Consume to Create
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
The other day I had an insight. I don’t remember where it came from, just that it put my entire life into such a simple framework that I stopped in my tracks, stunned. I had never thought of my life this way before, and yet here it was, so simple how could I have missed it? I’d even known the basic concept as early as high school. The concept was this: Whenever I picked up an interest, let’s say an instrument or acting, I didn’t just want to do it; I wanted to create it myself. I didn’t just want to listen to and perform other people’s songs; I wanted to write my own. I didn’t just want to read books; I want to write them. But back in high school, I had only been interested in the arts. I did a lot of them: acting, music (drums, piano, guitar, bass), sculpting, creative writing. I just figured I was into the arts and consuming them but even more so creating them. But then I went on a mission for my church and assumed (wrongly) that, compared to studying religious texts and preaching the gospel, the arts were frivolous and childish things. To be fair, a mission is a time of intense focus on religious study and service. But in my immature understanding of devotion, I didn’t just put my artistic inclinations on the shelf, I pushed them away. I threw them away. When I came back and continued my college education, I eventually pursued a degree in English. This involved much study of literature for literature’s sake. I loved it, but my goal in studying English was to develop skill in language and communication. I had discovered on my mission that I had something of a knack for teaching. I wanted to master the English language so that I could better communicate ideas to others. But even as I studied literature and poetry, I still held the belief that it was lesser. I had spent two years trying to communicate to people the purpose of life, how to be happy, how to find happiness with your family after this life. How could make-believe stories compare to that? I even wrote something of a manifesto to myself one day, declaring that I would not waste my time pursuing the arts but would dedicate myself to gospel learning and teaching exclusively. Only I wrote the manifesto in very expressive—even artistic—language, employing vivid metaphors and other poetic forms. Even in the act of denouncing love for the arts, I couldn’t truly escape my passion for them. Fast forward a few years. I slowly started to ease off my contempt for the arts and began taking an old novel idea from high school and developing it again. I had no idea what I was doing, bu it was really fun. There is a lot more to say about my transition from contempt for the arts to where I am today (intense desire coupled with lingering fear and trepidation), but it involves some tender experiences that I will save that for another day. Suffice is to say, that even when I decided I wanted to write fiction again, I still felt that other pursuits were more important. To overcome my fear and trepidation, and to learn to cope with ADHD, I had devoured many books, articles, and videos about self-improvement. That topic seemed more valuable to others than stories. Why did I feel that way? I knew by then that stories have perhaps even more power to improve oneself than a book on improving oneself. (Who can read about the bishop in Les Misérables and not yearn to be a saint of a person? Who can watch the regret of Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing and not feel uneasy about the times they too misjudged others?) The psyche is a tangled mess of thought patterns, fears, hopes, regrets, and a whole soup of other influences. But the insight I had the other day did resonate with me as a major reason why, despite my desire to put my head more into fiction than any other topic, I just didn’t feel as much of a drive as I wanted to. So, without further ado, here is the insight:
It made such sense! To try and become a better, more productive, less-fearful person, I had consumed self-improvement content. I was filled with it. And because something in my brain always wants to create the thing I consume, that’s what I wanted to create. When given the choice to read a self-improvement book or a novel, I chose the former, because I thought that’d be a better use of my time. I only have so many years to make myself the best I can be, my thinking went, so I’d better spend it on unfiltered knowledge and know-how. I wanted to be an app designer after hours of downloading apps to my then-new iPhone and observing the nuance of usability and beauty. And recently, having fallen in love with Go, instead of being content playing it, I have an itch to design a board game that is part abstract strategy game, part real-time strategy game. So what do I do with this information? What can you do with this information? The only thing I can think of is this: if you want to produce something, consume a lot of it. I’ve heard this advice for years. Professional writers tell aspiring writers to read a lot and write a lot. When I heard this, I always figured the benefit of reading a lot was that, through passive absorption and active analysis, a reader learns the craft of writing from the authors they read. While this is certainly the case, perhaps just as important is that, at least in my case, consuming stories produces a desire to write stories of my own. And the more stories I consume, the more fervent the desire. And coupled with the above reason, that reading teaches me how to write, there comes a confidence that I can write my own stories. That’s how I functioned in high school. Without realizing it, a little gear in my head would say, when I listened to a song, “Hey, that doesn’t sound so hard. I can do that.” Whether I could or couldn’t wasn’t important yet. It got me playing, riffing, and putting beats and chords together in new ways I hadn’t heard. It got me creating. At the end of the day, if you want to make something, you have to get creating. And if consuming that thing gets you creating, then consume as much of it as you can. Thanks for reading.