What Is Inspiration?

What Is Inspiration?

I’ve been having to think a lot, recently, about inspiration; about the different kinds of inspiration, about those little moments, those sparks, that stay with you and grow into something else entirely. I hear it a lot at work, when I’m reading an article about “Great Ways To Keep Your Blogs Unique!” and all that kind of crap – inspiration makes an appearance almost everywhere in the content marketing world, and I still find it revolting.

Wigan,
Might not seem like much, but when I realised that his was the name of a street in Wigan, my hometown, it definitely sat with me – particularly because the sign had been blocked up by a donut van for a very long time – read what you will into that.

It seems that, out of all the thousands of articles I’ve read in my day-to-day life as a copywriter, everyone seems to be taking inspiration from brands, from still-shot images, from things their children said over breakfast. Well, I don’t find things like pictures all that inspiring, with a few obvious exceptions; just as I don’t find beautifully presented quotes about enduring, struggling on, or working hard all that inspiring either.

There have been a few examples of literary fiction providing me with some inspiration in the past, but I’d certainly say that most of my inspiration, however weak and substandard that inspiration might be, comes from seeing things, comes from my day to day life – not as a copywriter, but as me.

What Is Inspiration?

Luca Giordano Painting
Might not seem like much, but a lot of Greek mythology has sat with me over the years. When I took a picture of Luca Giordano’s Prometheus, and saw that I was reflected in it, that really had an impact on me for a long time; it still does stir something in my soul, to be honest..

I’ve heard inspiration described most commonly as a flash, or a spark – even I used the idiom a moment ago – and for many people I see that that is the kind moment they’ll count as inspiring. The epiphany, or realisation, of a certain aspect of the world which then goes on to act as the driving force for some creative action.

Inspiration, then, is an action or thought which encourages change, action, thought, creativity – personal evolution. Everyone gets inspired now and again. Some of us, like the late Thin White Duke, seemed to be inspired by anything and everything, or seemed to have this ingrained sense of creativity which made inspiration unnecessary.

Mainly, thanks to the immediacy of the modern world and the sheer spontaneity of social media and the internet, it is easier than ever to be inspired. Anything, from a quote against a beautiful picture to a song, a work of art or even just a photograph of something you’ve never seen before, can be inspiring.

What Are The Problems With Inspiration?

Now, I’ve heard of people being inspired by social media, conversations and a whole heap of other stuff, but it’s incredibly rare, in my experience, to actually see anything develop out of this inspiration. The culture of inspiration that reigns supreme over a great deal of modern creativity seems, to me, to be more harmful than it actually is beneficial. For example, modern inspiration:

  • Makes Us Complacent – If we’re so easily inspired by something on social media or over the internet, and it’s real inspiration, then it’s like firecrackers down the spine. We can be so easily and quickly inspired that we expect to find inspiration in the same old places, which ends up not being inspiration.

    Or, perhaps it is inspiration, but it is not the kind of inspiration that we desire, because it’s an experience that we’ve already had. If you’re going to regularly find yourself inspired by, say, a Nietzsche quote or something that Thoreau once said, then you’re never going to move beyond that.

    Inspiring stuff tends to lodge itself in your mind; it tends to make this big black void of consciousness and it sucks everything else into it and you aren’t open to new inspiration anymore, because you’re already inspired, already pre-occupied with what someone else thought, or said, or did.

  • Dies – Thankfully, inspiration dies. This opens up your mind to new inspiration, allows you to actually grow as both a person and a creative. Unfortunately, in my experience, the inspiration that I picked up quickly doesn’t tend to last very long. I’ve got a dozen different pieces of writing sitting on my desktop, all fired by different forms of inspiration, and I don’t think I’ll ever finish them.

    The inspiration behind them has gone, vanished into the ether, curled into a ball and I can look back, dispassionately, and criticise the inspiration. I can see where it fails, why I found it inspiring in the first place and it dies.

  • Doesn’t Build On Itself – Now, because things are so instant, because we’re inspired by the slightest quote on a social profile, when we’re inspired that’s it – it’s over. Without time to develop, to sit in your mind like a leaden weight as the waters of your thought wash against and around it, you’ll never go beyond it.

