Shauna Niequist. I know that not everyone has a go-to answer for the “Who’s your favorite writer?” question. I mean, when people ask me what’s my favorite color (or even how tall I am) I teeter on the answer. But Shauna Niequist is my confident answer for this one.
Before you nod politely and think of your answer, please sit. Let me show you. Let me show you how honest she can be:
I don’t operate in later. I’ve always been proud of that. But look where it’s gotten me. Stuffed. Exhausted. Wrung out and over-scheduled to the point where even things I love to do sound like obligations, and all my deepest desires and fantasies involve sleep and being left alone. My greatest dream is to be left alone? Things have gone terribly awry.
This is a small excerpt from her book Present Over Perfect. One of her books I go back to, regularly, for inspiration. Because Shauna has this incredibly warm transparency in her writing. Like, she’s not just sitting across from me in Starbucks. She’s on my couch with her bare feet tucked underneath her knees, and she’s not trying to cover up the coffee stain on her shirt.
I’m working on my next writing project right now. God keeps talking about how I need to focus and devote time to it. So this past weekend, in a hurry of anticipation, I spent time re-reading her various collection of essays.
But this time, I noticed, it didn’t work.
Not in the organic sense, anyway.
Because when I read, I wasn’t on the red couch tucked under a mountain of blankets. I was at a table ready to annotate like a college sophomore on Finals Eve. I was Edward Scissorhands with all of my highlighters, pencils, and post-its—ready to intentionally (and accidentally) copy, cut, and paste.
So when I went to write, I wasn’t inspired. I wasn’t creative. I was, on the other hand, recycling sentences like I’d done with my high school vocabulary: repeat the definition, just in my “own words.”
As much as I wanted to hope otherwise, inspiration wasn’t going to come in these circumstances– no matter how anxious I was for it. Because the essence of inspiration is that it happens to us; we don’t happen to it.
Inspiration on Her Own Terms
Recently, I’ve begun to look at inspiration the way that I do with falling in love. If I go searching for it, begging for it, sniffing out every bar in town, I’m sure I’ll find something. Someone, at least.
But it’s likely not going to be something extraordinary or even meant to be. Inspiration is a creative urge that downloads somewhat spontaneously. It doesn’t grow like a muscle through hard work and patience. It attracts like the chemistry between strangers and satisfies like chocolate.
“Oh,” you think to yourself. “I like that a lot.”
Creativity, of course, takes work. Deadlines, discipline, choosing to stay home and alone. But inspiration isn’t someone we can necessarily kidnap. She’s the friend who comes to visit on her own terms with colors in her hand.
So I put the pencils away, the post-its back where they belonged, and I got on the couch under a mountain of blankets without agendas or the anxiety to reproduce. I sat with Shauna because I liked to sit with Shauna.
And then, just before midnight… I felt it. Like an unexpected knock at the door. Or a gust of wind in the backyard.
Inspiration had arrived.