I am a devotee of William Blake, Frederick Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and Jim Morrison. Each maintained that the highest state of self-actualization is to be achieved by merging internal opposites into a dynamic state of awareness transcendent of these alleged dualities. Blake called it "the marriage of heaven and hell." Nietzsche contemplated a state "beyond good and evil." Carl Jung simply called it "the third thing," and Jim Morrison called it "break[ing] on through to the other side." Creative people are walking paradoxes; both shrewd and naïve, libidinous yet prudish, and so on. I believe that this paradox forms the basis of the creative tension so essential to artistic triumph—the friction of opposites setting fire to that "third thing," which goes by yet another name: the Sublime.
Rimbaud called the artistic process a "derangement of the senses." Jim Morrison took him at his word. Jim was my first influence when I started writing at sixteen, and I'll never forgive him for that. He was the progenitor of the strain of rock music known as Goth, and you can learn a lot about the workings of the subconscious from American Gothic literature. After all, both Freud and Jung developed their maps of the human psyche from it. Jung believed that we each have personal unconscious, but argued for the existence of a Collective Unconscious, an infinite inner space containing every substantial experience of humankind all the way back to our beginnings. While Freud saw the unconscious as merely a storage dump for repressed memories, Jung insisted that the unconscious is ever-active, continually pushing its contents up and out. We act out its inner drama whether we know it or not—which is perhaps why our own neurotic tendencies are often quite obvious to others, but a complete mystery to us. Perhaps there is a connection here to the steep learning curve associated with our recognizing good writing long before we are able to achieve it.
One of the best books on writing I've ever read is Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, because she encourages hedonistic abandon in first drafts. I practice this in a way akin to the phenomenon known as automatic writing, handwriting 1,000 words a day as quickly as I can and letting the unconscious go where it will. This helps me tap into divergent thinking, which is essential to the creative mind at work. My most natural talent is "creating" vivid imagery, a direct result of this practice. Images hit like lightning strikes and often seethe with stark polarities. Utilizing this technique in first drafts has also helped with the development of natural similes and metaphors while allowing me to discover and maintain an original voice. In his examination of the Sublime, Nietzsche maintained that divergent thinking is responsible for creating fresh language—indeed, that the creation of fresh language is our most basic urge. Consider my favorite phrase from Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road, in which his narrator refers to a starless sky as an "autistic dark." Think about that. It's not just an unusual pairing of words, but an evocative depiction of a horrifying state in which we have lost communion with stars and planets, the contemplation of which forms the basis of pretty much all philosophical and religious myths.
Still, revision is of utmost importance to me, and I enjoy this process every bit as much as the magic of creating a story. It is a different mind state, though. My second drafts resemble heavily redacted CIA documents. Of those thousand words I write on a daily basis, perhaps 100-300 prove useful in the end. I am that particular kind of reviser known as a Stone Cutter. It fits, because dry stone masonry has been my trade for twenty-five years. As with writing, its learning curve is steep, but I believe that if you practice anything diligently enough, it becomes second nature—both despite and because of the daunting frustration levels encountered along the way. In the end, you become more a conjurer than anything else.
I'm not a fan of "cool" art. I want to be emotionally shaken and spiritually emboldened by the stories I read. My greatest influences tend to be those writers whom I've found impossible to emulate: James Baldwin, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and J.D. Salinger. O'Connor: the art of judicious grotesquery. McCarthy: stunning and compact use of language (along with less reliance on the comma). Salinger: dialogue! Baldwin: sheer fervor. He was a preacher, after all. Without wanting to be "preachy," I believe that the world is in dire need of earnest and humble preachers. There are more than enough false prophets to go around.