    Spontaneity and instantaneousness are fantastic for a range of things; not for achieving inspiration in the long-term.

The Modern-Day Industry Of Inspiration

Okay, so that might be a little over the top, but a lot of the time it does feel like inspiration is a business; people pose against sunsets and hold hands in cornfields and are recorded as having these perfect lives and they howl out the message that “Oh, if only you could be here too, think how much better that would be! Look at how our lives are better than yours! (Oh, and while you’re here, if you could also give us your PayPal info, that’d be great)”. I mean, look at the image below – I don’t think it’s anywhere near as enjoyable as the full piece of writing; I tried this with a lot of my Fragments category, and I very, very quickly came to hate it. Explode(1)

That’s one of the major reasons that, as far as I can see, the spark of inspiration is becoming less and less useful for creativity. I tend to prefer the kind of inspiration that smoulders, that sits at the back of your head and drives you forward; those song lyrics that just don’t leave you, that piece of graffiti that no one can be bothered to clear up.

Your inspiration doesn’t need to be unique to you, of course it doesn’t! But there’s a difference between an entire poem, or song, or even a piece of artwork, and a self-contained image amongst thousands of others on a Facebook Feed with a few words standing out.

What Is Personal Inspiration?

My advice then, if we pretend for a moment that I’m any kind of authority on, well, anything, is that you need to find your own inspiration around you. Don’t go looking for it, don’t go chasing inspiration across the world, don’t look for epiphanies in African sunsets, American cities or British countryside – live your life as you want, as you need to, and let your life be your inspiration.

If you’re miserable, if you hate where you come from, let that inspire you. If you’re in love, or someone loves you, let that be inspiring. Create what you know, through your own filter, because nobody’s filter will be the same as yours.

In the end, take inspiration from fuckin’ everywhere and everything, cos’ what else is there, really?

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Just a quick reminder, everything on the left (under the Things I’ve Written title) is completely free and they’re probably going to stay that way. So, you know, if you’re looking for something to read, maybe give them a try, or not, of course.

Toilet Cubicles: A Love Story

Remember, The Caitiff is free on Amazon until the 27th!
You can get it here in the UK and here in the US!


Seeing as the Caitiff is free this week, 23rd of February to the 27th, I figured I’d take this opportunity to idly talk about the covering image. Now, as you might have noticed on previous works of mine, including the experimental novella I wrote as a student – Adjective Narcissism – and the poem I wrote about Liverpool over a couple of days – Albert Docks – I have a certain unhealthy fascination with toilet cubicles in pubs I visit; I think I’ll try and explain it here or, at least, make it seem a little less unhealthy than I have been told it is previously.

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Toilet cubicles in Wigan tend to hover somewhere between disgusting and so rancid that they have their own kind of momentary beauty.

You see I have always enjoyed a kind of willingly indecent lifestyle – the kind of bohemia that Bukowski or John Fante or Knut Hamson might have enjoyed, if they had grown up as I had. I think that it runs deeper than, perhaps, a mere desire to emulate their indecencies, as I had read none of these three when I first started going to bars and pubs and the like and I always found cubicles fascinating.

I love the graffiti one finds in them, even if the graffiti is meaningless – I love the fact that one can find the phone numbers of drug dealers and prostitutes and crazy guys who want to emulate Andrew W.K’s philosophies – I love the sense of seclusion one can feel within them, particularly when drunk – I love the safety of locking a door against the world and the night upon which you embarked – I love the peace and the madness and the brief moments of near-silence – I love it when I suddenly feel incredibly sober, or incredibly drunk; when I use the toilet and feel the poison filter out of my body or dry-heave and, instantly, it is as though I haven’t drunk a thing – I love leaning against the cubicle wall and breathing deeply, playing a roulette with myself on the scent which assaults my nostrils, a fresh Pine or artificial luxury or a natural stench – I love closing my eyes and repeating the lines of half-forgotten songs or never-finished poems, of feeling my lips form the words – I love such indecent places as a vehicle for my arguable normality, or justifiable eccentricity.

