Paracosms are the fantasy worlds that many dreamy, imaginative kids like to invent when they’re young. Some of history’s most creative adults had engaged in “worldplay” as children. The Brontë siblings, in one famous example, concocted paracosms so elaborate that they documented them with meticulous maps, drawings, and hundreds of pages of encyclopedic writing.
It now appears that, like the Brontës, kids who engage in paracosmic play are more likely to be creative as adults. In 2002 researchers Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein conducted an elegant study. They polled recipients of MacArthur genius grants — which reward those who’ve been particularly creative in areas as diverse as law, chemistry, and architecture — to see if they’d created paracosms as children. Amazingly, the MacArthur fellows were twice as likely as “normal” nongeniuses to have done so. Some fields were particularly rife with worldplayers: Fully 46 percent of the recipients polled in the social sciences had created paracosms in their youth.
Why would worldplay make you more creative in your career? Probably because, as the Root-Bernsteins point out, it requires practical creativity. Fleshing out a universe demands not just imagination but an attention to detail, consistency, rule sets, and logic. You have to grapple with constraints — just as when you’re problem-solving at work.
It is the emerging culture of fandom, empowered by the internet and social media, that explains the phenomenal success of crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter. The platform’s most high profile success stories – The Order of the Stick’s $1m fundraiser, for example – tell only a part of the story. More informative perhaps is author Chuck Wendig, who raised just under $7,000 for the latest instalment in his Atlanta Burns series through crowdfunding. Wendig isn’t a superstar (yet) and doesn’t have a huge established readership (also yet). But what he has gained is the warm regard of a fandom through his Terribleminds blog. Every fan who buys a piece of Wendig gets to feel a real sense of ownership, far more than if they had just walked into a shop and paid for the book itself. In a very real sense Kickstarter makes fans as important as creators, because it is the fans who directly empower the artist to make the art.
“A lot of people who are into fan art are very talented, and I think one of the appealing parts is that it gives you motivation to perfect your craft of either writing or drawing if there’s an audience for it.” - Brad O’Farrell
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