Need Ideas? Try an Inspiration Binge

The Bard went on inspiration binges.

Binge: A period of unrestrained, immoderate self-indulgence.
Inspiration binge: A creative technique involving the unrestrained, immoderate, and self-indulgent consumption of cultural entertainments, usually for the purpose of generating ideas.

Even without purging, binges get a really bad rap. In most cases, this is deserved; too much of any substance (fried chicken, dry martinis, trailer meth) is going to cause long-term harm. Even reading too much over a long period of time can have some detrimental effects…but don’t take it from me:

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” –Albert Einstein

However, when you’re really out of ideas, when your soul is as ‘thin as a playing card‘ (Oates), an inspiration binge can help you generate new ideas, induce inspiration, and help you get unstuck.

Think of an inspiration binge as a mostly harmless nudge, a break from the usual routine for the purpose of making new neural connections and refilling the creative well that is so easily drained.

My experience: Returning to America after 1.5 years in Asia kicked my ass. Readjustment and basic day-to-day stuff drained me. I tried to go with the flow, to keep up the momentum on my projects, but that didn’t work.

So I stopped trying. For a short time.

No worries, no stress; I just said ‘screw it, I’m going to do whatever I damn well please.’ For me, this meant burning through three books, watching a couple good films, going to a concert, listening to some new tunes, and killing several hundred zombies. I didn’t do much else, save a bit of journaling and a blog post.

After five days, I realized I was ready to get back to my projects. While not intending to, I had a boatload of story ideas, a solution to a rather sticky problem, and a generally left more excited about the work I had been doing.

So, in my case, an inspiration binge allowed me to:

  • Renew my focus.
  • Generate new ideas.
  • Refine old ideas.
  • Experience inspiring creative work.

Consider this: great ideas are either totally original concepts and ideas (rare) OR a combination and synthesis of existing ideas and information. You think Shakespeare came up with all those funny dramas on his own? Of course not; he collected stories, folktales, and histories. The guy practically invented the ‘ripped from the headlines’ genre, the headlines being Holinshed’s Chronicles.

Hey, I’m not advocating patent theft of ideas. There’s no need; we have Hollywood for that. I’m just saying that a) most ideas are synthetic derivatives of other works or ideas and b) other works can be one hell of a source of inspiration.

Sometimes it just makes sense to overload your mind with new material for the purpose of generating new ideas. How many times have you had a cool idea while reading, listening, watching, or making?

Like anything else, an inspiration binge might not work for everyone. And like other binges, it’s probably not a good idea to go on too many of these. Yet, for me, in this instance, an inspiration binge was just the thing I needed to get back on the rails. If you’re interested in such a pursuit, here are some ways to make the most of your very own inspiration binge:

  • Pick out stimulating works. Read reviews. Seek out the good  stuff.
  • If a book bores you, find something more engaging. No shame in not finishing a dull work.
  • Keep an idea bank or notebook (knockoff moleskine) handy. Record ideas…but don’t act on them immediately.
  • Determine how long your binge will last; set an end date.
  • Don’t do an inspiration binge as a time waster. Non-engaging, passive activities (television) aren’t going to provide much stimulation or inspiration.
  • Allow yourself to indulge without guilt.

That’s it. Have a nice binge…but don’t get lazy, and stay away from the trailer meth. Good luck.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Brooke June 12, 2010, 7:59 am

    It’s like a vacation for your brain! Great post. Glad to hear you’re back at it!