EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES come to most of us: some qualities of who we are (the aggregate of past experience) and who we might be (now or in the remote future) converge:  Selective memory, imagination and the moment converge in a perfect storm of circumstances to trigger this event.

Creative people, those who are disposed by disposition or training to seek out novelty, discover and invent new things (including insights and ideas) are situated to have this experience more often than many of us.  State of mind is important and we have seen how intimately the spectrum of states of mind is involved (see A&O notes on “normality and dysfunction)

(Teachers often work to evoke an extraordinary experience in students:  The “transformative learning experience” — see Greenberg 2015)

Creativity was once usually thought of as a gift of the gods –it represented INSPIRATION  (from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to breathe into”) refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour. The concept has origins in both Hellenism and Hebraism. The Greeks believed that inspiration or “enthusiasm” came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Similarly, in the Ancient Norse religions, inspiration derives from the gods, such as Odin. Inspiration is also a divine matter in Hebrew poetics. In the Book of Amos the prophet speaks of being overwhelmed by God’s voice and compelled to speak. In Christianity, inspiration is a gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Wikipedia on Artistic_inspiration);  Then listen to a TED talk by author, Elizabeth Gilbert.  Is this what  Csikszentmihaley (1975) means by FLOW… somehow tapping into and immersion in an altered state of consciousness such as described in mystical experiences?





Edward Albee:  Writing has got to be an act of discovery. . . . I write to find out what I’m thinking about.

W. H. Auden: Language is the mother, not the handmaiden, of thought; words will tell you things you never thought or felt before.

James Baldwin: You go into a book and you’re in the dark, really. You go in with a certain fear and trembling. You know one thing. You know you will not be the same person when this voyage is over. But you don’t know what’s going to happen to you between getting on the boat and stepping off.

Robert Bolt: Writing a play is thinking, not thinking about thinking.

Truman Capote: If there is no mystery, for the artist, to solve inside of his art, then there’s no point in it. . . . for me, every act of art is the act of solving a mystery.

Frank Conroy: Most often I come to an understanding of what I am writing about as I write it (like the lady who doesn’t know what she thinks until she says it).

Joan Dideon:  I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.

John Dos Passos: Curiosity urges you on–the driving force.


Alan Dugan: When I’m successful, I find the poem will come out saying something that I didn’t previously know, believe, or had intellectually agreed with.

Robert Duncan: If I write what you know, I bore you; if I write what I know, I bore myself, therefore I write what I don’t know.

William Faulkner: It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.

Gabriel Fielding: Writing to me is a voyage, an odyssey, a discovery, because I’m never certain of precisely what I will find.

E. M. Forster: How do I know what I think until I see what I say?

Robert Frost: For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew. . . . I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.

Christopher Fry: My trouble is I’m the sort of writer who only finds out what he’s getting at by the time he’s got to the end of it.  

Ernst Fuchs: My hand created, led in trance, obscure things … Not seldom, I get into trance while painting, my state of consciousness fades, giving way to a feeling of being afloat … doing things I do not know much about consciously.’(the Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs quoted in “Imagination is Ancient” by Stephen T Asma (2017; Aeon)

Rumer Godden: Of course one never knows in draft if it’s going to turn out, even with my age and experience.

Joanne Greenberg: Your writing is trying to tell you something. Just lend an ear.

Graham Greene: The novel is an unknown man and I have to find him . . . .

Nancy Hale: Many an author will speak of writing, in his best work, more than he actually knows.

Robert Hayden: As you continue writing and rewriting, you begin to see possibilities you hadn’t seen before. Writing a poem is always a process of discovery.

Shirley Hazzard: I think that one is constantly startled by the things that appear before you on the page when you’re writing.

George V. Higgins: I have no idea what I’ll say when I start a novel. I work fast so I can see how it will come out.

Cecelia Holland: One of the reasons a writer writes, I think, is that his stories reveal so much he never thought he knew.

