Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

For Winston Churchill, it often involved kicking trash cans and groaning. For Steve Jobs, a calligraphy class helped influence the introduction of the first Mac computer. For speechwriter Hal Gordon, it’s great books, art and opera.

Gordon addressed attendees of NAGC’s 2008 Communications School in Albuquerque. The former speechwriter for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell believes creativity is critical to good writing. Using Thomas Edison’s quote that genius was one percent inspiration and 99 percent inspiration as a backdrop, he offers four pieces of advice.

1. Look inside yourself. “Don’t be afraid to be yourself,” he says, pointing out you must draw inspiration from your own life. If your life is not very interesting, then you need to make changes so that you find inspiration and creativity around you. He recommends reading “Letters to a Young Poet” and “Becoming a Writer.”

2. Look outside yourself. “Sharpen your powers of observation,” he says, citing a quote from Yogi Berra: “you can see a lot by observing.” Also look to those in your profession for inspiration. For example, the best way for a journalist to become a better writer is to study the writings of the best journalists.

3. Practice creativity. “Make it a habit,” he says. “Creation requires discipline.” If creativity is important in your line of work, you have to practice just like any practitioner would. As a famous pianist once said, “If I don’t practice one day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics notice. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it." Gordon suggests making an appointment with yourself to write and to take advantage of creative works around you, such as reading great books and soaking in art. And when it comes to hobbies, choose ones that help the creative process

4. Have a strategy for the moments you are stuck. “You can get a lot of work done if you procrastinate creatively,” he says. When you are working on a project, always collect more material than you can possibly use, so you can pick and choose. And be aware of what stimulates your creativity.

What do you think of Gordon’s approach to creativity? What steps do you take in order to kick-start your writing project? If you are in Albuquerque, what parts of Gordon’s speech appealed most to you?

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