Brain Pickings

William Gibson on Cultivating a “Personal Micro-Culture”

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On the building blocks of creativity and acquiring a sense of what feels right.

I’ve been reading Distrust That Particular Flavor, the fantastic collection of nonfiction essays, including some never-before-printed ones, by the great novelist William Gibson. In the introduction, in discussing what makes great fiction, Gibson articulates one of the most fundamental principles of creativity — and, like all great insight on writing, at the heart of it is a truth that applies to the creative process in just about any domain, well beyond literature:

We [are] shaped as writers, I believe, not much by who our favorite writers are as by our general experience of fiction. Learning to write fiction, we learn to listen for our own acquired sense of what feels right, based on the totality of the pleasure (or its lack) that fiction has provided us. Not direct emulation, but rather a matter of a personal micro-culture.”

I love this concept of “a personal micro-culture” — what an eloquent way to capture the most important aspect of who we become, as creators in any medium and as human beings. Design legend Paula Scher knows that. (“[A design is] done in a second and every experience, and every movie, and every thing in my life that’s in my head,” she said.) Artist Austin Kleon knows that. (“You are a mashup of what you let into your life,” he said.) The blossoming of our combinatorial creativity hinges on a cultivation of our personal micro-culture. How are you cultivating yours?

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