You Don't Need a Muse: How to Get your Work Done When You're Not Inspired


[digg=]There’s this Chuck Close quote that I immediately recall whenever I need to work despite my lack of inspiration or motivation: “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.”

Of course, I don’t want to be an amateur. Neither do you, I’d wager.

So how do we ‘get to work’ when our hearts aren’t in it?

Know your peak hours. Some of our work hours are more productive than others, and it’s important that we find those peak hours and make them the focal point of our schedules.

Have a mantra. Not to sound like a meditation instructor, but it’s helpful to have a phrase or idea to recall whenever your negative thinking sets in. For me, it’s that Chuck Close quote. Having such a mantra can be a powerful tool whenever you’re blocked with your work. Repeat it to yourself several times before working, and it’ll often push your negative thinking away, giving you the courage to begin.

Try a different environment. Whether it’s your work music, snacks, the blogs you read, or your surroundings, the regularity of your work environment might close you off to new stimuli that can help your creative ideas come to the surface. Change something in your routine, and you might find a change in your thought processes as well.

Invite randomness. I first got the idea to ‘randomize’ my thoughts when I read about Scott McCloud’s Story Machine. Basically, one of the techniques he uses to move a story idea forward is to lay out this map of small random icons and toss a four-sided die which leads him to another icon. It’s up to him what to make of this randomness.

Of course, not everyone has the time to create such an intricate method, but there are many ways for you to use randomness to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Open a dictionary or book to any random page and, with your eyes closed, point to any word on the page.
  • Look through stock photography websites and go through the archives.
  • Click on that “Stumble!” button on your StumbleUpon toolbar (but only for a few minutes, as pressing the button can be addicting!)

Go for quantity first, then evaluate for quality. Another source of negative thinking for me, and for many web workers I’ve talked to, is the worry that you won’t be creating something of great quality when you’re not ‘inspired’. This idea simply romanticizes what inspiration can do for you. True, inspiration can be a catalyst for great ideas, but it’s hardly the only source.

The thing is – the more work you do, the higher your chance of achieving something great with it. If we reduce or hinder our work somehow because we’re afraid we won’t produce something great, then we actually have less opportunities to explore. If you can’t seem to get to work, just remember that the more you try, the more experience you’ll get and the better prepared you’ll be when inspiration eventually hits you.

While inspiration has its place, I believe that even in mundane surroundings, we are capable of generating good ideas. We just need to get to work.

How do you get a project started? Do you wait for inspiration to hit or do you just start working?



great post!
I like the idea “Go for quantity first, then evaluate for quality”.

Andy Frantz

I like the ideas here, but they don’t quite fit the quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.” I would say these things are definitely sources of inspiration:
– a mantra
– change of environment
– randomness

Maybe the quote should be changed to “Waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. I create my own and get to work.”

Carol Rivello

I’m one of those people that think “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.” Inspiration offen doesn’t come before you START working so, I just begin working and wait for it to come naturally. Browse image banks helps me too. :) Cool article!

Joel Falconer

You certainly don’t need a muse. I think that ‘inspiration’ is a bit of a myth to put one method of idea generation on a pedestal. Whether something comes and hits you in the face in some light-bulb-flashing moment, the classic idea of inspiration, or you read, think hard and break a sweat just trying to come up with an idea before deadline… well, both ideas would way the same on a set of scales if the things had mass.


I don’t think it’s ‘inspiration’ as much as it is a drive to get it done. When you don’t want to do something, your brain is slow and sluggish and focusing on you not wanting to do that task. When you do, your brain works faster, and you feel like you’re getting better ideas because you want to finish.
When you enter a marathon, if you don’t have a drive, you don’t want to finish. You just want to drop out of the race.

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