I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos lately. A LOT of YouTube videos.
In fact, if people knew how many HOURS I have spent streaming videos in the past two days alone, they’d get super judgmental.
“Why are you wasting so much time watching other people do cool things on the internet when you could be doing cool things on the internet instead?” they’d ask.
I don’t disagree — I’m planning on cutting back once all the stressors that come with literally picking up your life and dragging it to a new location disappear.
Here’s the thing, though …
The particular videos I choose to stream (many educational and idea-centric, because THAT’S how much of a nerd I apparently am) have actually inspired some of my biggest ideas over the past few years.
But I don’t go to these videos looking for inspiration. I thin that’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to “get in the mood” to create something. They approach everything waiting for inspiration to hit them. Sometimes it does … but that’s not really how creativity should work.
I might be aware that watching videos puts me in a mindset fit for coming up with good ideas. But that’s not why I watch them. Not everything has to be about work.
I’ve found over the years that in some instances, inspiration comes first, which prompts you to sit down and create something. However, other times, you have to start working on something first — and that in turn inspires you to continue working (with more enthusiasm, probably).
Streaming videos, or whatever activity tends to inspire you most, only becomes a waste of time when you use “looking for inspiration” as an excuse to watch videos instead of actually doing your work.
On your own time, when you’re doing that thing you love, if something happens to inspire you along the way — that’s great! You have the freedom to either break away from your leisure time and start creating something or store your new idea away for later access.
Of course, this requires being able to separate your work from your play — something many people, especially new aspiring creators, aren’t able to do very well. Yet.
It all begins with remembering that it’s OK to take time for yourself and do what makes you happy sometimes. Too many writers assume that they aren’t “real” writers if they don’t spend all their free time writing. That’s just not good for your mental health. I call it creative burnout.
The reason we find inspiration outside of work is because we’re (hopefully) not stressing about work. We’re enjoying our free time, which ultimately opens us up to the possibility of a completely new (often unexpected) idea coming our way.
Let your mind have some room to breathe. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re spending your free time wrong. I mean, unless you’re purposely doing everything you possibly can to avoid writing for whatever reason. Then I’m going to tell you your priorities need reordering. If you know watching videos or reading comic books or going to the movies puts you in the optimal mood for generating ideas, make those things part of your life. You’ll likely find it’s worth the time.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.