On a lightning-quick visit to Chicago last spring, I stumbled across an exhibit of Edward Gorey's works at Loyola University. Lucky, lucky, LUCKY me! I spent an age poking through the exhibit, reading every little blurb, staring at every illustration.
(...Okay, I really really love his stuff, so let's skip the part where I basically hijack this blog post and turn it into one long gush festival about how much I love his stunning and macabre illustrations, how I laughed till I cried at The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and what that says about my sense of humor. We'll skip all that. I love him, the end.)
The most important moment for me was when I read this one panel that listed all Gorey's influences. Everything that he liked. The stuff that had some effect or other on his work.
You guys. This list. SO LONG.
And bizarre. And ... varied. Edwardian architecture and Gilbert & Sullivan. The game of Monopoly and graveyards (obviously). Edward Leary and sitcoms. Ballet and Batman and cats.
He was influenced by so many things that he became totally uncategorizable.
I came back home, thrilled by all of the exhibit, but especially haunted by that list.
See, I have this temptation to ignore all my quirkiness. To override my creative impulses. To refuse to make time for all the things that intrigue me.
No, no, no, I protest to myself. I need to be efficient! I need to not go down all those other paths of what I'm curious about. I need to stay FOCUSED.
Productivity is all well and good, but we need to create room and time to be artists.
To chase down the things that interest us.
Whether they're interesting to other people or not. Whether they "fit" our topic and our genre or not.
When I was little, I had this book about codes that I loved. I'd sit for hours with this reference book, pouring over the section on Morse Code, and Braille, and flag signaling.
I also had these nature encyclopedias. I studied the detailed drawings of animal footprints, just in case I had to identify, say, a bobcat print. (You never know.) I memorized details about thorny lizards and carpet sharks and cassowaries.
I was obsessed with the alphabet. I loved paper folding and weird little crafts. I named all the trees in our backyard and invented histories for what had happened there before we came.
... And then I guess I grew up. I watched reality TV in college and the same movies everyone else was watching, and I felt generally kind of ... dull.
There's a temptation to mimic everyone else's input. Right? To make it look acceptable and safe. But that doesn't breed creativity. Not so much.
What about you? What were you obsessed with as a kid? And what's inspiring you like crazy now? (Or what would inspire you, if, you know, you went ahead and let it?)
Are you making time for that?
What would happen, if we explored those weird little curiosities we have?
I have this suspicion: that by giving ourselves time to do that, we might be feeding our creativity and stories in deeper ways than we can really know.
What do you need to do, to treasure your own oddities? To treat them like the creative GOLD that they are?
What would it look like for you to pursue those funny little interests, that strange hobby? To be well and truly influenced by that thing that's not on anyone else's radar?
... Can I tell you something hokey I'm doing?
I'm dreaming up some kind of exhibit that might exist, decades down the road. You know. After my long and incredibly creative career, after I turn up my toes and am snoozing in a very comfortable grave somewhere.
Say, ten years after I'm dead.
And there's all these BOOKS. (A book exhibit. Sure. Why not.) And there's a panel on the wall, listing the many, wildly varied influences on Lucy Flint's life and career and stories.
All the crazy ingredients that seeped into my stories through the years.
And here's my question to myself right now: What's on that list?
And then, next step: To totally own that list of influences. To give myself full creative license to dig into the things that inspire me. Unapologetically.
Maybe I'll figure out that bobcat footprint after all. Maybe I'l let my inner geek out and study Morse Code again.
How about you? What's on your ultimate list of influences?
Or are you stuck trying to sound like all the other bloggers and Twitterers? Are you trying to make your Instagram feed and your Pinterest boards look like everyone else's? Do you feel somehow obligated to be inspired by certain things?
What movies do you really want to watch? What kinds of reference books would make you stay up way too late at night? What details make you crazy-excited?
Don't water down your creativity by trying to use the "acceptable" influences.
Do not trade your dreams for someone else's idea of normalcy.
Because you know what? The world does not actually need you to blend in, and write the same exact stuff as everyone else in your genre. It DOESN'T NEED THAT.
There will be pressure to make things that way, but trust me: That's NOT what it needs.
It needs you to be you. Your deepest, wildest, most unruly self.
This weekend, set aside some time for a creative date with yourself. Pursue the quirky things that you love.
Refuse to feel sheepish. Just plunge headlong into your own craziness. Be TRULY inspired.
Okay? And let's be the writers we're supposed to be.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find a book on codes.