CPR from Other Artists to Get Your Creative Flow Going

At a recent gathering of friends, my best friend’s fiance made a statement at breakfast that made me think about how I get my inspiration.  He said:

“Writers never read in their own genre for fear of contaminating their writing.  It’s a fact.”

Um.  Is it a fact?  Because I don’t see any statistics posted on this topic.  Let me just make a few points from my OWN experience.

1.  I’ve never met a writer who has only written in one genre.

2.  I’ve met at least a handful of writers who get irritated that their writing has to be classified as a genre.  (Mostly because certain bits of fiction are hard to categorize, not so much for a hatred of labels. Labels aid in marketing after all.)

3.  As far as I’ve experienced, it’s essential for a writer to read within and outside of the genre s/he is currently writing, if only just to see what’s been done to death.  Combining and twisting genre barriers is a great way to get a fresh spin on something that has been done to death, and how can you do that if you don’t get a wide sampling of what’s out there?

Books are not the be all and end all of inspiration, either!

Movies, music, art, and life are all massive contributors to my plot soup!  And why shouldn’t they be?

For instance, I’m watching Inkheart right now because I loved the book, and I have a ridiculous crush on Paul Bettany — the movie gives me the best of both worlds.  It inspires me, not to plagiarize the story or the bare idea, but to breathe that kind of believability, conviction, and life into my characters!  Sometimes I watch a movie or read a book, and think, “This is the feel I’m going for–if I strike out this, this, and this, and add a little this, that, and the other thing.”

Crushes on Paul Bettany are inspiring, too, right?

Artists, writers, musicians… they create to inspire. I see no reason to deny them that because I’m too afraid I’m not capable of creating something of my own mind and heart.

After all:

“I’d rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer.”

~Jack Smith



Filed under Life, Uncategorized, Writing

22 responses to “CPR from Other Artists to Get Your Creative Flow Going

  1. jesseowalls

    When writing on my last (finished) manuscript, I found myself inspired by several different sources, but what first inspired me was the anime ‘Kanon’. I was so deeply moved by its storyline and the emotions it evoked, as well as its ability to interweave everyday life with a hint of paranormal fantasy, that once it was finished (and I had wiped all the tears from my eyes) I said to myself ‘I want to write something with that feel, that my reader can connect to on an emotional level. I want to write a story with characters you feel for and an indepth storyline that keeps you guessing until the end.’ I would consider the anime within the genre I write (whatever that genre may be), but my story is very different, consisting of different elements and ideas, and having what I like to call ‘my special twist’. I think, for the most part, when something inspires us, it is not so much to make an exact replica, but to create something that stirs similar emotions. Books, movies, songs…they are all meant to inspire, and, as an author, I would hate to think that people are reading my material without being the least bit inspired. What is the point of a work if the imagination ends there? Anyways, that’s just my thoughts.

  2. junebugger

    “Writers never read in their own genre for fear of contaminating their writing. It’s a fact.”

    I’d have to disagree…though I certainly get his point. And one might even point out that there is “some” truth in what he says, about how reading writings be others in their own genre might contiminate them.

    But I actually think it’s important to read books in the genre one is writing in. The sad fact of the matter is–publishing books has become a big business, and because of that, publishing houses have come to notice what sells and what does not. That’s why with every genre there’s this invisible rule to them all. Like romance novels have a rule that it must end happily ever after. And one’s chances of publishing becomes higher when one actually KNOWS why an author becomes an NYTimes Bestseller. Now, I’m not saying a writer must conform, but ignorance isn’t helpful.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    • That’s another good reason! In order to sell a book, it’s good to know what does sell in your genre. That would save a person a lot of trouble, hm? =] Thanks for commenting! <3

  3. Well, first, that’s definitely not a “fact.” I know of some writers who have said that they don’t read their own genre’s anymore, not for fear of “contamination,” but simply out of lack of interest. Say you always loved romance novels, so you started writing your own. Now that it’s “work,” it doesn’t have quite that same relaxation that it used to. Like when you read other romance novels, it’s hard to turn your brain off and just enjoy the stories like you used to, you start to find yourself analyzing the books, and being overly critical, thinking “that’s now how I would have written that scene,” etc. So now, when you have free time, you’d rather read sci-fi or horror instead.

    Anyway, I think a more common phenomenon, and one that is just as bad, is writers who *only* read their own genre. It’s like you said, in point #3, a good writer should try to read everything he or she can, for inspiration. Coincidentally, I just recently read an interview with Dwayne McDuffie, who has been a comic-book writer for about 20 years, and has also been writing various animated shows for the past 10. Stuff like Justice League and Ben 10. He said his favorite writer is Woody Allen, whom you normally wouldn’t think of when talking about superhero comic-books and cartoons. But McDuffie said he loves Allen’s mastery of dialog, especially between men and women. And so when he’s writing dialog between characters like Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Allen’s movies are his main influence. So that’s an example of why it’s important to broaden your horizons.

    • That makes sense, too. The best way to forget about romance is to read something that makes you have nightmares and possibly pee yourself the next time your phone rings. I like your style. =P

      That would have been a great point to make, too. I think I got so caught up in refuting the “Writers don’t read their own genre” statement that I didn’t think of the opposite. Solid point. It is absolutely essential to read beyond what you write as well. In short, broader horizons lead to a greater array of things you could be writing.

      Thanks for commenting and bringing in another great point!

