This post is sort of a book recommendation, but really this is a writing tip. Way back when I was in college, a professor gave me some advice. When you’re in the middle of a big creative project, spend your free time watching the greatest movies, reading the greatest books, listening to the greatest music. Surround yourself with the greatest works of art, so that their greatness can inspire your own work.
That’s not bad advice. But I’ve found that if I spend all my free time with Dune and The Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars films (things that are, in my opinion, among the greatest works of Sci-Fi/Fantasy ever produced), my own work starts to feel imitative. Derivative. And I don’t like that.
But recently I stumbled upon a new source of inspiration, something that seems to work better for my own creative process.
Valerian was a French comic book series that ran from 1968 to 2007. To American audiences, it’s frequently described as the best comic book you’ve never heard of. Also, Valerian has a reputation among artists and writers for its “stealable ideas,” and a lot of its ideas have allegedly been stolen by other Sci-Fi properties, most notably Star Wars.
I’ve now read a few volumes of the English translation, and I have to say… it’s not that great. I’m sorry to any huge Valerian fans who might be reading this, but I just feel like these comics leave something to be desired. I’m not sure what. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why these comics fall short for me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s missing, what could be done to make them better.
And that is the very reason why I, as a writer/artist, am so fascinated by this series. It could be better. It’s almost great. It’s so close to being great. Reading Valerian puts me into a “how could I make this better?” mindset. And that is the mindset I want to be in when I sit down to work on my own Sci-Fi universe.
So that’s my writing tip. If you’re looking for creative inspiration, maybe don’t turn to the greatest of the greats. Rather, look to those works of art or literature that you feel are almost great. Get yourself into that “how could I make this better?” mindset and then apply that mindset to your own work.