Unorthodox Writing Tips 24: Consumption
As a producer of a blog, writing tips, and a lot of fiction, I know there’s a choice that needs to be made: To produce or to consume.
These may sound like different things, but in many ways they feed into each other. Obviously it’s far easier to consume something than it is to produce something. Look at some cooking shows where chefs spend hours making a wonderful creation only to watch it disappear in moments. But I’m getting sidetracked (boy that happened fast this time).
Looking at what you’re consuming is important to good writing. If you’re watching garbage it makes the creative process more difficult. Not just garbage, but too much garbage. I noticed that when I watch reality shows with the wife that my creative side drips out my ear as my brain melts. If I watch one show, I might pick up an idea, a mannerism, a turn of a phrase, something, but watching too much just eats into my brain and I need to stop. Even watching documentaries will do the same. I’ll be so overloaded with information that I won’t recall what was so cool that I wanted to keep or use in a story. It’s all about finding a balance.
Being creative isn’t hard. You can dream all sorts of different things. The brain is a wonderful tool. You can also stifle your creativity. In order to continue to be creative you need to feed your brain. Think of it like working out. You can’t work out day in and day out without taking a break now and again to eat something. You also cannot eat day in and day out without working out. And it’s not just a matter of putting food into your body, but putting the right things in.
If you’re going to consume something, be picky, be diverse, be inventive. Don’t just sit, turn on the TV, and hope for the best. That’s like going to McDonald’s and saying “I’ll have whatever you give me.” Plan out your time when you’ll sit down and know ahead of time what you’re going to watch. Set up a schedule that will allow you the time to watch a show and still get in some writing. Pick a show that might feed that creative need for what you’re currently working on, but try to broaden what you’re taking in so you have a broader view of your WIP.
The same goes for your reading. If you only read the genre you’re writing in, you’ll only regurgitate what you’ve read. You need to expand what you’re reading to allow you to bring in elements that people might not have thought to bring in before. This is how you end up with genre mash-ups that are happening more frequently. People read outside what they’re expected to read and BAM! New genre crossover. Even if you don’t create another genre, you can bring in a little bit of something else that your readers can relate to and gain a firmer grasp of the reality you’re creating.
Just as important, you need to read in your genre (or watch, or play). You need to understand what is being published and why. You should be following the trends. That’s not to say pick a genre and go for it. You also need to decide where your writing best fits or should you be writing in multiple genres. Having a laser-like focus is a good thing, but you need to make sure it’s focused in the right direction. Even better if you can focus in multiple directions.
Beyond genre reading (both inside and out) you need to have a firm grasp on the real world. There’s a lot of ways you can do this. Magazines, blog posts, news feeds, the 10 o’clock news. You need to keep up on current events even it you only find one little element that fits in your story, the real world influences what you’re writing more than you’ll know. Science Fiction of the 50s and 60s was very much a reflection of the times both socially and politically. The writers of that era understood what was happening and looked beyond to generate fiction that people could relate to based on current events.
Even beyond current events, pop icons, genre reading, TV watching, game playing, and all that, you need to do research. Reading wiki is an okay place to start, but you need o look deeper. Take a trip to the local library, get a library card, and open a non-fiction book on something you might want to include in your WIP. Guns, the old west, history, the pyramids, anything. Pick a topic and start reading. Bring a level of realism to your writing because without it, readers will have a difficult time suspending their belief to allow themselves to fall into your story. If you’re writing science fiction, you can’t just fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best. You need to understand what you’re writing so it makes sense. You need to understand weapons and how they work or someone reading will call you out and expose a weakness in your writing. You need to be well informed.
There are only so many hours in the day. The best you can do is take small bites and press forward. If you discover something that needs to be corrected in your manuscript, write it down as a note and fix it later. Don’t try and fix it as you go. If you get to a point where something needed to happen in chapter 3 so chapter 45 makes more sense, write that down and fix it later. That’s what re-writing is for. To help you make your story better the second time through. Continuous research will feed your WIP, feed your brain, and improve your writing. Not just reasearch, but focused consumption. Don’t just let things fall into your brain. Put them there on purpose.
Until Next Time!