Ink It When You Think It

I was watching CBS Sunday Morning (one of my favorite weekend rituals) and Billy Joel, composer of such classics as The Piano Man and New York State of Mind, was discussing how he “came up” with his lyrics and melodies.

He said he was designing a boat (something he does in his free time) and the lyrics, “In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep” kind of POP’d out. Then he thought, “Naw, that’s too simple” and rejected it.

He went to take a shower and couldn’t get the tune out of his mind. He wrote it down later that day and it eventually evolved into one of his 40 hit songs, river of dreams

If there’s anything I’ve learned in years of researching, writing, consulting and speaking on creativity, it’s that this is how our best thoughts occur. They POP! into our mind. And if we don’t write them down, they’re gone. Worse, if we allow that inner critic to kick in and tell us all the reasons this won’t work, we snuff out these sparks of genius.

From now on, pay attention to those sudden insights – what Ralph Waldo Emerson called, “the gleams of light which flash across the mind from within.” You may not know how or where this idea, lyric, or phrase fits into your work. Just trust that it will.

Our greatest minds from Mozart to Einstein have understood and honored the power of the “muse.” If they were gifted with a revelation, they knew it was their responsibility to write it down. Or what I call, “Muse it or lose it.”

I have been collecting quotes on creativity for years. Many are featured in my Write Here, Write Now perpetual calendar. They are eloquent attempts to articulate how ideas are “birthed” and built upon. Examples include:

“Often an idea would occur to me which seemed to have force. . . . I never let one of those ideas escape me, but wrote it on a scrap of paper and put it in a drawer. In that way, I saved my best thoughts on the subject, and, you know, such things often come in a kind of intuitive way more clearly than if one were to sit down and deliberately reason them out. To save the results of such mental action is true intellectual economy.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The song was there before me. I just sorta took it down with a pencil, but it was all there before I came around.” – Bob Dylan

“It often happens that things come into the mind in a more finished form than could have been achieved after much study.” – La Rochefoucauld

1 Comment
  1. “Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of godlight’ in the woods of experience.” C.S. Lewis

    Read the 101 Greatest Quotes of All time

Leave a Reply

Want a speaker you can trust to thrill your audience from start to finish - with original insights, laugh-out-loud humor, relevant examples and inspiring stories that motivate them to act?
Work with Sam and the IA team to position, message and craft your presentations, books and priority projects so they win buy-in from your target audience and decision-makers.
Want to create intriguing, one-of-a-kind ideas, projects and communications? Our books, videos and e-learning products show you how.
Want recent insights, examples and action steps on how to create interest, earn respect and connect with anyone? Our blogs (often featured in Fast Company,, etc.) show how.