Guest Post: Creativity Compost (plus giveaway!)

Amie says: Because she’s awesome, Meagan Spooner is giving away a goooorgeous Skylark themed necklace to one of our readers!

Where do you get your ideas?

If you’re a writer, you probably just cringed. At least for me, it’s the single most common question I get asked, sitting right above “What, like a real writer, with books?” and “Wow, do you have a castle like J.K. Rowling?” Still, despite having answered this question a hundred times over, I always still groan on the inside when I hear it. Because it’s not a simple question to answer—and people tend not to like the real answer.

The truth about where I get my ideas? I steal them.

Okay, bear with me. I’m not talking about plagiarism, here. I’m not talking about taking someone else’s work and trying to make it mine. For writers, that’s something verging on cannibalism or incest, in terms of the level of horror it evokes. But what I mean is that my ideas come out of everything I consume.

I’m going to hand the mic over to a guy you may have heard of. He wrote some books that people kinda liked. Had a few movies, that sort of thing. He’s, you know, generally hailed as the father of modern fantasy. No big deal.

One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed nor by any means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps.

—J.R.R. Tolkien

Music, movies, friends, news, art, science, television, comics, other books… all of the stuff floating around that we read and see and hear every day, that stuff all gets consumed and digested in our minds, composted down into this rich, fertile soil, perfect for nurturing the little seedlings of creativity trying to grow there.

So don’t be surprised when the things that grow out of your imagination occasionally bear a resemblance to something you’ve seen before. It’s to be expected. The point is that you break it down in  a way that’s unique to you, and you combine it with elements from other media and other stories in ways no one else can. We’re all telling the same stories—what makes our works unique is the way we choose to tell them.

There’s a quote that often gets bandied about in various forms, and attributed to various different people (T.S. Eliot and Pablo Picasso are the ones I’ve seen most often) that goes: “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.”

The idea being that of course things you consume intellectually are going to make their way into you work—but you have to own it, not secret it away guiltily, hoping no one notices. Transform it, shape it, weave it into the fabric of your story like it’s always been there. And don’t think about giving it back. And don’t be ashamed to admit to your influences, because they’re a part of who you are as much as they’re a part of what you write.

Want proof? Here is a list, in no particular order, of things that influenced me and the writing of Skylark—some are obvious, some less so, and some are things no one but me would’ve probably ever noticed. If I hadn’t just confessed to it, that is.

  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (Web Series)
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Contact by Carl Sagan
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Princess Mononoke Soundtrack
  • Firefly (TV)
  • NPR Op-ed pieces

And now, the giveaway!

You can click on the image for a close-up view. Swoonworthy, right? AND there’s something really special inside. Meg will be including pictures of her characters Lark and Oren–these aren’t available anywhere but inside the lockets, not even posted online, so you’ll be in on an exclusive! There’s only one other place you can win this prize–check out Meg’s Sky’s The Limit Contest to increase your chances.

Leave a comment telling us about your influences (or something you’ve stolen!) to enter! Contest is US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

MEAGAN SPOONER is the author of Skylark, coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of These Broken Stars, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013. She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads. You can find Meg on Twitter, Facebook or on her blog tour, where there are lots of great prizes going!


49 Responses to Guest Post: Creativity Compost (plus giveaway!)

  1. Christina K. Jul 12 2012 at 5:18 am #

    I “steal” from current events and history. For some reason, the two together get me thinking about things differently:)

    Congrats! Skylark looks awesome!

    Thanks so much:)

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 7:35 am #

      I’ve definitely stolen from both current events AND history! I totally agree, it gives you a different perspective, even if you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, something that feels completely removed from our own past.

      Thank you!

  2. Molly Lee Jul 12 2012 at 7:04 am #

    I think you are spot on! I’m inspired by people, music, and books all the time. I love never knowing when an wonderful idea will hit me over the head! Thanks for this! Skylark looks awesome!

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 7:36 am #

      There’s just too much awesome stuff out there to NOT be inspired by the random things you encounter every day. I think that’s why answering the “where do you get your ideas” question is so tough… because you get your ideas from everywhere!

  3. CB Soulsby Jul 12 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Just reading what influenced your book and adding it to my wishlist 😉

    I alot of my ideas come about after I’ve read a book. Usually by asking, “so what if this was set in space?”

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 7:37 am #

      Aww, yay! The trick will be seeing if you can spot the places where I totally stole the ideas. 😉

      That’s an awesome way to get ideas! I can definitely track my own inspiration, and how much more active my imagination is, with how much I’ve been reading new books.

      • Amie Jul 12 2012 at 7:47 am #

        I am ALL OVER ‘what if this was set in space’. In fact, two people on this thread, not naming names, have a book coming out that asks that question!

        And FYI, the correct answer to ‘do you have a castle?’ is ‘we are currently in the market for one’.

        We don’t have a castle YET.

        • Kirsty in London Jul 12 2012 at 8:56 am #

          “Titanic in outer space” caught my attention as soon as I saw it on Publishers Weekly 😉

          Am I allowed to ask if it was part of your original pitch when you queried, or is it something your agent(s) decided to run with?

