Must-Read Monday: A Quick Inspiration Read for Writers and Artists

A pic of kidlet's toy at the circus this weekend

Hey, look, it's a blog! Like a real blog that's not just me giving you the latest news in between my crazed deadline state. ;) Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me over the last few crazy months. Nine releases over nine weeks straight all while trying to finish the next book before deadline proved to be quite a challenge.

I'm discovering that the writing life is a constant cycle between being insane and living in your cave (typing away frantically and neglecting all other parts of your life) and brief breaks where you blink into the light, realize life is still going on and that you'd like to be part of it again.

And part of those rare breaks for me has to be spent refilling the well. After working on a book and promotion and conferences for months, I get to the point where I feel like I've emptied all of the creativity I have onto the page and there's nothing left. So I need to take some time to fill that back up. That usually means reading a lot of books for fun, taking time to indulge in my new photography hobby, going to museums, or traveling to new places for a change of scenery. An inspiration vacation, if you will.

And so, during this process last week, I ran across a book I hadn't heard of before. It was one of the Kindle daily deals (and I'm slightly obsessed with those) and had a provocative title, so I checked it out. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon is a very brief (took less than an hour to read & has fun illustrations) book about "10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative".

Blurb (from Amazon):

You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.

When Mr. Kleon was asked to address college students in upstate New York, he shaped his speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral, and its author dug deeper into his own ideas to create Steal Like an Artist, the book. The result is inspiring, hip, original, practical, and entertaining. And filled with new truths about creativity: Nothing is original, so embrace influence, col- lect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.

I don't know if it will contain anything you haven't heard before, but something about how it was said resonated with me. It made me even more jazzed to fill that creativity well again because the point of the book is that we (and our work) are a result of all the things we fill our lives with--our experiences, our likes and dislikes, what we spend our time doing, etc. Here's one of the quotes I highlighted:

"You don't get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to...and the books you read...the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences."

--Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist, Location 71 in Kindle version

So that's what he means when he says "steal" like an artist. Not plagiarize or copy. But study and absorb all those things that get you excited, that wake you up, that make you want to aspire to something more. Take those favorite authors of yours and study what they are doing right, what is it that resonates with you? Then mix that in with all your other influences from your life, music, the TV and movies you watch, whatever make you and your writing you, and then transform it into your own unique style.

This concept also reminds you not to get too incestuous in your influences, meaning if you never read outside your genre or see movies of a different kind or push your boundaries outside of your comfort zone, you may end up looking like a poor imitation of something else. So read widely, learn from all different mediums, experience life around you, be observant, and then mash that together and find your own style.

For instance, I write erotic romance. I read a lot of erotic romance because I love it. However, I grew up on horror and suspense books. And I love John Hughes movies. And I used to be a social worker. So if you read my books, you'll see all of that. I write erotic romance that often has dark themes, particularly in characters' backstories, which is probably from both my social work experience and my love of gothic/horror novels. But there's also levity in my books because humor is important to me in a story. Like in CAUGHT UP IN YOU, Kelsey has had a rough life--drug addiction, former stripper, rape victim--but then there are scenes where she and Wyatt are quoting The Terminator to each other or she's teasing him about owning the movie, Dirty Dancing. That is my style and a way readers would be able to recognize my books from someone else's. It's the mashup of my influences. So this book reminded me that I need to keep adding to the pot on those influences and not get too narrow in my book/movie/activity choices. Otherwise, my style will get stale.

So anyway, that's a long way to say that I liked this book and recommend it, lol. And not just for writers but for anyone who engages in a creative pursuit. I bought the ebook version because it was on sale. But be warned, it has illustrations, so unless you have a tablet or a Kindle Fire, I'd go with the paperback. Plus, the ebook, unfortunately, is no longer on sale so the paperback is probably a better deal anyway.

Has anyone else read this? What influences do you see in your own writing/art/creative pursuit? Do you read outside of your genre?