One idea I had some time ago was to go on a series of nights out, one day after another, and write a line or two of prose, or a short poem, to accompany every bathroom stall I enter – in this way I might experiment with atmosphere and location and creativity and indecency, even as I worship in my own way, with a Guinness in one hand and a notepad in the other.

It is something I find hard to describe and even harder to justify – in fact, some months ago, I was taking a picture in an empty bathroom and a friend of mine walked in; thankfully, we were both quite incredibly drunk, so he couldn’t remember it the next day, but I remember the panic of his entry, my self-loathing and disgust, like I had been caught masturbating in public. Anyway, can I be sure that it isn’t a kind of creative masturbation, a personal self-indulgence disguised as indecency?

I like well-used toilet cubicles far more than clean ones; not necessarily with urine all over the walls or a broken lock or anything like that, but graffiti-covered ones – toilet cubicles are the new canvas for the truly disaffected and even the slightest word seems to garner entirely new and alien meanings when scratched or inked onto the inside of such a private space – Tolstoy once said that ‘art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man’ and it is this that so attracts me to cubicles. They are the housing for moments of private communication, between two people who have never met, and I’m sure that somewhere out there, there is a poet scratching lines from his Magnus Opus on a toilet wall – a new Divine Comedy, trailing downwards into debauchery and indecency and bohemia in place of Hell.

Or maybe I’m just weird; or maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The Caitiff Came Out Today.

The Caitiff came out today. I took a long walk in Mesnes Park, in Wigan, and sat there for a time, despite the cold and the eventual rain which forced me to seek out the shelter of a nearby podium. I hadn’t intended to sit at all, simply to enjoy the act of motion; to entertain my body whilst my mind focused on other things, but my ill-health turned those steps after my three thousandth into agonising, lung-bursting things, which sent pain coiling around my ankles and I could barely breathe through the onset of a cold and the aggressive movements of the wind’s jaws upon my bare face.

The fingers of my right hand were numb, as they had to hold on to the strap of my bag rather than ape my left hand, which was buried deep within the pocket of my jeans. I wore fingerless gloves, as I always do, to combat my insufficient circulatory system whilst allowing my appendages to remain functional. I found it difficult to hold my pen, and I had to spend some minutes simply flexing my fingers, straightening them and curling them until they dug into my palms, before straightening them again. Eventually, I felt sensation return, in waves of icy-fire which crackled like electrical impulse.

It is a chill morning, in mid-February, and I am sat here watching a water fountain. It is a two-tiered thing, of red and gold and composed of bulbous components which protrude into the air. In recent weeks, the water which should have dripped and flowed and spat from the fountain’s rim has been frozen, locked solid by the whims of nature but today is one of the few days when it runs clear. The wind still batters at it, and there is a long streak of wet ground behind it, where the wind’s ire has left a daring imprint upon the fountain’s efficiency.

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The fountain in Mesnes Park – See, Wigan does have some not completely revolting sites!

It seems, to me, that nature mocks the fountain’s role, that it repeats humanity’s desires in a falsetto and laughs as it ignores them. It seems, to me, that man and nature are engaged in an eternal war – Man claims how things ‘should’ be, and nature decides upon how things ‘will’ be. And, in my narcissism, I cannot help but feel that my role should be to decide upon how things could be. For a long, long time, I have argued that I am not a writer; that I am a poverty-stricken drunk with an internet connection and an inarguable obliviousness to my own pretension.

Today, I think, I want to be a writer. I don’t care that no one else might offer me that title; I want to look in the mirror and say that ‘Here; here is a man whom has said something which needed to be said, here is a man who has said that which he wanted to say, honestly, without selfless motivations.’

I don’t think I’m a writer yet. The Caitiff came out today and, though I should feel pride, or hope, or worry, I can feel nothing but the vague unease and apathy against which I write. Forever, I believe, Friday the 13th of February, 2015, will be the day that the ‘Meh’ reverberated around my body and spewed from my fingers, through the filter of plastic and ink, and onto paper.

I am not a writer; I am not a drunk; I am a modern man. I am a healthy, if currently physically frail, modern man, and The Caitiff came out today.

Cool

Obviously, any use of the word cool is used in an ironic or sarcastic sense, because I’m too cool to use the word cool. Obviously.


