When inspiration strikes

Finding inspiration from a sunset somewhere over the North Atlantic, way out at sea

I’m just back from a summer vacation that has engendered seething jealousy from friends and colleagues alike.  The jealousy stems in part from what several have called its “inspiration” value.  And based on the story I told you last time, I should have my next book completely outlined with loads of snippets of narrative and dialogue in my little purple Moleskine notebook.

Inspiration it was – but I’m not quite ready to write yet – historical fiction requires more than an inspirational story line – it takes significant and detailed research.  We’ll get to that research process, but today I am fixated on the notion of inspiration.

In medical terms, inspiration means breathing in ad breathing out.  In a way, artistic inspiration is the same.  The writer (or choreographer, or painter or even corporate  strategist for that matter) has a sudden burst of creativity – the genesis of that moment might not even be discernable at the time.  We don’t always know the source of our inspiration in the moment.  We know only that something has triggered action.  So in a way, it’s like breathing in and breathing out – the creative fodder is breathed in, and the creative output is breathed out. Over the years, however, various creative individuals have had differing takes on just what it means to be inspired.

Leonard Bernstein said this: “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time…The wait is simply too long.”  Lesson 1: Don’t just sit back and wait for the muse to strike. Find ways to seek inspiration in the meantime.  I found this writer’s blog entry that has a laundry list of things to do to fill that gap between sudden bursts of creativity.

Picasso’s approach to the creative process is echoed by many other artists: “Inspiration exists,” he once said, “but it has to find us working.”  Lesson 2: Just get down to work.  Write about anything around you and eventually, the creative muse will strike and you’ll be inspired either to trash everything or to use it in new and innovative ways.

A glass of champagne aboard the Queen Mary 2 is an inspiration in itself!

American businessman Nolan Bushnell has been quoted as saying that “the ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”  Lesson 3: Set deadlines and stick to them.  Better yet, have someone else set them for you.  Try this:  tell your significant other or someone whose feedback on your writing you actually appreciate, and tell him or her that you’ll have a few chapters to be read in two weeks.  Even that kind of a deadline is inspirational.  Then, when you have a deadline from a publisher, you’ll know how to seek inspiration from knowing it has to get done.

So, here’s what I’m up to: I’m looking at my vacation photos and seeing what stories they hold for me.  I’m writing about a number of things in several different genres. I’m doing research on two new ideas.  I’ve told my husband that he’ll have a few more chapters for him to read in two weeks.

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6 Comments

  1. Oh, the sun. That’s always inspiring. (Notice how it’s the same colour as champagne.) I think that sometime getting outside of yourself, like a strong yoga session or a nice walk in the woods, helps clear the mind for inspiration to take hold. It’s that way for me anyway, but I usually only write scholarly work. From your experience, is it different across the various genres?

    1. It’s funny how there is such cross-over. I’ve been inspired by academic articles to write something creative; creative work of others has also engendered questions that only a more scholarly approach could answer. Thinking…or on the other hand meditative non-thinking…seeds all kinds of approaches, I think.

      Non-thinking = for me is mindful meditation.

      Thinking = for me is putting pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) to map out visually, ideas as they come.

      Have you ever tried the software called “Inspiration”? Appropriate to this discussion.

      1. I’ve never tried Inspiration, but I’ll have a look. Thanks.

        I think it’s important to emphasize that non-thinking results in thinking. So often, many of us who think of ourselves as high achievers think that to go, go, go will result in, well, results. In fact, it’s when I do the conscious non-thinking that real results occur.

        Did you see this article in the Globe and Mail this weekend? I thought of you while reading it: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/a-world-elsewhere-by-wayne-johnston/article2128173/

  2. A great suggestion about setting deadlines for creative writing. I’m not sure if deadlines have brought about my “best” writing but they have certainly encouraged me to “abandon” papers / projects that won’t seem to end otherwise. Although most of my writing has been for work or school, I have also always maintained a journal. Scribbled in the margins of more than a few pages are ideas for stories…maybe I should set a deadline to do something with these notes-to-self? 🙂

    I hope all is well.

    Heather.

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