When you get ready to write a story or begin any creative process, do you read other authors’ work during that time? Do you instead choose to focus on film or poetry instead of reading novels in the concern that you might emulate what others have already done? Or, do you avoid media altogether (difficult in today’s day and age, but still possible)?
I’m going to be upfront with you here. I don’t think there is a definitive answer. After talking with several authors and bloggers in “Keeping the Creative Juices Flowing: Tips from 13 Influential Writers,” I was reminded how differently people approach their creativity. As such, I’m wary of any program that suggests there is one way to complete any artistic process.
Instead of proving one point or the other, I’d like to explore both ideas.
Benefits of Avoiding Similar Works
- More Time to Savor Silence – Taking the time to block out the constant noise of life can immediately benefit your creativity. When you can actually hear yourself think, you tend to be able to complete your writing in a timelier manner.
- The Potential for Uninfluenced Originality – How many times have you started a story only to realize that you’re just rehashing the most recent episode of your favorite television program? At the foundational level, all stories have been told, but you can avoid copying plot points by distancing yourself from mass media.
Most of the other arguments I have heard in support of avoiding similar works are variations on the second reason listed above, but there is another important point to consider in such originality.
- A Chance to Set Trends Instead of Adding to Them – Genre storytelling in particular relies heavily on the latest thing (zombies, anyone?) to generate reader interest. Being the first to ignite interest in something new can allow you to set the rules of the next “hottest” thing.
Benefits of Immersing Yourself in Similar Works
- An Understanding of What Has Come Before – Some authors will argue that you cannot truly be original unless you know how your work is different than the material that has come before. Though I’m not personally interested in the Twilight books, the series certainly capitalized on finding a new way to tell something familiar.
- A Feel for the Cadence of the Written Word – When you find something that works well in business or in art, you can study that thing to find lessons for your own work. Without copying specifics, you can use the principles behind a powerful story for your tale.
- A (Potential) Profit from Others’ Work – By adding a unique take to an already popular trend, you have the chance to quickly capture a large audience of people who have already demonstrated an interest in your subject matter, though you still have to convince them that your story is worth their time.
What Do You Prefer?
I’m sure that we could find several more benefits and drawbacks for both sides of the argument (please use the comment section to add any additional thoughts), but I am more interested in which method people are actually using. Or, is this even something you even think about?
At different points, I have tried avoiding similar materials, but I’ve sought out specific similar stories expressly for the purpose of studying plot or character dynamics. In other words, I’m still undecided on the matter. Since I mostly read blogs of authors who seek to be mass-market friendly, I haven’t read much recently by anyone in strong support of avoiding similar artistic works. (Joanna Penn and Jeff Goins both made comments recently about studying others’ materials.)
What about you? Do you take a media fast when writing, or do you become a media junkie? Sound off in the comment section below.
Photo by Emily Carlin