“You will ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with certainty. They come unsummoned, directly, indirectly — I could seize them with my hands — out in the open air, in the woods while walking…”

Even though my musical expertise is limited only to my undeniable prowess in Rock Band, I’d like to think that all artists regardless of discipline share some of the same characteristic traits. Whether you paint with watercolor or you conduct an orchestra, you need to be creative and expressive. And, if you have any ambitions to be successful, you need ideas. You need ideas that no one else could have possibly imagined. But where can you find these ideas?

When Inspiration Strikes

The sobering truth of the matter is that a visit from the muses cannot be predicted. You can’t jump flip a switch or place an order on Amazon and miraculously come up with these wildly imaginative and totally original ideas. Inspiration is sporadic and it can hit at the most random of occasions. Thanks to the power of the modern day smartphone, a quick digital memo is always close at hand.

Up until not that long ago, I kept a notepad next to my bed. You see, I’m not the kind of person who can fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow. It’s a process, because my brain never stops running a mile a minute. My thoughts will veer off on the most disconnected of tangents and this free association can sometimes lead to some curious ideas. So, I have to write them down.

Some artists are more successful at getting their ideas when they are in the heat of a creative session. Rock stars might find their next big hit in a jam session. Storytellers might get their ideas by people-watching at the coffee shop. But even then, each session can prove unfruitful. Because ideas can come unsummoned at the most unexpected of times.

The Composition of Greatness

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of classical music. Just about everyone learns to play “Ode to Joy” in school at some point. Along with artists like Mozart and Bach, Beethoven is just one of those names that everybody knows, even if they know nothing about music at all.

I was inspired to write this post about Beethoven, because he was recently featured on Zen Pencils, one of my favorite web comics. And while I don’t have nearly as many opportunities to walk about “in the open air” or “in the woods” as I once did, I can take a digital stroll through the series of tubes of the Internet in search of ideas.

“For only art and science raise men to the level of the gods.”

But ideas, on their own, are meaningless and worthless. Simply thinking it isn’t enough. You need to take action. You need to explore those ideas and develop them into something more. For the artist, this could be composing the next symphony, shooting the next short video, or writing the next great novel. For the scientist, it could be uncovering new truths and dispelling old myths.

It is through this exploration, understanding, and expression that men truly can elevate themselves to the level of the gods. You just can’t wait for inspiration to strike. Sometimes, you have to go out there in search of it. And even if you come back seemingly empty-handed, the experience has made you richer for it.