Inspiration with Minimal Effort

Inspiration with Minimal Effort: How To Make Better Content Through Self-Reflection and Content Consumption

For any creative endeavor, the conversations about motivation and inspiration seem to always go hand in hand. Without inspiration, motivation can be easily lost, as creators might feel that they’ve lost a sense of direction. Inspiration is the lighthouse that guides wayward ships towards a destination that’s both fulfilling personally and outwardly, and it organically fuels motivation. What if I told you that inspiration is all around you and that, just by asking yourself a few questions, you might actually learn a lot about the whys and hows of the decisions creators make? In this article, I’m going to share with you some of these questions with the hope that you can see the activities you indulge in as a source of unlimited inspiration - a well that never runs dry.

Infinite inspiration as the stars in the sky. We’ll get you there.

Why We Should Venture Beyond Our Genre

The best place to start with finding inspiration is to do some self-reflection. More specifically, we will be identifying every single hobby or activity that we indulge in that is not the primary subject matter of our channel. For example, if you’re making videos about video games, then we won’t be thinking about any videos about video games during this process. The reason for this is simple: this forces us to think outside the box and to not copy what other people are doing in the same field as us. To understand why we’re doing this, I’m going to give you a couple of examples by first talking about one man: Shigeru Miyamoto.

If the name is unfamiliar to you, Shigeru Miyamoto is best known as the creator of some of the most critically acclaimed and best selling video game franchises of all time: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. and Starfox, to name a few. It’s important to bring him up because as well known as he is in video gaming, Miyamoto readily admits that he spends very little time playing video games. So how does this lifetime achievement award winner able to create these experiences if he rarely engages with other games in his medium?

When asked about his inspiration for his games, Miyamoto would regale interviewers with stories of how, as a child, he didn’t have any toys and made his own out of wood and string. In many of these retellings, he would often credit his early days as a young spelunker, exploring caves as a child, for the inspiration for both Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. While these stories might sound like the stuff of legends, Miyamoto has never been shy to share the inspirations of his work.

In fact in many of his later interviews, Miyamoto would continue to talk about his games and what inspired him to make them. A couple of my personal favorites include how, while gardening, Miyamoto came upon the idea for a game just by asking simple questions based on his observations:

"Ants, as you know, always have a leader, and tend to be carrying things, and as they move they create a kind of rail," he says. "And I started thinking about a game about lots of small people carrying things in a line, following a leader, with everyone going in the same direction."

Pikmin was inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto’s gardening

This inquiry led to Miyamoto creating the game Pikmin, a unique take on real-time strategy game genre and another hit Nintendo franchise. He’s also been quoted in saying that one of the inspirations for the game Nintendogs, a dog simulator for the DS, was born from when him and his family went and got a dog.

As I am mostly familiar with video game designers, this next example shouldn’t be a surprise to you: Will Wright. Will Wright is mostly known for his time at Maxis, creating simulation games like SimCity, SimEarth, and SimAnt to name a few. But what he is mostly known for is the critically acclaimed and million-selling franchise The Sims. But do you happen to know what the inspiration for his game was? You’d be surprised:

Will Wright’s home was one of the first to burn in the Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm. His quick thinking in fleeing without delay probably saved his life, and that of his first wife and immediate neighbors whom he took with him.

About a week later, Wright returned in a police car to see what was left of his home. Wright discovered that the loss of his possessions did not overly affect him. “The interesting part was to find out that I wasn’t really that attached to much,” he says. “I started assessing my material needs: a toothbrush, underwear, a car, a house… I was surprised how I didn’t miss stuff. The fact we got out and none of our family was hurt seemed so much more important.”

The Sims had its genesis right there, as Wright went through his inventory of needs — as he “tried to reacquire a life”.

The Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm, Will Right’s inspiration for The Sims.

Yes, The Sims was inspired by a tragedy that happened in Will Wright’s life. At the time, he wouldn’t have known that the game he was about to work on was going to survive beyond the closure of the studio he built. But much like Miyamoto’s personal experiences informed his designs, so too did the events in Will Wright’s life.

Self-Reflection: What Do You Like, Why Do You Like It?

As talked about in the previous section, it’s really important to recognize moments of inspiration in everything we do because you never know how you’ll apply it in the future. Inspiration doesn’t have to be an “Ah-hah!” moment either. It could be as simple as identifying what you like, why you like it, and what you can steal from it. More on the latter later.

To use myself as an example, I’m primarily a gaming content creator. While I play a lot of video games, I’ve made a conscious decision of not gathering inspiration from them. Why? Because other content creators focusing on the same subject matter will do so as well, not to mention the fact that thinking about the same subject matter endlessly will lead you to burn out.

Instead, I started thinking about all the media that I indulge in besides video games: watching movies, TV shows, and listening to audiobooks. Choose one of the media you consume so we can break it down into smaller pieces. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use a TV show as my example.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s a comedy about a cop, played by Andy Samberg, and the precinct he works for. What really struck me the most about the show isn’t just the comedy and delivery, but also how the opening titles looked:

Whenever you encounter something you really like in the media you’re consuming, ask yourself which parts of them struck you the most. Sometimes, I actually let TV show episodes I watch simmer for a few days in my brain, then revisit and think what I remember the best. Those are usually the important ones to remember! These images struck me, but I hadn’t yet realized why. So I asked some key questions:

  • What (if any) is the goal of this?

