Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my book, Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing. This is from a chapter titled “Consuming Art.”
If we don’t consume art, especially written works, on a regular basis, our creativity will dry up, and our writing will suffer. Art is food for the soul. It gives us perspective, stimulates our intellects, touches our emotions. It informs us. Art is understanding; it is knowledge.
But more importantly, it feeds our creativity. We can’t produce creative works if we don’t take them in. Writers should read what they write. If you write poetry, you should read poetry. If you write historical fiction, you should read historical fiction. If you write essays, you should read essays.
Consider a science-fiction writer who refuses to read sci-fi novels. Maybe this person doesn’t like to read. Maybe they don’t want other science-fiction works to influence their own. For whatever reason, they stay away from the genre. Let’s say this person gets an idea for a story about a genetic biologist who figures out how to create dinosaurs from preserved DNA. Pretty soon, this author is on their way to recreating Jurassic Park. Won’t they be astonished to learn that someone else already had that idea? Will they argue that their idea is original, assuring agents and publishers that they’ve never read or seen Jurassic Park? And how will that be received?
On the other hand, if this sci-fi writer is familiar with the genre, they could stick with their idea about creating dinosaurs from DNA but put it in a different context: Instead of a story about a dinosaur theme park, it’s a story about dinosaurs escaping from a lab in a big city. Or maybe animal-rights activists discover the dinosaurs in a lab and set them free to wreak havoc on the city.
In writing, like any industry, there are trends and tropes. Vampire stories will surge in popularity. We’ll see a swell of political poetry. Self-help books dominate the best-seller lists for a few years. And within any given genre, there are common elements and tropes—some of which should be fulfilled to meet readers’ expectations and some of which should be avoided because the market is saturated with them.
If you want to put your work in front of an audience, you need to know your form and genre. And the only way to do that is to consume it.
But let’s say you’re writing for personal reasons, and getting published or acquiring readers is of no concern to you. Consuming art is still essential.
While reading or watching television, I have found story elements that would work in one of my projects. Sometimes, it’s a simple plot device or storytelling technique. Other times, it’s a setting, a name, or some detail, like an article of clothing.
Art, in all its forms, is also inspiring. Have you ever noticed that after watching an intoxicating film or listening to a mesmerizing piece of music you feel that creative impulse luring you to your keyboard or notebook?
When you make time to experience a little art or entertainment, you’ll find that your creative juices start to flow. Not only will you enjoy yourself by having an entertaining and engaging experience, you’ll also massage your creative muscles and come away with fresh writing inspiration for your own projects.
Creativity is contagious. The more you expose yourself to it, the more creative you’ll become. Next time you find yourself floating around inside your own headspace when you should be forging your masterpiece, take a break to watch a movie, listen to an album, view some incredible artwork, or read a book, and let someone else’s art inspire your own.
Give yourself one to two hours to immerse yourself in art. Here are some suggestions:
Watch a movie: It doesn’t matter which genre or whether it’s an award-winning film. It can be a film you’ve seen a dozen times. Pick a movie that speaks to you and leaves you feeling reawakened.
Read a book or even just a few chapters: Find a novel, book of poetry, or collection of essays that engages you. And if you find yourself reading something that isn’t fully engaging, use it as motivation to try to write something better.
Peruse art and photography: You can go to a museum or check out the many art sites on the web. Sometimes when I need a break from writing, I type something weird or interesting into Google, click the Images link, and spend a few minutes enjoying the beauty of art and imagery. It’s good refreshment for the mind.
Listen to music: One of the best things about listening to music is that you can do it while you’re doing other things, like exercising, driving, cleaning, or working on your creative writing projects. Then again, you can just lie back, relax, and let yourself get swept away by the sounds.
Dance: Not only will dancing get your blood pumping, it will increase your energy level. You’ll be listening to music all the while, so this one’s a double hitter with the added benefit of exercise!
When you’re done, write at least one page about what you experienced and how it made you feel.