I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.
Peter de Vries
When was the last time you decided to be inspired? Not hoped to, fretted for, or pined over. Decided!
Creative types often foster the impression that their works come from some mystical place only a chosen few will ever know. Musicians, artists, poets, and authors talk about their muse or as Stephen King so aptly puts it “the boys in the basement”. The impression left to the rest of us mere mortals is that these select ones have been given a secret passcode to a magical orchard where inspiration waits hanging like overripe plums just waiting to be picked.
Adding to this myth is the fact people with creative minds have indeed often found their ideas in the most unlikely places. More than one famous author woke from a dream with a story idea already in full bloom.
Back to Stephen King and the spontaneous inspiration myth grows. In the case of Misery, King describes falling asleep on an airplane and having a dream about a fan kidnapping her favorite author and holding him hostage. When he awoke, King was so anxious to capture the story of his dream that he sat at the airport and frantically wrote the first 40-50 pages of the novel. Misery became a best-seller that inspired a successful movie and earned Kathy Bates and Oscar.
“I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back.” – Stephen King
Or how about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Robert Louis Stevenson had a dream about a doctor with split personality disorder and woke up gripped by a creative frenzy. Stevenson quickly documented the scenes from his dream and then went on to finish the entire manuscript in an astounding ten days, from the moment he woke up from his dream.
Lest you think the “inspiration out of nowhere” legend belongs only to writers of all things strange and troubling, consider the writing habits of Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon always kept a note pad by his bed for those times he awoke in the middle of night with a sermon idea. His faithful wife took notes for the London pastor on at least occasion as he mumbled a complete sermon outline in his sleep.
But did these ideas fall off an inspiration tree into the lucky hands of snoozing writers of horror and powerful men of God? Read further about their lives and habits and you will discover the truth is quite the opposite. King is a prolific writer, pounding out millions of words across his career. He is quick to confess, there are far more of those words in the trash than on the shelves at Barnes and Nobles.
And the pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave his Master plenty to work with even when he was asleep. Spurgeon never went to college but read thousands of books before his death. He almost single-handedly reminded the world of the Puritans and others whose writings were quickly becoming forgotten. Throughout the week he would fill his mind and heart with Scripture and the writings of learned and inspired men who had come before him. Then on Saturday night, he would close his study door and furiously jot down his notes for the next morning.
The lesson is this; as Jack London put it, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club”. Dreamers are people who wait for inspiration to tap them on the shoulder and then lead the way. Visionaries are people who go looking for it. And when they don’t have any, they keep on doing what they already know until they can hunt more inspiration down.
But don’t think it’s just writers and artists who need to learn this lesson. No inspiration for spending time teaching your children? Grab a club and go looking for it. Sleepwalking through your spiritual life hoping something will motivate you to service? You’ve got to be kidding! Open your eyes, clean out your ears, and keep on doing what you already know. Do that and the inspiration will come.
In fact – perhaps that IS the inspiration.