches of flowers, forests, pretty much most outdoorsy PNW stuff inspiring. On a completely different note, blank pages. It can be in a notebook, the back of an envelope, an errant scrap of paper — if it’s blank I’ll write or draw on it.

How about you?

Dena: for me 1) I’d say figure out what works for you and embrace it. Like, I’ll go through spurts where I want dim lights and soft music to write, and spurts when I need the opposite. And sometimes I’ll switch up my schedule and find that for a certain type of writing, or a certain project, a different time of day or shift in my responsibilities is what works best. I suppose the thread here is also accepting the idea that finding/receiving inspiration can be a moving target, too

2) a mug of coffee-that is STILL HOT it has to be HOT — makes me feel like the world is my oyster. I’m sure it’s because that perfect coffee temperature is so fleeting and short, when I catch those moments, I’m like, “yessss, i can conquer the world.” also, keeping books that have meant something to me in view. I’ve got all my favorites lined up on a shelf a few feet from my desk, and just knowing they exist reminds me that there’s a point to sharing stories and putting ourselves out there.

Julia: I love that we always have such different answers to things, and I mean that. This wouldn’t be half as much fun if we said the same thing all the time.

Dena: did we miss anything on this topic??

Julia: I don’t think so? I’m working tomorrow night, so I’ll be around!

Dena: you’re the bessssssst

Julia: Anything for you, dear friend!

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