[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.

12 thoughts on “[process] Reopening the topic of Consumers and Producers

  1. Cora says:

    I am a bit different in that regard, since I need a steady input of story, i.e. professionally told story, in order to produce story. No story in, no story out, simply as that.

    What is more, a certain percentage of that story input needs to be visual. Whether it’s TV, a film, a comic book doesn’t matter so much, as long as it’s a story told in pictures. When the visual impact dries up for some reason, as happened approx. two years ago when comics, films and TV all started to suck badly at the same time and I couldn’t enjoy anything anymore, my story production engine suffers.

    The way stories consumed influence the stories I produce differs. Sometimes the influence is very direct, e.g. I hated the way a novel/film/TV show turned out and write down the story the way it should have been told and file off the serial numbers. Sometimes the influence is so subtle that I am not even aware of it until years later.

    Time is still an issue, of course, because time spent reading and watching films or TV is time not spent writing. What is more, there are some forms of story that don’t provide useful input and are pure timesinks. For example, games, whether computer/videogames or traditional RPGs just don’t provide any useful story input for me, so I have given up on them completely. On the other hand, stage plays and operas provide most excellent input.

  2. I am much like you Jay. In the process of trying to compare how I am dynamically involved in this model you propose, I realize (for me) that there are two elements to the ‘limiting the consumer’ field:

    Firstly, there is the straight out time-management. This is in my mind coarse and simple – I watch television and play computer games and consequently I spend less time creating and being inspired. I would also add that the more I do other things, the more energy I consume doing them, and so there is less energy to use to produce.

    Then I think there is an element of a second effect, and which in my mind is harder to describe. If I spend too much time watching movies, consuming television programs, and even reading a lot (here I emphasize READING A LOT), I find that the fertile regions of my mind seem less luxuriant. The flow isn’t as abundant or frequent.

    The consequence of this, somewhat like you, Jay, is that I watch a lot less television, hardly ever play console (or like) games, and I am rather picky and careful about what I read (probably around 24 non-fiction and fiction, combined, a year). This is my way. But the advantage is that I do have enough time, energy, and fertile ground to feel very comfortable indeed in my production.

    Sorry for the length of this – it was meant, more than anything else, to be a validation of your model.



  3. Sän says:

    I mentioned it at Rainforest, but I’ll post it here for the sake of furthering the data available for discussion:

    – I find that experiencing Story inspires me to Produce (especially if I don’t finish the story–if I only watch a piece of a movie, or play part of a game, or only watch one episode of my guilty pleasure TV series instead of watching six in a row, I have more energy for creation)

    – I used to Consume my own stories as I imagined them, when I was much younger, and in a way was Consuming/Producing at the same time. As I learned about the craft of Producing, all my ability to Consume my own work faltered, withered, and died. After an INTENSE crash course on Production, I somehow (strangely!) have been Consuming/Producing simultaneously again.

    – I’m currently wondering if I ought to intentionally curb myself from thinking about my Story when I’m not letting it come out of my fingers, so that I’ll ONLY be Consuming it until I finish it (to some extent, the way you usually do). If I do this, I’ll see how good my subconscious is at guiding Production. However, I might not like my score, so maybe I should keep the Producer on the payroll for now.

    – I’m curious about what other people do. Thank you, Cora and Gerry, for adding to what Jay said. 🙂

    1. Sän says:

      Oops, I meant finish a book. Not finishing a movie would just piss me off. XD hahaha

    2. Cora says:

      Yes, consuming only part of a story can be very inspiring. And overdoing on story can also easily kill creativity dead right.

      For example, unlike many I could never do a TV show marathon and watch a whole season over a weekend. I usually do only one, sometimes two episodes in a row, otherwise I overload myself.

      Plus, I usually schedule my story consumption time after I have completed my writing for the day, particularly if I know/suspect that the story will affect me strongly.

    3. Thanks Sän, for thanking on Jay’s behalf 🙂

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