Archimedes had his Eureka moment in a bath and Sir Isaac Newton when musing in an orchard. Albert Einstein had his when sitting in a railway carriage. He saw another train leave and wondered which was actually moving. How often have you or I done this? And yet we never formulated the Theory of Relativity.
I sometimes wonder about the things which inspired writers. Did Shakespeare meet a man from Denmark while walking with his son, Hamnet? Did Dickens get his pocket picked and think of the Artful Dodger? Did Herman Melville see a goldfish in a bowl and conceive of Moby-Dick?
Whatever the factor, all writers are inspired to write by something. It may have been something grand. It may have been the sudden epiphany moment which James Joyce writes about. It may have been small, like when I watched Ridley Scott’s film ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ I shook my head at the scene when Balian of Ibelin knighted commoners to help defend Jerusalem against Saladin. What a typical piece of Hollywood fiction, I thought. As soon as I got home I read about the siege and was astonished to see that Balian actually took this desperate measure. He did the unthinkable and knighted ordinary men.
And then came my moment of inspiration. I wondered what would happen to those ordinary men after their services were no longer required. What would happen to people who were elevated above their normal station in life? This little question led to my novel, ‘Outcasts.’
The concept is intimately connected with that of the Muse. There were any number of Muses in ancient time but all seemed to occupy the place between the gods and humanity. They could be said to be the bridge between the sacred and the mundane. Not a bad metaphor for when we’re beginning to do something creative.
Inspiration, then, is an idea from nowhere, the little question in the back of the mind, the rumble of thunder on the horizon. As we get older we get really good at ignoring these insights. If we are wiser, or wish to be more creative, we try to view them in a child-like manner. We seek to capture them as if they are daffodil seeds floating on the breeze. Capture them but never squeeze too hard. They are easily squashed.
It seems to me that inspiration strikes most often when we let our guard down, when we’re open to the world, to the casual idea, the overheard remark. The best ideas sneak up on us in a playful manner and if we don’t pay attention to them they are likely to sulk and run away.
Once I have my inspiration I usually run with it, lying down and staring at the sky or ceiling. More often than not it sticks around to play and together we conjure up further ideas and insights. I fall into a rather dreamy state and lots of ideas rush at each other, colliding, interacting and suggesting new combinations. I find it best to always have a notebook nearby for it is in the nature of inspiration to be as light as a cloud, ephemeral and easily forgotten.
Sometimes, however, inspiration needs a little prod. In the next post I’ll talk about how to encourage your mind to be creative and how to nurture inspiration.
And what about you? I’d love to hear from you about inspiration and how it strikes you.
- Seven Stages of Writing (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)