Creative Process: Fill the Tanks, Read for Fun

aye_shamus / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I’m doing a bit of time traveling with this post. You’ll read this on a Monday, but for me it’s a cozy, rainy Sunday and, once I’ve blogged for 15 minutes, I intend to curl up with a book. That’s pretty much my default desire if I’m given a bit of free time. And today, I was reminded of the importance of reading to “filling the creative tanks”. Dear readers, I’ll admit to you that one of my dreams and passions is to write creatively—and to actually produce some kind of cohesive work—someday. I’ve been exploring my creative writing tendencies for many many years (from childhood if I’m being honest) and I haven’t yet fully figured out what kind of writer I am. This year, I’m trying very hard to cultivate a writing habit and a creative practice. That’s why I’m segmenting my day into 15 minute bursts of targeted work, in hopes that I’ll fit some creative writing in there, and it’s why I’m blogging, too—because more varied writing practices mean better writing in my opinion.

But I need to start prioritizing reading as a part of that practice. Reading is one of my favorite things, but it always gets put at the end of my priority list. I think part of the reason is it’s because it’s what I do to relax, and I find it fun. It feels indulgent, and a little like doing “nothing”. First of all: why not prioritize that? Second of all: it’s not doing nothing! This interview with Joss Whedon on how he stays prolific and creative reminded me: reading is so important to that process! (Digressive aside: the interview is from from Fast Co. Create, whose site mission is after my own heart: “We explore creativity in the converging worlds of branding, entertainment, and tech.”) Reading fills our creative tanks and gives our minds and creative muscles material to work with and react to. And he gave me the idea that I need to make a point of reading (and watching) outside my comfort zone. I think there are certain kinds of books, shows, and movies we all gravitate toward. But I’m always gratified, and my brain gets a better workout, when I throw in something I don’t normally consume. For instance, I tend to go for novels, but I should throw in some nonfiction sometimes. Or something a bit more action and adventure-based, or a classic I didn’t get around to in college. Right now, I’m reading “The Death of King Arthur”, a retelling by Peter Ackroyd of the classic “Morte D’Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory. And I can tell it’s kicking up the creative juices, because it has me wanting to revisit the Lais of Marie de France, which I never thought I would say outside my Sophomore year Medieval English Literature class.

My addendum to this “fill the tanks” practice would be to give yourself permission to read stuff that’s light and fun. This Tweet provided that piece of inspiration.

(BTW: Seen on the National Endowment for the Art’s Twitter feed during their live tweet of an author event during the National Book Festival today—quoting poet and writer Alyson Hagy I think.)

I often feel guilty reading things like, well, another book I’m reading now: “Bespelling Jane Austen”, which is a conflation of supernatural ideas and retellings of some Jane Austen classics. It’s not high minded, but it’s great fun. And helps bolster my creative desire to retell one of the classics myself. Even if it *is* fun, light, and not super substantive, I am getting to see how other authors use classic material to tell their own unique stories. And it *is* outside my comfort zone in the sense that I’m not entirely comfortable admitting I’m reading it—but why not? Read widely, fearlessly, and often, I say.

So I’m going to strive to take a page out of Ms. Hagy and Mr. Whedon’s “books” on creative practice—after all, they are both successful creators. It certainly can’t hurt. Now, off to do a bit of tank filling.