While talking to Chip Kidd about the stunning work he put into designing our cover (go ahead, it's worth another look), I asked him about something he wrote in his preface to Chip Kidd: Book One, a monograph published in 2005 by Rizzoli, about how intuition factors into his work as associate art director at Knopf. What I really wanted to know was how he comes up with his prizewinning ideas for book jackets: Is it intuition or inspiration? And what's the difference, anyway? "I would say intuition tends to seem like it's coming from nowhere," he said, "whereas inspiration has some kind of identifiable source."
Writers—indeed, all artists—get their ideas from countless sources, identifiable or not. For some, a singular image might arrive like a bolt of lightning; for others, a concept might originate in the opening notes of an aria, or a faded mural on a dead-end street, or a sports-page headline, or the way the dark blue light of a late-winter dawn seems to grow up from the frozen ground rather than the other way around. And sometimes an author's polished work is so far removed from what inspired it that its genesis is a mystery. Which, of course, is part of the heart-aching, soul-yearning appeal of great writing.
In this issue you can read about an impressive array of inspirational sources: Chip Kidd's Spirographs (page 23), John Dufresne's real-life story of a kidnapping (29), Jesse Ball's "man with pajamas, carrot" (51), Elizabeth Kostova's oil painting (56), Tracy Chevalier's fossil hunter (57), Robin Ekiss's nineteenth-century toymaker (62), Kiki Petrosino's mistranslated menus (69), and more.
I'd also urge you to read the words of Cecilia Ward Jones, who, in her first published essay—and in what we hope will be the first installment of Why We Write—describes why, despite years of submitting her work without any acceptances, she bothers to write at all. She may never see her name in lights, but she's in this game for all the right reasons: "It's what I do. I write." (To submit an essay for this new column, e-mail us at email@example.com.)
To all the hardworking writers reading this—the regularly rejected, the self-published, the emerging, the midlist—take this issue as a New Year's reminder to remain open to new ideas and to keep writing. When inspired, you are an inspiration.