When it comes to genres, steampunk is remarkably unique. After all, how many other literary genres can boast a distinct aesthetic, strong DIY subculture, and distinct lifestyle of their own?
Steampunk, in a word, is a scene. And a pretty rich one, at that.
Yet it surprises me how many steampunk writers aren’t plugged into that scene. When asked why, they sometimes tell me they’re only interested in the aesthetic. But more often, they’re just too busy writing the next genius steampunk novel, which requires solitary concentration … right?
To each his own, of course. But I have to confess, I always come away from those conversations thinking, “You’re missing out on so much!”
The Steampunk “scene” is one of the greatest discoveries of my creative life. I don’t get to participate as much as I’d like, but the day I finally got out of my writing garret and started meeting other steampunks did change how I approached the genre. Ultimately I gained far more than just a scene.
I gained a scenius.
(These photos are from a fantastic and enriching High Tea event I attended at Milwaukee’s legendary Pfister Hotel, along with many others from my scenius.)
In case you’re wondering what a scenius is (sorry, it’s not a Verne-ian gadget), let me point you to Austin Kleon. First noticed for his Newspaper Blackout poems, Kleon also wrote the fabulous creative manifesto Steal Like An Artist. This year, he released his follow-up book Show Your Work!, which advocates that sharing your creative work regularly, to a real community, whether or not it’s perfect, is the best way to grow.
Sharing our work, it turns out, requires that we quit chasing genius. Instead of slaving alone, we surround ourselves with other passionate humans who make things. In the give-and-take of this “genius scene” or “scenius,” we find our true power. This is about tapping into communal, not individual, brilliance.
“Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute,” Kleon writes. “… I became part of a scenius by putting my work out there.”
And that brings us back to steampunk. If we writers really love creating futuristic retro worlds, where could we possibly find a better scenius than the steampunk community? We may be writers, but through steampunk we’ll meet spinners, weavers, leatherworkers, blacksmiths, engineers, costumers, jewelry-makers, bookbinders, actors, gardeners, and musicians–just to name a few. As we share our work (as well our attention, to others’ work) we become better, sharper artists.
Solitary writing has its place, of course. But that’s not the place to create genius. Steampunks, there’s communal brilliance out there, and it’s waiting for us.
See you around the scenius.
Where have you found your “scenius,” and how do they help you create better art?