Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Creativity Is an Omnivore

"I think I have three on hold," I said, sliding my card across the counter. The librarian rummaged behind the counter and then she came up with a trio of books, two slim and flat, one almost three-inches thick. Her eyebrow rose when she saw the first title. "The Wolves in the Walls," she said. She beeped it into the system and thwacked it down in front of me. The second title made the eyebrow creep a little higher. "Basic Economics." Beep, thwack. Now her scalp and eyebrow threatened to meet. "The Stranger. I haven’t heard of that one." Beep, thwack. Gathering up my odd assortment of reading material, I felt the need to offer some sort of explanation. “I, uh, have varied tastes," I muttered before making a beeline for the stairs.

Accepted wisdom tells us that if we want to write genre, we need to read genre and lots of it. No less a luminary than Ray Bradbury told aspiring scribes
during a talk at Point Loma Nazarene University that they ought to read a short story every night of their lives. And one can certainly learn craft by diving in deep with Ellison and Gaiman, Lovecraft and Blackwood, by enveloping oneself in the contemporary and the classic. But successful stories require more than excellent technique, which is a painful lesson when learned late.

To brazenly switch metaphors, creativity doesn’t just feed on one thing. It’s omnivorous. It grazes on all of life. It consumes the colors of a sunrise and the quips from the drive-time DJ, the contents of your inbox and a coworker’s paisley shirt, a bad interlude with the boss and an over-long meeting, six-o’clock headlines and the smell of home cooking, a passage on the nature of the will from a long-dead philosopher and your wife’s goodnight kiss. It eats it all. With such things, it will build characters and plots, settings and themes on the sturdy skeleton of your craft. Without them, though, even the finest turns of phrase will only be wind through bones -- hollow, brittle and dry.

(Picture: CC 2009 by


B. Nagel said...

If you haven't read it and even if you have, I have to recommend The Arrival. No words, but a stupendous story.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little worried that Betty beat me over here. Y'all are in a conspiracy together, aren't you?

And why are neither of you on Facebook? The plot thickens.

Loren, for some strange reason, this post was something I really needed today. I know, I don't get it either, but it was...well, soothing, actually. Yes, I'm weird, but yes, you're still an awesome writer and particularly an astute observer.

Even if you are scheming world domination with B.

B. Nagel said...

sturdy skeleton of your craft. Exactly. Artistry requires craftsmanship. Without it, you just have a pretty jumble of words.

Loren Eaton said...


Haven't read The Arrival, but the author sounds familiar. Has he published stuff in Flights?

Loren Eaton said...


Aw, thanks! Glad you liked it. I think it's funny how little bits of authors' lives show up in their work. Not that it's autobiographical, just that their observations and personal passions and favorite ideas always show up in different ways in their work. That makes their writing truly special.

B and I still have an opening for assistant dictator of the southern hemisphere, by the way. We're taking applications if you're interested.

B. Nagel said...


Don't know that he has anything in Flights, but his website ( is very easy on the eyes.

Loren Eaton said...

I've been to that Web site before. Don't know when or why, though. I might have to check his book out. Thanks for the recommend!

B. Nagel said...

Just posted a review of Phantastes.