“Back in the early ’70s, University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman was searching for a design for a new kind of track shoe for his star runners. Legend has it that one morning while he was mulling ideas for a high-performance sole, his wife served him a plate of waffles for breakfast. Suddenly, he envisioned a slab of rubber pressed in a waffle iron.
This was the creation of the famous waffle-pattern sole, which in turn became the initial spark for the world’s greatest sports footwear and apparel corporation — Nike. To this day, Mrs. Bowerman’s rubberized waffle iron is displayed prominently at the Nike Town super-store/museum in Chicago.”
Doug Hall, Jump Start Your Brain (Warner Books)
All of which just goes to show that you never know where inspiration will come from. Since this is the case, it seems clear that the most promising approach you can take is to be as open to ideas as a sponge is to water.
Just consider the events or incidents that triggered some writers to pen great novels. William Faulkner was inspired to write one of his books by a single image: a girl up in a tree. Proust’s inspiration for his monumental work, Remembrance of Things Past, was a fateful bite into a madeleine cookie. A trip by Willa Cather to the Southwest led to her wonderful and haunting novel, The Professor’s House.
So often in my own life, a seemingly chance encounter has sent me off on a writing adventure. I first came across Sojourner Truth, the amazing African-American evangelist, when I happened to pick up a children’s book about her life in a used bookstore in upstate New York. I had never heard of her in school or college, but once I read that book, I became fascinated by her story and obsessed with the idea of bringing her to life on the stage. All these years later, my play about her is still a work in progress and yet I long to bring it to fruition. Why did her story capture my imagination? I have no idea. I only know that it did — and that laboring to bring her alive has been immensely enriching.
These flashes of inspiration may be few. And in between them there are often long stretches of hard work. But ultimately, I think it’s these moments that sustain us and keep us moving forward. Write on.