All artists borrow -or, let us be honest: steal – from other creative types. A pleasant word for it is inspiration. It simply cannot be helped. As creative types ourselves watching, reading, listening; it can be like flipping on a switch. Other artists become our mentors. We may like the prose or world building of a specific author, the cinematography of an esteemed director, or the mood of a certain song. For us, this becomes creative fodder. We may seek to emulate the prose of the author or the complexity of her imaginary world, frame a written scene like a director’s shot, or set the same mood as the songwriter. Oftentimes, these stimuli even act as the beginning spark of a fabulous idea and kindle passion within us.
But, to me at least, there comes a time when enough is enough; I’ve taken all of the “inspiration” I can for a certain project and I need to filter out the external stimulus. At this point, anything further just becomes an extreme distraction – buzzing static or white noise.
For example, a few months ago I had the opportunity to play through some of Dark Souls on the PS3. The game was so uniquely somber and spooky that I couldn’t help but find inspiration. By the time I put down the controller, I had already begun fleshing out a new world and a short story to take place within it. This wasn’t a piece of fan fiction or anything related to the game itself, more a siphoning of the game’s mood into something wholly my own.
But as sometimes happens with new ideas, I didn’t get to it right away. A week or so went by and with it, work and responsibilities. If the game wasn’t necessarily fresh in my mind it was still there and the siphoned mood along with it, but it was fading day by day. What is worse, new experiences and new stimuli were gradually creeping in around the edges, tainting the original experience, spoiling the mood. I had started watching Doctor Who and the light hearted zaniness of that program was a stark contrast to the silent spookiness of Dark Souls.
My point is, I don’t think new experiences or new stimuli will altogether kill a previous idea that I liked, but if I am not carefully it can gradually erode the integrity. I think it is the same exact reason that I cannot write while listening to music with lyrics or with the television on. The distraction is too much and my train of thought is completely altered.
I suppose the trick is to be careful. It is great to be open to artistic stimuli, but at some point it might be best to shut it all off, at least until you can get a significant amount on paper.
When I get intensely into the mood of a short story or chapter in a novel, I will filter what media I consume. The last Horror short I did left me only listening to Hans Zimmer and Tool, never turning on my TV, and even avoiding talking to family for what a rank mood it left me in. I may drive myself into too deep a state some times.
I find the same thing happens with me. I carefully engineer the media I consume at a given time based on what kind of scene or story I’m writing. Some books on my shelf I’ve avoided for years because I know they’re going to throw me in a mood that doesn’t fit well with the tone I strive for in my writing. Alas, those poor books!
I can’t seem to filter most of shows I see, even if I can with the books. The media surrounding me is too random, often based on the moods or interests of various family members. But I have noticed the need to filter, and to get back into the frame of mind for the story. Usually, if I backtrack a few pages, or sometimes even a chapter or more and review where I’m at in the story, my previous mood returns as well as my momentum within the story.
I’m with you on this… I absolutely cannot write with anything else going on. And, I absolutely do find inspiration from a mood or random item from a myriad of sources.