Writing Fiction By Ignoring It

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

Serdar and I are always discussing where our inspirations come from, and as we’re both Death Star-laser-focused on our current novels, that’s foremost in our minds. We’re fired up to know where our ideas come from, how to improve them, and of course understanding them so we can share them. Fortunately, we have a common conclusion.

The best way to write fiction is to read, watch, and listen to anything but fiction.

I’m aware you’ll probably want an explanation for this, so take my metaphorical hand and let’s wander into the weeds.

When you’re reading fiction you’re getting lessons in things like how to write. There are examples of portraying emotions, plotting a tight story, and so on. You may be inspired by some of the ideas, but inspiration from someone else’s fiction can only take you so far because those ideas come from that given author.

If you only take inspirations from fictional works that you are at best A) deconstructing them (worthy but at times limiting) or B) imitating them (which we have enough of, thanks).

So where are the best fictional inspirations? Simple.

Anything outside of the fiction you’re reading, and preferably radically different.

Seek ideas from other sources.  It can be music or video games, it could be the history of state parks or a cookbook.  Expand your horizons in any way but reading fiction.

Here’s where a lot of my ideas come from for fiction:

  • Richard Florida’s research into cities and megaregions. If you’ve ever noticed I like inventing big cities and complex social arrangements, this is where it comes from.
  • My work in psychology and psychobiology. Pay attention to my fiction and you’ll notice a major emphasis on social and political structures that may seem a wee bit organic if you will.
  • A fascination with maintenance of society and culture. How any human institution, culture, or nation survives and prospers is of great interest to me, and I have a “thing” for tales about “how some group of weirdos keeps it from going to hell.”
  • An interest in positive religious and philosophical experiences. This comes from my personal studies but also M.A.S.H. – Father Mulchahey was a huge inspiration, and he can be seen in my past and present work. There’s almost always one humane philosopher or cleric in my tales.
  • Buddhism and psychology. How people work interests me, of course, as does the impermanent nature of our minds and how we affect ourselves and others.
  • A love of culture and all the little things like where toys come from or the history of fonts.
  • Food. I love food and cooking, and you’ll always find it mentioned in my works because food tells you a lot about a setting, and exploring food in a setting helps you worldbuild.
  • A fascination with worldbuilding, of course. How you make a setting come to life has obsessed me for years.
  • Music. I often find songs that inspire me, in various styles, and those energize me. I know people who make whole playlists for their works.

So there’s a smattering of my (mostly) non-fictional and (sometimes) non-written inspirations. Now, a challenge for you.

What are your inspirations on written fiction that aren’t strictly fictional and/or aren’t always written? I want you to write them down, post them, and link back to me. Then go challenge your other friends to do the same.

Let’s learn from each other.

-Steven Savage

Psycho Mobs 100: Fandom Is Neutral

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

Serdar and I have been having an on-again, off-again discussion on fandom and it’s value.  I offered that it could be limited, and he responded with a deeper analysis of fandom that included speculation on pathological fandoms and our inabilities to identify them.

Eventually I found out pretty much any fandom you could name was rife with this sort of insularity. Many folks cared more about the label, about what belonged inside it or not inside it, than they did about the possibilities that could be awakened by whatever was tagged with the label. I know now, full well, that a lot of circles of fandom are not like this. But I find the best way to defend against that is to start with the person rather than the interests.

No fandoms are perfect.  I can pretty much find a wank battle anywhere in fandom with a bit of surfing, and between reddit and Tumblr it’s probably easy for anyone to do so.  But I think we still consider fandom a good thing overall.

After Serdar’s comments, I began thinking of my own fandoms and interests.  I realized that I treat a fandom as a good thing by default, as long as it’s not a fandom of something obviously bad.  I did this due to my own positive experiences in fandom, often ignoring my own experiences that were negative.  Sure my experiences were on the whole positive – but not entirely.

Thus, I think we should consider fandom a phenomena.  It is something that happens, and it is not necessarily good or bad.  Often it has been a good thing – I think it’s been more a good thing or bad – but that’s because we made it into something good, often without thinking of it.  It can easily be misused and messed up as we’ve also seen.

This may seem a bit sad to say as many of us have had positive experiences, and because it reinforces the cynciism we often see about enthusiasm.  But it’s more a reminder to be responsible for what we do and take this pheomena and make it into something good.

Fandom can be a good thing.  It often is because we’ve made it such.

It’s up to us to figure out how to make it good, keep it good, and make it better.  It’s up to us to take this human phenomena and make it work for us.  There’s no magic to fandom – just what we make.

– Steve

Thoughts On Fandom Pathology

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

I recently read a great Tumblr post (yes, I use Tumblr, where else can I get snarky Overwatch memes) about how writing was a way to reduce anxiety. This led me to a realization of how hobbies help us deal with stress – and hurt us.

Reading this reminded me that my writing is often a great way to deal with stress – I find it relaxing. Admittedly publishing is often stressful, but writing is quite enjoyable. Even when I’m not in a writing mood, I find once I get into the rhythm, I feel much more relaxed afterwards.

