It’s been repeated endlessly that writers read—that an essential part of the creative process is taking in someone else’s work and ideas. If you stay locked in an echo chamber where your creative process is just your own work and your own reactions to it, your creative process winds up like that scene in Being John Malkovich when John Malkovich dives into himself:
So, yes, read—read a lot. but you know what? Also go for other forms of art and other modes of creative expression, because some of the best ideas I’ve ever had occurred to me when I was mesmerized or slightly bored at a play or concert.
My wife, The Duchess, likes a certain kind of cheesy pop-culture show that I myself find kind of terrible. At home this manifests as sessions spent watching America’s Got Talent while I drink myself into an early grave. Other times it means she drags me to Broadway musicals like Mama Mia! or other atrocities. Or sometimes my one friend who still goes to concerts (I mean, I’m old, and concerts are loud and the booze is super expensive and you can’t sit, amiright?) drags me to a show. And inevitably at these entertainments I find my mind wandering. And I can enter a sort of trance: Someone else’s (admittedly awful) ideas being poured in, and me unable to do anything but stand there and experience everything. It tends to be a creative tonic.
For example, I got some of the basic plot for the third Avery Cates book, The Eternal Prison while being forced to watch a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. And I had a breakthrough on an unsold novel currently with my agent when I was enduring the aforementioned horrors of Mama Mia!.
This works in part because I’m out of my comfort zone and forced to exist in a way I’m not used to. And it works because the ideas I’m exposed to are foreign and kind of irritating, not something I naturally find compelling. And it works because it’s a few hours when I can’t do anything else. I can’t read, or write, or watch something, or fiddle with my phone. It’s a little like an isolation chamber. An isolation chamber in which ABBA songs are pumped endlessly, sure, but still.