I’m on a Warehouse 13 marathon right now. Even though we’re watching episodes we’ve seen, starting at Season 1, Episode 1, I still love it. That’s the great thing about stories you love. You can enjoy them over and over again.
The other thing about stories you love is that they inspire creativity. Watching episode after episode of Pete and Myka grousing at each other, competing with each other, and always having each other’s back presses all my creative buttons. When Pete asked Myka if she was afraid they were the Red Shirts, and she said yes, John and I laughed out loud when Pete replied, “First, we aren’t going to die. Second, I’m so pumped you know what that means.” [paraphrased]
Over the last 20 episodes, I’ve gone from just enjoying the show for its own sake to thinking about my work and how I can make it funnier, more interesting, tense without being over-serious, adding death and destruction if necessary without a Law & Order feel. All the artifacts and the things that they do make me think about what I can add to my stories, whether fantastical stories or “regular” ones.
One of the “ah-ha” moments in creating my current romantic comedy series, Strays of Loon Lake (Love at the Fluff and Fold, book one in the series, will be out later this year), was when I decided that a local dog was the frisky father of a lot of puppies in town. Suddenly I had this funny element that I could play up.
In addition to a lot of TV watching, I’ve upped my hours of reading lately. It feels soooo much better to be reading more, like I’m eating healthier or something. I’m reading a lot of nonfiction on writing, self-publishing, and neuroscience. But I’m also reading a lot more fiction than I have in the last year or so. I’ve been reading inspirational, historical and contemporary romance, young adult books, paranormal and urban fantasy books and short stories, some horror, and some suspense. (Trying to track it all on Goodreads, but forgetting to add the books every time.)
Now here’s a chicken-and-egg thought: in the midst of this burst of desire to pull creative stories IN, I’ve also been writing more, getting creative stories OUT. Did the extra reading inspire me to write more? Or did the deadlines for the two anthologies I’m in push me to gobble up more stories for inspiration? My answer is YES.
Add to all that, my jump from wanting to know more about how the brain works to finding books explaining it to me, and I’ve added yeast to the bread mix. I mean that in terms of rising and growing, not in terms of becoming gaseous and fermenting. Though the fermenting part is making me think of wine, which reminds me of living in Australia, which reminds me of some of the unexpectedly creative pieces I wrote in uni. (Now that I have Australia-brain, my brain is using Australian terms. “Uni” is short for university, i.e., my master’s in creative writing program.) And using Aussie vocabulary reminds me of my friends whom I miss terribly, which reminds me I was going to call Verizon this week and get that international calling plan, which makes me think about having some international characters in my superhero novels, which makes me think of the Cowboy character I created for a short story that went nowhere. Now I just need to figure out how to get an Australian superhero named Cowboy, and his super horse, across the ocean to Michigan where my superheroes are living.
And THAT is how creativity so often works. It’s a bunch of very quick, sometimes illogical jumps in the synapses of the brain that lead from one idea to another. The more you allow and train your brain to make these jumps, the more creative you can be. Sometimes you can even get more creative more quickly.
Many writers have named the part of their unconscious that does this work. Jennifer Crusie calls her unconscious “the girls in the basement” I believe. Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird that her friend Carpenter says there is a little boy in the cellar handing up characters through the cellar door.
I get this “down below consciousness” idea, but I’ve rarely, if ever, been in a basement that made me feel happier than any other room in the building (even the very cool basement of the State Library of New South Wales isn’t as awesome as the Shakespeare Room there; that’s a room I could be locked in forever!), and I’ve never been in a cellar that I wanted to stay in for hours. (Not even a wine cellar.)
I had problems being nice to that creative part of myself. I found myself whipping it to give me more, faster. It didn’t produce much, so I whipped it more. Then I read and really got the idea that you needed to be nice for the unconscious to flow. But basements and cellars didn’t seem that nice to me.
So I created a character named Katie, a little girl about 10 or 12 who plays in the sunroom or in the huge beautifully well-kept backyard. (I live in a small apartment.) Katie loves to read and watch TV and movies that make her laugh or make her a little scared but that always end well. She likes to pretend after the movie or book ends that she is the hero who vanquished the enemy and tamed (rather than killed) the dragon. Or she is the heroine who helps the hero save the day and they live together happily ever after.
I like Katie. I like her so much that I like to play with her even though she’s a little girl and I’m a grown <cough> woman. She’s fun. And when she’s making me laugh or making me wonder what will happen next in her one-girl backyard plays, I find myself writing more words with more joy than ever before.
As it turns out, both Katie and I love watching Warehouse 13, and mostly for the same reasons. Katie is giving me ideas about “artifact”-like things I can put in our stories. She wants me to put in more pop culture references like Red Shirts to make people who get the jokes laugh. I tell Katie this is too much work, I’d have to do more research, keep better notes, and I remind her that I too often lose my notes-on-napkins anyway so really–
Katie interrupts me with some cute begging and funny faces and tells me that surely these touches will make me really famous and make me heaps of money and (she knows this is the coup de grace) I’ll make people laugh.
I think about it and then consider the alternative. But what if I don’t make people laugh, Katie? What if they think it’s dumb?
And in her properly outraged 10-year-old voice, she shouts, “Then they’re dumb!”
I laugh and shake my head and agree to try harder to be cute and funny like her. And then I start writing and…well, Katie and I like the results.
What about you? Where does your creativity come from?