Inspiration Is Perishable

expired parking meter

I finally read Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier, the team behind the software company 37signals. It’s a book that’s been on my list for a long time now, and now I feel I need to reread it again once every few months so I don’t let the lessons get away from me.

One of those core ideas is the title of this post, “Inspiration is perishable.” In the book, the authors use the phrase in regards to pursuing a project before the idea and the passion get away from you, but the core idea of the statement extends beyond just a single project.

Vision Leaks

Let’s look at the idea of perishable inspiration in another way. If you read this site or others like it on a regular basis, you’re probably looking for creative inspiration to some degree or another. Why is it that we keep looking for that creative spark? Why isn’t one piece of inspiration enough?

Pieces that inspired us two weeks ago may not hold the same appeal any longer. It’s easier for a painting or a piece of music to continue to inspire us for a longer amount of time, but articles are generally only inspiring once – twice if the post is just amazingly good.

These bits of inspiration we find along the way have a shelf date, and then we have to look for new sources of inspiration.

How are you finding inspiration each day?

It’s tough to find it every single day, but we must keep looking. It’s far too easy to settle in a rut of not looking for that spark of creativity, but then we’re surprised when we’re unable to dredge our creativity back to the surface in time for a project.

I used to work with a pastor who loved this simple slogan: “vision leaks.”

Inspiration does the same. It perishes. It leaks. It goes sour. Without an active position on refreshing, replenishing, reviving – if you will – that inspiration, we stand the risk of creating stale art. We can go through the motions without actually feeling anything. Without actually conveying anything.

Finding Inspiration

How do you find inspiration? Since this blog is aimed at a wide variety of artists, I would imagine our points of inspiration could be quite different.

I find story inspiring. I’m reading a book right now called Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, and I came across a couple of sentences that surprised me and got me excited about the craft of writing. The author is talking about a character who’s a cop on a distant space station, and the environment is rather trying for law enforcement. The book says, “The circle of life on Ceres was so small you could see the curve. He liked it that way.”

I love that phrase. “See the curve” of the circle of life. That makes me ready to pull out the draft of the novel I’m working on and go for it again.

driving at night

Photo by Thomas Hawk

I find photography inspiring. Thomas Hawk is a rather popular photographer here online, and his work really stands out to me. He uses a lot of landscape photography, but he also uses several different types of photos of people: portraits, candid portraits, etc. Each image tells a story all its own.

Think about how you find inspiration on a regular basis. Or, can you find something that will help you find creativity on a more regular basis. I’m certainly aiming for this site to be a consistent source of inspiration for you by finding interesting projects from artists around the world. (Just yesterday, I posted about a fun online musical experience called Incredibox.)

How about You?

How do you find inspiration? Do you have a plan, or do you hope creativity will fall into your lap?

Feature Photo Credit: Bammer Photos
Book links are affiliate links to Amazon.


  1. says

    It’s funny, when I read the title, I thought you were talking about the kind of inspiration where an idea strikes, and if you don’t capture it, it’s gone. I was just talking about this with @ethanwaldman the other day, and we were talking about how we would have to write at least enough down so as to recreate the exact mood we were in at the moment– essentially, creating a container for the inspiration to live in for a while, so I think the metaphor still holds. :)
    But you’re right the other direction as well; what inspires today probably won’t inspire tomorrow. However, I think that has more to do with state of mind than the trigger, whatever it is. When I’m inspired, it’s rarely even tangentially related to the thing that inspired me. A snippet of a phrase, an image half-seen out of the corner of my eye, a brisk fall day that makes me want to tackle the biggest item on my todo list.

  2. says

    Hey Michael,
    I dig the post but I’ll tell you one thing I don’t understand. You wrote, “(Rework) is a book that’s been on my list for a long time now, and now I feel I need to reread it again once every few months so I don’t let the lessons get away from me.” And then a few sentences later you wrote, “These (i.e. articles) bits of inspiration we find along the way have a shelf date, and then we have to look for new sources of inspiration…It’s tough to find it every single day, but we must keep looking.”
    So here’s what I don’t understand. Why can a book continuously inspire someone and be worth rereading but not an article you read on the Internet or in a magazine? What’s fundamentally different between a text-based resource that serves as inspiration besides the format (online vs. offline) and the length (short vs. long)? If anything, I’d choose to be inspired over and over by short Internet based articles that I can read whenever I want and have a very small time commitment. 
    All it really takes is a method to organize all the great articles, podcasts, and videos and some strategic reminders to go back and review them. To me, the same content can be a never ending well of inspiration (and is). I’m always hunting for new ones, but my old ones don’t have a shelf life. I don’t see why they need to have a shelf life for other people either with an appropriate system in place.

