Dare to Try the Antelope
Inspiration tends to strike like lightning. It’s what happens when our brains make unexpected connections between different ideas, resulting in a flash of creativity. This often occurs spontaneously, when we’re going through the motions of our everyday lives and some random observation or experience sets off a chain reaction in our imaginations.
We don’t have to wait around just hoping it will happen, however. We can help the process along by going in search of ideas and experiences that don’t ordinarily intersect with us, daring ourselves to re-examine assumptions we may have previously taken for granted. For writers, this practice of seeking out new and wider perspectives is absolutely essential to those hoping to grow in their craft.
Human nature being what it is, though, this is usually harder than it should be. We tend to stick with what we like, with what’s familiar. It’s just easier to play it safe, to not broaden our horizons. Consequently, many of us read only certain kinds of books, watch only certain kinds of movies, or eat only certain kinds of food.
A few years ago I was in San Diego, taking part in the annual organized mayhem of Comic Con International. One evening, after a typically grueling day behind the Simon & Schuster booth, my coworkers and I hosted a dinner at one of the great local restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter, where we were joined by a group of authors and game developers. I’ve been to lot of these dinners and honestly, after a while they tend to blur together. Even when the company is scintillating and the food impeccable, the overall context is generally the same each time, and so it’s easy to forget who was where and when it took place, or what was on the menu.
At this particular dinner, I did what I always do when dining out: I scanned the menu for things I recognized, and selected from among those options whatever I was most in the mood for. I ignored everything else. I didn’t even notice the fact that the menu offered Antelope Terrine until the woman sitting next to me muttered, “John’s gonna order the antelope.”
John was one of her coworkers, a game designer sitting at the other end of the table. John wasn’t his real name. I can’t remember his real name. All I remember is the antelope, and the prediction that this guy would order it, whereas I didn’t even know what Antelope Terrine was, and I didn’t want to know. The woman who’d made the prediction went on to explain, “Whenever John goes to a restaurant, he always orders the most exotic thing on the menu.”
And he did. I subsequently learned that John had never tried antelope, but he ordered it, he ate it, and he enjoyed it. With gusto. With enthusiasm and excitement. I’m pretty sure I had a pasta dish.
I thought a lot about that evening afterward, about what John’s dining habits said about him. He wasn’t just open to new ideas and experiences, he relished them, and he had fun doing it. And this was a guy who made his living building worlds.
Complacency is the enemy. It’s the mother of stagnation. Yes, venturing deliberately beyond your comfort zone can be unsettling, but in my experience it’s the surest way to find inspiration. Creativity comes from having your cage rattled, from being reminded that there’s a bigger world out there than the one you’ve created for yourself. Instead of seeking experiences that validate your preconceptions, make the choice to challenge them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn just how often lightning can strike.