Sometimes you have no choice.
Do you know? You do something incredibly stupid, something for which you get caught and punished within an inch of your life — and if asked why, all you can do is shake your head, over and over, trapped and helpless. Over and over again, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”
That’s what being an artist is like.
It’s not that being an artist is like being caged. Not like you have completely no choice over your actions, words, thoughts. Just that when you do, when you decide to do something — you’re lost. Stuck, trapped with no choice of escape or flight. Your course of action is locked in, hard and unforgiving. All you can do is follow the consequences.
That is what is called inspiration.
It’s not freeing, it doesn’t come and strike you like magic. Inspiration that takes time. It takes work. There’s no simple way to get it, no escape route than you can take and say that you’re home free.
No, inspiration is hard. You can’t write about something that you don’t feel, something that’s foreign to you. As Jack Kerouac said, “Something that you feel will find its own form.” Once you have something, you can do it.
But that leads us back to having no choice. Because having inspiration – being inspired to do something – doesn’t mean that it’ll turn out to be the way you want. It never does. Never. You work and you work and in the end it comes out as being completely different from the image you had in your mind, the way you planned it.
That’s how inspiration is. It takes its own way. You don’t really have a say in what it does.
The work makes the artist, not the other way around.
The worst part? You can’t do anything about it. There’s no way to stop being an artist. There’s no way to stop being however you are, in yourself and presented to the outside world. You cannot stop inspiration any more than you can stop a freight train. You cannot stop inspiration anymore than you can stop the ocean tide. There is no way to stop.
At times it’s hard. Because you don’t understand. Because you don’t get it. Because nothing you’re doing makes any sense to you and everyone wants you to shut up and sit down and work and that’s what you want to do too, except that you can’t. Gripped by a strange urgency, held in the fist of fear, you work and work and work.
And that’s what inspiration is.
The world’s greatest artists died unhappy. Van Gogh. Lully. Dickinson. None of them lived happy lives, and none of them died happy deaths. But they gave to the world. It might be that way for you too. It might be that no matter what you do, none of it will matter until far later, when there are only faint whispers of your memory on the wind.
And that’s what it is.
If you take that risk — then all I can do is wish you good luck, my friend. Inspiration is a strange mistress, and a powerful one. I do hope that you make it out alive.