Monday, 2 July 2012

Be inspirational

I began this post after having lunch with one of my favourite poets, Clarissa Pabi. I am very lucky to spend my days in a city that has an absolutely bustling creative scene and a hub, The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, where you will almost always find someone creative doing something exciting any hour of the day or night. Clarissa is one of many wonderful creative people it’s been my privilege to meet in the past three years I always leave feeling a buzz in my head and a need and desire to go out and do something interesting, inventive or just plain different.

A week later, as I sit down to finish it, I have a very personal reason to talk about inspiration (which also explains why I have been, and will be for a week or so) absent from here. Last Monday, my mum lost her lengthy battle with cancer. She introduced me to the word Beatnik when I was about five, and it was her love of books, the wonderful tales of her travels across Europe in a Morris Minor van, and the way each new edition of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and Colette’s letters was a household event that set me on the insatiable writing path (those things and the old school desk my parents got me for my third birthday at which I sat scribbling in the middle of the night from my earliest memories). The day after she die it was my privilege to be able to perform a set of performance poetry in her memory at the night Full Fat at The Book Club in Shoreditch. This post is also in memory of her inspirational qualities.

“Surround yourself with inspirational people” is one of those truisms of the creative world. It’s how collectives come together, how vague perceptions are refined through the polish of another person’s perspective, how we find ourselves challenged and inflamed with enthusiasm to do the things that would otherwise remain the vaguest of dreams, how diverse ideas bounce off each other, the friction creating a heat that cooks them into delicious creative recipes, how – at the bottom line – new movements are formed.

Before I’m accused of adding yet another page to the extrovert’s charter, consider what originally gave you your love of the arts. Most of us can point to someone who pointed us in the right direction, however gently and however long ago. I have been blessed with a life filled with inspirational people, from my mum through to people I work with now like Clarissa.

But my point here isn’t about how to draw inspiration, or how to make your artistic journey smoother by surrounding yourself with “the right people” (however important those things are). My point is the unquantifiable debt we owe our inspirations. Without those inspirational figures we would never have set out on the path we love. The way we can best repay that debt is simple. Be inspirational.

What does that mean? Well, it’s as indefinable as being spectacular, of course. But like being spectacular it’s a mindset that we can all aspire to and adopt. Think back again. We are surrounded every day by people enmeshed in the world of arts and letters. What is it that made the few who inspired you stand out?

Ever one to look for alliteration where none exists in nature, the following five things feel like a good place to start.

  • Enthusiasm – it’s infectious, almost epidemiologically catching. Do you love literature? Really love it?  Let it show!
  • Encouragement – those who inspire us are always looking for ways they can support others. They often have an uncanny knack of seeing beyond the one who shouts loudest in a group, seeing what it is that burns unseen, even unnoticed, in the quiet kid at the back of the class, making a line straight for them and helping it catch fire. See a glimmer of interest in someone? Don’t say “that’s nice?” or even walk on by. Stop and figure out what you can do to help it burn brighter.
  • Enjoyment – it seems obvious but it’s something we forget so often. One of the main reasons we do things we see others doing is that we see just how much fun they’re having. There will be times when the last thing you feel like doing is tapping anything on the keyboard. I know that all too well, and I know how important it is to vent sometimes. But some writers seem to make a virtue out of grumbling at every turn. There are times we need to keep those conversations among friends because, after all, if we didn’t at a deep underlying level love what we do, we wouldn’t do it.
  • Energy – I’m not talking about tweeting 100 times an hour or generally being one of those always bright and breezy smiling people who thinks the world is always one long cocktail. It’s more a question of giving what time you have. People who inspire us are just as susceptible to depression and the vicissitudes of life as the rest of us – it’s what they do with the time they have that matters.
  • Engagement – this is pretty much where I started with this blog and it’s still the most important thing. Speak to people, and not just to tell them what you’ve done now. Take an interest in what they do, listen, respond to their comments.

Of course not everyone can do all of those things. And certainly not all the time. But when we are able, then we should put this right at the top of our priority list. It’s the least we owe the people who got us started.


  1. I'll do my best, Dan - as long as I can take time off occasionally, and curl up with a book!

  2. Thanks Dan, you inspired me to put a story up on my blog today to check it out. You are up there in my all time top 3 'inspirational' folks. And you're the only one of them I've never met! Virtual inspiration is just as valid though.

  3. Jo - it would be impossible to do anything without being able to curl up with a book

    Cally - love the story and hope you have wonderful fish tonight (I'm looking forward to some smoked mackerel pate) - and many of my inspirations (you included) are virtual - even those I've met were virtual inspirations a long time before (see this post on Sabina England)

  4. Hi Dan, came to have a nose over here after seeing your comment on the Not The Booker Prize comment.
    Great post.
    I bet Brian Harvey wishes he had these five Es instead the 20-odd he took that night.
    Very inspiring! Liz x

  5. I so nearly mentioned Brian with all them Es!