5 Ways to Cultivate Inspiration

Inspiration sometimes seems like a mysterious thing that appears out of the blue and illuminates your being. However, as most writers and artists know, inspiration is about work and being proactive. In the words of Jack London, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Sometimes it takes more effort, but in all cases, there are ways to cultivate inspiration, and I would like to share mine with you.

Go to sleep, thinking of things you want to try or learn the next day

Before I go to sleep, I run in my mind over things that I would like to do the next day. I imagine which books I would like to read or what I would like to discover. I usually read based on my current interests or planned travels, and it fills me with pleasant anticipation and when I wake up, I already feel inspired. These days I’m reading a lot of travelogues to satisfy my wanderlust and before I fall asleep, I imagine the places described in the books and plan imaginary journeys.

Be an observer

Notice things around you. It sounds like such simple advice, but we often go through life without observing our surroundings. Yet it is through noticing the details that one often finds inspiration. For instance, make a point of noticing all the scents around you from the moment you wake up. Observe the scent of coffee as you brew it. Notice how toasted bread has a hazelnut-like nuance. Catalog these scents in your mind to build your olfactive lexicon. Even better if you decide to write it down, because it reinforces your memory and makes it easier to have a ready repository of inspiration.

Try something new today

Make a perfume. Try a new recipe. Take a walk down a part of town you don’t know. Breaking out of a routine is often the best way to stimulate your imagination. Recently I started learning Spanish, and every day I start by studying lists of new words and expressions. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also inspiring my curiosity to visit Spain, read books in Spanish or watch Spanish films. (On this note, if you have your favorite Spanish books, music, or movies, please share with me in the comments.)

Read, read, read

Reading is about curiosity and a hunger for discovery. Also, the value of sitting down with a book and becoming absorbed in it cannot be emphasized enough. When our attention span is fragmented by social media, it’s harder to be creative, because creativity requires an ability to concentrate. One of my favorite ways to cultivate inspiration is to read outside my usual comfort zone and venture into new topics. That being said, any hour spent reading is an invitation to expand my horizons and discover a new world.

Feel playful

In her book Picasso’s Brain: The Basis of Creative Genius, Christine Temple outlines 7 key causes of creativity: Playful mindset, Inhibition reduced, Curiosity, Attentional focus, Single-mindedness, Stoicism, and Obsession. The playful mindset is important to feel creative, because it allows you to cast your preconceived notions and inhibitions aside and pursue the thread of your imagination. As adults, we often become limited in our expression by what we think we are supposed to do or how we are supposed to behave. Temporarily casting aside these strictures is liberating. Create something following your sense of fun. Imagine being a child again and delve into your project with that mindset. If it worked for Picasso, it might just be a good prescription for the rest of us.

What do you do to stimulate your creativity? What are your recent creative projects?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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54 Comments

  • Albi: Oh how i love your writing, Victoria. Reading is one of the great treasures in life.
    Question about reading: What do you say to people who dislike classics and diregard them as irrelevant boring rubbish written by white men? (I live in the US, for context)
    A. October 7, 2022 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. I had this conversation with someone in a different context, specifically about reading Russian classics in light of their support of imperialism. Yes, the canon is no longer fashionable, and it’s tempting to say that classics don’t have relevance anymore. It’s true that in some classics there are unsettling themes or elements that don’t accord with our worldview today. But the reason I read classics is because they treat timeless themes. And we can still reading things written by white men, but with a fresh perspective. We can acknowledge the troubling aspects of the works, while recognizing the positive ones. We can also read more widely, beyond Europe and North America and discover more writers from different countries. Basically, I’m all for reading more. October 7, 2022 at 10:05am Reply

      • Albi: Yes! You expressed it well. I resonate a lot with your thoughts about reading diverse literature. I like pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
        Currently reading Erika Fastland’s “Border” after your recommendation, and what a good read! October 7, 2022 at 1:41pm Reply

        • Victoria: Glad that you’re enjoying it. She also has a couple of other good travelogues, but this one might be my favorite. October 10, 2022 at 8:32am Reply

  • Adam: Victoria,I don’t know if this is a “favorite” Spanish book (as I only have one) but I’m reading Neruda’s Extravagaria in English and Spanish languages to refresh my high school-level Spanish. I’m a little lazy about keeping a notebook/glossary. (I’m tempted to say “race you!” but I’m sure you’re already millas ahead!) October 7, 2022 at 10:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Adam. I am long overdue on reading Extravagaria, one of the recommendations from Bois de Jasmin’s community. October 7, 2022 at 10:06am Reply

