It Takes One to Know One

I have discussed the ways I’ve met inspiration before. How I’ve seen it tipping its hat to me in a back alley, or had it wait patiently outside my door while I pile books and boxes and sticks and cats up to keep it out, or smiling at me while it kept one finger on my writing hand. But I’ve never discussed what it feels like to run headlong into someone else’s moment of inspiration.

Anyone who has written fiction themselves can  probably can recognize the moment where inspiration steps in and asks them to write something outrageous. It’s those instances where inspiration tells a writer to make their staid and reserved lead character break out into song in the middle of a boardroom meeting or to spontaneously begin speaking French without prior reference to them being bilingual. And while I have had those moments myself, it is interesting to get a taste of another writer’s strange moment.

The best example I have of peaking in on someone else’s inspiration detour comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The moment comes  at the end of the confrontation at the hotel and contains a subtle sort of disturbance in the flow of the story-one I could neither say was wrong or right, but had to pay attention to.

“After a moment Tom got up and began wrapping the unopened bottle of whiskey in the towel.

‘Want any of this stuff? Jordan?…Nick?’

I didn’t answer.

‘Nick?’ He asked again.


‘Want any?’

‘No…I just remembered that today’s my birthday.’”

When I read this for first time, I remember literally dropping the book, folding my arms and waiting for the text to explain to me why we had taken this turn.  And I may be wrong, but I believe this is a moment the author was not expecting.

I believe this is a situation where the character, Nick Carraway, had something to say that even his creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald, hadn’t been aware of. It is a sense of honest revelation to both the characters and the writer that makes it the perfect candidate for a creation of inspiration.

Now, that does not mean that my opinion is at all truth. I have never done any research into the matter and am not sure if Fitzgerald would have admitted it if he had been surprised by his own writing. But I do know that sometimes one recognizes “the glance of a curious sort of  bird” because they themselves have been that bird. And it’s in those incredible moments that a writer can find solace in the midst of the eternal struggle between what wants to be said versus what needs saying.