From nothing, nothing comes.
Great writers have a somewhat checkered history of being successful at life; among them some of my favorite authors. Jack London died of a heroin overdose, and whether it was intentional is more likely than not. Edgar Allen Poe attempted suicide in 1848. No one knows if he succeeded the next year. Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Chandler gave the trick of disaster a go. Who can forget Ernest Hemingway and his shotgun?
You don’t have to crazy to be a writer, but it may help. Although, crazy may not be the right word—perhaps driven serves better. Driven not by the need for fame and fortune as it is generally applied, but driven by pasts and emotions they cannot, and perhaps do not wish to, escape.
I’ve used a lot of maybe, probably, and but here. Rightfully so, only God can see into the thoughts and intents of the heart. This one thing I am convinced is true, writers cling to emotion—positive and negative—usually both at once. Supreme joy and extreme sorrow are next-door neighbors in the writer’s head as necessary tools of the trade.
It is a writer’s ability to tap into the visceral within him/herself that gives their words power—that enables us to “see” into the crisis they create for their characters. Words of encouragement to “get over it,” “move on,” “just forget it, it’s in the past,” are too often seen as synonymous with “when are you going to give up this writing nonsense?”
An empty life, a heart never broken, and a mind never troubled have no distress to rescue the hero from, and so nothing comes of it. The well of the heart and mind, with their waters bitter and sweet, is the source—the muse. If there is nothing there that makes them laugh and cry, there will be nothing on their pages to evoke those emotions in the reader. Experience is the spark of imagination. It is the cause, writing the effect.
Where do writers get their ideas? They might say it came from a song, a painting, a snatched bit of conversation, or a multitude of other sources. They are telling the truth, as far as that goes. But the real inspirational flint and iron are sometimes buried so that even the writer cannot see it until the fire starts.
Writers do not write for a living. They write because it is life. From nothing, nothing comes—not all men have this knowledge.