      • WARA: Victoria, puedes practicar conmigo cuando quieras!!! Cien Años de Soledad de Gabriel García Márquez te va a encantar!!! October 9, 2022 at 10:33pm Reply

        • Victoria: Muchas gracias, Wara. Podemos practicar juntas. 🙂 October 10, 2022 at 8:41am Reply

          • WARA: Por supuesto, dearest Victoria! October 10, 2022 at 7:33pm Reply

          • WARA: Muy bien! October 10, 2022 at 7:36pm Reply

    • Carolyn Rose: I was going to recommend Neruda too. I love the bilingual editions… I was going to suggest “The Captain’s Verses,” but now I think I need to order the one you are suggesting. October 7, 2022 at 11:02am Reply

      • Victoria: The bilingual editions are so useful. I wish there were more of them. October 10, 2022 at 7:49am Reply

  • AndreaR: On the playful side, from the delightful Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, “I’ve never tried that before so I’m sure I’ll manage it.” October 7, 2022 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: I love Astrid Lindgren. October 7, 2022 at 10:34am Reply

  • ElaineLG: Lovely words ♥️ My nighttime routine always includes an application of one of my hug-worthy cozy fragrances to lull me to sleep as I re-read one of my favorite British Lit novels. Aaahhh, heavenly ethereal to relax for the upcoming day. October 7, 2022 at 11:21am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds wonderful. What are some of your favorite novels? October 10, 2022 at 8:10am Reply

      • ElaineLG: I’m bad. I never cared too much for American Lit except for Hemingway. Love the books “Silas Marner,” “Jane Eyre,” “Villette,” “The Professor,” “Jude The Obscure,” “ Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” “Watership Down,” “The Tempest,” “Henry V”….I could go on and on…. October 10, 2022 at 11:14am Reply

  • Lainie: Thank you for this! I struggle with the word “play” as an artist – I think art is work, in a good way, and “play” feels trivializing to me. Sometimes I see people (and maybe myself) use it as a way to make excuses. “I’m just playing.” But you’re right that Picasso advocated thinking like a child – an idea I can embrace somehow more than the word “play” – and I *always* take your suggestions eagerly and seriously. I will look for Christine Temple’s book. October 7, 2022 at 11:50am Reply

    • Figuier: Lainie I see what you mean about play, but as a parent ‘child’s play’ has come to seem the opposite of trivial or easy. Kids play with utter dedication and focus, their imaginary games are enthusiastic, experimental and agile but never flippant or halfhearted. Any teacher will tell you it’s the way kids learn skills and develop knowledge of the world around them, as well as shaping their own world and forming relationships. I think most adults would struggle to play as wholeheartedly as a child, and for me playful art can definitely be serious art. Nor is play incompatible with discipline. To.me, art with no sense of play or contingency often feels rigid or foreclosed. Maybe the issue is more the way ‘play’ is trivialized and commodified in market culture? October 9, 2022 at 12:09pm Reply

      • Lainie: Fair enough! That’s a very lovely response and a good way to think about it, thank you. I was a very creative child but a serious one; I didn’t play. I learned. I painted, I sewed, I made things. I read constantly. We moved a lot and I had only brothers, so I was alone a lot. I had many beautiful fairy-tale books with tales from many countries, and I did love those (though generally the ones with serious themes). I don’t like cartoons. So through my filter, and given the way that so many people use the word today, it just provokes an immediate negative response in me that I should probably look at. October 9, 2022 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: I understand what you mean. If “play” is used to talk pejoratively of art as a pursuit that lacks seriousness, it’s something I struggle with, and it does happen. As a dancer, I’ve heard often enough about “prancing around” to become sensitive to this kind of talk. In this case, you note, it’s a different perspective. It’s about play as liberation. October 10, 2022 at 8:23am Reply

      • Klaas: Hi Victoria, I teach ballet to professional students and dancers. I use the term ‘playfulness’ the other way around! If I see that the dancers get too much tangled up in the technicality of the combinations I urge them on to be more playful! Indeed, as something liberating and joyful and to make things more easy. I remind them that they all started dancing because it is fun and rewarding. Getting too much focussed on just the technique can be a bit of a mood killer, though I would also agree that there is great thrill and excitement and fulfillment in mastering the difficulty of the steps…..even though it doesn’t always come easy……

        What an…..ehm……inspiring post this is!!! And I love the painting ❤️ October 23, 2022 at 5:27am Reply

  • MJ: if I may, I would recommend you “Nada” by Carmen Laforet. A novel about a young woman who arrives to Barcelona to study at the University right after the Spanish Civil War. It’s a book about coming of age on difficult times sorrounded by a difficult family.
    Also, if you have the time and occasion, watch “El Perro del Hortelano” a movie based in a XVII century play by Lope de Vega. It’s a joy to watch and to hear as its in verse.
    Music, listen to the works of Isaac Albeniz, particularly his Spanish Suites.
    Hope you have fun learning Spanish! October 7, 2022 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Gabriela: Nada sounds very interesting. I would also recommend Almudena Grandes, Javier Moro and Javier Marias. I have just read the best book about maternity: Las madre no, by Katixa Agirre.