  3. says

    I had the same title misdirection as @Shanna Mann did, and the sort of inspiration you’re talking about, for me, can be very similar to what Shanna described. When it comes to art, I tend to be more of a pattern-follower — whether it’s a scarf pattern, a piece of music, or a soup recipe. I don’t do a whole lot of art-making without any ropes. That being said, I find a lot of my daily inspiration comes from paying attention to the world around me: to the season/weather, the food I’m eating, the words I’m reading, the music I’m hearing. I don’t always know how to channel that inspiration, but perhaps I should figure that out!
    As for @joeyjoejoe ’s question, for me, it doesn’t matter what the medium is — book, article, painting, song, whatever — lots of things can be inspiring. But the things that can inspire me again and again are really few and far between. They have to be really top-notch to stand up to that kind of revisiting. I do find there are more books I’d reread than articles, and I think that may have to do with the amount of information a book can contain, the longer time you spend with it, and the amount of time the author spent writing it. Most posts aren’t written to stay around for a while — they’re part of the rapid-fire environment of the online world. Books, on the other hand, are written to be around for longer. Though maybe that’s just because I’m better at keeping track of my books than I am of inspiring online articles! ;)

  4. says

    Hey Michael – awesome point. I notice that if, for example, I find inspiration for a blog post and I try to put it in my “posts to write later” file, I never go back to it. I may look at it again, but the idea I was so excited about sharing or the quote that moved me no longer has the same potency. I notice my best writing is often when I feel inspired and sit down to write the whole thing immediately. 
    When I used to be more of a “visual” artist (lighting designer) I was inspired a lot by colors, things I saw (“real life” or other pieces of art), or sometimes music… rather than words. Interesting how each medium takes inspiration from its own for me… :-)

  5. michaelwroberts says

    @Shanna Mann – Yeah, the authors actually wrote about the topic the way you’re referring to it – that temporary excitement and energy we get for a particular project.
    My need to keep up energy for longterm commitments and projects took my understanding of the idea in a different direction. In those moments that we face more frustration and discouragement, we have to counter those emotions with more inspiration – more positivity, essentially.
    Even just having the mental focus to be aware of what’s going on around us that can inspire us on a regular basis is an important shift in mindset.
    Thanks, Shanna!

  6. michaelwroberts says

    @joeyjoejoe, point taken. Music and imagery tend to stick with me for longer periods of time without having to revisit them. Having text-based resources on hand and actually being organized enough to keep up with them on a regular basis can be impactful, as well.
    Since our G+ chat, I’ve been working more towards a form of organization using a mix of Evernote and GetPocket that seems to be working much more effectively than what I was trying before.
    The other side of it is the type of inspiration that each medium affords. Music and imagery give me an overall sense of inspiration, but it’s a broader feeling rather than specific points that I can use to deliberately improve in a certain area.
    Thanks for helping to think through that point further!

  7. michaelwroberts says

    @remadebyhand I think my attempt to think through current circumstances are directing my interpretation of materials quite a bit, but I am eager to take more time to simply be aware of the inspiration that surrounds us. I spend so much of my day on a computer that I’m prone to tunnel vision. Simply getting outside or even just slowing down in my conversations enough to truly focus on my relationship with that person can make a huge difference!

  8. michaelwroberts says

    @sarahemily – I’ve always looked to music as one of my most important points of inspiration, but my wife regularly points out how little I pay attention to the lyrics. I probably could only recall the exact lyrics for a handful of songs, but I can tell you exactly which guitar solo or drum fill caught my attention.
    I’m totally with you in terms of trying to write a post later. Once my excitement for a particular topic has died down, it feels like excruciating work to go back and pull out as much enthusiasm again.

  9. says

    I’ve experienced the loss of excitement when I don’t do something, even a little something, with an idea right away. So, I frequently take notes throughout the day.
    I can’t really say that I literally look for inspiration, unless I’m stuck in the middle of a project and I need some ideas or a creative boost to keep going. Otherwise, inspiration kinda shows up randomly, and it’s my job to pay attention and do something with it. 
    I also find that it’s easier to stay motivated when I’m supporting other creatives with their work. Learning how other people are getting along with their projects inspires me to keep at it with my own.

  10. michaelwroberts says

    @deniseurena The company we keep makes a huge difference. I think I need to create more opportunities where I’m working and chatting with other creators to observe their processes on a more regular basis.
    Do you find that your note-taking alone can help you stay excited about a new concept? I know that we all want to move to the action phase, but can note-taking hold you over in the meantime?

  11. says

    Great post, Michael! This inspiration perish is a major issue for me. It’s what often breaks my to-do list in half and shoves it in the garbage can. I catch wind of some inspiration and I want to follow it! I’m learning how to reign it in and save it for later, but the bigest way I find inspiration is by consuming media that is inspiring to me.

  12. michaelwroberts says

    @ethanwaldman, I end up with a sense of guilt sometimes over the ideas that got away, so I totally know what you mean. It provides all the more motivation to not miss the next one!