Most of us around these parts are here because we are, on some level, creative people.
That could mean making things with your hands, creating worlds from your mind, or any other number of avenues of expression. Or many of them.
This week as Kristin and I gear up to launch the Magetech RPG for my other
lover website, Searching for SuperWomen, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about creativity. Being between projects with one out on submission has left me without a lot of fiction to work on. I wrote two and a half books in 2012, and it feels strange to not be frantically typing away at something.
I’ve also noticed a certain kind of ebb and flow when it comes to my fiction writing. I’ll go through periods where I don’t read much — and during those periods I don’t write much. When the itch to read comes along, I know I’m coming back up on a bout of writing. I’ve noticed, in the decade or so I’ve been writing seriously, that reading is almost a direct conduit to my writing. It’s like fuel.
Even if I’m reading a thriller and writing urban fantasy. Reading epic fantasy or classics. It doesn’t matter what I’m reading, only that when I read a lot, I write more.
Perhaps it’s the opening up of my mind to absorb new ideas. Maybe it’s actively engaging with another world and giving my brain permission and leeway to critically analyze what’s on the page and assess what it does for me. Either way, the synapses firing seem to spark others to carry on in their place once the pages are closed again.
I won’t rehash Stephen King’s famous admonition to writers. But I do think that consuming media in your field is the best way to get those creative juices flowing.
As we’ve been building the world for our Magetech RPG, I’ve felt that we’re dangling tidbits under our WordBeast’s nose. I can almost hear the saliva dribbling down its chin and the throaty purr that says it knows we’re about to give it a meal. Sometimes having guidelines within which to create a thing help free a character you might never have given life in the first place.
If I had to write up a recipe to get your Beast’s engine revving, this might be it:
1. Gather ingredients. These could be books, movies, paintings, comics, sunsets, tree leaves, a splash in the pool, getting whacked on the head with a stick. Experiences, whether your own or those of fictional characters or those told through an artist’s lens — these are the meat of your recipe.
2. Engage. You can’t just throw whole carrots and hunks of onion (or a whole chicken, for that matter) into a pot and hope to have a good stew. You need to engage with each ingredient you have, wash it of dirt (or feathers and beaks), prune the inedible bits away, and season it until it sings.
3. Turn on the stove. You can have all your ingredients lined up and organized by color, but nothing will ever get started if you don’t start the pot boiling. Your creative beast needs to eat, and looking at prettily arranged, carefully chosen ingredients will do nothing but make it stagnate.
The Beast is hungry, and while it might feel like you’re losing something to put all that effort into feeding it, the output you get is worth the toil. And I’m not going to continue with the food and digestive metaphor with that, because erm…no crap is going to sound enticing unless it’s dipped in gold. And even then, it’s just gilded poo. So…let’s say that your Beast instead creates heat. That heat powers your creations.
Will there be elements of the initial ingredients? Probably. But if you engaged properly and trimmed, bathed, and de-beaked them from the get-go, they’ll look like you and not like the original chicken.
The best thing about feeding the creative beast is that you get more out the more you put in.
Some people like the idea of having a muse, but I’ve always thought of muses as a fickle, passive sort of thing. Makes a great excuse when you can blame your muse for not creating. But feeding a beast? It requires action. It requires agency.
And the whole basis of “creative” implies a creator.
Feed your beast.