The New York Times magazine recently released its Inspiration Issue. In it, the writers discovered that the genesis of inspiration and creativity isn’t as mysterious as we once thought. It involves three stages:
Step 1: Work. Step 2: Be frustrated. Step 3: Repeat.
Artists and creators of many different mediums and art forms were interviewed (from Alicia Keys to Patti LuPone) and the only common ingredient among all of them is this: Try again repeatedly. (You have to go on 50 auditions before you book one job!)
So, you see, it’s not so mysterious after all.
The reason we often don’t experience greater moments of inspiration and creativity in our own work is that we quit at the “frustration” phase, not knowing that this stage is an important part of our creative development.
Learning and growth look like this.
We have plateaus of learning and then a breakthrough occurs and we get to a new level. But then we plateau for a while at this new level before we get another spike. We can stay at a plateau for long periods. We can stay there for weeks, months, and even years. But we’re not to be dismayed when we feel stuck at this stage. It’s simply the gestation period.
And it’s all about ascension, even if it feels like we’re stagnant. As long as we’re staying on the path, it’s always up.
George Leonard, in his book "Mastery," discusses this same learning curve for all growth and learning in life. Plateaus followed by creative pops followed by plateaus.
And then he describes three types of personalities that get in the way of “mastery.”
The Dabbler – Reaches a plateau, gets bored because he hasn’t yet gotten a spike and then moves onto another thing, only to repeat that pattern over and over again in various different fields.
The Obsessive – Lives only for the spike and pushes hard for those moments. Because he’s working so hard to try to get those openings, he burns out. He does everything he can to get those growth spurts, but once he sees that growth has a plateau stage, he stalls.
The Hacker – Reaches a plateau but is content to just stay on that straight line. He doesn’t want to do any self-reflective work so his line extends on and on without any sort of growth spurt.
We possess a little bit of each one of these types within us, but truly what makes us fall short of our own mastery is simply stopping.
So take it from the experts.
You’re not doing anything wrong. You don’t lack the essential ingredients to make an amazingly creative and inspiring cake.
All you need to do is keep trying.
Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer, director, producer, and Artistic Director of Anthony Meindl's Actor Workshop (AMAW) in Los Angeles, where it was voted the Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles by Backstage in 2011 and 2012 (Best Scene Study and Best Cold Read). AMAW is also located in New York and Australia.
Meindl's first feature film, “Birds of a Feather,” won the Spirit of the Festival Award at the 2012 Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, and he won Best Director at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. He is a regular contributor to The Daily Love, Backstage, and various spirituality podcasts. He has been featured in ABC News, Daily Variety, LA Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter and the CW KTLA. He is also the author of the new best-selling book, “At Left Brain Turn Right,” which helps artists of all kinds unleash their creative genius within. Check out Meindl's free smartphone app on iTunes. 'Follow Meindl on Twitter @AnthonyMeindl.