My wonderful husband David is a banjo player and true lover of bluegrass music, so we’ve been avidly watching the documentary series on country music by Ken Burns – fantastic! One of the best things about it is the focus on creativity and the source of inspiration for many legendary country songs still popular today.
Many songs were inspired by hardscrabble childhoods; one tune sprang from a fight with a wife; another by a breakup with a man. One beloved gospel-flavored tune was triggered by the distant lights of an airport and still another by the heartbreaking film, La Strada. This brings to mind stories of how and where some beloved writers found their ideas:
One of William Faulkner’s novels grew out of a single image.
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser’s great novel, was inspired by a story he saw in the newspaper.
William Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan supposedly got the idea for one of the team’s most popular light operas when a Japanese sword fell off the wall in his study. It started him thinking about Japanese culture and royal ruthlessness — and The Mikado was born.
After reading a book of short stories by James Michener, the director Joshua Logan approached Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers with an idea: why not adapt some of the stories into a musical? South Pacific went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Ragtime, the fabulously inventive novel by E. L. Doctorow, was literally inspired by his 1908 house in New Rochelle. Suffering from a severe case of writer’s block; out of desperation, he started to write about the walls and the rest is history.
All of which just goes to show that inspiration is everywhere!
The trick is to catch these moments of intense emotion and awareness before they flit away. Nine out of ten people probably would have let these wispy sources of inspiration simly melt away and a work of art would have been lost. Our job is to keep our creative antennae up and to be alert and alive to the ripple of an idea, snatches of conversations, news items, a bit of arcane knowledge that strikes our fancy.
All very exciting isn’t it? Write on!
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