The difference between creativity and inspiration

Anne Tyler-WritingQuote

There is a big difference between creativity and inspiration yet many people assume they are the same. One of the comments I often read on Twitter is that a writer doesn’t feel in the mood, that today isn’t a creative day, that their muse isn’t with them. It sometimes comes from an established author but you mostly hear it from those starting out on their writing journey. The problem is, these writers are confusing inspirations with creativity.

The math of creativity and inspiration

In order to help understand the difference between the two and why it’s important, I’ve drawn up a couple of equations for you – no, don’t run, they are really simple.

Here’s the first one:

Inspiration = right time + right place + notepad

And now the second one:

creativity = inspiration + perspiration*

Why is this important?

Because waiting around for inspiration is a pointless exercise. You have no control over when inspiration strikes. Those lightning rods of enlightenment hit you when they feel like it, not when you want them to. Some writers enhance the chances of it happening by visiting places that inspire them, listening to inspiring music or looking at inspiring art, but nothing is guaranteed. Some people appear blessed with ideas, continually coming up with something new and exciting, but my impression is that these people just happen to be better at recognising inspiration than the rest of us. All most of us can do is have a notepad and pen (or a handy smartphone) to note down ideas when they arise.

Creativity is hard work

The biggest lesson all creatives learn, whether in art, music, design, writing or any other of the creative areas, is that moment of inspiration is just the start. Then it is hard work all the way. That’s why the most common piece of advice you’ll get from a writer is to write every day, whether you feel like it or not. It’s one of the key reasons experienced writers tell you to never self-edit during the first draft, because they know that the ideas and inspiration generated during that process need honing again and again until you get it right.

It is very difficult to approach a blank page with no idea of what you are going to write. That’s where your inspirational notepad comes in handy. It is much easier to take something you have written, adapt it, develop it, improve it step by step until before polishing it until it shines. That’s not to say it is easy, as I said before it is a lot of hard work.

But none of this is possible if you’re not writing.



*stolen from Thomas Edison’s quote “Genius = 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” Don’t worry, I’m sure he won’t mind.