Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

atkins bookshelf quotations“Good writers invent style at least partly in order to be interesting to themselves and others — they mysteriously ‘find’ it as they ‘find’ their plots or subjects — then, and only then, as the style is emerging, do they try to work out the philosophical implications of the creature they’ve stumbled onto. Original style arises out of personality and the freak accident of the artist’s particular aesthetic experience — the fortuitous combination, during a writer’s childhood of (let us say) Tolstoy, Roy Rogers, and the chimpanzee act at the St. Louis  Zoo. Only after the style has begun to assert itself does the writer’s intellect make sense of it, discover or impose some purpose and develop the style further, this time in full consciousness of what it portends…

Out of the artist’s imagination, as out of nature’s inexhaustible well, pours one thing after another. The artist composes, writes, or paints just as he dreams, seizing whatever swims close to the net. This shimmering mess of loves and hates — fishing trips taken long ago with Uncle Ralph, a 1940 green Chevrolet, a war, a vague sense of what makes a novel, a symphony, a photograph — this is the clay the artist must shape into an object worthy of our attention; that is, our tears, our laughter, our thought.”

From American author John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction (1979). Gardner is best known for Grendel, a retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster.

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