Spontaneous combustion is "a type of combustion which occurs by self-heating (increase in temperature due to exothermic internal reactions), followed by thermal runaway (self heating which rapidly accelerates to high temperatures) and finally, autoignition."
Those who subscribe to the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion believe that the fire starts from within the body, without any external causes of ignition (I ended up unnecessarily looking at some really nasty pictures while researching this).
Inspiration is not like spontaneous human combustion. It's not a phenomenon and it doesn't come from somewhere inside. Inspiration is a fire that you build.
I had this thought the other day while reading one of Gary Bencivenga's copywriting lessons. According to Gary, “writer’s block” is just a symptom of a rather easily cured malady—'LRS', or Lazy Research Syndrome."
Skeptical of this assertion, I scanned over my memories of writing. The times when it came easily, the times when it was the most painful, the times when I was proud of the results, and the times when I didn't want to sign my name. Sure enough, every painful writing drudgery was marked by a feeling of trying, and failing, to turn straw into gold. Some of my most agonizing college papers felt like scraping too little idea butter across way too much word bread, and they read that way too (though this had absolutely no effect on my perfect grades).
On the other end of the spectrum, my most exciting and effortless writing experiences have felt like natural reactions to an abundance of exciting information. Like my brain got hit by one of those tiny swinging office balls and my reaction was to write. Even when doing activities outside writing, like making music or crafting designs, my creative success has almost always been directly proportionate to the amount of information that I'd collected and engaged with.
As much as I'd like to think that I was born an artist and everything I create has sprouted from my inherent creative genius, my most interesting thoughts are reactionary and my best work has resulted from big-time nerding out.
The implications of this realization are huge. If inspiration is simply what happens when our thoughts collide with other thoughts at the right angle, it means that we have complete control over our inspiration, and consequently over our creative ability.
If observations and ideas are flint and steel, and inspiration is a spark that starts a blaze, then the act of creating is more about flicking a trusty lighter and less about staring at your workspace and yelling "Flame on!".
To take this metaphor farther than it should probably go, I'm in the business of engineering lighters. Also, a flamethrower would be nice (the metaphor is completely broken now).