What we write is immediately, directly influenced by the things we experience. Spend your time reading Jane Austen and your horror novel will sound lyrical and romantic. Sit in the DMV listening to accents and the next morning they appear in your work in progress. A week spent with your relatives out of town nets a new location for a mystery. A glance from a stranger strikes up a plot idea. I spent my weekend at MarsCon soaking up ideas. Between a wonderful presentation on super conductors in space and a brilliant hallway conversation on faster than light drive MacGuffins in SciFi literature I came home with two brand new story ideas working in my head.
To contrast that last night I gave an hour of my life to the American version of a British television show I’d already seen. Since the story follows werewolves and vampires I called it research. Thirty minutes in I was fast forwarding through transparent plot lines. This morning when I woke up with Tom Smith’s excellent Death Sheep featuring Fenton, Demon Sheep from Hell repeating in my head, I was glad the MarsCon influence won.
It’s easy to argue that we’re ‘researching’ when really we’re just wasting time with internet searches, reading someone else’s book, or watching bad television. I’m not saying that all research is a waste of time, simply that we must remember one of the first principles of programming: Garbage in, Garbage out (GIGO). My current work in progress features a werewolf. I’ve focused my leisure reading on books that are award winning, bestsellers that just happen to have werewolf heroes. It gives me a chance to explore how other writers handled the same problems but still feels like an escape break from my own work.
I try to remember the GIGO concept when I’m deciding how to spend my television time. Yes, I budget how much TV I’ll watch. Between my day job and writing, I don’t have 10 or 15 hours a week to give to a medium that gives me nothing in return. So instead of game shows, melodramas, and talk shows I stick with shows that spark ideas like documentaries, well done science fiction, or period pieces that explore deeper ideas. When I notice the quality of a show takes a sharp turn for the worse, I force myself to stop watching. As curious as I am about what’s happened to my favorite characters I don’t want to devote the space in my head to stories that make me groan.
I’m not saying every moment of my life is filled with a deep a search for enlightenment. I did see (and enjoy) the Green Hornet this week. It’s more the attempt to remember that writing is an important part of my life, to keep it in the forefront of my mind. If I find something influences my writing for the worse, I let it go. If I find it sparks new ideas and creates stories in my head, I make a point of doing it more. Which is all to say, I’ll be back at MarsCon next year, and hopefully I’ll have turned away from the TV long enough to make those SciFi plot lines into manuscripts.