Writers talk about this frequently. Fiction writers often say that a character wouldn’t do what they wanted, or that the characters took over the story. Of course our characters aren’t real; they can’t really take over a story, they can’t really take on a life of their own.
So where does the writing come from? And why do we have so little control?
Because no one has precisely pinned down where ideas come from writers, who love to speculate, have proposed endless theories. Stephen Johnson talks about networked inspiration and how the cafe culture provides a pot in which creativity may bubble and boil. There is little doubt that creativity flourished in the melting pot of the French Salons where copious amounts of coffee may or may not have been served.
At one time I was going around talking about the creation myths suggesting that like the universe and earth itself it all began within a swirling mass of nothing. I had students closing their eyes, looking at nothing; writing about what they saw when they saw nothing. As I recall we also speculated about whether the answer lay in the roots of trees. We considered the deep roots that we are able to tap into. Carl Jung named this the ‘collective unconscious’ and many incredibly popular self help books, written by people like Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) have written extensively on the subject.
A personal favourite of mine is The Borderland: An exploration of theology in English literature, a book by Roger Bradshaigh Lloyd. My copy of this text quite literally leapt from the bookshelf into my hand in one of the second hand book shops that I frequent. Lloyd, an influential Anglican Priest talked about the Lord, or King of the Borderland being ‘Inspiration’. He names the Holy Ghost, of whom ‘no man has ever dared to give a human name’ as the sovereign of the Borderland in which the artist resides and suggests that answers to the unanswerable may be found in the Nicene Creed. Of course, at the time this affirmed my speculation that like God, in the book of Genesis, the artist makes something out of nothing. The artist is a creator, as compared to a manufacturer. One of the problems I see with self help books is that they encourage us to believe that we can manufacture things. Like Lloyd I do not believe that there is anything immoral in the “composition of pure pot-boilers since pots do need to boil if anything is to be written at all”. I do believe that we are truly creative when we are propelled by passion and find our way of tapping into the source.
With that in mind I welcome assorted story tellers, troubadours, hags, crazy people, trance tellers, bards, traveling poets, prophets, visionaries, charismatic preachers, spellbinders and holy people to join the caravan of donkeys heading towards the source. My hope is that this amazing collective will reveal quite unique ways of tapping into what artists perceive to be ‘the holy grail’.