One of my favorite writers is David Mamet. He is a fascinating source of inspiration. (See his Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama for an interesting read.)
In his Masterclass on drama, he mentions that when he was researching the life of Malcom X, he studied the Quran.
Mamet says that when Mohammed was at the end of his life, he told his followers he would leave them two teachers: one who spoke and one who was silent. The speaking teacher was the Quran. The silent teacher was death.
Mamet takes this concept and applies it to writing: the speaking teacher is the audience. The silent one is the empty page.
It’s a puzzling analogy but captures the tension of the creative process.
When one writes one starts with a blank piece of paper. There is a story there, but like the name of a person one can’t remember, it lies on the tip of the tongue.
It may take 100,000 words into a novel in progress before the writer even begins to understand what he or she is writing about.
The commercial success of a work depends on the speaking teacher, but it is the silent one that has always captured my imagination. In that silence lies a story, perhaps a great story, if one listens hard enough.