It’s time to reveal another trade secret — and, hopefully, some insights that could prove useful in newspaper journalism, writing fiction and other noble pursuits. The moral of my latest story? The importance of NOT waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s a cautionary tale.
I arrived at this subject after wandering again in what I envision as the desert of my mind. It’s a wasteland in there, one where no novel thought grows. That’s problematic, especially for an aspiring mystery novelist.
There’s this hopeful belief that somewhere out there in the universe awaits a source of inspiration. When I worked at an agricultural journal in Oregon, I used to joke with a newsroom colleague about sharing the muse when weekly deadlines loomed. “Aren’t you done yet?” I’d ask her with the same urgency as someone waiting outside a locked bathroom door. “Hurry up. I’ve got to go … write a story.”
You know what? I’ve yet to find the mythical Pierian spring that inspires whoever drinks its waters. And none of the muses has ever offered to lend a hand. Not once. They’re fickle that way.
That’s the thing about inspiration. You can’t wait for it — at least if you expect to ever accomplish anything. If I’ve learned anything in more than 40 years of writing to earn a living, it’s the fact you can’t force inspiration. Try it and see what happens. Go ahead. Open a file on your computer. Better yet, pull out a blank sheet of paper. It’s counter productive.
If it does occur, inspiration is far more likely to drop by when you least expect it — to come in like fog on little cat feet. Think “Back to the Future” and how Dr. Emmett Brown slipped while hanging a clock in his bathroom, hit his head on the sink and conceived of the idea for the flux capacitor that makes time travel possible.
The alternative in the meantime? Work your butt off and hope for the best. The prolific inventor Thomas Edison knew well the proportionality involved in describing genius as 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. By the way, Edison also said most people fail to recognize opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work.
The most important thing of all about inspiration isn’t so much where it comes from or when, but what you do about it. It’s difficult enough to come up with good ideas. For heaven’s sake don’t waste any of them.
I wasn’t initially inspired to write about inspiration. But now that I have, I’m glad I did. I can only hope you are, too.