Inspiration, like grace or style, is a rare and intangible quality available to us all in its fleeting form but mostly monopolized by a small population of gifted individuals.
But each of those attributes shares the same secret: they require more hard work than it seems. Thus, as the saying goes, when inspiration calls it better find you working. Or, as others have it, we all carry inspiration around with us, but it’s a beast that needs feeding!
Sure, some folk have a natural gift for putting two unexpected ideas together to create a concept that resonates with the masses. This is why the ‘cult of the artist’ exists.
But equally, those who are deemed at a young age to be ‘natural artists’ tend to spend years and years figuring out the best ways to keep the good ideas flowing while the rest of us sit and wait for inspiration.
Artists and inventors keep on producing because they’re in the habit of feeding their inspiration and putting in the hours in their atelier so as to be ready when the beast pipes up.
Whether you’re cooking up a new marketing campaign at your 9-5 or making a weekend retreat to get to grips with writing your first novel, don’t let a moment of inspiration pass you by without interrogating the circumstances under which it arose.
When ideas pop up, ask yourself what you did to get in that mindset – and try it again and again.
It won’t work every time, but it’s better than trusting your future to that elusive and frankly mythical state called ‘genius.’
Read plenty. Never stay into work when there’s a potentially inspiring experience calling you outside. And look to the masters of the inspired idea to learn from the techniques they used.
Here’s a look at some of the more weird and wonderful techniques some so-called geniuses have practiced!
Let’s try this upside down: Igor Stravinsky
The celebrated Russian composer knew the value of taking proper breaks while working. But for him, a proper break meant standing on his head.
For some reason, it occurred to Stravinsky that performing a headstand would clear his mind and rest his head. He would return to the piano refreshed and full of ideas.
If you’re feeling athletic, why not give it a go? If not, try taking a closer look at how his method may have worked: by standing on his head, Stravinsky was forced to get outside of his mind and concentrate on his body for a few minutes.
He also got the blood flowing again. You might just as well use meditation, yoga, or ping-pong to get the same effect!
Read also: 8 Inspiring Desks of Successful People
The key to the subconscious: Salvador Dali
As a surrealist, Dali believed our deepest truths and most original ideas could be found in our subconscious.
But rather than depend on his dreams, the painter looked to those drowsy falling asleep moments as a potential motherlode of inspiration. And who hasn’t had puzzling, untraceable thoughts in the last moments before sleep?
The problem is, those final thoughts tend to have evaporated by the time you wake up. Maybe they were useful, but now you’ve forgotten them.
So Dali solved this problem by napping with a metal key held aloft over a plate. When he fell asleep, the key would drop and he would be woken by the noise before his precious new ideas had the chance to escape.
It’s always coffee time: Honoré de Balzac
The French novelist is famous for his La Comédie Humaine series, but he wrote dozens of novels, plays, and short stories.
His secret for maintaining the flow of ideas? Coffee. Coffee. And more coffee. Around 50 stomach-churning cups a day if the rumors are to be believed.
It’s no wonder that he’s said to have yelled “I am about to become a genius” at his sister every time inspiration struck. That black stuff is a powerful hit – don’t forget, an apple also makes for an energy-boosting stimulant!
Don’t try this at home: Nakamatsu Yoshirō
An inventor with around 4,000 patents to his name – including an armchair designed to provoke inspiration by chilling the head and warming the feet – used a remarkably lo-fi technique to conjure up new ideas: he would hold his head underwater until he reached the brink of drowning.
Maybe that coffee doesn’t sound so bad for you after all.
The boss has been spending a lot of time in the bathroom: Steve Jobs
Known for his eccentricities, one of Jobs’ early quirks was to bathe his feet in cold water when stressed, so as to relax his mind and allow new ideas to emerge.
The twist is, the cold water was in the office toilet bowls. Idolize Mr. Jobs all you want, but please: use a bucket, people.
Put your back into it: Truman Capote
As well as being a literary innovator and one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Capote has become something of a style icon. Maybe that’s because despite the hard work he put into everything, he always made it look easy.
Case in point: Capote favored writing in recline.
He would lay on his back with a glass of sherry and a pencil and paper in order to compose his texts. It makes sense really – sometimes the more relaxed you are, the more boldly the ideas spill from your imagination.
The Man In The Hat(s): Theodor Seuss Geisel
Dr. Seuss wrote some of the most inspired stories and rhymes we have, and paired them with illustrations that look like no other. But even he struggled with creative block from time to time.
His solution? To visit his extraordinary hat collection and pick one out to wear while working. A change is as good as a rest, so they say…
Getting to the core: Agatha Christie
Christie’s name has become synonymous with the genre of devilish murder mystery. But her writing environment was wholesome.
Like Capote, she would think up her ideas in recline – only in the bath rather than on the chaise longue.
And like Balzac, she gorged herself on stimulants, only in Christie’s sake she took our advice and stuck to apples.
A foot workout for the brain: Nikola Tesla
Nobody’s about to argue with Tesla’s genius.
He was so touched, they had to get David Bowie to play him on the big screen. But the inventor did hold the rather odd belief that flexing his toes 100 times before bed would exercise his brain.
It seems more likely that, like Stravinsky, the exercise worked as a form of meditation, freeing up precious resources in the mind to bear the extraordinary fruits that would shape today’s technology.
What’s your secret for conjuring up inspiration?