Do you believe in inspiration? I do.
I’m using “inspiration” to mean a thought coming to you suddenly, appearing fully formed in your brain without having to think about it or do anything to put it there. In that sense, it happens to me all the time. But first, a caveat. I suspect we tend to think of “inspiration” as a large thought, like an entire story, or the idea for a novel, or something great that’s going to win us the Pulitzer Prize. It’s unrealistic to think of inspiration only in terms of “large” ideas. It can come in many sizes. For example, a few weeks ago I suddenly got the idea for a short story as I lay awake early one morning before getting up. Visions, pictures, characters, the works. When I did rise, I went into my office and made some notes, then later wrote those notes into part of a short story. Importantly, it was only part of a story. The inspiration wasn’t enough to make a complete story, and I’ll have to work on that later. That kind of inspiration does happen, but only occasionally.
But there’s more to inspiration than the sudden blast of visionary light that illuminates a great story or tale. Inspiration can come in smaller doses, too. For example, while revising a novel, I’ve frequently come to a stopping point, a place in the narrative where I can’t go on, usually because I’m trying to resolve a discrepancy. An inspiration may occur (I say “may,” though it always has so far), that allows me to iron out the problem. It may take a sentence, a paragraph, or a full section of a chapter, but I can see my way through the problem. Even a lot of the sentences in this essay came that way.
And yet, inspiration can be tiny, as small as one word. One lousy word that makes the difference between a sentence that works and a sentence that doesn’t. Sitting in front of a computer screen, hands poised over the home keys, brain swirling like a blender making a milk shake (I could use a good chocolate shake about now), the word simply appears in my mind. That’s a form of inspiration. It happens all the time. (If it doesn’t appear, I get out the thesaurus. That happens a lot, too.)
I maintain that things like that happen to all of us, writers or not. We all have “aha” moments which suddenly bring to a conclusion a troubling situation in every aspect of our lives. As writers, we see them most often in our work because that’s where most of our problems lie, but they happen everywhere. Portions of daily life can be so frustratingly tedious that problems never develop, and during those times we aren’t using our minds to their full capacity. We’re all so used to seeing the little “aha” moments, but because they happen so often, we may not recognize them. But it’s important to realize that every tiny “aha” moment has something in common with the vision of a fully formed novel in our mind one morning when we wake up.
Interestingly, the way ideas suddenly appear in our brain probably tells us something about how our brain works, but I’ll leave that to the neuroscientists.