Cross fertilisation

Academics call it ‘intertextuality’  (see The Art of Fiction, David Lodge, Penguin Books, 1992).  It’s the idea that a writer makes links both obvious and invisible to other piecess of art in the creation of their own work.

Trust academia to come up with a special long word to describe the blindingly obvious.

Of course we absorb things we see and experience in the real world as well as other works of art of all kinds that we encounter.  It’s not always clear what influence each has on us, but they all go into the creative cauldron to be brewed up together to produce something new.

I watched a documentary about Mark Knopfler (A Life in Songs on BBC4)  yesterday, in which, among other things, he discussed the inspiration for some of his most famous songs.

He spoke about keeping life’s observations and ideas ‘in the junk yard’ until he found a use for them.  Sometimes he found an immediate use.  He recounted a tale of hearing a delivery man at an electrical goods store mouthing off about the useless rabble on MTV and sitting down and recording the man’s words to write Money for Nothing. He called this ‘a situational song’, almost like ‘found art’.

I liked his comment that ‘a creative act engenders other creative acts’ when he explained that his song If this is Goodbye had been inspired by a newspaper article by Ian McEwan about the telephone messages left by people on the planes about to crash on September 11.

Sometimes other people’s work simply presents itself to me and I absorb it, other times I go out and look for it.  I go to the cinema and theatre, I visit exhibitions and concerts.  I read; and more recently I have been exploring what is available online.

There is a truism that the best readers make the best writers, but I do sometimes feel overwhelmed by words, their shape on the page, the particular attention that is required to make sense of them.

I recall some very useful advice given to me by Louise Doughty when she suggested, that when writing becomes difficult, or during periods when words provide no relaxation, then seeking out visual art can replenish the well.

I try not to give in to that potential writing avoidance strategy too frequently, but when I do, I tend to head towards those art works into and out of which I can weave a story.

The ideal is to be inspired with many ideas from which I can choose the best, or the one that develops its own momentum.

In a programme about the history of the guitar, I was struck by a joke made by a craftsman maker.  Asked how to make a guitar, he replied that you take a piece of wood and cut away everything that doesn’t look like a guitar.

I think the same may be true of making a story; take a pile of words and delete those that don’t fit your tale.

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