  4. Lua

    “Books are not the be all and end all of inspiration, either!”
    Well said! I write to inspire and read to learn, to enjoy and to be inspired…
    And I really DO get irritated when my writing has to be classified as a genra…
    And- yes, Paul Bettany is HOT! :)

    • Sometimes I write something and think “Space opera/horror/romance/meatball hybrid!” and it gets slapped as… *drumroll* “Sci fi”. Sadface.

      And yes, Paul Bettany is super hot. >=D You have good taste.

  5. Well, I seem to fit points 1, 2, and 3, myself. I don’t like pigeon-holing my work, simply for the fact I don’t fit ANY criteria. “Gothic fiction” is about as close as I’ve come yet, and that’s not really accurate, either. I’ve been shelved in everything from Horror to Thriller to Fantasy (not Romance though. Well… not yet…), and while my work certainly exhibits all those characteristics, there’s plenty more to choose from. No one term seems to fit.

    So, yeah. Pigeon-holing makes me grumbly.

  6. Erin M

    I agree with everything you said in this post.

    You’re right. That dude was wrong. =]

    It’s essential for writers to read within their own genre (as well as outside of it, and, as you said, to search for inspiration from other places as well). If you go to pitch one of your books to a prospective agent or editor, you’d better have researched the market and be able to say how your book is similar to and different from what’s already out there. If you never read within your genre(s), you may be able to make some guesses, but you’re not really going to know, as you say, whether you’re writing exactly the same thing that’s been done 1000 times before (or even what was being done 30 years ago, while the genre demands something new).

    I was really impressed by Inkheart (the movie, I haven’t read the book). I was skeptical going into the theatre (didn’t know much about it, except that it was a “kids’ story” and that the movie had received mixed reviews), but I was very nicely surprised. It was exciting and imaginative and believable and it made me soooo excited about books and reading. Like for days after seeing the movie, books and stories had this . . . aura of tingly magic around them! Ha ha.

    And yum Paul Bettany. He is always great in everything. I’m still not sure whether I’ve forgiven him for fooling me into thinking that Chaucer was cool, though XD

    • I’m glad you agree!

      And Inkheart was really a good movie. The book was better, but that’s not to knock the movie. <3

      And let's be completely specific here. Paul Bettany Chaucer was cool…. The real Chaucer…. well… when you’re sitting in lit class mining for dick and fart jokes… it kind of kills the man for me. XD

  7. unabridgedgirl

    “Writers never read in their own genre for fear of contaminating their writing. It’s a fact.”

    I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. But that is the weirdest comment, and completley unfounded. Like you said, most writers hate being put into a genre, and it’s good to read all sorts of books. I know I do.

    I also like how you point out that inspiration comes from more than just books. I like to watch movies (and some TV), as well as listen to the people around me, just so I can have a better grasp on dialogue.

    * Does a dance…just because. *


  8. Isn’t it? He reads a lot, but he’s an engineer and his thought process is very… linear. He can’t seem to grasp creativity very well. He plays Dungeons & Dragons because he likes the rules system, not for the storyline. He’s kind of an odd duck, and he doesn’t really have any evidence to support his claim.

    Another friend of mine pointed out “Well, don’t engineers read other books about engineering before they start a project?”

    The Fiance (all names aside) said, “That’s different. We’re building upon and expanding what’s already been established.”

    “How is that different from what a writer does?” the other friend asked, “All we’re doing is expanding and reworking the same ten-or-so storylines that have been written and reworked time and again since storytelling began.”

    And then an argument/debate ensued. Because in that circle of friends, it always does. Lol.

  9. Okay, first of all: “I have a ridiculous crush on Paul Bettany” ME TOO OMG LOVE HIM. *Cough* Now that I got that out of my system… Onwards.

    I find that man’s comment very odd. I just heard Jonathan Kellerman, a very renowned psychological thriller writer, speak at Barnes & Noble recently, and I asked him something about P.D. James, who writes thriller/mysteries that also have a very psychological bent. He acknowledged that she’s a wonderful lady, and that he loves her books. So, um, proof that “It’s a fact” isn’t a fact.

    • … I can totally see you and I going to a Paul Bettany movie squealing, bouncing, and being mentally fourteen. XD It would rock.

      No, it isn’t fact! I’ve been taking Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course (as well has having been an avid follower of her website for AGES) and she’s published 32 novels in several genres and STILL insists that writers read within and outside of their genre of choice! Mercedes Lackey was her mentor, and SHE said the same thing! So… I think we can safely read whatever the hell we want. XD

  10. Megan

    I can definitely see how Paul Bettany would be inspiring – among many other pretty things. I certainly don’t get where that statement comes from though. Don’t you generally write what you enjoy? And you read what you enjoy so of course there’s going to be crossovers between the two. I think we’ve all read something and wanted to change something ever so slightly, or just the tiniest little spark. Inspiration will come from where it comes from.
    And ?I’m making no sense, so I will shut up

  11. I think it would be sad indeed if as writers we purposefully did not read and be open to all genres. Our muse comes in many forms, most of my inspiration comes from real life, however I am also inspired by books, TV, movies, etc.

    • I think so too. Avoiding certain genres or media closes the mind and heart off from a whole WELL of information and possibilities. It wouldn’t be fair to that person’s writing (or art, music, or anything else that they do) to be closed to those possibilities, and I can only see the work suffering for it.

      Thanks so much for commenting! =]

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