Journalism Notes: The Maturity of the Uninspired

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Chuck Close sharing finished work: Michael Danoff, Chuck Close, Donald Farnsworth, and Brad Pitt in front of Close’s 2009 tapestry portrait ‘Brad’ at PaceWildenstein, New York on May 1, 2009.

In the entrance of the Communication building, where I teach many of my classes on campus, is a quote from the artist Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

I love this, in large part because I am personally very familiar with the trap of waiting for the mood to strike. Got an article waiting to be revised and resubmitted? I’ll need that big uninterrupted chunk of time that never seems to come to concentrate. Got a lesson plan to work on? Maybe another cup of coffee will get those neurons firing so I can bring my A-game. Got a big stack of papers to grade? Right, I was just getting ready to stick sharp objects in my eyes, then I’m right on it!

Those of us in academe have chosen the life of the mind, so the romance of inspiration and the seduction of procrastination are occupational hazards we confront regularly. How many of us have returned to campus in the fall feeling like we had a productive summer, but we didn’t get as much done as we had planned?

I also would wager that any of us who teach in a “creative” discipline are very familiar with how enamored our students can be with inspiration as motivation. And how delicately we must disabuse them of this notion. “Sorry, no time to wait on the muse. We’ve got a deadline. Now send me that story!”

Aren’t we guilty of this in our spiritual lives, too? Need to pray for that friend who asked you to intercede for him? Right, Lord, it’s just that I’m really distracted right now by all these emails. Wanting to set aside time everyday to read scripture? Gee, maybe that’s too legalistic; I don’t want to just “go through the motions.” Been wondering where you should serve in the church? Well, I’m just not sure how my gifts and passions fit with the church’s needs right now.

Listen, when I ask my kids to do (or not do) something, I’m not looking to wait until they get inspired. I need them to do what I’ve told them to do. They don’t always—OK, they never really—feel like doing it. No problem, they can do it anyway.

I’m sure they don’t want to wait around until I’m inspired to love them. I always love them, even when I feel like my last nerve is about to go out. And I’m glad Jesus wasn’t waiting around for inspiration before he went to the cross because I’m pretty sure I’d be in big trouble. Instead, “not my will, but yours be done,” he prayed.

Inspiration is a beautiful thing. If you’re a musician, you’ve probably had times when new songs, or melodies, or rhythms just came to you. They flowed out in real time, and it was beautiful. But no doubt you’ve had many more times when you sat down to practice your scales, or your rudiments, or your vocal exercises, not because you were inspired, but because it was time to get to work.

1 Corinthians 3:9 tells us we are laborers together with God, and much of this work is of the mind and of the spirit. So much of being a mature Christian I think comes from doing what God calls us to do even when we don’t feel like it. We cannot wait for inspiration. That’s for amateurs.

Image Credit: Sotolux, Wikimedia Commons,

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Jeff Neely

Jeff Neely is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Tampa, where he teaches courses in newswriting, feature writing, multimedia journalism and literary journalism. His research has examined the role narrative and literary journalism can play in broadening our understanding of various issues and experiences life brings our way, from identity formation to environmental ethics. He has also studied how youth journalism programs, where young people tell their own stories and those of their peers, can help strengthen local communities. He is currently working with local non-profit outreach organizations to build a youth journalism program called Tampa Youth Voice. Prior to entering academe, Jeff worked as a writer and editor for various publications in and around the Tampa Bay area, as well as a case manager and resource development specialist for the Florida foster care system.

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