Elizabeth Gilbert talked about something similar in her TED lecture a few years back. And I remember watching Gilbert's talk and thinking, "Is she telling the truth? Or is she acting out a piece of fiction?" I found her comparison of stories with ghosts or spirits or something in the ether to rather weird.
But the thing is, I've been having moments like this recently. It's not that my stories were floating around in a spirit dimension. The BFG hasn't been trumpeting stories into my window during the night. Sometimes, though, I encounter a situation, or a person, and my hair sort stands on end. I feel like I'm in the presence of a Story. The Story has nothing to do with me, but it's there, and if I want to, I can try to write it. It's a little bit like recognizing symptoms of an affliction or footprints on a path.
I have to admit that this feeling has transported my writing experience out of the "work" category and into something closer to "play." It's quite exciting when you can glimpse the potential of a story, the layers and contours, but only by a bit. And you start talking to people and writing notes, and dreaming about it, and mulling it over a bit.
And then you read something that someone else has written, or may be you watch a movie. You go for a long walk. You take a spin class. And BAM: You see the story a little more clearly than you did before. But only a bit. You have to repeat the whole process over and over again, depending on how many words your editor allows and how much energy you have to keep up.
I'm going to paste Rushdie's quote below. He said it much better than I could.
"...some of my most creative moments are the moments between books, when I don't know where I'm going, and my head freewheels. Things come to me unexpectedly, and can become a character or a paragraph or just a perception, all of which can turn into stories, or a novel. I work just as hard when I'm not writing a book as when I am. I sit there and let things happen, mostly I throw away the next day what I wrote the day before. But pure creativity is just seeing what shows up. Once something has shown up, then it's more focused, and it's more enjoyable. But this in-between time is when unexpected things happen. Things happen that I previously thought were outside my ability to imagine. They become imaginable. And they come inside." --Salman Rushdie (The Paris Review, Summer 2005, No. 174, "The Art of Fiction No. 186")