      As for music, Paco de Lucia is beautiful. Also, Estrella Morente, powerful music.

      As for what inspires me… children, nature, kindness, reading and walks with my mother. October 7, 2022 at 3:07pm Reply

      • Mj: Javier Marias is one of my favorite Spanish writers, even if I have a up and down “relationship” with his novels, as some of them have been difficult to read, while others I have devoured. His newspaper articles are little gems also. He passed away past month and it was deeply felt for many of us. October 7, 2022 at 3:51pm Reply

        • Gabriela: I have the same feeling with Javier Marias. What are your favourite novels? October 7, 2022 at 5:14pm Reply

          • MJ: I loved “Corazon Tan Blanco” “Todas las Almas” “Los Enamoramientos” and “Berta Isla”
            I completely despised “Tu rostro mañana”, I tried hard but I was unable to finish it. October 7, 2022 at 5:31pm Reply

            • Victoria: I’m taking notes, as I have not read anything by him. October 10, 2022 at 8:34am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you for more recommendations! October 10, 2022 at 8:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your recommendations. Yes, I’m enjoying it very much. October 10, 2022 at 8:24am Reply

  • Valentyna: Nothing brings me back to life more effortlessly than reading Memoirs of Perfumer by Weriguine (Благоуханность, К.Веригин).
    I feel alive again, I want to smell, I want to discover, I want to savour. I can hear myself better. October 7, 2022 at 1:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: I really enjoy this book too. Time to re-read it. October 10, 2022 at 8:32am Reply

  • Trudy: I needed this today as I’ve been feeling rather uninspired lately and have been trying to change that. On being an observer, I recently visited the Getty Museum which is very close to me but I haven’t been there in years. Just walking through the exhibits and the beautiful art totally kept me in the present moment but what I really enjoyed was watching the children there on field trips. Their reactions and their energy lifted my spirits and made me feel connected. I am trying to learn Spanish as well and hope to travel to Spain. I recently watched a Spanish movie on Netflix called Todos lo Saben with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. I turned off subtitles and was immersed in the language. It made me realize I haven’t made as much progress with my Spanish as I thought! Still, it was a great exercise and inspired me to keep at it. As always thank you for the post and the inspiration. October 7, 2022 at 4:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I sometimes go to a museum I know and linger in front of a few paintings (rather than try to see everything). Paying attention to more details is such an enriching experience.

      I added the movie to my list! October 10, 2022 at 8:34am Reply

  • Fazal: I am, especially, with you on reading and observation. Even when I am walking through a usual route, sometimes I look up to observe the upper portions of the buildings and often discover that I never saw them before even though I have been walking through this particular route for years now. Observation is def. one of my key traits, esp., trying to notice the body language and facial expressions of other people. October 7, 2022 at 9:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: I do the same thing. It’s always interesting, especially because here in Brussels many buildings are well decorated and have unusual design elements. October 10, 2022 at 8:35am Reply

      • Fazal: I can def. see how this would be even more fun in a city like Brussels, with lot of classic European architecture. October 10, 2022 at 11:57am Reply

  • Ewan: Reading ‘ Heritage Apples ‘ by Caroline Ball, thinking of the time it took to develop such a variety: Cox’s Orange Pippin, Russet, Mother, Oslin, Bramley’s Seedling, Tom Putt, Margil, Court Pendu Plat, Catshead, Lucombe’s Pine, Cornish Gilliflower, Duchess of Oldenburg, and Duck’s Bill to name not many.

    Observation – fortunately I get to walk outside a fair bit with my work, the changes of seasons, landscape, people are fascinating yet slow moving. Different sounds bright one day, muffled the next, the return of a bird to the garden.And the smells, aromas, pongs and perfumes.
    One wonders how so many can walk around with headphones in ears and eyes captured by the screen. October 9, 2022 at 5:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I love the names of these varieties. Sometimes I like to read through the rose catalogs for fun to enjoy names and the descriptions of colors, scents, etc. October 10, 2022 at 8:36am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Victoria, at bedtime, I often lie in bed thinking about things I should do the next day. Usually this isn’t inspirational but instead a reminder of obligations and commitments. Sometimes my mind does wander down inspirational paths, which can be very satisfying. If I remember them the next day, I consider myself inspired. If I forget them by next morning, I imagine they were only fleeting thoughts.

