The blank page: how do we get inspired?

8 March 2010

From the ordinary thank-you letter to the great works of fiction, inspiration is something that we all have to find. But why is it so elusive? Is there a science to capturing it? Or do we still simply follow the classical art of using a muse?

As part of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science, Sheffield University is organising a public event that will investigate sources of inspiration from all sides. Experts in psychology and literature will join with specialists in global climate and public health to discuss the concept of inspiration. Alongside practitioners from the worlds of theatre and music, the event will shed light on the practical ways in which we can generate new ideas.

"We derive our inspiration from unexpected sources," says Prof Rachel Falconer who is organising the event. "But it always helps to relieve anxiety to invoke something beyond the self as you face the awful blank page." Prof Falconer will be looking at how writers, past and present, find their sources of inspiration and will introduce nine classical muses that were used by poets such as Homer in the Odyssey, Virgil and John Milton.

The audience will be invited to share their own experience of seeking inspiration - a long walk, a gin and tonic, a loved one? Theatre director, Alexander Kelly, will ask people to swap sources of inspiration to see if other people's ideas can inspire us.

Psychologist, Kamal Birdi, will work with spectators to find out whether we can group types of inspiration according to, for example, age or gender. Dr Felix Ng's research into glacier formation reveals how the landscape itself generates new ideas in geography. He will work with the musician John Ball and the audience to compose an original piece of music, using the patterns and sounds of the glaciers.

The event will provide an opportunity for people to understand an area of research that impacts on the working and personal lives of everyone. They will benefit from practical activities and tips derived from the panel's experience in diverse fields.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. Sing, muse: inspiration and its origins
    • Organiser: Sheffield University
    • Venue: Showroom Cinema, Paternoster Row, Sheffield S1 2BX
    • Audience: Suitable for all
  2. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 12 to 21 March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. Events from some of the country's leading social scientists the festival celebrates the very best of British Social Science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The Festival of Social Science provides insight into research in a variety of formats; from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. The Festival of Social Science is aimed at a range of different audiences, including policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes