Though I believe that inspiration is an important part of the creative process, I have made no secret as to my preference for craft. I believe that with focused effort, I can shape the world around me, and so, with dedicated and deliberate study and practice, I can improve my craft. There is only one thing I can do, in a practical sense, to improve my inspiration. It was Stephen King, one of the most successful discovery writers in the industry, who taught me the secret.
I see writing to be similar to tending a garden. Often, you have no control over what dirt you are given to work with, but as a writer-gardener you are expected to grow something to sell regardless. With fertile ground, even an amateur gardener can harvest a bounty. However, if not renewed periodically, even the most nutritious ground will be spent and become barren. At this point, the amateur will no longer be able to sustain a living and must turn to other ventures. The master gardener, however, armed with a thorough understanding of both the ground and plants she is working with, will be able to make something grow despite the fertility of the soil. It’s an analogy that strongly favors craft writing over inspiration writing, but after reading Stephen King’s autobiography, On Writing, I was forced to modify the metaphor to include one of his more poignant points.
In On Writing, Stephen King’s states his belief that reading the works of others is an essential part of writing. Going further, he states that if a writer doesn’t have time to read, then he/she does not have the time to write. In the world of writers-as-gardeners, reading widely and constantly is like mixing fertilizers into the soil. After all, it was reading good fiction that inspired most writers to start creating their own works. Reading indiscriminately is like mixing a broad spectrum of nutrients into the soil. Effective, though non-specific. By being honest with herself and her weaknesses, the writer-gardener tests the nutritional content of her soil and identifies which nutrients are out of balance. Only then can she consume deliberately and critically to correct the deficiency.
To gain maximum benefit from her efforts, the writer-gardener must be skilled, knowledgeable, and have fertile ground to work with. As Stephen King pointed out, reading the works of others is an essential part of the creative process. By consuming deliberately and critically, the author can absorb the skills and legacy of giants in their field, and in so doing, some day stand tall amongst them.
Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants