Breathe In! by Paul Scott

Published November 3, 2011 by Gail Norris in Articles, Parish Magazine

“Genius,” said Thomas Edison, “is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” I find myself nodding in agreement.

A lot of nonsense is talked about inspiration. “I write only when I am inspired,” claim certain people, which often means they never write at all. It makes me think of Peter de Vries (a successful author) who said, “I write only when I am inspired, and I make a point of being inspired at preciselynine o’clockevery morning.”

Any type of creative work, whether it involves writing, painting, gardening, or inEdison’s case inventing, requires a great deal of good sustained hard work. You may get a wonderful idea for a novel, but unless you are prepared to sit down and write, write and rewrite, it remains nothing but a wonderful idea. An artist may see a beautiful landscape and think to himself, “What a wonderful painting that would make!” True; but to take that impression and fix it on canvas can take many hours of steady, tiring and often frustrating labour. Edison himself was full of ideas for new inventions, but it was the hours he spent in the workshop that turned those ideas into reality.

So why do I have a problem withEdison’s statement? Could it be that if we grant inspiration only one per cent of the credit for the finished work, we may be inclined to ignore it altogether? Just as it is possible to have a brain full of bright ideas and never put them into practice, so it is equally possible to make works of art that have no trace of inspiration in them. I’m sure we’ve all seen them: the paintings that seem to have been done by numbers, the books that bear little relation to reality and that use tired plots taken from other books, the poems that are content to rhyme “moon” and “June” without a hint of originality. Creativity may involve a lot of hard, persistent work, but without that one percent of inspiration, it is pointless.

Inspiration is an interesting word. My dictionary tells me that it comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning to breathe or blow into. Just as respiration means breathing out and perspiration means to breath through, so inspiration implies being ready to receive something from outside by literally breathing it in.

Now breathing, in the ordinary physical sense, is obviously important. I remember many years ago being involved in some strenuous physical exercise, and hearing the instructor call out, “Now, whatever you do, don’t stop breathing!” This was good advice, and it is good advice in the non-physical sense as well. We may not all be artists or writers, but all of us need to take in impressions and ideas and use them to help us in our daily living. In a sense, all of us need inspiration.

Where does it come from? Some people would say that it comes from our subconscious. Others might talk about the muse. Christians would say that it comes from the Holy Spirit. After all, the word for “spirit” in both Hebrew and Greek is the same word as breath. So be prepared to look for your inspiration, breathe it in, and value it. After all, without it, all the perspiration in the world is useless.                                     Paul Scott