I’ve been trying to frame my ideas for this and it has simply been like trying to herd cats!
First I must say that this is purely personal and I can only really speak about what I do most and that is to write. I suspect something similar may go on with art and music and other modalities but since these are not my areas of expertise( if that sounds pompous, sorry!) I can’t comment there.
When I write I often get a feeling that I am not creating anything but that I am re-creating something or discovering something that already exists, rather like an archaeologist happening upon a lost temple that has been forgotten about for centuries. The temple has always been there but people have forgotten it and the lianas have grown up and the jungle has expanded and covered it, and eventually even legends concerning it become vague.
Now I know this sounds rather strange and in some ways completely at odds with the idea of the writer as story-smith and creator of the tales they tell. But I feel I am retelling tales that have been lost. Terry Pratchett wrote quite extensively in Witches Abroad about the concept of Story as a symbiotic or even parasitic life form and while I wouldn’t go so far, it often feels very much as though the stories that I find in my head are alive and evolving.
Quite where the stories actually exist I do not know. I’ve been desperately trying to get my head round ideas to do with Space/time and so on but it simply won’t come right at the moment. But maybe since as Eliot said, in The Four Quartets, all time is eternally present, the stories I write exist in my head because they already exist in the future and the past simultaneously. I might not be making sense here but the echoes of what I hear are not very clear yet and I am trying to translate them into concepts I really do not have the vocabulary for.
I have heard of David existing inside the block of stone and Michaelangelo chiselling away all that wasn’t David; it’s a similar process of identifying which scene is from what story and which lines belong where. Like a combination of excavation and reconstruction, I sift through the images and story-lines and characters and try and use my rather inadequate brain to decide what goes where and I am often left with numerous bits and pieces that fit nowhere that I file away for future use, much like the way comedians collect humour and jokes for the right set.
I’d very much welcome discussion and comment on this issue as it perplexes and baffles me. I’d like to take credit for creation but in some ways I never can; only for allowing the book or poem to “come through” the layers of sand and the detritus of maybe centuries or millennia and cleaning it up.
When Iguanodon was first reassembled by early palaeontologists, they made a right dog’s dinner of him and put his thumb claws on the end of his nose and had his whole structure wrong. Maybe sometimes I do the same with stories and poems but only experience and intuition can tell this, and I suspect that much of what I uncover and reassemble is as accurate as can be hoped for.
(Ed: I found this article in my archives; I think I wrote it for Cafe Creme, the multi-authored blog I started with three years ago. It’s dated 2009. I’m feeling very flat and lifeless creatively, so hopefully this set of ideas from when I was a bit more lively may be of some use)