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Doors to Inspiration

In her book on creativity and fear, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert introduces her concept of ideas as a thing looking for a person to bring it to life in the world. Illustrating this point, she describes her inspiration to write a novel set in the 1960′s in the Amazon and centering around a failed highway through the jungle. It featured a middle-aged woman from Minnesota as the main character, who works for a international construction company, and is sent to the Amazon to deal with issues arising after construction has begun. Gilbert had worked at developing it, done extensive research and pitched it to her publisher. Then personal circumstances caused her to lay it aside for a few years, and when she finally returned to it, she says “the living heart of my novel was gone.” 

In the meantime, Gilbert made friends with the writer Ann Patchett, and in the course of their correspondence Patchett told her about a book she was working on, a contemporary story of a middle-aged women from Minnesota who is sent to the Amazon by her pharmaceutical company to investigate drug research being done there with seemingly miraculous results. Although there were some plot differences, many of the main details were oddly the same, from the characteristics of the central character, to the circumstances that lead her to travel to the Amazon. Gilbert concluded that the inspiration that had initially come to her had gotten tired of waiting for her to make it happen and moved on. And so Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder was published.