I'm listening to Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works on CD, and I'm gobbling up the research, the case studies, the science-made-palatable as I drive to and from work everyday. I especially love the bit about Bob Dylan in the 1960s breaking from music during a spell of disenchantment and secluding himself in a cabin in Woodstock, NY, intending to quit music entirely. Dylan ended up experiencing an unexpected collision with his muse in Woodstock, and wrote the amazing song, "Like a Rolling Stone."
This is how creativity works, Lehrer says. The brain has to submerge in novel circumstances of some kind before fresh, innovative ideas can occur. Lehrer writes:
“But then, just when Dylan was most determined to stop creating music, he was overcome with a strange feeling. ‘It’s a hard thing to describe,’ Dylan would later remember. ‘It’s just this sense that you got something to say.’ ”
The thing is, Dylan never actually said that. And when it was discovered that Lehrer made the quote up, the book was recalled by the publisher and Lehrer resigned from his prestigious job at The New Yorker.
I'm late to the party on all this, as the false-quote drama happened back in 2012. But, I have to say, I sympathize with Lehrer. Granted, this is Bob Dylan he's misquoting. Bob Dylan is a big deal. But given the substantial research covered in the book, the interesting assemblage of ideas and anecdotes about creativity, this one-single-quote-thing seems like nitpicking.
In my experience as a writer, quotes are part of the essential architecture of the story, meant to brace and bolster the larger boards and planks that give a story its shape and significance. But information conveyed in a story does not live or die by a quote; rather, it's often conveniently supplemented by it.
I've finessed quotes for my sources before, based on what they've said in interviews. I always run a tweaked or downright fabricated quote by the source before publication, like any fact checker would, but I still maintain that the quote serves the story, and not the other way around. Story is king, and quotes add elegant transition and/or flourish of authority within a story's overall composition.
It's all about seeing the forest for the trees. The information and story conveyed in a 279-page book matters more than one quote. A quote that actually sounds like something Dylan would've probably said anyway.