I think I’m ashamed of wanting to be a writer; it’s a specific kind of self-loathing which has dogged me all my life. A friend of mine from university, a much more talented and intelligent man than me, used to sit next to me in our Final Portfolio/Creative Writing lecture type-things – not the ‘workshop’ seminars, but the wasteful obligation where we would all pile into an oversized room to hear about nothing very much.

One day, this woman asked the entire class what they wanted to be after we finished our degrees; entirely as a means of making the time fill out until we could all rush off to our respective seminars. Well, there were all the usual answers: ‘Write fiction’, ‘author’, ‘teacher’, ‘copywriter’, ‘publisher’, ‘editor’, – a lot more people wanted to writer Child-friendly fiction than I had thought but that’s their business.

Anyway, she gets to our table, the guy on the far end says ‘scriptwriter’, the next guy says ‘what’ve you got’ which caused a brief laugh, an acknowledgement of the reference by the surprisingly few of us who understood it; I shrugged and said something like ‘whatever I can get’ and this guy, this absolute genius, puts on this sarcastic, patronising, sardonic grin and he says ‘it isn’t cool to want anything’. I don’t know why, especially as we all knew he was only joking, but that really, really stuck with me. It felt like, for a fraction of a second, that’s what I had been living my entire life – I wasn’t cool when I was a kid, I was chubby and nerdy and got bullied on a regular basis, wherever I want, there was someone taking the piss out of me, but how desperately I wanted to be cool!

So me and him, we joke about it for the rest of the lecture, made noises in the backs of our throat like cool guys would, talked about smoking behind the bike sheds after the lecture and all that stereotypical stuff.

I don’t know why it stuck with me, resonated with me, but I think it’s because, in the back of my mind when I was younger, I so desperately wanted to be cool and, then, I was in the position where I was mocking cool people even whilst sharing their inability to find anything interesting. I was, I think, so ravaged by the distant and aloof attitude I inevitably adopted when I was younger that it had more of a profound effect on my eventual antisocial character than I thought.

Ah well, who knows? Armchair psychology may very well be the new craze, but I don’t think I’m very good at it,

Brief Ramblings On… Creative Writing MA

I think I’ve briefly covered this topic before, but it’s always good to have a refresher!

It has been 36 years since the very first MA in Creative Writing began in Britain, at the University of East Anglia. Since then, it similar courses have sprung up all across the country, with ninety-eight institutions offering degrees wholly dedicated to Creative Writing or, as I studied, combined degrees which still place a great focus on Creative Writing.

I studied English Language, combined with Creative Writing – meaning that, whenever I tell people what degree I’ve done, I sometimes find myself dropping the Creative Writing aspect – but I primarily consider myself to be a Creative Writing Student.

I have paid a little over £9,000 for the privilege of those three years when, looking back, I have done very little of any actual worth. In my opinion, a Creative Writing degree is less around the actual writing itself, or it certainly was for me, it was simply an excuse to have three more years in education, but a lazy kind of education.

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I know, I look like a tool – looks better than the official picture though.

It was an excuse to have the freedom to write; I think that is the single advantage of the Creative Writing MA. I didn’t learn anything during class, except one narrative rule in the final year which I completely rejected, but it gave me three years in which I was, essentially, outside of the ‘real world’ – with so few taught hours and, instead, a heavy focus on reading extraordinary amounts of classic and contemporary literature, it meant I enjoyed a kind of freedom that I highly doubt I will ever see again.

Whilst this is the part of the course I enjoyed the most, the freedom, I think it is also the main reason that many students leave education unprepared for life – or, if not unprepared, then against society in some vaguely revolutionary way. I mean, I’m not a fan of society; I think that it is crass and sickening and I’m amazed that so bland an existence should be shared by so many people, particularly when everyone I’ve spoken to has agreed that current society is unnatural.

Life, modern life, breeds apathy, I think; freedom rejects such apathy but, often, it can leave the student self-obsessed, desperate to seek their own happiness above the good of their community. I, in fact, don’t really think of myself as belonging to a community – I’m hardly a writer, I’m essentially unemployable (though I’ve proven on these internships that I am willing to work exceedingly hard) and I don’t really fit in anywhere.

