Category Archives: Creativity

My Journey, Your Journey

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Serdar wrote a must-read blog post on the question “When do you know what you’re doing”?  When are you doing your own thing, when are you not stuck in “tutorial hell,” and so forth.  These are great questions, and I’d like to explain when I know what I’m doing.

I don’t think of it that way.  Instead, I just keep going and learning.

For instance, when I wrote A Bridge to the Quiet Planet, I wanted to get back into writing fiction.  I decided to write three novels and simply get better at it by doing it.  As I write I learn, and of course I read, study, and consult with fellow writers.  The sequel, A School of Many Futures was certainly a leap over the first novel on all accounts.

My worldbuilding books are journeys as well.  Sure, I’ve got them down to a science, but each one is another learning experience, especially in terms of subject matter.  As of late, desiring to improve my nonfiction writing, I’m working on developing a more organized “system” for nonfiction.  Another leg of a journey that doesn’t end.

This is probably the influence of Agile on my mindset, but I’ve always been a “do it and keep going” type of person.  It also means I never expect to “arrive” anywhere, just reach a plateau before the next climb. I don’t think I know what I’m doing, I just keep learning more and doing it.

Sometimes I do decide to quit a project or turn it into something else.  That’s just the way life is.  It’s not a failure, it’s a learning experience, it’s spare parts, it’s re-prioritizing.  My journey takes a slightly different path.

This isn’t superior to the answers Serdar gets (which is best summed up by reading his post).  This is what works for me, that journey of milestones, new goals always coming, pace changing, but in motion.  In fact, this milestone-but-journey method isn’t even applied to all of my life.  Different goals for different things, and it’s a difference I own and that is my responsibility.

Creatives – or anyone with aspirations, really – ultimately have to ask themselves the question how do I approach competency?  It’s an important question, and one you’ll have to find the answer to.  I can’t tell you what the answer is, nor can Serdar, or anyone you know.  Anyone else trying to sell you a set of goals is delusional at best and wants something at worst.

So tell me how you measure success, how you stake out your creative goals.  You know me, I’m on an eternal journey, and I’d love to learn.

Steven Savage

Awe and Fear of the Minds Fire

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I am absolutely in awe of human creativity because people use their imagination to believe so much bullshit. A quick scroll through Twitter or glance at the news shows many people believing the most inane conspiracy theories. Humans can create lies as well crafted as any work of literature and believe them utterly.

At the same time, I am genuinely in awe of the good human imagination can do. The many books I’ve written sometimes feel like a legion of Minervas springing from my head, amazing things born magically. I see people solve problems and make the world better with creative efforts, and it’s beautifully humbling.

As of late, I’ve come to think people don’t truly appreciate their imaginations in every sense. We don’t always appreciate what our creativity can do, settling for squelched ideas and tightly bound lives. We also don’t appreciate how it can be misused or even realize that we’re using it to do and believe terrible things.

Author Patrick Harpur referred to the imagination as a powerful force, a kind of alchemical fire tying together and enchanting the world. One may not take such a mystical view, but I do see virtue in seeing our creativity as a power.

First, seeing our imaginations as power reminds us to use and cultivate it in ourselves and others. Our ability to dream things up is not ephemeral but a force that has made and changed the world.

To see creativity as power reminds us we all have it, and we can tap into it. It democratizes it and opens it up – and reminds us it is there to use.

To see creativity as power reminds us to use it responsibly, for it can be misused to harm others and delude ourselves. It is a safety warning.

To see creativity as a near-mystical power, ironically, lets us see how omnipresent and common it is. We become aware of how it’s a constant in our lives – and how we may be misusing it without thinking about it.

We need to appreciate our imaginations more. Certainly, as I look at the world, I’d rather have more elaborate fanfics and wild art than conspiracy theories and delusions. Perhaps if we appreciate the power we have, we’ll realize when we’re misusing it – or even just using it and not aware of it.

Steven Savage

Angel Up Front, Devil In The Back

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I write many books on worldbuilding, one might assume that my motivations are wise and benevolent. You can put away any image of me as some saintly writer, as anger and frustration infuse plenty of my work.

I’m fine with this. More than fine, I’m happy.

I’m not saying I don’t want to help authors and creators – I do. There’s something magical about being able to give worldbuilding advice that leads to a new work. Every book I sell feels like both a triumph and a reason to be humble because every one might be the seed of work surpassing anything I could do. I care about what happens to my fellow creatives.

Behind this angelic feeling is a blazing furnace of frustration.

My worldbuilding books started from sheer frustration about terrible worldbuilding. From role-playing games to “continuity optional” television, bad world design poked at my soul. There’s something about seeing good stitched together into some half-alive monstrosity. I wanted to see less of this, because creators and their audience deserved better.

The subjects I choose for worldbuilding books often come from frustration over “why is no one focusing on this.” Seeing conspiracy theories recycled into fiction, I did a book on that. Tired of the same old superhero stories, I did a book on that. I’m in the middle of a three-part book on disasters and worldbuilding, and you can pretty much guess why.

I’m good with this. The devil of frustration needles me about bad ideas and writer’s books that don’t help writers. My benevolent (dare I say angelic?) side drives me to do something and help people out. It’s a partnership of heaven and hell that keeps my writing going, and keeps me helping people.

If you’re worried “oh my writing comes from some dark places,” then trust me, you’re fine. It’s what you do with it. The Devil helps the Angel know where they’re needed.

Steven Savage