For the most part, I’m pretty much on top of what I am going to write about for the articles that are printed, but there are times, dear reader, that I sit before the computer screen with my fingers on the keyboard and I haven’t got the first clue as to what I am going to write about. At those times I just start tapping the keys and hope that the flame of inspiration will set fire to my imagination. Fortunately for you, this isn’t one of those times. I am plunging into this essay with the self assured confidence of a well thought out idea.
I have often wondered if others who put pen to paper, so to speak, had the same challenge of inspiration that I occasionally find myself facing. As it turns out, inspirational challenge is more the rule than the exception. Many of history’s greatest literary achievements came as an accident or an afterthought and some of our most popular authors were originally successful only though good luck or a twist of fate.
James Fenimore Cooper starting writing in 1820 after his wife Susan bet him that he could write a better novel than the one she was reading. He came up with the first of the Leatherstocking stories. Within three years he would write The Last of the Mohicans and become one of 19th Century America’s most popular authors.
An Atlanta newspaper reporter named Margaret Mitchell broke her ankle. It didn’t heal properly and she had to have surgery on it. While she was recovering at home, she decided to set down the history of her family during and after the Civil War to pass the time. She did fictionalize the story a bit, but it was still based on lives of people she was descended from. She only wrote one book, but that one book was enough. The title was Gone With the Wind.
Professor Charles Dodgson was a lecturer of mathematics at Oxford University. He became friends with the family of one of the Oxford deans named Henry Liddell. Liddell had three daughters Lorina, Edith, and Alice and Dodgson often took them on rowboat outings. He frequently made up nonsensical stories to entertain them while they rowed. On July 4 of 1862, he came up with the story of a girl who fell into a rabbit hole and discovered a magical, mystical and sometimes frightening world below the ground. Since the heroine was named Alice, young Alice Liddell begged Dodgson to write the story down for her. Dodgson did and presented the story to her in handwritten manuscript form with illustrations as “Alice’s Adventure’s Under Ground” in November of 1864. A mutual friend of Dodgson and the Liddells named George MacDonald saw the manuscript and let his own children read it. They too were delighted with the story. MacDonald tried to convince Dodgson to publish the work. Dodgson at first refused but after much badgering from MacDonald he reluctantly agreed to see about having the story published but only under a “pen” name. The result was Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, published in 1865. The book was so popular that Dodgson was pressured to write a sequel. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There was published in 1871. It has a much darker mood than the first book, which probably reflects Dodgson’s irritation at having to write it. A British physician named Arthur Doyle found time on his hands while waiting for patients to come to his practice. He had been attracted to writing from the time he was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh and had even had some of his works published with only moderate success. Doyle came up with a character based on one of his physician instructors at the university, named Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell would amaze his students with his powers of observation and deductive reasoning. Doyle decided to make the character a detective rather than a doctor. He did add a doctor to the story as a narrator for what was happening. Doyle sold the story in November of 1886 for 25 pounds sterling. It first appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in December of that year to critical and public acclaim. The name of the story was “A Study in Scarlet” and his character was Sherlock Holmes. Doyle’s middle name was Conan but it became attached to his last name and he was forever referred to as Conan Doyle, creator of one the most popular characters in English literature.
So, if I had a teacher named Joe Bell, or a young friend named Alice, or a grandparents named Rhett and Scarlett I might find it much easier to come up with an article. I do have the Boss, and the Ladybug, and all my family and friends so I will be okay for a while.
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