Friday, January 22, 2016

Consumption Vs. Production

A popular post from 2012

By: Josi Kilpack

A few months ago I was talking with some friends and explaining that I used to be able to watch TV or listen to music while I wrote, but lately I can't do it. My mind is split between the things going on and I end up frustrated. Marion Jensen put into words what I was getting to--that our brain has two modes, consumption and production, and while some people need background noise, or learn to drown out other things, most people can't do both at one time. At least not well.

This got me thinking about how this concept has worked for me. When my children were small, I could write with them running around my ankles, with Barney in the background, and giggles bouncing off the wall. It wasn't 'peaceful' writing and I only had short snippets of time but it was my only option and I was able to make it work. I wrote my first 8 books this way. As my kids have gotten older, I have gotten better at making quiet time to write in and apparently I've been amazingly successful at my goal to write peacefully because, other than plain piano music, I can no longer listen to music or watch TV while I write. While I used to be able to block out all kinds of things, I struggle to have many distractions this days and rarely write if I don't have at least 2 hours to put into it. The writing environment is very personal to each writer, but something worth evaluating on occasion.

However, the other part of this concept is the need to consume in order to produce when you have that time and place that best serves you. In order to give our best work, we need to be consuming information and ideas; processing the world at large so that we can put those things into our own work. I remember when I was breastfeeding and struggling to keep up with the demands of my baby. My midwife had to remind me that I had to eat and eat and eat and drink and drink or drink or my body could not produce enough for my baby. For her to consume what she needed, I had to do the same for production sake.

Not everyone consumes the same way. I have many friends who read 50 plus novels a year. I am in awe of it. I don't read nearly that much, but I watch a lot of TV and movies--while I'm cleaning or cooking or avoiding my writing :-). In the past I have tried to cut down on my TV watching and while I'm sure it's good for me to limit the time the TV is on in a lot of ways, it is stifling for my mind when it comes to creating plots. Over and over again something will happen in a show that will spark an idea for a character, or twist, or location.

I know people who feel the same awakening from music, that listening to certain types or certain artists helps their brain kick into gear. Other people listen to audio books when they don't have time to sit and read. Other's watch Movies, or favorite TV shows, and others people-watch in public places, or engage all different types of people in conversation. Different personalities will seek out different things, but the important thing is that every writer is consuming. We need to become sponges, soaking up information, learning about people, observing weirdos in their natural habitat, learning about occupations, time periods, cultures, illnesses, lifestyles, religions, and personality types. We need to keep our reserves full if we're going to pour truth into our words and make our stories feel real to our readers.

I'd love to hear what types of consumption allows you to write at your best. What have you learned? Where do you go for inspiration?


Amy said...

I am not a writer, but I am a music composer and lyrics writer, and I feel like I have my own need for "consumption" before I can "produce" anything. I get my inspiration from hearing talks, reading scriptures, or other books, and reading my own journals concerning previous experiences.
Great post!

Jenny Moore said...

I get my inspiration from all the amazing authors I know. Whether they know it or not, I'm listening to every little thing they say, and thinking how I can apply it to what I'm working on. How I can make it better, and make myself better at it.

Chris Miller said...

I'm not sure I understand these two sentences:

In the past I have tried to cut down on my TV watching and while I'm sure it's good in a lot of ways, it is stifling for my mind when it comes to creating plots. Over and over again something will happen in a show that will spark an idea for a character, or twist, or location.

It seems television watching is stimulating your mind if it's sparking ideas.

Anyway,I do sometimes write to music, but only soundtracks--no lyrics. I can't do both. There are certain shows I watch for consumption, but I try to get it every where I can. I had the same theory of consumption when I was an ASL interpreter. The more things you knew about the better your output.

Josi said...

I went back and clarified that sentence, Chris :-) Thanks.

Jenn Wilks said...

Chris, I think she's saying that /not watching/ TV is stifling her mind, not that TV-watching is stifling her mind. It's the cutting-back that is stifling, even though cutting back is probably a good thing in some ways.

Thanks for your thoughts, Josi. :-) I definitely agree.

Heather B. Moore said...

Most of the time I have no music on when I write, but when I find my attention waning, music will help. Maybe it's the beat that keeps my fingers typing, or something. Also, I used to be able to write in noise and chaos, but not so much anymore :-) said...

I get a lot of ideas from my nonfiction "research books". But recently I discovered I can also get some good ideas from magazine articles, and they take a lot less time to read. So maybe this year I'll get around to reading more novels!