Looking for Inspiration? Let it find you.

The following is a guest post By Tess Callahan.  Her bio follows.   

In her thrilling TED Talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius” (see below),  writer Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE and BIG MAGIC, describes an interview with the poet Ruth Stone. Gilbert, insatiably curious about the roots of inspiration, asked Stone where her poems come from. Stone described her early experience working in the fields in rural Virginia and hearing a poem coming at her across the landscape like a “thunderous train of air.”

When she felt inspiration barreling down on her this way, she had no choice but to run like hell for the house for paper and pen. If she was not quick enough, the poem would continue across the landscape without her, looking for another poet. On some occasions Stone nearly missed the poem, but was able to snatch it by the tail, reel it back in, and transcribe it on the page perfectly intact, but in reverse.

Great ideas, whether Ruth Stone’s poetry, Elon Musk’s Tesla car or a Marie Curie’s groundbreaking scientific discoveries, are out there waiting to be found. They offer themselves not to the highest bidder, but to the most industrious and attentive one.

carpe diem pixy

April & Oliver

My first novel, APRIL & OLIVER, took ten years and many drafts to write. A second novel, currently in a drawer awaiting a fresh look, took five years. My third novel came to me in Ruth Stone fashion. I looked over my shoulder, saw it hurtling toward me out of the blue, and lifted my mitt just in time. A miracle, since I am a bad catch! Though it is significantly longer than my previous books, I wrote the first draft in less than a year. It came in one massive download, my only job to get it on paper before it escaped.

Ruth Stone, Elon Musk and Marie Curie surely had periods of trial and error, countless hours honing their skills and their imaginations. On their way to mastery, they no doubt clocked the 10,000 hours of hard practice discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, OUTLIERS. But in the course of this apprenticeship, they did not mire themselves in pre-conceived ideas of what they were after. Their minds were simultaneously focused and nimble, open enough to spot unexpected ideas awaiting discovery.

Inviting Inspiration

Throwing your doors open to inspiration—whether professional, artistic, scientific or whatever—requires two steps:

  1. Hunker down, hone your skills and put in your 10,000+ hours of hard-core practice. And I mean hard-core. Employ as many constraints as possible. Be like Steph Curry, the best 3-point shooter in NBA history, who rather than rest on his laurels, continues to practice with multiple mind-boggling constraints, such as vision-impairing goggles and multiple balls. If you decide you have ‘arrived’ and no longer need to improve your skills, inspiration will look for someone hungrier.
  1. At the same time that you are hunkered down, straighten up and look around. Be aware of your peripheral vision. Though bent over her hoe in that rural Virginia field, Ruth Stone kept an ear out for that “thunderous burst of air” that fueled her poems. Don’t let the static of your inner chatter cut off your awareness. You never know what crazy, unexpected ideas may be careering your way. Keep your mitt open to make the catch.


Tess Callahan

Tess Callahan is the author of the novel APRIL & OLIVER published by Grand Central Publishing (USA), Random House (UK), and by publishers in Italy and The Netherlands. Her short work has appeared in AGNI (Pushcart Prize nomination), Narrative MagazineThe New York Times MagazineNational Public Radio’s “Three Books” series, The Best American Poetry blog and the BEST LITTLE BOOK CLUB IN TOWN anthology. She is presently putting final touches on a new novel written in response to her TEDx Talk on creativity. Tess coordinates the Creative Writing Program at Newark Academy in New Jersey and created the website Muse-feed.com, a toolbox for aspiring writers. You can find more information about her work at tesscallahan.com. Follow Tess on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter @tesscallahan.


Images via pixabay.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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