Borrow the Best Advice from Another Discipline

When writing advice feels stale, start listening to the thinkers in other disciplines. |

One of the loveliest ways to grow as a writer: Listen to a talented non-writer talk about what they do.

It's amazing how your sense of creativity expands. How you get new ideas for ways to solve problems. How your appreciation for other art forms helps you write more dimensionally.

This is why TED talks are so great. I've only listened to J.J. Abrams talk about mystery boxes seven hundred times. And then there's the amazing designer Kelli Anderson and her pursuit of disruptive wonder. (Listen as she talks about "the hidden talents of everyday things," and see if that doesn't get you rethinking what's possible in a novel!)

What about documentaries? (I'm not the only writer who was insanely inspired by Jiro Dreams of Sushi!) I just found Chef's Table and The Mind of a Chef on Netflix, and I'm thrilled. I can just feel the creativity bubbling: they're looking at ingredients from every angle, and I find myself translating, thinking about new ways to consider characters, settings, conflict...

What about learning from master pruner Marco Nucera? This man shapes trees for a living, and he's darned good at it. This except from the totally gorgeous book Educating Alice:

"He has a natural talent for seeing the shapes in trees and bushes," she said. "There is a poetic quality to his work as well as a theoretical one. Both are equally important." ... "I wanted to keep the natural shape of the tree, but bring out its line," he explained. "Trees each have their own strong character. Landscape pruning is like being a sculptor of trees." 

Yeah, they're talking about trees. But somehow, reading that, all I can think of is revision. Listening to the work, instead of just hacking away. Being a sculptor of words. Balancing the poetry with the theory. 

Or what about this--think about your writing life as you read these words:

"Don't overestimate the skill and wisdom of professionals. Take advantage of what you already know. Look for opportunities that haven't yet been discovered. ... Ignore short-term fluctuations." 

It's advice on evaluating the stock market, written by Peter Lynch. But I hear it as a way of trusting your gut with writing, as a way to investigate your own work, and to look for places to keep pushing it. And ignoring the short-term fluctuations of my I love this/I hate this reaction to the work. 

Isn't it about writing too? 

Especially this line:

"Stick around to see what happens--as long as the original story continues to make sense, or gets better--and you'll be amazed at the results in several years."

It's how he judges stock picks, but it's how I think of some of my revision projects as well.

It's so energizing, borrowing perspective from other fields of work. I'm pretty convinced that when we only listen to other writers, all our advice gets stale and reused and dull. 

Borrow from some non-writing creative thinkers this weekend. People who are talking about skills other than writing, other than story-making. 

How are other craftsmen solving their creative problems? How do other disciplines grow in their craft? 

Who can you learn from this weekend?