For two straight months, as I finished The Marriage Plot, the owl visited me. As soon as I handed in the book, the owl vanished, so far for good. Did I believe Athena sent it? No. Still, it wasn't a dream owl this time but a living one, and lying in bed at night, listening to its cry in the frigid air, I couldn't help feeling encouraged, feeling that the owl was on my side.
In the end, whether my owls came from my unconscious, at the prompting of the universe, or due to a migratory pattern doesn't matter. What matters is that the experience—both of my dream owl and the living one outside my window—arrived at the point I needed it, and helped me persevere.
In the midst of my skeptical, cynical, often pessimistic nature exists a slender capacity to believe, if only temporarily, in a guiding, unseen power, and whenever this happens, I go with it. That's what inspiration is. You don't get it from the gods. You make it. The owl at my window was just a bird, after all, trying to get through the winter. The owl in my dream was my own creation. It was me, breathing into myself, in order to breathe out again in a flow of words.
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