    I agree observation and “playfulness“ in thinking can inspire one’s creativity. I also think a sense of inner calm can help, especially if accompanied with an open mind. October 9, 2022 at 6:35am Reply

    • Victoria: This also happens to me. Sometimes I wake up without a particular memory of what I was reflecting on before I fell asleep, but I still retain a fleeting impression of something interesting. Mostly, I try to stick to a routine in the morning and that also helps me, since I’m not a morning person. October 10, 2022 at 8:39am Reply

  • Abdul: I do want to read but being in Lahore after a long wait of 3 years has made me very unaccustomed to the heat. So right now I am dealing with terrible migraines but reading your newsletter was really sweet. One question: are you going to do any Zoom classes in the near future? It’s a dream of mine to attend. Also, I found a bottle of Juste un Reve by Nicolai on my moms shelf, i gifted it to her. What a beautiful perfume! I never stopped to admire it before.

    Abdul
    xx October 9, 2022 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ah, enjoy Lahore! I had such a good time in that city.

      I will post when I have the new classes open. October 10, 2022 at 8:39am Reply

  • Van: Wow! Sugar candy as an incense ingredient! Did my eyes read it correctly! How fascinating. October 9, 2022 at 4:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Fascinating, isn’t it? Can you imagine what it would smell like? October 10, 2022 at 8:40am Reply

  • Aurora: How wonderful to learn Spanish, Victoria, mine is rusty, I recommend Buñuel’s films. More Neruda, his memoirs Confieso que he vivido which my mother had recommended to me a long time ago as one of the best autobiographies she had read.

    I wish it could provide inspiration instead but unfortunately lying awake in bed at night means some difficult introspection for me, most of the time. October 10, 2022 at 4:16am Reply

    • Victoria: It does happen at times too, especially recently. The worst is waking up in the middle of the night and staying awake. Such moments are difficult to fill with more positive thoughts. October 10, 2022 at 10:57am Reply

  • María Huerta: Hi Victoria, I’m María and I’m Spanish. First of all thanks for sharing with us your knowledge and your thoughts. I always learn something from you. As Spanish, I also have to thank you for learning may language and also for wanting to visit us. we are very lucky as our country is tiny but very different and beautiful from coast to coast. Nobody mentioned one very good Spanish writer: Antonio Muñoz Molina. Any of his books would work. Have a good week October 10, 2022 at 10:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, María! I’m enjoying learning Spanish very much. I will add Antonio Muñoz Molina to my list. October 16, 2022 at 4:29am Reply

  • Karen: Hi Victoria—I’ve been away for awhile and just now saw your wonderful post. With regard to Spanish language films, may I recommend the following?

    Anything by Pedro Almodovar, but especially, Talk to Her; All About My Mother; Volver; and Parallel Mothers. Also, anything with Penelope Cruz and Javier Braden (together or not)

    Maria Full of Grace; The Motorcycle Diaries; Amores Pedro’s; Y Tu Mama Tambien; The Sea Inside; Nine Queens; The Secret in their Eyes; The Orphanage; The Exterminating Angel; Zara; The spirit of the Beehive; El Norte; Death of a Cyclist; Gloria; and Pan’s Labyrinth. November 22, 2022 at 3:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your recommendations, Karen. November 23, 2022 at 7:04am Reply

  • Karen: Hi Victoria—here are my thoughts on books I’ve loved from all over the Spanish-speaking world:

    (But first, is it beyond the pale to say that I didn’t love 100 Years of Solitude?)

    Moving on:

    Sombra del Viento (Zafon); Thus Bad Begins (Marias); Don Quixote (Cervantes); anything by Borges; 2666 & The Savage Detectives (Bolano); In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alavarez) November 22, 2022 at 3:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! November 23, 2022 at 7:04am Reply

      • Karen: Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃🎃🌽

        Just one more Spanish-language film to recommend and it is extraordinary: La Llorona:
        (https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/7960-la-llorona-turning-horror-into-light).

        I love that Criterion Collection devoted their attention to this sublime 2019 film…along with the new 2022 remastered version, there are interviews with the director, a documentary about the history of La Llorona and the Guatemalan genocide, as well as an excellent essay. Whenever possible, I seek out anything Criterion puts their magic touch on.

        You may be reminded somewhat of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma with regard to the always-uneasy relationship between indigenous people working as servants and their “employers.” This film does treat that subject, but there is so much more going on here. I hope you are as mesmerized as I was! November 24, 2022 at 5:35pm Reply

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