This year I’m committing to something a little different from previous years’ reading resolutions. I’d like to read a lot more nonfiction as well as keeping up with all the fiction on my to-read list.
I love reading fiction because good fiction transports me into another world and introduces me to interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. I can become immersed in a good book and it’s that immersion that forms the foundation of the pleasure I get from reading fiction.
Fiction can also fuel my creativity; I’ve gotten many ideas for stories and novels as a result of seeing something in another novel I’m reading. This happens to me with television and movies, too.
But it’s nonfiction that really ups my creative output. Maria Popova talks about combinatorial creativity – how all the bits and pieces of information and memories and knowledge you carry inside your head comes together to form ideas, lots and lots of ideas if you let the process happen – and this has always been the way creativity has worked for me.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well". She’s referring to the idea of an inner artistic well that informs all of our creativity. It’s an analogy that I think works well with the idea of combinatorial creativity. While Cameron advocates going on "artist’s dates" – actual physical excursions – in order to keep our inner artistic well maintained, for me such excursions are more appropriate for helping me open up to the present moment, something else that’s required when I’m involved in a creative endeavour.
But the best way for me to keep my inner artistic well pumped and primed and well-maintained is by opening myself up to a flotsam of information. Anything and everything I find interesting has a place in my creativity, and the randomness of the information plays a key role. It’s in reading nonfiction that I most often stumble onto such things – interesting-to-me ideas, facts, concepts, often mere scraps of information, sometimes just a sentence or phrase – that ignite the spark that pulls together other completely unrelated pieces of information to form a shiny new idea.
Myths and legends work that way for me, too. I guess such work is really fiction, but I tend to place myths and legends in a category all its own, not quite nonfiction, not quite fiction – but definitely fertile fuel for the imagination.
So this year, along with tackling my fiction to-read list, I’ll be reading stacks and stacks of nonfiction too, with a stack of blank index cards at my side for jotting down the bits and pieces that interest me. I plan on using the index cards as a tactile, visual aid when playing with my creativity, in much the same way I use archetypal oracle cards.
Here are some of the nonfiction titles I’ll be using to fill my creative well over the next few weeks:
The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson
Finding Arthur, by Adam Ardrey
The Making of Middle Earth, by Christopher Snyder
by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison
by Caspar Henderson
What about you? Do you read nonfiction, or do you mostly stick with fiction? If you’re a writer, what are some ways you use to fill your creative well?