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[process] Reopening the topic of Consumers and Producers - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2011-03-08 05:34
Subject: [process] Reopening the topic of Consumers and Producers
Security: Public
Tags:books, culture, process, sunspin, writing
As long-time readers of this blog know, I've occasionally commented on a critical framework that characterizes the creative process as a relationship between Consumers and Producers. Whilst at Rainforest Writers Village this past weekend, I had occasion more than once to dig into this concept in the course of various conversations. This seems worth sharing in hopes of further discussion, as I continue to elucidate my thoughts on the subject.

To define my terms a bit better, I am referring to the creative process specifically in terms of Story. Story can a written narrative, a video or movie, a play, the internal logic of an RPG or MMORPG, an illustration, a song, a dance, a tale told over a campfire or across a bar. It's a way of communicating ideas and events and actions, evoking both an intellectual and emotional response in the person experiencing that Story.

We are all Consumers. Experiencing Story is perhaps one of the basic characteristics of being human. To experience Story one must have a concept of futurity and the past, for the sake of plot. One must be able to entertain counterfactuals, at least conditionally, for the sake of dramatic tension. One must be able to empathize with the world outside one's head, for the sake of character. Animals generally don't do these things. People generally do, or at least can. To experience Story is to be a Consumer.

Note that every culture experiences Story, even very conservative, isolated or ascetic cultures. An Amish family might not watch television or attend plays, but they talk about their day's events and study their Scripture. The Sentinel Islanders might assiduously reject outside contact, but they must have their narratives. Whatever the framework, Story is how we teach our children and understand our own experiences, assuage our grief and communicate our joy.

To Consume is to experience Story. To experience Story is to Consume.

To create Story is to Produce.

In the broadest version of the above rubric, everyone is a Producer as well. We've all walked into a room and said, "You won't believe what happened to me today..." Most of us have worked or otherwise performed tasks that required describing something — sale pitches, meeting reports, classroom presentations. Many of us have explained the world to children in small, often idiosyncratic chunks of meaning.

But in modern, Western/Western-influenced society, we also have categories of activity and employment that are more formally Producers. Artists, writers, musicians, moviemakers, and game designers, for example. We generate Story in the form of entertainment that is packaged and delivered as media. This is a formal activity distinct from either the peer-to-peer flow of Story or from those occupations and pursuits where Story is a supporting behavior in pursuit of some other formal goal.

In my own personal experience — I'm not prepared to generalize from this, though there may be general principals in play — I have found that in order to be a Producer, I have had to control and limit my role as a Consumer.

For example, I gave up both television (in 1994) and computer/console gaming (in 1998) to allow myself more time to work as a writer. I had discovered that both of those activities scratch the plot bump in my head sufficiently that I no longer had the drive to write fiction. For me, the immersive nature of Consuming both television and gaming silence the internal voices that create Story of my own.

To a lesser degree, I have this problem with reading. Reading fiction doesn't silence my internal voices, but it directly competes with them for my time and attention. The same budget of cognitive and temporal resources supports both activities.

This is not a good thing. In order to be an effective Producer, one must also be very aware of what Consumers do, and how they think. A writer who does not read others' work is like a chef who eats no other cooking. Ultimately stagnant.

So I find that I must shift and reshift priorities in order to balance the impulse to Produce with the impulse to Consume, while granting neither of them short shrift.

Next up, as time permits, I'll discuss my recent insight on being a Producer and a Consumer with respect to the writing of Sunspin.

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User: e_bourne
Date: 2011-03-08 15:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'll be upfront and say I don't like "Consumers and providers" both because of what strikes me as a particularly western 20th century bias, and also because consumer sounds passive to me, and I don't think that the act of experiencing story/art is passive. It is active, in that the person who experiences the story takes it into their awareness and adds their own layers of life experience onto it, turning it into "their" story. Their understanding of the "story" may not be what the creator intended or even had anywhere in her mind as she made it, which I think is wonderful. It becomes something new. I've always seen it as a conversation, not a passive feeding.

My personal preference in nomenclature would be for experiencer and provider. One side provides a creative experience that may be wrapped in a story, the other side experiences it. When they come together, there is a creative exchange and a new understanding of the creative object may (or may not) come about.

