Most of you Constant Readers know by now my whole spiel about how would-be creators need to not merely expose themselves to other examples of the kind of work they want to produce. This crosses disciplines and fandoms, meaning an aspiring comic artist is likely to gain perspective from getting out of his reading bubble in the same way an aspiring novelist will be enriched by a trip to a museum they normally would never go to.
A common pushback I get about this one could be phrased like so: "Why should I twist my own arm?" If I don't want to do something — read this particular kind of book, see that particular sort of movie — then how is this supposed to change all that? I remember now that wonderful little passage from the beginning of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, where Rick Deckard's wife spurns the use of the mood organ, because it's supposed to make you feel something, and she doesn't want to feel something, and so it goes.
OK, look at the way the comeback is phrased: Why should I twist my own arm? I chose to phrase things that way to expose what I felt was the underlying misunderstanding. Nobody is saying this stuff should be liked, only that you need to know about it and have an educated reaction to it.
And that in turn provokes yet another version of the same argument: If I don't like it, why bother with it? The problem, again, is that you only know why you don't like it unless you've had some exposure to it. If your whole reason for not being interested in it is just a matter of taste, then that's one less skill you have that can be applied back to your own work.
The other thing, and perhaps the more important one, that springs from such exposure, is being able to find things that are worth keeping. Diamonds can be found in most any muck, and the further you are afield, the more likely you are to find diamonds of a carat and cut you would never have found at home. This character here, he's surrounded by a terrible story, but he's a fascinating person; he needs to have his story told properly. This setting — what a great idea! Maybe it can be done justice to in another way. And so on.
I come down on this a lot as much for myself as I do anyone else, because I know too well how easy it is to become complacent. Once you've sought out all the things you think you like and don't like, you then feel like you have a solved problem, one less thing to fret about. When David Cronenberg talked about how he tended to work with the same DP and the same production designer and the same composer and so on, he put it this way: you didn't have to worry about whether or not the other guy liked pizza. It was one less obstacle towards the creation of the thing, which was what mattered most.
Hard not to empathize with such a mindset, isn't it? And why harsh on Cronenberg; the man obviously seems to know what he's doing. But the issues he describes are largely procedural and mechanical; in a writer's case, it's like his choice of keyboard or word processor, or how he elects to arrange his workspace. But the kind of things you expose yourself to as creative fuel matter, and they matter not just because of what you feed your head, but also why and to what end.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind