Inspiring thoughts about inspiration

by Julia Beyrer, translated by Kristin Fehlauer

Today could not have gotten off to a worse start: I wake up slowly – at least, I try to. Not feeling overly refreshed, a glance at the alarm clock tells me I really need to get a move on. After all, I know there’s a tricky translation waiting for me at the office – and the deadline is this afternoon.

First things first: I’ll take a shower to wake me up; that always works. I stand under the showerhead, turn on the tap, and – bam! – I’m hit by a stream of ice-cold water, which simply will not get any warmer. My water heater must be broken – great.

Julia Beyrer

Everything but inspiring

Time to break out the big guns: coffee. My body definitely needs some caffeine. I turn on the machine and get out my favorite mug; maybe that will cheer me up. I press the button, the machine makes a loud whirring noise, then spews a pale brown fluid into my cup. After the first sip I realize that I forgot to put coffee into the machine, and what does coffee taste like without coffee? You guessed it. I look in the canister for more but see only a yawning emptiness.

This drama continues as I mix up my toothpaste and hand cream, find my perfume bottle is as empty as the coffee canister, and discover that my favorite sweater has a hole in it. As I leave the house, my somewhat vexed reflection sees me off with a strained smile.

Inspiration, where art thou?

At work, I finally get my coffee from the excellent machine that has already saved my translation life multiple times. My coworkers give me cheery hellos; it looks like their days got off to a better start than mine.

A bit apprehensively, I open up the document I have to translate, then immediately ask myself how in the world I can possibly be creative right now. I fidget uneasily in my chair. The clock is ticking… My client doesn’t want to hear about the crappy morning I had. They want what they pay for: a well-researched, appropriately formulated translation, with a headline that immediately grabs the reader’s interest and text that whets their appetite for more. There’s much more to a good translation than simply rendering the original in another language. What’s more important is to let the creative juices flow and deliver an engaging, readable text.

What I need is inspiration. This is a great word that comes from the Latin for “inhale” or “breathe life into.” And for those who work in creative fields and truly understand their craft, that’s exactly what they do: they breathe life into their work.

Yellow trees

Go with the flow

Doing so involves achieving a state of mind that takes you to a different place – at least mentally. You go on a kind of journey, the destination of which is known only to you, with an incredibly satisfying feeling when you get there. I fondly call this state the “flow”. When I’m in it, the creativity, or in this case the text, really pours out of me.

It’s easy to recognize when someone is in this state. Go to a concert and look at the musicians’ eyes. These professionals have one of the most enjoyable, and yet most demanding careers. After all the intensive preparation they put in, they still have to put on a good show for the audience – regardless of how their day went, what problems they have in their personal lives, or what kind of mood they’re in. So when you go to a concert, observe how the look on their faces changes over the course of the evening. You’ll know when they are struck by inspiration; you’ll see that they are clearly not just playing the notes, but are instead fully in the music, body and soul. At certain points, a musician seems to gaze off into the distance, and it looks as though their thoughts are somewhere else entirely.

When I am struck with inspiration, it’s not immediately apparent to others what’s going on. They often ask me if I’m ok, because I seem to be so lost in thought that I practically don’t react to the person standing in front of me. But of course I’m ok. In fact, I couldn’t be better; the only thing is that I don’t want to be pulled out of my reverie. That probably goes for all inspired people, so it’s best not to talk to us if you want a sensible response!

Sources of inspiration

Because everyone is different, everyone finds different things inspiring. Try this experiment: go to the park and stand in front of a tree. At first glance, it’s simply a tree with all the usual tree things: trunk, branches, leaves. Now take a closer look. Focus on a leaf, any leaf. You’re no longer looking at the tree as a whole, but instead are consciously homing in on one detail in particular. The leaf begins to sway slightly in the breeze; imagine that it starts to rustle, as you take in its color and sense the enchantment of its presence. Perhaps there are small spots on the leaf’s surface; maybe it flutters with greater intensity in the wind until it falls off the tree and floats gently to the ground.

What just happened? At the start, you were just standing in front of a tree. But then you focused in on one detail, which suddenly became a kind of dream image. An image that moves, has a life of its own, and floats in mid-air, even as it still hangs on the tree.

It doesn’t have to be a tree; I find that water, for example, has an amazing effect on me. Just sitting and gazing at the river is something that inspires me over and over again as if for the first time. The motion of the ripples, small bubbles that seem to dance in the current, a flock of birds… I choose one of them and take flight with it in my mind… Just thinking about the river is enough to inspire me!

It occurs to me that my translation still needs to be finished. I have already researched the technical elements and have an initial rough draft, so the groundwork is already done. After my mental trip to the river, I realize that I am slowly but surely getting into the flow. Time to liven things up with some creativity. My fingers fly over the keyboard, I rewrite dozens of sentences, breathe life into the entire piece; I dimly note that someone comes into the office, but then I completely block them out. Immersed in my text, I am present in body only. This is it! What a feeling! And all at once the translation is finished. I lean back and smile. In moments like these, my happiness knows no bounds.

A few last thoughts

As you can see, inspiration can happen anywhere. The key is to get excited about the little things and allow yourself to be fascinated by them. It doesn’t have to be physical objects; you could turn to music, of course, but also sounds, voices, thoughts, or situations (you don’t have to be involved in them personally) – any and all of these can be unbelievably inspiring.

People who are in the “flow” and have that certain look in their eye have an almost magical effect on me. I can’t simply break this spell, and I have no desire to. What could be better than letting yourself be inspired by the inspiration of others?

It doesn’t matter what state of mind you’re in or how your day is going: give it a try and breathe some life into whatever you do. It’s worth it!

4 responses to “Inspiring thoughts about inspiration”

  1. Tatjana Korockin says:

    Thank you for explaining “the flow”. It sure does ring a bell! What makes a good translator is the ability to get into the flow quickly. To know it makes you the master. I think it is simply a matter of experience to become immersed in it in as short time as possible, and thus render an excellent work within the given deadline.
    Thanks again Richard for sharing your thoughts!

    • Hello Tatjana, thanks for your feedback. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being in the flow! And you’re right: the faster you can get there, the more effective you can be.

      I’ll pass your thanks on to my colleagues Julia Beyrer (who wrote the post) and Kristin Fehlauer (who translated it into English).

  2. Heidi Benson says:


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