I had a (maybe) epiphany this morning, having to do with that question everybody asks writers: "Where do you get your ideas?" My epiphany is that mybest ideas for novels and short stories grow out of moments when I've had strong and deep feelings. I think those feelings give me the ideas that grow into the stories that are the easiest for me to write. And I'm wondering if the reason some stories don't develop, or I have an awful struggle making them work, is that I don't have any deep feeling of my own at the heart of them.
I bragged yesterday that I'm writing my fifth short story in three weeks. They have come naturally and easily, and I suspect it's because there was memorable emotion that "birthed" each one of them, even if that birth was decades ago.
The five stories came from these emotions. . .
The fear. . .no, make that terror. . .I had of werewolves dating from when I saw "The Werewolf" when I was maybe eight years old.
The poignancy I felt when we'd take our toddler into restaurants in south Florida and he'd get lots of longing attention from grandparents who missed their own grandkids.
My annoyance over "fan" mail from people who object to any "bad" language I use.
The emptiness I felt when I couldn't communicate with somebody I loved, when I was eighteen.
The unrequited love I felt for a fellow who considered me just a friend, when we were twenty-one.
Contrast that with the book I'm supposedly working on and which is causing me so much trouble. When I try to think about any deep emotion that birthed it, I come up blank. It may be there, but if it is, I haven't felt it yet.
Years ago, I was struggling with a novel, Twilight, that wouldn't let me advance past page 84. I couldn't push out a single word for months. Things got desperate. Finally, one sad day, I gave up. That night, I had a dream in which I felt deep emotion, and when I woke up I realized that's what my heroine would feel on page 85. It was an emotion that I had never felt before, so no wonder I hadn't been able to put it onto the page. Within an hour after I woke up, I was writing again! I wrote 26 pages that day, and finished the book in two weeks, the fastest I've ever written any novel.
My guess is that if were to think back on the stories and books of mine that I consider to be my best ones, I'd find emotion at the heart of them. My emotion. And if I were to look at the ones of mine that I think are my weakest, I'd realize that I had no personal emotional connection to them, and that they were more like a strictly mental exercise of putting together a plot.
I don't know if this late-coming epiphany of mine will help anybody else, but I think it may help me. So thanks for listening as I work it out, out loud.