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Who Started It All For Your Creative Spirit?

Who started it for you in lighting the fire for your creative spirit? Who is the source – the person (or people) who initially inspired you to write, to create, to push your skills further?

Who transcends all others when you consider “the greats?” And how old were you when you discovered them?

This is a topic I have been thinking about this week, and the music world is what helped frame it. It ASTOUNDS me that three of the four founders* of rock ‘n roll are still alive, and two of them are still performing live:

Chuck Berry
Little Richard
Jerry Lee Lewis

These are the people who inspired the people who inspired the people who inspired the people who make great music today.

For instance, I just watched a wonderful documentary on Motörhead’s frontman, Lemmy, and this is what the “chain of influence” looks like:

  1. 1950s: Little Richard inspired him
  2. 1970s: Lemmy went on to pioneer heavy metal
  3. 1980s: Bands such as Metallica consider Lemmy the “source” of their own work
  4. 2000s: Some bands today are emulating the grit and style of Metallica and 1980’s heavy metal in general

Lemmy makes the point that whoever you grow up listening to becomes the pinnacle of what music is for you. For him, it was The Beatles and Little Richard, even though Lemmy went on to become the hardest of the hard rockers. Someone else in the documentary explains how when you are listening to Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” you are really listening to Eddie Cochran, a huge influence on Lemmy in the 1950s when he was growing up.

What has been interesting as I grow older is to see how an initial influence becomes a LIFETIME influence. For instance, I find that most people feel that the music THEY grew up listening to is the BEST music. They tend to feel that artists today pale in comparison to whoever they listened to back in the 90’s, the 80’s, the 70’s, the 60’s, or the 50’s.

I see this in other areas as well. For people of my generation, many feel that the newer Star Wars films are a complete disaster compared to the original series from the 1970s and 1980s. And yet, it is obvious that the plenty of kids who grew up in the 2000s with the newer movies LOVE them, dramatically more so than the older movies.

Which leads me to believe that objectivity doesn’t matter here. The art that inspires you is the art that inspires you. Period.

It doesn’t matter what others think about it’s quality or it’s level of “taste,” if it moves you it moves you.

Who inspires you? Who started you down the path wanting to create and share? How old were you when you first discovered them?


* It is difficult to pin one small group of people as THE founders of rock ‘n roll, but from my experience, these four people are cited often as primary influences. Clearly, many others can be added to the list, with plenty of justification.

  • I was not inspired by a specific work or genre. I was activated by people who gave me necessary tools that inspired vision. Harnessing that vision is an ongoing process.

    Although I grew up in an unusually creative family, my fifth grade teacher lit the fire of my self-expression, specifically in multimedia. We wrote lots of reports that year. Although the reports were directly out of the encyclopedia, he encouraged us to illustrate them with lanterns slides and posters drawn from opaque projector images — seeds of my fascination with PowerPoint and other visual elements of writing.

    Fast-forward to high school. My junior English teacher taught us about abstraction and combining threads and elements from diverse sources into coherent story. He didn’t teach us to do this ourselves, but the concept immediately took root and shaped my personal operating system. It’s especially helpful for metaphor.

    Fast-forward to grad school. My mentor saw promise in my writing and encouraged me to get serious about it.

    Soon after grad school we bought our first home computer. I instantly knew that I WOULD be a writer. Tens of thousands of hours and millions of words later, here I still am, in front of a computer, with Photoshop and a couple of PowerPoint projects open alongside a story document.

    • Sharon,
      Thank you for sharing this journey – it is fascinating how individual teachers tweak projects, which inspires you. And how these things add up – slowly – to develop where you are today. Have a wonderful day!

  • elizabeth

    I love your post, Dan, especially for all the music comparisons, because music was the earliest inspiration for my writing. As a young girl, I was inspired to tell stories because I loved holing up in my room and spinning records and imagining the stories in the songs. At first it was the classic rock my step-father listened to (REO Speedwagon, The Cars, Genesis, Led Zeppelin), and then it became the heavy metal my brother turned me on to. The biggest influences? Probably early Metallica, Iron Maiden, Dio, and Queensryche–all that 80’s heavy metal.
    I was always bookish too; I loved to read, but I would credit songwriters as my earliest inspiration–their worlds were the ones that captivated me and gave me so much passion for storytelling. And I love Lemmy; he’s the coolest. Although Deep Purple and Black Sabbath were the two bands that most influenced my favorite artists. 😀

    • Thanks Elizabeth! You make a great point about cross-over and inspiration. That one doesn’t need to be inspired first by Asimov to want to be a science fiction writer.

  • jenf2

    I recently wrote about one of my inspirations for writing, my high school teacher Mr. Clark, on my own blog. Link: http://imnotstalkingyou.com/2014/06/25/mr-clark/

    • “I miss him a lot. And I never, ever thought I would say that about any teacher.”

      Nice. Thanks!


  • Pearl R. Meaker

    Hmm . . .

    I really can’t remember NOT being creatively geared, and not just in writing. I was always artistic painting and drawing wise, I was always a good singer, and once I was old enough to communicate in writing I always wrote well.

    That all sounds horribly egotistical when I actually have low self esteem issues. It’s just that the things I’ve always been best at have been the creative fields.

    Writing probably is the easiest area to pick those who inspired me. My first two favorite authors, when I was 9yrs old, were Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie, followed by Isaac Asimov and J.R.R.Tolkien. The authors I loved inspired stories in my head.

    Starting me down the path to create and share would be a lady named Janet Stein who writes Tolkien based fan fiction under the pen name Shirebound. I read one of her stories back in 2002 and in my comment to her I mentioned I had long made up stories about Hobbits in my head and was surprised to find that other people did too. She wrote back and suggested I write one up and post it to the archive. I did and received many positive comments.

    From 2003 to 2010 I wrote nearly 200 Tolkien based stories, including 4 that are novella/novel length. Several of my steady readers said I should try writing something original that could be published.

    My first book, a cozy mystery titled “The Devil’s Music”, will be released this coming November and the first people on the thank you page are Shirebound and the Tolkien fan fiction readers who urged me to pursue taking my writing further. I wouldn’t have a book coming out if it wasn’t for them.

    • Thanks! And wow – 200 Tolkien-based stories!

  • Cathy Turney

    My mother inspired my creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention, and her stock phrase was, “We can’t afford it.” As an adult, I see what a blessing that was.

    • Cathy,
      Thank you for sharing this, and the reminder that limits are primary drivers of creative work.

  • My husband is a bass player. He drove two hours to see Chuck Berry and Little Richard at a bingo casino a few year back. He said it was…sad, but felt honored he got a chance to see them at all.

    As for me, I can’t identify one person from childhood. I grew up in a family where creativity was denigrated and practical skills were emphasized. I was told that all artists were irresponsible and writing was only for school papers. I started reclaiming my creativity in adulthood, and I can thank a writer friend I met at age 37 for helping. Very thought-provoking, Dan!

    • Debra,
      Ah, that is the reason that I couldn’t get myself to go see Chuck Berry play on New Years eve at BB Kings bar near Times Square. That the chaos of the evening couldn’t possibly live up to my own expectations. The only driving force would be to “say that I saw him,” which perhaps would be enough. I do occasionally check to see if Chuck is playing anywhere near NYC.

      Age 37 – LOVE that. Thank you!