You see? This little post started as an opinion on Creative Writing and, suddenly, it’s all about me. Ah well, maybe I’d have turned out this way anyway, with or without a university education hanging over my head, and a degree dangling slackly from around my throat.

Ramblings On… My Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot about political fiction recently. I have read 1984 and Brave New World too many times to effectively count, but recently I’ve been feeling like they, perhaps, aren’t as relevant as I considered them to be, even so recent as a year ago. I feel, particularly with the rise of Ukip and the Greens and the ideas Russell Brand has been shouting about on every television channel, that politics is no longer a war between conservatism and liberalism, between the proletariat and the bourgeois, but between the apathetic and the fervent.

A year ago, if asked, I might have said that I was a firm supporter of Labour – to my mind, it wasn’t so much a matter of supporting Labour but, instead, a matter of opposing every other party. Even then, as I’ve seen people flock from Labour to Ukip or other parties, I’ve rapidly become somewhat disenfranchised with a political system that doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m not saying don’t vote, of course not, I will no doubt end up voting – but I don’t actually support any party anymore. Continue reading “Ramblings On… My Politics”

An Announcement

There is a wooden skewer beside my hand, with the spike tip reduced to charcoal – I have set it alight with a blue, glittering lighter decorated with hearts composed of white beads, that I might use it to burn the dregs of a red candle in a concave glass. Some of the charcoal I have used in mad skitterings across my desk and it culminates in a single question, in three words with too much weight in their arrangement.

An untouched tub of Brylcreem, sickly with dust, a Specsavers’ appointment card, an empty bottle of Pepsi MAX laying on its side and an unopened hourglass of Laura Biagiotti’s Tempore Uomo are my companions, and my free hand raises a wide black mug, embellished with a skull and crossed bones and bearing the legend St. Pauli, to my lips and back to the tarnished, black-streaked surface. A copy of The Immoralist skulks atop the desk’s edge, precariously balanced by its bookmark – I should move it to a secure position but I like it where it is, it is not up to me whether it falls and I refuse to take the responsibility for my inaction – it is my rebellion against Existentialism.

My right hand is occupied; it directs the mouse across the screen, flickering between the two possibilities: This is the final version of my book for release, or This is a draft manuscript and not ready for release. For days I have alternated between this decision and my bed, between my bed and this decision. As I have walked from the jobcentre to the bus, the 352, the 375 or the 385, and back again, it has been this decision which has rattled behind my eyes and forced my fingers to turn my headphones up until I cannot hear myself over the songs, until my doubt is lost in the wails of Brian Fallon or the self-pitying tones of the Retrospective Soundtrack Players.

I am crippled, crippled not by doubt – not by the fear of rejection or the knowledge that I might be releasing another stain upon the great face of the English Language. My debilitation is not an alien thing, to me, but rather a simple understanding that I am incapable of self-confidence. I live in the margins of self-loathing and narcissism and anyone lucky enough to live outside this narrow space would no doubt be amazed at how the two align.

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Well? Is it? IS IT? Nah, probably not, but I had fun writing the thing.

But I take the deepest of breaths, the kind that the character of the novel would approve of, the kind that stretches the lung to its apex and sends splinters of flame across my musculature – it occurs to me, as I release my poison into the air, that, for this one decision, I am wholly in control. This decision, to highlight this sentence or that, is my own, and my own alone – no one but I will face the ramifications of its failure, though its success would be nothing but a benefit to those I know. When The Caitiff fails and that which I have tried to achieve falls flat, I will not sink into a maddening depression; if it rockets in popularity and makes a mark on the world with its personal honesty, then I will not bounce from the clouds and be buffeted by my joy.

I remember that I am incapable of such extremities, and I remember the times when I have envied the bipolar, when I have longed for the crippling misery of my youth to return or the unadulterated pleasure of hugging an author in a smoky barroom – I remember that The Caitiff was not necessarily a choice in of itself, but rather the product of compulsion and desperation and, then, I highlight the honest sentence.

And I smile.

The Caitiff will be available from the Kindle Store on Friday the 13th of February, 2015.