Whenever an artist, a craftsperson, a chef creates something identifiable as his or her own, the underlying differentiator is the story. Forget the words, brush strokes, hammer marks, tool grinds, ingredients; the only thing — the only quality — that matters is the story. What remains from the creation is not only ‘object,’ but ‘narrative’ of why that object has come to be. The creative thing does not exist without the story lest it become a mere commodity, a castaway one-use bobble, ephemera.
The very reason your Mother’s Spaghetti is unmatched by spaghetti in a can or from a restaurant is because the concept of “Mom’s spaghetti” is inseparably linked to the background tales, memories, made-up family tidbits that surround the spaghetti itself. These will survive the death of the Mother. These will transcend the small changes made to the original recipes by daughters and sons. These will be the insoluble essence of Mother’s Spaghetti. The old jokes and reminiscences will be as important as the metered amounts of flour and egg, tomato and spices.
The same holds true for Grandfather’s razor, Dad’s walking stick, Aunt Elanors’s watercolour, whatever heirloom making the rounds in a family. Without the built-up mystique of oral / written / photographic history, the heirlooms are just things: junk or trappings for garage sales.
The same should hold true for good writing. Without background, without an anchor in the writer’s actuality, without a link to the time and space around it, a story or poem or novel is nothing but a bunch of words. A writer should be cognizant of his or her place in the oeuvre of the age, whether he or she fights against or plays into it. Without acknowledgement — positive or negative — of its place in the whole, a work can only fall flat, existing outside any traceable ancestry, words on a page for the sake of themselves.
When writing, build differentiation, flavour, the story behind the story, placing it in the here and now, making it relevant, making it memorable.