Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] Reopening the topic of Consumers and Producers

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.

Tags: books, culture, process, sunspin, writing

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