Creativity by creative starvation

No, I’m not talking about starvation by not eating – that is just silly and I like food much too much to even consider that.

I’m talking about creative starvation. Last night I was at a friends bucks’ party in a German pub at the Rocks in Sydney (I’m sure locals will know exactly where I am talking about), and at some point a conversation with a friend there stumbled onto the topic of song writing processes of different artists and bands, as he himself plays in a band. During this, we were discussing another local band who I have followed for a few years as I used to work with their guitarist at my old retail job, and I remember him telling me about the process the singer of that band went through building up to writing the songs for one of their more successful albums.

To cut a long story short, this singer stopped listening to music for 6 months before he started writing any songs for their album. He only cheated once, listening to a Crowded House song (Weather With You, if my memory serves me correct, but it’s been a long time since I heard this story). His thoughts behind doing this was that he wanted to strip himself of any potential influences from stuff he would be listening to, so that he would write music that was more unique, distinctly his own. Interestingly enough, that particular album that resulted does stand out from their catalogue as their most unique work.

This conversation last night took a few turns from here though, as we ventured into this idea on a more general creative level. I explained to my friend how for me, as a writer, this sort of goes against everything we’re ever told – if you don’t read, you don’t have the tools, the fuel, to write stories and books. And surely listening to music is much the equivalent when it comes to writing songs, much as I imagine looking at art would be for a painter, and so on.

I think it is pretty unusual to hear anybody in any creative field try anything like this, but a part of me does wonder if there is some potential benefit to starving oneself of creative fuel, if only for a very short period. Could it cause a writer, musician,  or artist to create something entirely new, or would that person still somehow use influences perhaps locked further away in their minds and memories? Or would it just cause a creative block?

What are your thoughts on this approach? Do you think it could work, or is it nonsense? Be completely honest, as I have no specific opinion here – I am just curious to see what everybody else thinks!

12 thoughts on “Creativity by creative starvation

  1. It’s funny you should post this now. I take part in a little teeny Flash Fiction competition each week and I avoid reading the other entries before I write mine purely and simply because I don’t want to be influenced by the other stories. We usually have prompt words or suggested scenarios for the stories. I had a message from one of the other participants who had entered her story after I had put mine up but they were very very similar and she wanted to assure me that she hadn’t read the thread first. I have also read comments from novelists swearing that they don’t read fiction so that they aren’t influenced and the great Sir Terry Pratchett doesn’t read his emails from fans in case they have suggested stories in (although I imagine that is more to do with future claims than actually being influenced). I believe that to be a good writer you must read, I would have thought it is essential plus I can’t imagine life without reading but I can understand the concept of “starvation” Very interesting post – thank you.

    • Ahhh very interesting – I hadn’t considered it on a level like that competition you take part in! I suppose it would be much the same in small writing groups and things like that too! It’s sad that Terry Pratchett doesn’t read his fans’ emails in case they suggest stories in them and they later try to claim he stole their idea – I mean really, who else can come up with some of the stuff he comes up with?! I’m far from his biggest fan but I will admit he is a very unique writer, from what little I have read of him.
      I can’t imagine life without reading either. It does seem interesting that maybe this starvation approach does work as a very short term approach in certain situations. A friend has said likewise on Twitter. I thought the idea would be trashed straight away but so far nobody has done so, which is fascinating in itself! 🙂

  2. When I was writing Withershins, I told a friend the basic time travel premise. She immediately asked if I’d read any of Diana Gabeldon’s Outlander series, because it had a similar premise. I deliberately did not read any of the series for fear it might influence me in some way. After my books were published, I read hers and found our stories are not really anything alike, except the one set in the U.S. about the same time period as mine. Anyway, I was glad I had waited until afterwards to read it. I did, however, start reading teen fiction during that period because I had not written anything for that age level before and wanted to make sure mine would be suitable. That’s when I really got hooked on teen fiction!

    As for creative starvation, I think if someone, who is creative by nature, deliberately starves their creativity in one area, it will manifest itself in different ways. I have been on a ‘writing diet’, I suppose you could call it, but can’t stop my mind from creating. I think that’s why I’ve suddenly embraced the scrapbook & card-making so much! It’s hard to get back into the practice of writing when you’ve been away from it too long, though. When people ask me about my writing these days, I tell them I am writing ‘creative non-fiction’, which is what I call my blogging. 🙂

    • Ahhh yes I think that makes quite a lot of sense, avoiding stories that might be too similar to your own. I’ve been through similar things before and likewise realised my story was quite different in the end.
      I think that’s a really good point about creativity manifesting itself in different ways – I think it does tend to be true. I know my other half is very creative but in lots of ways, and as she might slow down creatively in one way she’ll become more creative in another. For me I’m almost always creative with writing but it’s what kind of writing – novels, poetry, blogging, etc. But I do like the way you put that, it totally makes sense and rings true for me! 🙂

  3. Finding the balance between reading and writing is my announced banner dilemma. I either read too much not leaving time for writing or the opposite and end up with the raging need to get some creative caloric intake going again. Right now I’m trying to final draft a manuscript and I’m reading books to inspire and infuse my writing. So far that seems to be working.

    • It is such a tricky balance to find, especially when finding it around other commitments like work, family, immigrating (haha) and so on. I find when I read a lot, I might not write as much but ideas begin to whirl around and I scribble a lot of them down to develop later on when I’m in more of a writing zone.
      That’s good that you seem to have the balance right at the moment, though! 🙂

  4. I guess you will never really know how much you are influenced by the media you consume until you stop consuming it. I suspect that certain things that you have taken aboard will remain ingrained deeply into your subconscious, but perhaps you will think of new inventive ways to implement them. I would love to try this out at some stage, but unfortunately I’m far too addicted to reading and listening to music.

    • Yeah, I guess that’s the big thing – to shut yourself off from all forms of media like that would be very hard. I’d love to go travelling somewhere where I just wouldn’t have access to that kind of material for a long period of time, and see where my imagination would wander without any influences, although I suppose my travelling itself would then become an even stronger influence. I must admit I am much like you, far too addicted to reading and especially to listening to music – I don’t think I could go a day without music, I’d feel weird and irritable.

  5. Due to work & study I haven’t painted, drawn or been to an exhibition in over 2 weeks- I’m almost climbing the walls and can’t see any benefit at the end. On the flip side I was lucky enough to do a residency at Arthur Boyd’s Bundanon where I was starved of outside influences- never painted with such a freedom and surge of creativity. I say immerse yourself don’t starve that creativity.

    • I can imagine you would really feel that creative starvation intensely, as you are someone who is so deeply in the creative world (which is definitely a good thing). That residency sounds amazing, I must confess – it must be a great feeling to paint like that! 🙂

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