The Well-Oiled Imagination

All good machines need oil, right?
To me, one of the greatest things about Steampunk is its celebration of the machine. Where else in art can you find unabashed affection for Industrial innovation, the poetry of moving parts, and the human obsession with progress?

In a Steampunk world, everything can be machinated, and often these devices serve as a metaphor for the incredibly complex machines that exist within the “real” natural world.

Take your brain, for example. Or more to the point, your imagination.

What would happen if you treated your imagination like a machine? Would you take more time to learn the science of how it operates? Would you be more likely to clean and prepare it before expecting it to pull heavy loads (ie: your novel, comic book, etc.)? In short, would you be likely to keep your imagination well-oiled?

I propose the answer is “yes.”

This past weekend I picked up a fantastic vintage oil can at a local rummage store. I intend to use it as a prop at the upcoming Realm Makers conference. But in the mean time, the whole notion of oil got me thinking. What if this little prop carried “100% Imagination Oil?” What if my character could use it to lubricate her ideas before a big writing session?

That sounds pretty grand in the world of pretend, but then I got to thinking. If machines run on oil, surely the imagination runs on ideas. The machine of our creativity demands a steady supply of inspiration in order to function at peak performance. A quick drench of ideal “oil” now and then doesn’t do; neither does staying away from ideas altogether to avoid “contamination” of our originality (tantamount to running a machine totally unlubricated).

So how do we keep the ideas flowing, especially when schedules are tough, and many of us work “day jobs” that don’t allow us to bask in Happy Creative Land all day long? When it comes to regular creative “grease,” here are a few of my favorite sources:

Project Gutenberg

GutenbergIf you’ve got a Kindle, or even if you don’t, Project Gutenberg offers thousands and thousands of out-of-print books in multiple formats, free of charge for download. You won’t find the most popular classics or books whose rights are carefully guarded by the author’s family. But for public domain works–extremely useful for Steampunk imaginations–you’ve come to the right source. Current samples on my Kindle include:

  • Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland by Raphael Holinshed
  • A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines by Andrew Ure
  • Godey’s Lady’s Book, January 1851
  • Memoirs of Robert-Houdin (a famous Victorian magician and inspiration for Houdini)

Who even knew these books existed?


Feedly-IconI discovered this fantastic blog aggregator service several months ago, and I use it obsessively now. Feedly collects the feeds of an unlimited number of blogs and deliver their newest content in a continuous stream, 24/7. Each Feedly is personal. Mine contains everything from io9 and Forbes to  Kotaku and The Airship Ambassador . . . so I get a healthy blend of real-world science (which I find inspirational), steampunk hi-jinks, business, and general artistic content. I can count on several hands the number of times that something I saw on Feedly helped me solve a creative problem . . . that same day. This is some serious oil–completely customized by you.


pinterest-icon-vectorNo, I don’t consider Pinterest a waste of time. It’s a vital source of fantastic visual inspiration for everything from recipes to vintage patterns, costuming ideas and Steampunk gadgetry. A few of my favorite boards for Steampunk inspiration include Steampunk Fashion II, Steampunk Gadgets and All Things Steampunk.


evernote-logoPeople ask me about this tool all the time. The first time you open it, it may seem confusing . . . but once you get the hang of it, you’ll understand why Evernote is 100 million users strong. After you’ve perused what’s in your Feedly and on Pinterest, you can save it all here–perfectly organized by subject, project, or any other organizational schematic you would like to use. Evernote is cloud-based, so it syncs across phone, tablet and computer, meaning you are never without hundred, thousands or even millions of bits of information. I organize all my creative inspiration here.

Your imagination is a machine; keep it oiled with images, ideas and stories that will fuel your own creative work.

Where do you find your creative inspiration?

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