"Write what you know" is common advice to writers, and it's advice I used to give until a great little book pointed out something important.

That's where terrible stories come from.

In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon makes a valuable point that any creative person would do well to abide by, we should not write what we know, instead we should write what we like. This is natural, and often we do it without thinking about it. Artists create because we loves art, we create because we love what's created. As Kleon puts it, "All fiction is fan fiction."

He's right of course. My desire to write comes from the love of reading I've had for as long as I can remember. When I talk to my filmmaker friend Jeremy about art, he constantly refers to the films of those he admires, not his own. If you spend a few minutes thinking about it, I bet you too can trace your desire to create to another creator.

I think Christian artists know something else about this as well. If we are inspired to create by others' creations, how deep does that cycle go? It goes back to our Creator. After all, we are sub-creators, creating in imitation of the one who created us. In every medium, we work with the raw materials he provides. The ideas, words, images, colors, sounds, questions and every other input to our work were all created by God. The amazing new things humanity makes do not catch God by surprise. In his infinite, eternal knowledge and creative power he conceived them all first.

Culture is a gift from God. Art is an expression of the common grace God has shown on this world. As artists, we look to culture for the raw materials of our work, whether consciously or not. Because this is such a powerful factor in our work, we should examine our influences intentionally. We should try to consciously learn from them.

In his book, Kleon offers up the helpful idea of documenting your creative lineage, or as he puts it, your family tree. He urges us think about who influenced us, and then who influenced them? And then, who influenced them? When you spend some time on this question, I bet you will find some interesting insights. For example, if you look at my creative family tree, you might observe that C.S. Lewis is, in some sense, in the center. That surprised me at first, but then as I considered it, it made perfect sense. That encouraged me to dig into his work even more.

Spend some time thinking about the artists who influenced you. Consider their impact on your work, and where their point-of-views came from, and then dig into that second layer. I hope you'll find something surprising and delightful.