          Great post, Meagan!

          • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 9:10 am #

            It was not actually part of our original pitch! We actually never really made a pitch–I was already signed with my agent at that time, and Amie had just signed with hers. So we just gave them the manuscript, and it went from there! To be honest, it’s only “Titanic in space” for a few chapters before the “Titanic” crashes. But there’s still that upper class/lower class friction that made the romance in Titanic so good.

          • Kirsty in London Jul 12 2012 at 9:31 am #

            Ah, cool! As a hook it definitely works though 🙂

  4. Katherine S Jul 12 2012 at 8:53 am #

    I get inspired by everything people, pictures, music, movies and books. For my short story of Porcelain Dolls, that I just finished, I was influenced by Stephen King and L.J. Smith.

    Congrats! I can’t wait to read SKYLARK!

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 9:31 am #

      What great influences to have! I love looking back at finished projects and finding the influences there. My editor’s also forever pointing things out that I “stole” and never even noticed I was stealing! It’s pretty amazing how things sneak in there, just because they’re a part of you now.

  5. Megan Duff Jul 12 2012 at 9:55 am #

    The strangest thing is how I don’t even realize what is inspiring me! I was just discussing my WIP yesterday and realized the similarities (thankfully nothing too big) between it and The Adjustment Bureau. My mind was a little blown. I can’t even pin point what I encountered first: that movie or my WIP. Crazy!

    Congrats on Skylark, it looks great 🙂

    (Also Pinterest, while addictive and slightly evil, is wonderful for inspiration ;D)

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      The same thing totally happens to me. Like I said in response to a comment above, my editor often has to point out the things I’ve “stolen.” And then I’m like “…oh, crap.” But usually, like yours, it’s not actually a problem. 😛

  6. Sarah Marie Jul 12 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I’m influenced a lot by experiences, pictures and ideas. I like to steal little things; a fragment of a sentence, a part of an idea, a characteristic or a feeling. Right now, fairytales and quiet little books are really influencing me. I love big, thick books, but I also love the little ones that you can just curl up and read in a few hours. I love Tuck Everlasting, Brooklyn, Burning and Where Things Come Back.

    And Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog is AWESOME.

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      I have Brooklyn, Burning on my shelf right now, waiting to be read! My TBR list is so long it’s shameful, though.

      AND YAY for Dr. Horrible! <3

  7. PK Hrezo Jul 12 2012 at 10:26 am #

    So true, Meagan. And how interesting to see what influenced Skylark. Sometimes I don’t realize where my stories come from until after I write them and I see an old movie or hear an old song and think, “Oh wow! That was totally in my subconscious!” It’s super trippy and cool.
    My most recent story was inspired by The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but other stories had a direct influence before the draft was said and done. 🙂

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      Ooh, that’s a fantastic influence. Yeah–definitely, songs do that to me. That actually happened to me while writing the sequel to SKYLARK a little while back. I kept listening to this one song on loop, and had no idea WHY I kept listening to it, until suddenly I realized that it was one of my characters singing to me. TOTALLY trippy.

  8. Erin Bowman Jul 12 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Meagan, I couldn’t agree more! Have you read STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon? He talks about how everything is borrowed and encourages “stealing,” but not plagiarizing, just as you’ve mentioned. One of my favorite things he says is this, in response to the notion that nothing is original: “Some people find this idea depressing, but it fills me with hope…If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

    I love that you’ve shared a list of things that inspired and made SKYLARK possible. (I have a similar list for anything and everything I’ve written as well.) Fantastic post. (And if you haven’t read that book by Kleon, I highly recommend it. It’s quick, light, but very insightful. And filled with fun doodles.) 🙂

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      Wow, I HAVE to read that book! I’d never heard of it before, but that quote… YES. It is freeing to realize! That’s a big part of why I wrote the post… because for me, it was a revelation to realize that not only is it okay for things you’ve seen to appear in your own work, it’s expected, natural… it’s how creativity works. So freeing. Thank you for the rec!

  9. Kelley Jul 12 2012 at 11:25 am #

    My influences definitely come from the interesting things I surround myself with. Books I read, shows I watch, art I enjoy. And very often — dreams! Dreams are a great resource for weird, interesting sparks of ideas. I’m lucky to be able to remember many of mine, but I keep a dream journal, which helps.

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      Oh, lucky you! Usually the only dreams I remember are the ones I wake up from abruptly, and those tend to be nightmares. Occasionally the something’s-chasing-me kind, but usually the more psychologically disturbing kind. Not pleasant!

      I really ought to try keeping a dream journal again. I’ve tried numerous times but never stuck with it long enough for it to become a habit.

  10. Krispy Jul 12 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m definitely influenced by the things I read and watch and by other people’s art. I’m also very influenced by folklore and mythology. I love fairy tale retellings for example!

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 12 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Squee! I am SUCH a huge fairy tale retelling nut! It’s actually shocking to me that I’ve sold six books and not one of them is a fairy tale retelling. I used to write them exclusively! That said, I steal a TON from myths, fairy tales, and classics (like Shakespeare) even in the stories that aren’t specifically retellings.