  • Why do they appeal to me so much?

Let’s tackle each question individually:

  • What (if any) is the goal of this?

    The purpose of these images is to introduce these actors to an audience that may or may not know them. From here, we can ask even further questions like:

    • How did they choose to accomplish this goal?

Since we already have the question in mind, let’s answer it:

  • How did they choose to accomplish this goal?

By highlighting their names and what they look like.

If you think the answers to these questions seem simple, that’s because they are. That said, we’re building a foundation for you to understand the why question we’ll be asking next. On that note, let’s ask that:

  • Why do they appeal to me so much?

    In order to answer this question, we should look at the answers we put down in the previous question for help. We know that highlighting their names and what they look like is how they accomplished their goal. Can we actually dive deeper into that? Let’s take a look at the two images again for good measure and see if we can further explain what they’re doing here:

Notice that the background color shares the same color hue as the line that’s going across the images and that the actors are in full color while the text for their names is white. This creates a huge contrast and allows the actors and the text to “pop up” from the monotony caused by the color.

Let’s recap:

In order to gain inspiration from the media we consume, we need to ask ourselves these questions:

  1. In what I’m watching/listening, what did I like the most?

  2. Why do I like them?
    To answer this question, we break the question down into two parts:

    1. What (if any) is the goal of this?
      To help answer this question, we additionally asked:

      1. How did they accomplish this goal?

    2. Why do they appeal to me so much?
      To help answer this question, we look at our answers from the previous question and dive even deeper into how it’s created.

Keep in mind that while we approached asking these questions in a focused manner that we can train ourselves subconsciously to ask these questions while we’re consuming media. It’s a great way to ensure that we keep what we like in our head so that we can continually examine what makes that piece so appealing to us personally.

By now however, you’re probably thinking why we need all this information. The reason why we went through this process of examination is so that we can make sure that we’re not only making content that we can truly be proud of (by making sure we’re inspired by something we truly like), but by also understanding why we like it so we can steal these ideas and implement them onto our own creations.

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

There have been variances to this quote over the centuries, but do you understand what it truly means? Also, isn’t it bad to steal? While we’re not going to go into a philosophical discussion as to the definition of stealing, maybe we can update the phrase to match our modern standards:

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Iterate

Many content creators have a habit of thinking, “Since that person is able to do what they’re doing this way, I can do it too!” Instead of putting their own spin on things, they copy - plagiarize - what others are doing with absolutely no understanding of why it works for that person and that person uniquely. And while you can copy something really well, the kinds of content you’d be making might feel derivative or worse - to utilize an overused word - “unoriginal.”

The reason why we went through the exercise we did in the previous section - and, I’m hoping, that you’ll condition yourself to keep asking these questions as you consume more media in the future - is to understand why you, not other people, like the things you consume to better identify your strengths and how you can apply what you learned by gleaning over things you like. In order to better understand this, let’s use the example in the previous section and steal the ideas from them.

Let’s look at those images again. Can you tell I really like these images?

By asking the questions we did, we identified some key factors as to why these images work:

  • We know that they have high contrast that makes the actors pop

  • The text is so vibrant that you just can’t miss it

  • These are used to introduce ideas that may or may not be known to the viewer

Where can we apply this knowledge towards? The obvious answer would be intro sequences, as it is an opening sequence to a TV show. But let’s do one better.


If you’ve already read the wonderful tutorials on this site about thumbnails, you’ve probably known that a lot of the things we came up with our self-reflection are actual best practices when it comes to designing thumbnails. Yes, you probably didn’t need to have re-learned about the process again in this article, but now you understand why they adhere to said best practices to begin with. Better yet, you arrived at the same conclusion on your own just by examining these points yourself!

Going back to the thumbnails I’ve created, notice that I didn’t copy exactly what the inspirations were doing. That’s what you call iterating upon an idea. This means taking an already existing idea and creating something that is even better thanks to your understanding of the purpose and reason behind how the images are portrayed. In other words, it’s figuring out how that idea makes sense within your channel and, by proxy, yourself so that it makes sense with what you’re making.

Before I end this article, I’d like you to do an exercise of looking back at every bit of media you’ve consumed and identifying which parts or segments really strike you and why you like them. Open up a word processor and, using this article, do a deep dive and try to understand why those worked for you. If it’s a really good action scene from a movie, ask yourself why it’s so awesome. Was it because of the choreography? Was it because of the editing? Or how about a song that you’re listening to. Ask yourself if there’s a specific section that resonates with you more than the rest. What parts of it could be better? Are there any sections of it that don’t belong?

Some people say that we are our own worst critic. By doing this constantly, I believe that you’ll be able to think creatively and maybe even discover some hidden talents along the way that will satisfy your growth as a content creator.


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