Hello, SE community! Gwen with you today. For my debut post, I’ve decided to focus on a topic dear to most writers—inspiration. Have you ever wondered about that elusive flash of insight that stimulates our imagination? I’m going to try to unravel this mysterious experience, and as a first step, we’ll visit a museum.
Within most galleries, there are benches upon which the weary rest and aficionados gaze. The tired person might appear distracted, but the art enthusiast stares transfixed at the painting. These admirers seem lost in the world of the artist, even oblivious of the folks who crisscross in front of them. (Photo below by Steve Tokar)
It seems that when awe fills us, inspiration follows. For instance, when I look at the Prince of Peace by then eight-year-old Akiane Kramarik or Sea by Eduard Tomek, I travel to another time and place. With each of these paintings, I’m spellbound. How is it possible that a child can paint such a portrait, or an artist capture the fury of the sea? The passion in either painting is palpable and evokes our own, but how? (Photos from Pinterest)
In a similar way, music, dance, and meditation can shift our awareness. We can become so absorbed in the moment that we let go of our busy-thinking-world and enter another realm. For example, I’ve linked two popular songs, one by John Lennon and the other by Israel Kamakawiwo. If you are like me, these songs draw you into that special space.
The written word, like all forms of art, can also be a source of inspiration.
One such example is Where the Crawdads Sing by author Delia Owens. This book has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for over 100 weeks. Astonishing, right? When asked about her inspiration, Owens mentions ordinary experiences—loneliness, life and death, relationships, and more. Through everyday happenings, she introduces the infinite common ground shared by all. Readers mention this very fact in reviews and interviews. They feel she speaks to the deepest part of themselves.
Psychologist Carl Jung termed this experience of the universal, the collective unconscious. He explained that the collective unconscious contains the timeless aspects of the human experience. It is what feeds inspiration.
Writers naturally reach into this collective realm. An overheard conversation, a bird perched on a windowsill, a memory unlocked by circumstance, the most common experience can trigger the imagination. When it does, writers often sink into the experience and enter a collective inspired space.
Below are a few examples of what I consider to be inspired writing:
“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” — Author Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” — Author Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind — wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.” — Author Toni Morrison, Beloved
Flashes of inspiration can feel other-worldly, even irresistible. We may shiver, we may not understand, but we are always drawn out of ourselves and into another realm—a transcendental world of shared legends and heroes, of good and bad, of myths and symbols, and more. Inspiration takes us there and draws readers to us because, from this collective, we are on common ground. It is then that the dance between writer and reader begins.
How about you? What evokes inspiration in you?