Those who inspire us often do so because they suffered. Think of Muhammad Ali, who died a few days ago at age 74. He inspired millions because of what he suffered: racism, oppression (by the U.S. government for refusing to go to war in Vietnam), ostracism by much of the culture for his religious and political beliefs, and the outspoken way he continued to express them. None of this even touches upon his courage and flair inside the boxing ring.
We all have doubts and setbacks, but those who inspire us overcome those doubts and setbacks with something approaching grace. They endure; they find a way to do their work despite the problems besetting them, as we all must do.
George Orwell suffered too, and he wrote with clarity and intelligence and an egalitarian impulse. He was shot in the throat while fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and died far too young. He was political in everything he wrote, but he also believed in a shared humility that made him a hater of colonialism and totalitarianism. He never put himself above another. This is what inspires me -- Orwell's humble curiosity about himself and others, and the clarity with which he expressed it. He's my ideal of an artist.
Money will not inspire us, because it's often more lacking than present. It won't keep us going beyond our doubts and problems. Self-belief can sometimes fail us too. We lose sight of the good work we've done before, and can do in the future. We just embrace a bad day as representing our entire lives. This is wrong, and unfair, but it's an all-too-common failing of all writers and all people.
Those who inspire us pick us up when we're down. When I'm struggling to write well, when the flow isn't happening, I think of Orwell at his writing desk, scribbling and balling up pages to be tossed into the garbage. That's all of us, as we move in the dark looking for that light switch of inspiration. Speaking of light, Thomas Edison had it right. Creativity is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, but we do need that 1% inspiration to guide our efforts and provide meaning for our hard work.
What inspires you, and when do you turn to it? Feel free to share . . .