William Inge: I don’t start a novel or a play saying, “I’ll write about such and such.”   I start with an idea and then find out what I’m writing about.

Keats: had often “not been aware of the beauty of some thought or expression until after I had composed and written it down”

Galway Kinnell: I start off but I don’t know where I’m going; I try this avenue and that avenue, that turns out to be a dead end, this is a dead end, and so on. The search takes a long time and I have to back-track often.

Stanley Kunitz: For me the poem is always something to be discovered.

Margaret Laurence: Each novel is a kind of voyage of discovery.

Denise Levertov: Writing poetry is a process of discovery. . . you can smell the poem before you see it. . . . Like some animal.

C. Day Lewis: First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . . . we do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.

Bernard Malamud: A writer has to surprise himself to be worth reading.

William Matthews: The easiest way for me to lose interest is to know too much of what I want to say before I begin.

Mary McCarthy: Every short story, at least for me, is a little act of discovery. A cluster of details presents itself to my scrutiny, like a mystery that I will understand in the course of writing or sometimes not fully until afterward. . . . a story that. you do not learn something from while you are writing it, that does not illuminate something for you, is dead, finished before you started it.

David Milch:  “I try consciously to frustrate the impulse to think about a scene before I sit down to it, because— you know the highfalutin’ expression ‘you can’t think your way to write action; you can only act your way to write thinking.’”


Arthur Miller: I’m discovering it, making up my own story. I think at the typewriter.

Henry Miller: Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.

Alberto Moravia: One writes a novel in order to know why one writes it.

Wright Morris: The language leads, and we continue to follow where it leads.

Flannery O’Connor: The only way, I think, to learn to write short stories is to write them, and then try to discover what you have done.

Lawrence Osgood: Writing is like exploring. . . as an explorer makes maps of the country he has explored, so a writer’s works are maps of the country he has explored.

Jules Renard: The impulse of the pen. Left alone, thought goes as it will. As it follows the pen, it loses its freedom. It wants to go one way, the pen another. It is like a blind man led astray by his cane, and what I came to write is no longer what I wished to write.

Adrienne Rich: Poems are like dreams; you put into them what you don’t know you know.

Charles Simic: You never know when you begin a poem what it has in store for you.

William Stafford: I don’t see writing as a communication of something already discovered, as “truths” already known. Rather, I see writing as a job of experiment. It’s like any discovery job; you don’t know what’s going to happen until you try it.

Mark Strand: What I want to do in a poem is discover what it is that I have to say.

Art Tatum: “In one of the odes of ‘Boleros,’ the great blind jazz pianist, speaks of his improvisation:

            So I lay two notes in the bar ahead,

            diminish a major,

            tunnel through the dark

            of the brightest minor,

            and come out on the right side of the song.

            I pick the composer’s pocket,

            and lay the hidden jewels out there.” 


                      [“Transfigurations: Collected Poems” by Jay Wright La State UP, NYTBR 1/28/01]


William Thackeray:  “There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.”  

John Updike: Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what one is saying.

Kurt Vonnegut: It’s like watching a teletype machine in a newspaper office to see what comes out.

David Wagoner: For me, writing poetry is a series of bewildering discoveries, a search for something that remains largely unknown even when you find it.

Robert Penn Warren: A poem is an exploration not a working out of a theme.

Thomas Williams: A writer keeps surprising himself. . . he doesn’t know what f he is saying until he sees it on the page.

Paul McCartney“Every time I come to write a song,” says McCartney, “there’s this magic little thing where I go, ‘Ooh, ooh, it’s happening again.’ I just sit down at the piano and go, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know this one,’ and suddenly there’s a song.” 

Adapted from Donald M. Murray (1978) “Internal Revision: A Process of Discovery,” in Research on Composing. (Charles R. Cooper and Lee Odell, editors). National Council of Teachers of English, Urbana, Illinois.  pp 85-103. (additions in cyan)  Murray defines writing as “the process of using language to discover meaning in experience and to communicate it” (p86).   more  (broken link)