Successful stories can arise from many sources of inspiration. Sometimes technical devices such as an unusual point of view or structure can lead to the creation of an entire story. We hear about plot-driven stories and character-driven stories. We hear about genres and the strict guidelines that govern some of them. As my own writing has evolved, I find that, for me, emotion is most often my source of inspiration.
Emotion is a vague term. With any story, for example, there is an emotion that accompanies the characters. Reactions that lead to other actions are often based on emotion. But for me the emotion comes from within. Just like when I was painting, I write to try and release something that I'm feeling. I write because I need to communicate that something. As I get feedback on The Wild Grass, a comment I've been getting fairly frequently is that readers don't always understand the logical arc of my stories, but they feel the emotion. That's a criticism I'm fine with.
I think about actors who are capable of crying on command. It's something I've always wanted to do...sort of. To be honest, I tell myself I want to be able to cry on command, but often when emotions like that come up in my throat, I tense up and push them back down again. I think I'm constantly battling the people who raised me with the idea that boys shouldn't show their feelings. But writing is one arena where I do demand that I feel. As illogical as it may seem, I think that sincerity gets through to the reader.
Some actors have told me that the way they tap into their emotions is to always keep them near the surface. I've heard the great musician Bjork talk about something similar. My metaphor for it has always been related to sword swallowing. Or at least what I think sword swallowing must demand.
If you shove a blade down your throat, chances are you'll be tempted to resist it. But if you want to successfully swallow a sword, you have to train yourself against some instincts and learn to relax. It's the same way with writing for me. Sometimes when I'm at the keyboard, thoughts about what other people will think or how much pain I might feel by confronting certain emotions make me want to resist. I start to write this sterile prose that serves nothing else but to get my characters from point A to point B. When that happens I need to catch myself. I often stop writing and just close my eyes and relax. I coax myself to slowly approach the subject matter again and face it without getting tense.
I have to be in this sort of relaxed and sensitive zone to write my best work. It's almost like a trance to me, as silly as it sounds. But I do think it makes a big difference in my writing.