Where artistic inspiration comes from

How do prolific artists create so often? Where do they source their ideas from?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was off on a beach vacation with his family. Midway, he stopped his car and turned around. For two decades, he had been trying hard to formulate a tale of a large family in a small village. Now, he could see it spring to life before him. “It was so ripe in me,” he would later recount, “that I could have dictated the first chapter, word by word, to a typist.”

Stephen King talks about the source for his own ideas, and how they come out of nowhere:

“There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky… Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

But what does this mean for artists everywhere? Does inspiration only strike a gifted few people?

King’s quote implies that everybody is an artist. Everybody’s brain is wired in a unique manner to observe patterns and formulate ideas. The artist’s job isn’t to look for ideas, but learn to acknowledge them when they appear. Everybody has access to ideas, but the best artists among us translate those bursts of inspiration into art through tens of thousands of hours of practice.

Further, we realize that our ideas are handed to us by forces we do not consciously control.  There is humility in realizing that “our best ideas happen to us”, rather than having the notion that “we come up with our best ideas.”

What is gifted to us is inspiration, personified by authors as their “muse”. What is in our grasp is our practice. Our work. Here’s Stephen King again, talking about the relationship between the two.

“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor… He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.”

Ask not where new inspiration ought to come from. Ask what you have done with it thus far.

Inspiration: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

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