Although this article will include some thoughts and advice about both writing and making art, I’ll be spending a lot of it talking about the subject of collecting and collectors. As usual, there’s (sort of) a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.
One of the things that has surprised me in recent years is how my view of people who collect things has changed. When I was a teenager, I used view collecting things as a slightly nerdy (in a bad way), boring and unglamourous thing. When I heard the word “collecting” it always made me think of stamp collectors.
This was, of course, also back in the days when I was trying to build up many collections of things including trading cards (I very rarely actually used to actually play games with them), 1970s-90s horror novels (to read), books in general, “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks, heavy metal T-shirts and other cool/interesting items of clothing, anything involving Sherlock Holmes and/or “Blade Runner”, VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs etc….
Not that I really thought of any of this as “collecting” at the time, even though charity shops and second-hand bookshops were my favourite types of shops.
My views on collecting gradually changed due to reading up on slightly obscure subjects that interested me in recent years, only to find that most of the information out there came from collectors. I now absolutely love reading websites and watching Youtube videos from collectors of anything that vaguely interests me at the time.
Not only do collectors preserve the history of random interesting things (eg: old computers, fountain pens, horror comics, vintage fashions etc...) in a way that museums, the mainstream media etc.. don’t always really do, but they often preserve parts of history which aren’t quite old enough for academics to study. One of the best ways to learn more about the past, and especially the relatively recent past, is to look at everyday items from the time.
So, if you are an artist or a writer and you need to research something historical for your latest project, then the best place to look online for information is often wherever collectors happen to gather. You can learn more about the people, culture and general atmosphere of a particular period in history just by looking at pictures of the things that people used back then, the things that people wore back then etc.. than you can from just reading history books.
There’s also the attitude that goes along with collecting. It doesn’t matter what someone is collecting, there’s a certain attitude of wonder and fascination that goes along with collecting things which you just don’t really see anywhere else. Either that, or there’s an attitude of experienced connoiseurship that goes along with collecting, which is an absolute joy to behold.
Interestingly, all three of these attitudes are absolutely essential if you want to tell stories or make art. You need to come up with ideas that inspire enough wonder and fascination in you to make them worth your while to create and worth other people’s time to look at.
Not only that, you have to be a connoisseur too. You have to, say, know enough about fashion to come up with good outfit ideas for the people who turn up in your artwork, you have to know a fair amount about the genre you’re writing in, you need to be knowledgeable about the history of weaponry if you’re writing a thriller novel, you need to know enough about architectural styles to come up with good background ideas for your artwork etc… If you’re creating anything, then you need to be as knowledgeable about as many things as you can be.
Collecting is also an essential part of being human. Being fascinated by something and seeking more knowledge about it is probably the main reason why we’re not living in caves any more. Not only that, whilst some religions may preach against attachment to material things, we are all known by the things that we surround ourselves with and the things we leave behind.
When it comes to character design or indirect storytelling, then learning how to use items to show more about your characters (or to tell a story) can be a great way to make whatever you create significantly more interesting.
All in all, collecting is an absolutely fascinating thing – even when experienced vicariously (by reading things written by collectors). It sums up all of the attitudes that are essential for creating things. It helps us research the things we create. But, most importantly, it also gives us all sorts of fascinating insights into human nature.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