There’s something about a good book that gets my own creative juices boiling. Not that I’m thinking, “Oh, he did this then I can do that, too.” More along the lines of, “Wow, if he pushed the envelope over there, couldn’t I push it over here?” That successful transgression into new territory makes it seem a little more okay for me to take similar steps in a different direction.
This is all part of the process of remaining sane. All day long, without really noticing it, we are constantly asking ourselves if we are within the bounds of acceptable behavior. That’s how society works. People who don’t ask themselves that question or who give themselves unreasonable license end up naked on the subway yelling about the government.
We are social animals which means we live by a social contract that asks us to stay within the lines as much as possible or to at least have an excuse (prescription medications, I’m an alcoholic!, I’m addicted to sex!, etc.) when we act out.
This need to conform can make the creative process even more difficult than it already is. Not only do you have to ask yourself, “Has this been done to death?” and “Can I add anything new to the body of literature by writing yet another sexy vampire story?” You also have to ask yourself, “Will editors see this as controversy bait? Will readers shun me as a deviant if I have my characters do this?” And, if your parents are alive and read everything you write, the big one: “What will my Mom think about this?”
That’s what amazes me about true visionaries like Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick, and William Burroughs. They never stopped to check in with their social contract to make sure they were still somewhere in the vicinity of the lines. They just went out and did what they did, successful or not, until they died miserable and alone.
It’s that last part that gets me, I think. I like being happy. I like having a family. I like being able to walk down the street without people calling the police. So when I read someone like Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi or Neal Stephenson, relatively normal people who do extraordinary things, a little part of me goes, “Whoa! They’ve moved the lines again. I have a little more breathing room. I can try something new.”
As long as my Mom doesn’t find out.