I think it's pain.
I've been sitting here, staring at the screen trying to decide what I want to write for my first Nightstand post (hello, Nightstandland!) and I've been thinking about influences, and I've been thinking about this amazing THIS IS TEEN event that Gina Rosati and I went to (she wrote about it here).
I was super early because I'm practically pathological about being early (if Gina and I could only combine our powers like Captain Planet...), and to entertain us early birds, they had a presentation looping with these candid interviews of Maggie, Meg and Libba (yeah we're totally on a first-name basis now) essentially interviewing each other. Now, I've followed Meg pretty avidly for the past several years; I've read about some pretty dark problems in her past on her blog, and I've loved that she responds to all this with wanting to write happy, "fluffy" novels that inspire joy rather than explore pain. I dig that! But I also understand that a lot of her writing is, whether directly or conversely, inspired by that pain.
And Libba! During the loop, she talked about being in a horrific car accident and the choices, surgeries and physical pain she underwent afterwards. At 18. Talk about formative experiences; talk about starting your adult life with a huge swell of harsh emotions and harsher realities.
Sometimes I think that writing itself comes from pain, not from joy. I just finished watching an episode of the (significantly crappy) show PLATINUM HIT on Bravo. It's total fluff; whatever. One of the contestants wrote a song about being in love with another contestant, and it was awful. Additionally, I just finished reading Jay Asher's 13 REASONS WHY (incredible book!!) and in it the (arguable) main character describes going to a poetry group that claims to write poetry to find joy, but really only talks about deep emotional scars.
Are the two mutually exclusive? Does writing not expand when you look at it from different emotions, different perspectives? Can you not write from pain AND joy?
Have you ever watched a commercial for wrinkle filler cream? The animated "simulation" comes up and the cream is applied and forms a semi-translucent bubble, swelling over every nook and cranny to form a smooth, artificial surface. Joy is like that. Joy adapts and fills in and presents this smooth barrier to the world. Which is incredible--it glazes over every problem and it swells your heart and it fills spaces within you that you previously weren't even cognizant of. But writing from joy creates that artificial smoothness, I think. The nooks and crannies--in writing, skin, and life--are what make things interesting, and more than that, inspiring, and joy leaves you blind to them.
So my influence? I guess it's pain, in a lot of ways (and heyo, no I don't write really dark gothy stuff or anything). I write crazy high fantasy and dramatic historicals when I want to escape pain and just live in a glittery world. I write edgier contemporaries when I have pain that I want to deal with and confront. I even have a few stories that I acknowledge are total crap and thoroughly two dimensional that I sometimes write for solace, knowing they aren't ever intended to see the light of day, just to let me spend some time with a really simple character.
Writing IS the joy. My influence, my driving force is pain, but when I write, when I forget the pain, embrace the pain, or just deny it altogether, it's bliss. I find it really difficult--if not fully impossible--to write from a place of joy; first comes the pain, then comes the writing, and then, oh then, comes the joy.
Here's to loving your pain, and finding your bliss.