Where Does Inspiration Come From?

There was a recent New York Times piece entitled, “Where does inspiration come from?” In it, the writer discovered that the genesis of inspiration and creativity isn’t as enigmatic 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.

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 “pop” or creative explosion or “spike” or light bulb moment or breakthrough occurs and then you get to a new level. But then you plateau for a while at this new level before you get another spike. You can stay at a plateau for long periods. Weeks, months, years. But don’t be dismayed when you feel stuck at this stage. It’s simply the gestation period.

And it’s all ascension. Always up. Even if it feels like you’re stagnant. As long as you’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.

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Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer/director/producer/teacher and Artistic Director of Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop – where the “right brain rules” – in Los Angeles and New York. He is endlessly inspired by his students’ fearless creativity and is tireless in discovering new ways to help us all get out of our own way a little bit more each day. He just finished writing/directing his first feature film, Birds of A Feather.



Twitter –  @AnthonyMeindl


  • Totally agree; thanks Anthony!

  • Jessica

    I love this!! I fall under the dabbler, but not anymore. 😉 thank you.

  • lizilynx

    Tony,  you have beautifully described the process my husband & I experienced when we wrote our first two-sequel creative story! It IS ASCENSION all the way, step-by-step, we just kept with it, letting the gestation times do their thing, and then another creative BURST! It is a LOT of FUN doing this process with another person, from my personal experience. One of us would say something…and the other one would take a morsel of that thought and just take the story from there…it felt like a rather magical process and WOW! did we ever ENJOY IT!!
    THANK YOU for posting this! It’s just too delicious not to experience this process! :o)

    •  Thank you! Being creative together is an amazing experience!

  • msc

    wow this really explains some things that are going on in my life.  I feel I’m trying too hard to achieve that ‘spike’ in life.  When really I should sit back and enjoy the ride for the time being.  Thanks!