Inspiration is a funny thing. It’s one of the most powerful but unpredictable forces in our lives, striking at the most unusual times and places. And, whether or not you’re ready and willing to act on it, it may just change the course of your life.
In my case, it happened in the opening days of 2011. Two years before, my first attempt at becoming a published author had been enough to land me a respected literary agent in London, and that had convinced me that I was about to become the next J.K. Rowling. Such was my delusion.
The book itself had come frustratingly close to success with a number of publishing houses, only to fall at the final hurdle each time. With all possibilities exhausted, my agent had been forced to concede that it just wasn’t going to happen. All that work and energy and expectation for nothing.
Determined to redeem myself, I threw myself into new writing projects within a matter of days. The following 12 months saw me kick around a series of hastily conceived ideas, none of which came to anything. By the end of 2010, I was simply burned out. I was tired of slogging away night after night, tired of trying to force something that had once felt so easy and natural, and thoroughly tired of writing.
Then something interesting happened. Lying awake in bed one night after far too many energy drinks, my mind and heart racing and sleep a distant prospect, I began to see my writing problems in a different light. Not in terms of what wasn’t working now, but rather what had worked before. I realized that the characters I’d created were what originally drew me in and inspired me. The problem, I realized now, was that I had tried to craft the wrong story around them.
And, just like that, the solution practically leapt into existence fully formed. It was a moment that I can only describe as sheer inspiration, and straight away I knew I had to do something with it. This wasn’t something that could wait until the morning. This needed to happen now. Creeping out of bed, I fired up my dusty desktop computer (I couldn’t afford a laptop back then) and set to work. Within an hour, I’d written the outline of a new book, and it felt so natural and easy that it was like the story was practically writing itself. For the first time in over a year, I had the magic back.
My agent loved the new manuscript I sent her way six months later, and, as it turned out, so did Random House. By the closing days of 2011, I had signed publishing deals in the U.K. and Germany and embarked on a series that would eventually span nine novels and sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
And all because I drank too much caffeine one evening.
Flash forward a decade or so, and I found myself in a whole new medium. I’d always had an interest in reviewing movies and TV shows, and was impressed by the increasingly sophisticated movie criticism community that was flourishing on YouTube. Being a storyteller myself, I liked the idea of applying my own experience and insight to other people’s work, and so I set about making my own content.
But, funnily enough, churning out a few mediocre video reviews with no real personality or unique selling point isn’t exactly a fast track to fame and success, and my fledgling channel struggled to muster more than a few hundred views.
Clearly, I was missing something, but the answer remained frustratingly elusive. Then, once again, chance happened to send a little inspiration my way. As I was recording some audio for a review one night after a few too many drinks, I happened to play back my efforts and noticed to my annoyance that I was slurring my words. Well, that was no good. Who on Earth would want to listen to a drunk guy rambling and raving?
But, just like that night a decade earlier when I finally saw the solution to my writing problems, an idea suddenly appeared. What if I embraced this drunken, slurring delivery? What if my online persona became an intelligent but thoroughly inebriated drunkard, spouting off a mixture of insightful film analysis and irreverent, lowbrow humor? After all, plenty of people can become surprisingly philosophical and entertaining after a few too many drinks, and what better way to keep people engaged than by giving them something to laugh at?
In that moment, the Critical Drinker was born. The very first video I published under this new persona took off and went viral, gaining over a million views within a week and catapulting my channel from an obscure corner of YouTube to tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, of subscribers. It’s been an absolute whirlwind of success ever since then, my growing profile opening doors to a host of new business opportunities and allowing me to promote my books to a fan base that seem genuinely surprised to meet a critic who doesn’t just break down other people’s work, but actually produces his own.
And, just like my writing career, none of it would have happened if I hadn’t experienced that little moment of inspiration, recognized it for what it was, and, most importantly, acted on it. And I guess that’s my real takeaway from this whole experience: we don’t always get to decide when the answers come to us. In fact, they often come at pretty inconvenient times. But being ready and willing to act on them when they do—well, that can change your life.
William Jordan is an author and YouTube creator based in the U.K.