Where do the words come from?

What do the following quotes from writers about writing have in common?

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.” ~Sharon O’Brien

“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~Vladimir Nabakov

“It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page.” ~Joan Baez

“Books want to be born: I never make them. They come to me and insist on being written, and on being such and such.” ~Samuel Butler

“There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.” ~William Makepeace Thackeray

All of these disparate writers seem to be saying that the words just come to them, not as a result as of an effort they make, but serendipitously: crawling down the writer’s sleeve, forming themselves in invisible ink, insisting on being written. This notion that the words just appear is common among writers. This is not to say that there isn’t work involved in organization, research, waiting around for inspiration, focusing, self-editing, revision and so on. Writers work hard, but when it comes down to the moment when the writer is alone with the blank page, the words do pretty much magically appear.

Poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic Lewis Hyde writes about this phenomenon in THE GIFT, CREATIVITY AND THE ARTIST IN THE MODERN WORLD (1983). In this book, which has become something of a Bible among writers, Hyde maintains that a work of art is a gift: “We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed on us.”

Hyde adds that the gratuitous aspect of creativity is what produces the feeling of exhilaration that writers feel when the words appear. If you write, you know that feeling: joy blended with gratitude that any human being should be so lucky as to be a conduit for these words. It is what gets writers so hooked.

“Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me.” ~D.H. Lawrence