I think of creativity like a factory where everything you put in comes out as cookies. The issue then, is deciding what you want to put in.
Personally, I prefer my cookies different every time, so I try to vary my input as often as possible. I make sure to experience all sorts of things, especially the kinds of things I don’t default to. The rule applies as much for fiction as for non-fiction, as much for high art as for low. Sometimes I pick the content—for instance, studying music theory and history for Deva Spark—but sometimes I let the content pick me. A stranger raved about a particular economics text, and this week I’m listening to the audiobook. Similarly, my husband Álvaro is working on a wild west trilogy, so I’ve been watching a documentary series on the wild west.
That said, there are a few works that come up in my creative thinking all the time. I like to think of these works like the basic ingredients of my cookies. The flour, the egg, the milk, and the sugar. Sometimes you can leave one or two out in favor of a unique ingredient, but they nevertheless come up over and over again in my recipes. The includes The Wizard of Oz, Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, HBO’s Carnivale, the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges, and perhaps most spectacularly, the Planescape campaign setting from the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse.