Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A good composer does not imitate, he steals.

Weird stringed instrument heads. Art By: Me

Author's Note: Above is a few sketches for a random generator I am working on: a random stringed instrument generator. I want to create a generator that has multiple different instrument heads, necks, and bodies, with each part granting a different minor ability. As you can see from the first 'head', I took the term very literally, and then ran with the idea: this thing I did with the 'head' will come into play later in the article. In this article I talk about a couple books that I think have some awesome advice for people who actively create new things, and want those things to be noticed by the wider world. Later in the article I lay out one technique I use to come up with my own weird ideas. I really would dig hearing about how you go about getting your inspiration, or anything you do as part of your own creative process. So, please, leave a comment and let me know how you do those awesome things you do.

So... Why did I write this post?
In my constant pursuit of becoming a better writer and creator, I have read a couple short books written to help me in my quest. Both books are by Austin Kleon: Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Steal Like an Artist focuses on how to find inspiration and how to apply it to your own work. Show Your Work focuses on getting noticed on the net, and how to do it in a way that builds up a community and not just yourself.

I won't give away all the secrets of these two books, because Austin Kleon deserves the money he gets from the sale of these things. They both are short, and are filled with a lot of why-didn't-I-think-of-that information. Some of the stuff you may already know, but unless you're already an expert, you'll at least find some new and valuable information.

What I am going to do is cover a couple ideas presented in the books in the hopes that they can help others in creating and sharing their work.

Ideas are like Lego's: you can't make new one's, but you can combine them to create an infinity of new works.

Do then teach, wash rinse repeat
One of the central theme's in 'Show Your Work' is that successful creators don't hide their techniques, rather they share them. He gives quite a few examples of famous folks who make it a point to share their 'trade secrets', and how doing so has made them even more successful. One reason to do this is by sharing your techniques, other folks may be able to give you advice on how to improve them. Another reason is that by helping others you can help foster a community of like minded folks, which can be an awesome resource for yourself and everyone else when it comes time to start making stuff. Really, go buy the book, because its advice is great.

My 'Secret'
So, now I am going to go over tool/technique I use to come up with ideas.

Steal. Steal every concept and idea you come in contact with, and hide it in a notebook. I carry a notebook around (a moleskine because I am a wannabe hipster/pretentious) wherever I go and write down cool ideas I see, or weird ones that come to me. 75% percent of the stuff in my notebook will never see the light of day again, but that's okay. The idea is that you hoard every idea you encounter, so that when it comes time to come up with something new, you will never be at a loss.

Naturally, concerns about plagiarism will bounce through your head as you read this, but have no fear, I have an answer for this. Steal a lot, then mix it together. Wanna know something? There hasn't been a truly new idea for at least a century, if not more; look hard enough, and you'll find that someone came up with the basis for the idea you just had more than a century before you were born. What matters is how you combine ideas, and how you present them.

Think of ideas and concepts as Lego’s, little pre-made bits that you can combine in so many different ways that you might as call it infinite. There are so many creative and incredible things being made by the Lego fan community, I recommend you look some of the stuff up to see how folks can express themselves using pre-made objects.

So, back to the YOINK. Steal all the stuff you think is cool, and then combine them, more than likely you do it already subconsciously. The main idea is steal a lot of stuff, and combine as many as possible into one project; the more ideas in a single project the more original it will be.

One thing I like doing to get ideas is to take metaphor and simile literally. Here are some examples of how my technique works.

The cafĂ© was like a battleship stripped for action.” The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.
Ideas: Weird industrial cafe (maybe in a factory). A cafe in a metal boat (maybe re-purposed?). A metropolitan city, filled with hip places like clubs and cafes, built from and into an old/ancient gigantic battleship.

...and they turned back over the plain toward the rocket, whose ports gleamed afar like a row of staring eyes.” The Lotus Eaters by Stanley G. Weinbaum.
Ideas: So a rocket is kinda like a tower, so perhaps a tower covered with eyes that stare out. A fleshy/biological tower, the tower being a single creature, a creature grown for a specific purpose. An artificial structure, the eyes acting like stylized laser cannons; maybe the eye theme is there as part of a religious structure.

Scrawled mounds of stone, like mountain waves, seemed to roll up to steep bare slopes and towers.” Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.
Ideas: An ancient and deserted city, buildings built onto one another in ever growing peaks. The city itself is the size of a small mountain range.

In Conclusion
I am going to periodically write these things in the hopes of helping others, and for others to help me improve my own techniques. As I stated before, I really would dig hearing about how you go about getting your inspiration, or anything you do as part of your own creative process. So, please, leave a comment and let me know how you do those awesome things you do.