Inspiration is for amateurs

This time of year, when there so much to do, I find it hard to get motivated to do some of the things (e.g., grading) that I don’t want to do. This morning as I was driving to work, I was reminded of an interview I once saw with Chuck Close, a professional artist. He has these words for anyone who is emerging with their profession:

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

This is a popular quotation, and for good reason. If I treat motivation (inspiration) like it is something that I must have before I can do anything meaningful or productive, I will end up wasting a lot of time. I have experienced this first hand recently with my writing, where I have been much more systematic about chipping away at manuscripts than I have in the past. There have actually been studies about this, and they show that writers who set aside smaller chunks of time each day for writing actually get more done that writers who set aside larger chunks on a couple of days or who set aside a whole day. This seems counter-intuitive, but having squandered many  a “writing day,” I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try it. After I get this figured out, the question will shift to, how do I get my students to adopt this philosophy?