How to Come Up With Wild and Crazy Ideas (Just Like Albert Einstein)

”Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein

What would happen if a professional athlete stopped training for an event because they were tired of their sport?

If he or she made a habit of not training, they’d lose their next event.

What would happen if an engineer stopped working on a construction project because he didn’t feel excited about plans for the project?

He’d lose his job.

What happens to the writer who waits for inspiration to arrive?

She doesn’t write at all.

Look, you and I know writing is hard work. It’s demanding and time-consuming, and it requires you to sit in one place and concentrate for extended periods of time.

If you want to write professionally, treat it seriously, which is why I want you to learn 5 lessons from Albert Einstein.

(Backstory alert: Albert Einstein is one of the most famous scientific writers of all time and a personal hero.

Although he is more famous for his mathematical equations than his writing, Einstein’s life shows we writers can succeed because of the day-to-day struggles of life and not in spite of them.)

Lesson #1 Get Used to Rejection

Because Einstein’s Peers Repeatedly Rejected Him

During his early twenties, Einstein spent several years seeking employment as a teaching assistant. He struggled to find meaningful work, and he found it difficult to get his dissertation published as part of his application for a doctorate.

Einstein even sent professors copies of his dissertation with a postage-paid card, to encourage them to reply and offer feedback (sometimes we take email for granted!).

Numerous leading professors and employers in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland rejected Einstein repeatedly. At one stage, Einstein became so despondent about his career that he contemplated abandoning science for engineering.

His father, an engineer, even wrote to Wilhelm Ostwald, the Professor of Chemistry of Leipzig, and implored Ostwald to read Albert’s paper and write a few words of encouragement.

Ostwald didn’t reply (although much later he did nominate Einstein for the Nobel Prize).

Even later, after Einstein published a series of landmark papers that overturned the basics of physics, it took him several more years to achieve the academic and professional recognition he deserved.

Today, writers have much more opportunities than Einstein to make their voices heard. If a gatekeeper refuses our work, we can use a blog to build a platform; we can enter contests, or we can self-publish a book. Today, it doesn’t take a genius to find an audience.

Lesson #2 Don’t Quit Your Job

Because Einstein found his best ideas while working six days a week.

After a long period of searching for employment, Einstein found a job working in a Swiss patent office in Bern, in 1902.

There, he worked eight hours a day, for five and six days a week for six years. In his spare time, Einstein conducted his research and wrote.

In 1905, the third-class patent examiner published four momentous scientific papers, one of that formed the basis for the most famous scientific equation of all time: E=mc2.

Even then, it took Einstein several more years to achieve an academic posting in a university.

Einstein’s life shows us it’s possible to succeed in the face of competing personal and professional demands. There’s nothing stopping an aspiring writer holding down a full-time job during the day and pursuing their passion at night.

Lesson #3 Pursue Multiple Interests

Because Einstein was more than a scientist.

Einstein loved music since he was a child, and he became an accomplished violin player. He often entertained dinner party guests, academics, friends and his family by playing Mozart.

He didn’t care much for material possessions or appearances, but he did bring his violin almost everywhere. Einstein once played with the noted Russian violinist Toscha Seidel, and afterwards explained his theory of relativity to Seidel.

He only stopped playing later in life when it became too hard for his fingers to use the violin.

Einstein’s first love was science, but he still made time for other passions and interests. Writers don’t have to pursue their craft at all costs; if anything, your writing will improve if you make time for other passions.

Lesson #4 Challenge Yourself (And Your Peers)

Because Einstein was the ultimate rebel

Einstein saw himself as a non-conformist and a rebel. This belief system was a result of the times he lived in and his personal character.

Einstein lived through two World Wars, and he had to leave Hitler’s Germany for America because he was Jewish.

As a younger man, he suggested academic life wasn’t conducive to great work, and according to his biographer Walter Isaacson, he took delight in challenging the prevailing wisdom of his academic peers.

From the 1920s onwards, many of Einstein’s theories were challenged or overturned by a new branch of physics: quantum mechanics. This branch of physics described randomness in nature, but Einstein dismissed it saying:

“God does not play dice.”

He spent the later part of his life researching a unified theory that could unify his general theory of relativism with electromagnetism.

Einstein’s contemporaries, who were more concerned with quantum mechanics, regarded his quest as rather quaint and even as a waste of Einstein’s time.

Einstein didn’t care.

Always the rebel, he felt he’d achieved enough status and security in life to spend time researching areas of physics that his younger peers would have been discredited for spending time on.

For Einstein, pursuing a passion was more important than what others thought of him or how he spent his time.

It matters less how much success a writer enjoys; what matters more is challenging ourselves, publishing our work, and avoiding complacency.

A little bit of self-confidence helps too.

Lesson #5 Don’t Think of the Writing As Just Work

Because Einstein found meaning through his craft.

In 1955, a 76-year-old Einstein died in hospital from a longstanding stomach ailment.

On his death bed, he left twelve sets of equations which formed parts of Einstein’s search for a unified field theory. He also left an undelivered speech, which he had just written for Israel Independence day.

I’m not suggesting writing on your death bed, but Einstein’s story demonstrates a life’s work can take on a greater meaning if we’re passionate enough about our craft.

At the very least, remember Einstein’s advice for scientists and by extension writers:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

But Einstein Was a Genius, What’s a New Writer To Do?

Genius or not, Einstein possessed lots of personal flaws. He was just as human as you and me.

Albert married Marić Mileva in 1903, and he divorced her in 1919 after a difficult and unhappy marriage. He also rarely saw his son Eduard Tete, who had schizophrenia and had a more difficult life in various mental health institutions.

Einstein married his second wife Elsa Löwenthal in 1919 and, although they were married until her death in 1936, he had several affairs with other women.

After her death, Einstein praised a friend for managing to live in harmony with a woman, saying this was one thing he failed at.

He could also be cold and distant and, as a younger man, he often made life harder for himself by deliberately antagonising and challenging his peers.

Einstein succeeded in so many ways in his life, but he also failed and failed often, and he experienced the same pain and suffering many of us go through.

So, write about it.

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