Experience, Writing

13: Is Inspiration Enough?

January 21, 2018
white noise on a screen

Warning: This post is going to go meta on my #yearofwriting

Committing to one year of writing blogposts has been a blessing and a curse. In the past few weeks, I’ve found a way to express thoughts quickly, concisely, and with heart. I feel like I’ve rediscovered my voice and that I have a lot to say.  At the same time, I can confidently save that I have NOT been able to overcome this terrible writer’s block.  I still agonize over the topics, the form, the message of each post.  This post itself is an expression of that writer’s block. I literally stared at the screen for an hour last night nipping away at a half-written outline until it dawned on me that I should stop.

This morning I woke up with a single question in my mind: “Why can’t I switch on my inspiration?

Seems like it’d be simple enough- think about topics that fire me up and put pen to paper.  Not so. For whatever reason, the message I’m trying to convey burns to a crisp in that fire, and I’m left with ashes.

I looked to Google for advice and found this great blog about turning Inspiration into Action. It’s well worth a read, but the message was surprisingly familiar to me. I teach this to my students who are stuck.  Define a specific goal. Define a timeframe. Act (in this case writing). The piece I was missing is “Journey Orientation” or thinking about the baby step that will move you forward to your dream- in my case, writing about the things I care about.  This begs the question: “Can I practice what I preach?

This morning I picked up that troublesome post from last night and turned inspiration into action. I set a goal of 500 words. I gave myself two hours. I even wrote a little statement about my journey (in this case, starting a thread about food). One hour in, I had turned the post into ashes again. I had some beautiful pictures surrounded by the ashes of ideas that didn’t come together.  The question circling in my mind: “Am I really inspired by this?

As I’m writing this post, it seems obvious that the topic is probably boring and I’m just being stubborn about admitting it. Yet, when I think about it, I feel that fire.  This whole exercise made me think of one of my favorite teaching quotes attributed to George S. Patton:

"The best laid plans never survive first contact with the enemy."

I am my own worst enemy. So how do I battle myself?

I fell back on a military strategy concept: the OODA loop.  It is a decision making process that says any problem can be conquered by repeatedly applying four steps: observe->orient->decide->act.  The purpose was to out-think, outmaneuver an opponent by applying situational awareness and experience to the problem at hand (usually a fight). Any gamer will be familiar with OODA loops, intuitively if not explicitly. Here’s how I used OODA to outmaneuver myself:

  1. Observe: I am passionate about this topic, but I am stuck on writing about it.
  2. Orient: I convinced myself that I was in a monkey trap, too attached to let go. The value of this topic at this time had dissipated. I oriented on the value of letting go.
  3. Decide: I decided to talk about using decision making processes to find inspiration.
  4. Act: I knocked out 500 words in an hour.

What I learned is that Inspiration isn’t enough. You can feel passionate about a topic, but unmotivated to act. You also need to set a goal that will advance your journey, that is valuable enough right now to commit to action. Value comes from background, culture, urgency, and context. If you’re not finding that kind of goal, set the topic aside and reorient. There’s always a time and place.  Need to practice this process? Pick up your favorite video game.

Do you have a tip for action on inspiration? Leave a comment.


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