And my caveat here is that my entire understanding of the creative process is corrupted by way too many years of art school and as a practicing artist. :)
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mlerules: hedgehead
User: mlerules
Date: 2011-03-10 18:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
*nods re: taking an active role in experiencing story/art > passive suckling at writer/artist's teat*
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2011-03-11 02:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Active experience for the win.

(Suckling for the win, too, come to think of it.)
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User: jackwilliambell
Date: 2011-03-08 19:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In a similar vein, you might be interested in this article on Wired: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/03/why-do-we-tell-stories/
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User: adelheid_p
Date: 2011-03-08 19:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm not sure if I'll ever be an author but I often get small story ideas from reading others books. I think I have one now from reading a series of books. And this did start out, in my head, as a sort of fan fiction but I now have an idea to take it in a different direction and characters from the original setting. For me, reading often leads to writing even if it's small vignettes that never leave my brain.
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User: kellymccullough
Date: 2011-03-08 20:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Reposted with minor edits:

Interesting. I gave up on television in about 1995, but simply for time reasons. I needed more time to write and my wife needed more time to study.

But in the last few years I've started watch the odd show again in blocks from dvd. Mostly when people whose opinion I respect tell me I should see them, or more directly when someone hands me a stack of disks and says something like, go watch these so I have someone to talk to about them. One of the things I've found from the experience of rediscovering bits of television is that I need to imbibe story to keep the well full so that I can make story. If I don't keep up an ongoing input of story through reading and watching things, I tend to end up writing less. So, in that respect a certain amount of TV watching makes it easier for me to write, though I still strictly limit how much because of the time issue.

OTOH, I can't do role-playing games like AD&D anymore because that does drain away the will to write.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-03-08 22:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've found that my consumption of art feeds my production. I've had the experience of going to an exhibit of Magritte paintings and leaving the museum with whole alien worlds living in my head. I hated the movie "Event Horizon" so much I rushed home and wrote a story with my version of how it should have ended. My whole urban fantasy series is a reaction to a lot of what I find problematic in the genre.

I think it's because I'm a very engaged consumer. Some of my earliest extended writing was fanfic. As a teen I read my favorite authors and decided that I wanted to learn how to do what they did, weaving worlds with language. My friends get tired of me picking apart everything I watch trying to figure out what makes the stories tick.

For me, I think, it all feeds the same need, and the more it's fed the hungrier it gets.

Carrie V.
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User: pingback_bot
Date: 2011-03-08 23:01 (UTC)
Subject: March 9, 2011 Links and Plugs
User charlesatan referenced to your post from March 9, 2011 Links and Plugs saying: [...] Lake on Reopening the topic of Consumers and Producers [...]
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oaksylph: fig
User: oaksylph
Date: 2011-03-10 04:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmm. Will wait for next post, but, meanwhile, something I have observed: there is a difference between Consuming and Tasting.

As a bookdealer, I perversely lack time to read. (If it makes you feel any better about You vs. The Internetz, exactly 50% of the books I have chosen to read in the last six months were written by one Jay Lake, though this statistic sounds cooler than it actually is.) So I sample. I make myself aware of trends by reading vicariously or partially or by reading capsule reviews on a couple of notable crit.sites, and I categorize and recommend accordingly. This does not scratch my plot bump, though it makes me keenly aware of how the plot on which I am currently working fits and doesn't with market trends, which provides a weird perspective for me qua writer.

As a reader, I seldom Consume Story. I read in three veins: as a bookdealer who may be called upon to justify recommending the book, as a critic (I've been reviewing books on and off the interwebs and studying criticism long enough that it has become nearly reflexive), and as a writer (to figure out how the author is doing what the author is doing). I very seldom read as a consumer. This allows me to escape the bumpscratching and to balance awareness of Consumer a little more easily, but it also makes reading a metric crapton of work, which means I lose touch with the desirability factor that Consumers must feel to Consume and Producers must know to produce Consumable things, so... no panacea.

You have switched on the thinky bit under the bump. Please continue...?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2011-03-11 01:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Continuing. Next post will likely be Monday...
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mlerules: Brain
User: mlerules
Date: 2011-03-10 18:11 (UTC)
Subject: You Produce Good Brain Fodder
“Life is an activity and passion in search of a narrative.” – Paul Ricoeur
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User: pingback_bot
Date: 2011-04-08 00:18 (UTC)
Subject: Writing links, three bags full
User planetalyx referenced to your post from Writing links, three bags full saying: [...] Jay Lake – Producing Story [...]
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