The 1% Inspiration, 99% Perspiration Myth (Debunked)

Remember this old line?

1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

It’s wrong.

Now, before you right me off, let me explain…

Thomas Edision was the dude who said it, and he was a pretty smart guy. His point is more about the principle of hard work. Without work, your ideas will be just that: only ideas. They must be crafted to completion.

This is a huge hurdle for many creatives. They may have an amazing idea, but they can’t seem to consistently do the work needed for their ideas to become realities. To make something great, hard work is always necessary. In fact, I firmly believe in a biblical understanding of work.

But there’s the catch: Biblical.

When I read the Bible, I see inspirational incentives everywhere for hard work. Joy is commanded in scripture and imperative for our perseverance in the faith. The most inspiring, creative being in all the cosmos, has told us to seek him for the reward of knowing him. (Hebrews 11)

The Bible thinks inspiration is pretty important and so should we. Should inspiration only get a measly 1%? I’m beginning to think that the popular expression above could be more harmful than helpful. Here’s why…

One reason so many creative people give up, is that they have perspired in all their creative endeavors until burn out got the best of them. Sadly, they end up with no inspiration driving them, and they lose their love for what they were once so passionate about.

Maybe an illustration will help:

The Perspiration Songwriting Coach

I’m sure you know someone like this. This is the dude who says you have to commit to sit down every day and write songs for an hour. Perhaps you’ve heard him say these words:

If you want to see any fruit in your songwriting, just be more disciplined. You’ll get there someday…

This kind of thinking also permeates our spiritual lives. It’s everywhere: Lay the thought of any pleasure aside and simply make the sacrifice.

Sweating out songs all day may get you a lot of songs, but they’ll probably all smell pretty bad too.

[tweet that!]

Here’s why you need to fire this coach:

Everyone knows the best coaches are inspirational. They bring out the best in the ones they coach. Yes, they challenge and push them to work harder, but it’s all rooted in inspiration. The reward of what the discipline will accomplish inspires the one being coached. No pain, no gain.

Inspiration and ideas are like the matches for your fire. You won’t have a very good fire without first having flame.

Or think of a car. It’s a silly illustration, but does a car run on 1% fuel and 99% everything else?

Here’s my point if I haven’t been clear already:

You need both. 100% inspiration, 100% perspiration. It’s true that without hard work, your ideas – born in inspiration – will only remain ideas. On the same token, with little to no inspiration, your hard work will leave you headed down the road to burn-out.

Please don’t become a sweaty, cranky old songwriter who no one wants to be around…

The Challenge

I can hear someone saying:

This is a little idealistic Nate. How can I possibly be 100% inspired all the time?

I’m glad you asked.

You’re not going to be inspired all the time. And you’re not going to be writing songs all the time either. Unless you follow the perspiration coach – but we’ve already covered why that’s a bad idea.

Here’s what you should do…

…Learn how to get really good at capturing and storing moments of inspiration. If you can do this, you’re all set. You can then chill out, knowing that when it’s time to do the hard work, you’ll have pre-recorded moments of inspiration waiting on you.

Need a good system for doing this? Here ya go

What I’m Not Saying

If you can write from a place of inspiration every day, then do it!

I’m not saying that regular discipline is a bad thing. Just make sure that you’re feeding on an equal amount of ideation and inspiration.

In most cases, unless you’re a professional songwriter who can write for hours everyday, it isn’t likely you’ll do this. Haven’t we all been there? You know the scenario: You don’t stay consistent, and soon you’re feeling bad about not writing enough.

Don’t get under that guilt. Seek inspiration first. And here’s what to do when it comes:

  1. Capture it
  2. Store it

After that, schedule a time to perspire all you want.

How often do you sit down to write?

Let us know in the comments below!