  11. Jane Jul 12 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    sometimes, I like to wonder how a storyline (be it from a movie, TV show, book…) would turn out if one tiny but very important detail becomes altered. And then from there, I let my imagination take over and before I know it, I have within my grasp the kernels of an original story!

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 14 2012 at 5:33 pm #

      I love this? The “what if” is one of my favorite parts of coming up with new ideas. I really think that most fantasy and science fiction ideas can be boiled down to the “what if.”

  12. Vivien Jul 12 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    I’m inspired by nature. I’m always looking at the weather outside. Or looking up pictures of naturescapes online. I just can’t get enough of the beauty!

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 14 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Rain, for me is a tremendously inspiring thing. Wind, too. There’s a reason that Lark’s most moving experiences when encountering the outside world for the first time involve the weather… I find it moving, and I’ve lived with the outdoors my whole life!

  13. Ashley K Jul 13 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I find video games, well at least the ones that are done well, so inspiring. The open ended ones have billions of little storylines in them that are ripe for using! And being able to explore the worlds is great for building my own.
    Also, I’m totally looking forward to trying to spot Dr Horrible in Skylark!

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 14 2012 at 5:36 pm #

      Oh, I hear you! Certain video games have amazing plot lines and character development. And you can immerse in them in a completely different way than the way you engage with books or movies!

      And good luck! Let me know if you spot the connection. I think it’s relatively subtle… you’ll get super special points if you find it! (Points towards what, I have no idea. Cupcakes, or something.)

  14. Jayjay Atanacio Jul 13 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    I think what influenced me a lot would probably be… J.K. Rowling. I live in a fantasy world after reading Harry Potter. I’ve been a big fan, felt sad when it all ended.

    • Meagan Spooner Jul 14 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      She did create a fantastic world. I think that Harry Potter’s going to be around for a long, long time, continuing to offer kids (and those of us who are just kids at heart) a world to play in for generations to come.

  15. Christian Schoon Jul 14 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    OK… I used to be a copywriter for Media Home Entertainment in Culver City. We had a premiere screening up in H’wood at some old legacy theater for one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels – have no idea which one; the past is dimly lit… We had the actor who played Leatherface come & frighten the audience & after-show party-goers, you know, start up his chainsaw (sans chain) & stumble around. So, film’s over, party’s over, me not quite done for the night. I stole the chainsaw. Put in the truck of my car. And stole it. Well, I feel better now. Thank you.

  16. Desiree Jul 19 2012 at 3:01 am #

    I am constantly influenced by art. Weather it be a book I am reading or a story in the newspaper or a painting I see. I usually take that influence and put it into photography although I really want to start writing more too.

  17. Erica Jul 20 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    For a long time I was inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and really anything by Robin McKinley.

  18. Jasmine Rose Jul 21 2012 at 12:26 am #

    I’m influenced by all the dystopians I read. Maybe because that’s what I like to read, that’s what I like to write.

  19. Sarah Jul 21 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I’m so glad I’m not the only writer who does this. Also, I share two of your influences, but I’m not telling which two! 😀

  20. Alexander Oladokun Jul 22 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    I am heavily influenced by the woods behind my house. A large portion of my first novel took place in the forest, and I took notes for my first draft while sitting under an old pine tree.

  21. Enna P. Jul 22 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I get ideas from places I would want to live in, or people I would want to be. Like I want to go to Mount Rushmore, and I want to be a Reaper. There, I can write about a Reaper who reaps souls and brings them to the underworld through the ear of President Lincoln on Mount Rushmore 😀

  22. Hwa Sun Jul 23 2012 at 12:50 am #

    Since I’m Korean, I watch some Kdramas every once in a while, and because of that I’m a sucker for a good love triangle, and I want to include it (if I can) into my story.

  23. Oh! Paper Pages Jul 23 2012 at 6:08 am #

    A quick look at history, I think, is the best place to be inspired by ideas. Reading biographies, looking at photos, and browsing through old newspaper articles are all ways in which I create ideas. Thanks for the giveaway! The necklace is lovely.

  24. Nicole Jul 24 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    History is for sure one of my biggest influences. As a historian, how could it not be? Thanks for the giveaway! I can’t wait to read Skylark!

  25. Jae Young Jul 24 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    My influences would definitely include YA fantasy like Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, etc. mahou shoujo stuff, like CCS, Jane Austen and oddly enough W Somerset Maugham. I adore him, but because of his ability to really flesh out characters and people.

    (I cannot believe you even have schwag, this is amazing.)

  26. Sara A. Jul 24 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I’ve been writing lately, I finally had some people take a look at my stuff and they told me it was great, although did they get feels from other books. I was so surprised, I was stealing without even realizing it =/ So of course I attempt to change that. A lot of it comes from books because I am a HUGE book worm, but like you said, as long as you can add your own twist thats all that matters =]

    Also, I def cant wait to read skylark!

  27. Zachary Flye Jul 24 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    This sounds super cool, would love to win it

  28. Markella Jul 24 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    A lot of my ideas come from songs but I get a lot of ideas from documentaries that my boyfriend makes me watch!

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