No, this isn't a blog about Capitalism in the 21st Century. It's actually about creativity, and about what feeds the creative impulse. KP mentioned in the last thread that he once avoided reading in the fear that he would unintentionally copy the things he read. It's a theory I've heard a lot, and never much liked (so I'm glad KP left it in the dust;)). The most obvious problem, of course, is that it's not good for a writer in a technical sense, as it leads to a lack of exposure toward the basic craft of writing. It's like being asked to build a cabinet out of a hunk of wood, a hammer, and three nails. But, beneath that problem of craft, there is another concern: this avoidance theory fails to grasp the basic dynamics of the creative impulse.
So what is that impulse? Where does that creativity come from?
I'm gonna break the creative theories down into two camps (though this will be an imperfect analogy, as all such generalizations are). The first camp usually believes that creativity is an inward thing. They don't want to read, because then they'll be forced to steal other ideas. Better to stick your head in the sand so that you can sink into yourself. Find your originality deep within and pull it out, some pure and perfect thing.
The other camp believes creativity comes from outside. You have to find it and pull it in. Read those books, and read lots of them. This is the grist for the mill.
There are problems, of course, with both, but I think the greater danger lies within the ideas of that first group, who hold to the belief that creativity is an entirely inward process. Dig deep enough and you will find something unique and true... and yet if you bury your head too deep in the sand, and keep it there too long, all you might find is a void, a wide abyss of nothingness.
Creativity, I think, comes from the mind's interaction with things outside of itself. Creativity arises from the heat of friction, as the mind rubs up against the outside world, against all the stories that are propagated in and of that world. New ideas do not come out of the inward nothingness of isolation, but rather out of the carcasses of old ideas. Creativity, to me, is an organic thing, a growing thing, and the natural world of ideas is not so different from the natural world of our little terrestrial plane. Things die, they decompose, and then they are used to build something new.
Human invention is a tower built endlessly on the backs of old ideas. If some of Einstein's solutions have been proven false or inadequate... well, the better solutions were only possible because of those first attempts by Einstein to understand the physics of the world. And his own ideas came out of his studies, out of the imperfect theories of others. He read and learned the math, worked out ideas and solutions, and in so doing found something new. This is creativity, drawing in the world around and making something new from it. Seeing something new in it.
And so writers have to be greedy. They have to be greedy for personal experience (no, they don't have to sky dive or rob banks or see a war up close and personal... but they should observe the world around them, recording and remembering), and they have to be greedy for other stories. Read those stories, let them decompose into the mental soils... and then grow something unique and different out of that rich loam. And the more a writer has decomposing up there the more elements they have to play with, the more building blocks with which to build. Feed that soil and the garden that grows there will be the richer and stranger for it.
Yes, this outward idea of creativity has its faults and dangers. One of the greatest, and most common, is rooted in that Romantic idea of inspiration as something mysterious and otherworldly, a blessing of metaphysical grace without which a writer cannot work. This, I think, is an illusion, though for some that illusion might be helpful. Too often, though, it seems harmful, ceding control to an outward source. It's an abnegation of responsibility, of the need for effort and work and continual learning.
But, despite the dangers, I think creativity requires us to open ourselves. Let it in, let it all in. Let it churn around inside you. That friction, that heat of contact, is the driving force of the creative impulse. Our brains are like particle acclerators sending molecules winging around, banging into each other, propelling motion. Shy away from this and you'll fall into slow stasis. The void. You'll search, and search, and search...
Don't reach inward, but outward. Be greedy.