Inspiration: Where Can I Get Some?

[This article orginially appeared in the Merlin-Works January News Letter]

Inspiration: Where Can I Get Some?

Contrary to what you might expect from an improviser, I am a big believer in finding inspiration within structure. Structure, limits, starting points, deadlines—all of these things help inspire creativity. A blank screen, an empty canvas, a long stretch of time—these can be the most threatening impediments to a creative act. For many people, they can be intimidating, deflating and paralyzing. (Think: The Nothing from “The NeverEnding Story.”)

Improvisation is not the art of making something from nothing. It’s the art of honing your observational skills so you see what’s there behind the nothing. Because there is no such thing as nothing. (Let’s set quantum physics aside for a moment.) A piece of paper is never really blank: there’s the imperfections, the wrinkles, the light and shadow that fall on it, the objects around it, your thoughts, your anxieties, your life experience up to this point. When you see all that, there’s plenty to write about. The same is true in improvisation and any spontaneous human interaction. The first thing you need to do is see what’s really there in the moment—your partner’s expression, the feeling in the room, your emotional state—and go from there.

But if you are still feeling stuck, there are several strategies for getting inspired:

1) Just start. Even if you’re not inspired. If you start with something, however boring it may be, it will often inspire something else which might be, well, inspiring.
2) Take a moment to truly observe. Often there’s something inspiring right under your nose, you just haven’t noticed or haven’t thought of it as a “worthy.” Think of all those stand up comedians who take something we’ve all experienced a hundred times and turn it into a killer joke.
3) Lower your expectations. If you’re looking for a “good” idea you probably won’t find one. Just look for any idea and you’ll find lots. And once you’ve collected a bunch of ideas you might find that some of them are pretty good.
4) Use a structure or a deadline. People in advertising know all about this trick. Instead of sitting down and trying to think of a name for your new product or service, put two minutes on the clock and number up to twenty on your page. Then give yourself two minutes to come up with twenty ideas for the new name. You’ll be surprised how a little structure and a pressing deadline can spark some great ideas. Turn a brainstorming session into a parlor game (Scattergories, anyone?) and you might be more productive and have a little fun, too.

That’s part of why Merlin Works trainings and workshops are so valuable. They provide the time, space, and people to explore a topic in depth, in a short amount of time, and with a touch of fun.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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