If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force – Ryan Holiday
Everyone has the capacity to be creative. But not everyone can create. Creativity is subjective to the situation and is connected to craftiness and cleverness in other formats. To create takes time, patience, research, and understanding. And it takes inspiration.
Every creative mind has been inspired by other creative minds. It’s witnessing what they’ve produced and feeling a connection with the beauty of their creations. And through them, you believe you could create something beautiful too.
Everyone has those that inspire them. The mentors, the guides, the muses who ignite the fire inside our hearts.
Call it delusions of grandeur if you wish, but I like to consider myself a creator. I’ve weaved entire worlds together into novels, and stitched songs together with my own personal musical theory. And in nearly everything I create, the influences of my three favorite creative minds are present.
When I was in elementary school, the school library had a copy of Pet Sematary on its shelves. It must have been an oversight by the librarian, or a trick, as that book does not belong in an elementary school library with likes of Dr. Seuss and Amelia Bedelia. The name Stephen King was synonymous with fear, and some of us at that age (ahem) were still afraid of the dark let alone the story of pets that come back from the dead. It became a “challenge” of sorts to check it out of the library and read it. When it was my turn, I brought it home, but… I was a wuss and brought it back the next day. It freaked me out just being in my possession. Stephen King wrote scary things, and I just wanted to play kickball! I didn’t pick up another Stephen King written book for another 8 years. When I finally did, I read it–a 412 page book–in 5 days. And I was sold on everything Stephen King wrote, before and after. The book was ‘Salem’s Lot.
I’ve read 21 Stephen King novels (and short story compilations) since then. He is among my favorite authors to read. And his style of writing helped guide me to what kind of writer I wanted to be and how to grab a reader’s attention. Of course, it’s in every writer’s best interesting to pick up his official book of writer advice, On Writing. But most of what I learned from King came direct from his writing.
Stephen King has written short stories and thousand-page epics. He’s written horror, thriller, fantasy, historical, among other genre variations. But his approach to writing everything is the exact same each time. The flow of King’s writing is what makes him a fantastic writer. And without coming out and saying it, I recognize some of the paths to that flow by reading his work. Some moments require more description than others, but at all points you need to let the reader use their imagination. Never describe the character in completion. It disrupts flow as well as the reader’s imagination. When writing moments of intensity—particularly fearful moments in a horror story, but intense moments of any genre—use short paragraphs with succinct sentences. And never use a 40 dollar word when a 50 cent word should go. Frills come in editing; sometimes you just need to get to the point.
These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned observing 21 of King’s books. And while I get absorbed within the story, I subconsciously scour the script for the consistencies I’ve already noticed, and new ideals that aid the flow of reading.
Stephen King has made me an infinitely better writer, on both a technical and creative front.
Stanley Lieber, better known as Stan Lee, was the godfather of the modern superhero. He didn’t create every character we know, but he created some of the most famous characters (Spider Man, Fantastic 4, the original X-Men), and facilitated the entire medium for others to be created.
I already spoke at length how Stan and his creations impacted my life soon after his death. But how he affects me as a creator, and as a human being, still burns bright to this day. What set Marvel comics apart from Superman or Batman that came out well before it was that Stan tended to focus on the men (and women) behind the masks. Superman was the hero who saved the day for citizens, and Batman had his dark past but, at first, the comics were only interested in showing him as hero of the night. Spider Man made us care about the man under the mask. He wasn’t some reporter or a philanthropic billionaire. Peter Parker was just a broke high school student outcast by his peers. He was granted his powers by happenstance at a field trip, and chose to take the advice of his uncle:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Funny thing was Uncle Ben didn’t just give those words to Peter. He gave them to all of us. If you have the power to do something to change a situation, you have the responsibility to do so. In creativity, and in real life, it was a motivating phrase that pushed me in my writing, and made me a better person when I put down the comic books.
Lee humanized these superheroes because he wanted his readers to know that the hero wasn’t in a cave or from outer space, but there was a hero inside all of us. He created and empowered people of immense honor and deep responsibility, somehow making each character feel relatable.
That’s what I took most from Stan Lee; the need to create real characters that form a lasting connection with the audience. Plot is all well and good, but if you could tap into the emotional core of your characters and share that with the audience, you could make a trip to the grocery store engrossing.
Lee was so good at creating these lovable, relatable characters that he even became one himself. The shades, the moustache, the slow paced New York edge in his voice, and his unending enthusiasm were just some of the characteristics he displayed. It was no wonder Stan was the sacred keeper of these fantastic characters; because it takes one to know one.
More than anything else on this earth, music provokes emotion. More than art, more than film, more than photographs. It has the ability to pull feelings long dormant out of us with the way a melody sweeps against harmonies and floats on top of rhythms and cadences. Music makes us feel, and in essence, it helps make us human.
Nobuo Uematsu has a tremendous gift of music. He writes in such an artful and meaningful way that blazes its own path in between classical and modern. And, for much of his earlier career, his format was severely limited.
Uematsu was the composer on several of Square’s most popular video games, most notably the Final Fantasy series, starting with the old school Nintendo all the way up to games on the Playstation 3 before his willful retirement from Square. The music sound card on the old NES, SNES, and to an extent the Playstation, would not support musical format the same way a CD or tape would. So he was tasked with creating a soundtrack on a MIDI format. And he delivered in spades.
Nobuo created sonic atmospheres that transformed the pixels of a 16 bit game into reality. Hampered with just a MIDI, he transformed it into his own personal Moog and created aurally transformitive pieces of work. His ability to capture the moment and create a sweltering wave of emotion is unheralded and incomparable.
But it’s not just how he was able to create, but the style in which he created. His work became so important to connecting the player to the game that his absence is instantly noticed in future installments of the series.
Nobuo could make you fall in love with a sweeping sonnet, prepare you for battle with a pseudo-rock riff, and overlook doomsday with a quivering overture, all intricately strung together with a synth and a MIDI program.
When playing other people’s music got old, and I decided to try my hand at creating a few melodies, I found, subconsciously and nearly instantly, I began thinking more along the lines of the “Boss Battle” from FF4 rather than “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. Layered melodies and resurgent instrumentals (which worked out well since I can’t sing worth shit). One of the highest compliments I ever got about my music was “This is … weird, but in the good way.” The highest regard in my book.
Nobuo Uematsu is a modern musical genius and a master of smashing open the box of emotions. And I try to reach that level of connectibility whenever I try to sculpt a song.
Here’s my attempt at an homage to Mr. Uematsu; my (way-more-talented-than-me) friend and I did the dirge during the epic final battle of Final Fantasy VI in a “semi-acoustic” form. We called it the “Light of Judgment” version.
Without the contributions of King, Lee, and Uematsu, there’s no way I’d be at the level I’m at now in writing, music, or life. These are the ones who feed my inspiration. This is my creative trinity.
Do you know yours?