Even when not writing, there’s something relaxing about plotting my next story or blog post or book. I began to ask why was this.

I came up with a few conclusions.

  1. I like writing. Nuff said.
  2. If I’m having a bad day, writing occupies my mind, uses my abilities, and thus they’re not being used to think about how lousy the day is.
  3. I have a sense of achievement from my work, and thus if I feel bad, I feel better about myself.
  4. Writing connects me with people, giving me something to discuss, edit, work with them, share.
  5. My writing contributes to the rest of my life, building a skill, ensuring I’m published, creating options.

I’m sure you can relate. Writing makes me feel good due to a number of reasons, and I’m sure you have similar experiences with a positive hobby or interest.

Being a person who will analyze the heck out of anything, I then asked “why do some people’s hobbies lead to pathology?” If my writing interest yielded so much benefits, why do other interests lead to fanwars, harassment, and enjoyment becoming anger?

This is a complex subject and I’m not going to discuss all the elements, but focus on a few of my more intense insights.


First, the fact my writing connects me with others is a positive. To have others in my life relieves stress (to put it negatively) and enriches my life (to put it positively).

For some people, I think they may have items #1, #2, and #3, but their interests don’t connect them with others. This may be fine if that’s what they want. However if this isn’t voluntary, or they’re not aware of it, putting in time on an interest that doesn’t connect you to people may limit their social sphere. With limited social spheres, one is more vulnerable to stress.

So though your interest may have benefits, it may have social negatives. For some people, pouring themselves into an interest that leaves them disconnected may make their overall life worse.

(However we often need space, so remember that may be a positive)


Just because your interests bring you social connections, sadly, doesn’t mean their healthy. How many of us have seen, dealt with, or been in pathological communities based around hobbies and interests?  I’m sure we all have.

Even if your interest provides a number of benefits, even if it connects you to people, those connections may not be healthy or involve too much pathology.* In some cases you may be better of without the community.

It’s not just “does my interest connect me to people” it’s “does it connect me with healthy people and communities?”

We’ve all seen what happens when it doesn’t.


One of the major things my writing brings to me is a sense of larger connection. People read my blog posts. My books mean speaking and educating and of course making money. My skills are transferable to the job.

My writing connects me to the larger world.  That’s a good thing for everyone

I’m not talking just job and skills-wise – that’s my thing. A good hobby may help you build confidence or give you insights into things like history or improve tactical skill or be fun to chat about at parties. If your interest does “more” than just be relaxing and confidence-building and social, then it means you have a more unified, cohesive life.

But what happens if a hobby or interest lacks these connections? If it’s not transferable in some way? If it doesn’t enrich you as a person? If it’s of highly limited interests to others? In this case, it might be pathological as you’re putting a lot of time into something that may have limited benefits.

We should evaluate our hobbies by how they benefit us. “I use it to blow off steam” is fine if you’re aware of it.  “I’m just goofing around” is fine if that’s what you want.  Its just that sometimes this can go wrong when what you get from the fandom isolates or limits you.

I’m thinking specifically of the people who often annoy us in fandoms – people who spout trivia as a dominance ritual, or brag about game skills that are irrelevant outside of the game. The people who have put a lot of their time and interests and identity into something – but that thing has little to no relevance in the rest of their lives . . . and act like it’s the most critical thing in the world.

But – and you’ve seen this – these people act like it’s the most critical thing in the world.

This is why it’s important to evaluate our hobbies and interests, both to know and maximize the benefits, but also know if we’re down a rabbit hole. If we start caring about this side thing and its limited sphere and fandom, we’ll be disconnected from the world and perhaps get more disconnected. I’m sure we’ve all been there.


I think the ultimate expression of Hobby Pathology occurs when people’s hobbies lead them to a limited social sphere (those in said hobby) and that interest occupies a lot of their time without connecting to the rest of their lives. Soon you have something fun that becomes self-limiting and self-reinforcing – and with a community that feeds on itself and acts as a pressure cooker.

Such communities also tend to reward bad behavior. Because the important social signifiers are about said interests – not life, the big picture, the larger world – they become more important than things like actual civic behavior. If you’ve ever watched a fan war you know what I mean.

Finally, these tight-situations of almost “self-culting” seem to attract bad actors as it is. When you have a group and know the signifiers to communicate, you can easily propagate bad ideas or just build your own little fiefdom for yourself. People leave, more bad actors come in, you get the idea.


My ultimate conclusion here is that we should be conscious of our interests, to maximize their benefits, but also be aware they might lead us to pathological isolation or limited social connections. When one’s interests are of limited relevance outside of that hobby, and lead to a limited (or nonexistent) social circle that’s a sign there may be problems.

On the other hand when you can say “I am gonna do this to get away from crap” with full self-awareness, great.

I clearly need to study this idea more, but I think I’m on to something.

– Steve