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On Inspiration

Posted by Lauren Rugani on August 11, 2010

I summed up my last post by pointing out that I find good writing inspiring. I also marveled at the amount of work that goes into writing a long-form magazine piece (nevermind a book!) that makes the work seem as though it simply flowed from the tip of a pen without any hesitation. A more recent inspiration to me is Rebecca Skloot, author of the award-winning book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The story is profound, but what inspires me most is Skloot’s persistence. It took her roughly a decade (I think?) to go from concept to completion, tracking down details and earning the trust of her sources. She was even threatened and, if I remember correctly, doused in salad dressing. Most of us would have abandoned the idea.

Well, I have my own grand idea. I’ve had it for two and a half years. I’ve only told a handful of people about it, including my graduate school adviser and a colleague who now happens to be my boss. They both told me they could see the story in The New Yorker or Harper’s. I won’t get ahead of myself by name-dropping top-notch publications, but what excited me was that they even wanted to read it. They liked my idea.

So why haven’t I written it yet? I could give you a number of excuses: I don’t have time, I have a day job (and a night job), I don’t know where to begin, I haven’t figured out the story yet, even though I have the idea. But I think, if I am being completely honest, that it’s because I don’t want to give up the idea. As much as I want it to live on paper, I don’t want it to stop living in my head. It’s not that I don’t want to share the story – I’m excited about it and I want to tell everyone. What I’m afraid of is that I won’t be able to write it, and that it will stop being an idea and become, well, a failure.

I’ve had failed ideas before, and any author or writer or journalist will tell you that you cannot cannot CANNOT become married to an idea. Things that sound amazing in your mind often sound stupid coming out of your mouth, and there’s always that one guy who crushes your dream with a “But what about…?” And, inevitably, ideas will change the more you learn. But this idea is different.

In the past two and a half years I’ve done a fair amount of research, enough for a launching point to ask intelligent questions of the people I eventually intend to interview. But there’s this one guy. My whole idea centers around him. What if he doesn’t want to talk to me? I’ve written him so many letters, explaining my idea, telling him about myself, trying to convince him that my entire being relies on his willingness to open up to me. And then I crumple them up, or delete them, depending on which century’s mode of communication I chose that day. If he says no, then I have nothing.

Tonight I wrote another letter. I was gonna do it. I’m inspired now, remember? And then I came across something I never saw before. Some information, tucked away in a dusty corner of the Internet. Thanks a lot, Google. No, seriously, thank you. I probably would have come across as an idiot if I sent him that letter without knowing the contents of that 3-page PDF. I have a lot more work to do now before I can send that letter.

But I’m going to do it. I know, I know, I’ve been telling myself that for how long? But, inspiration in hand, I know that even if he says no, my idea doesn’t have to die. There are ways to keep it alive.

Here’s to hoping he says yes.


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