Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Varying the Creative Palate

Burn-out remains one of the challenges creative people face, whether they’re game designers, writers, artists, or others relying on their imaginations. Certainly everyone in almost any job has the potential to become so involved in and overwhelmed by their tasks that they hit a point where energy and inspiration dry up, making effective forward progress nigh impossible. One of the keys to overcoming this obstacle comes from finding the time to vary one’s creative activities, ranging from the tangentially related to the overly ridiculous.

An esteemed fellow-blogger recently discussed maintaining creative balance and the need to vary one’s creative activities (in this case through solo gaming). Whether we’re creative types developing games or folks working in retail or offices, people need to vary their activities to recharge their energy, reduce stress, and ward off the drudgery of repetitive tasks. I myself have reached a crossroads on two projects (roleplaying game and miniature wargame) where I’m confident what I need to do next but need to step away for a moment to regain my perspective and re-focus my momentum. So I’m taking a slight break from both projects to engage in several activities to help cleanse my creative palate and recharge my energy. They range from quick exercises to significant projects both game-related and otherwise:

Quick Freelance Project: Some fine folks with whom I’ve worked before contacted me to do a few extra bits for a new roleplaying game they’re bringing to publication. I had some familiarity with the game world and system, so I took advantage of an opportunity to do some paying game writing as a break from fretting over my own projects. The job also keeps me involved with current game publishers and adds to my non-self-publishing bibliography of game contributions.

Reading: I’m a voracious reader, though my full-time parenting duties don’t always offer the time for it I used to find. From recreational fiction to scholarly non-fiction, I keep enough books around to always find something to read that engages my myriad interests. My latest two diversions are George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and Professor Scott Nicholson’s Everyone Plays at the Library. Both engage me on different levels and force me to think about things other than my current projects. I’ve somehow managed to overlook and casually resist A Game of Thrones since it’s publication, though the HBO series has certainly brought it renewed cultural prominence; so I found a used copy at a library book sale and thought I’d give it a read. While I found it addictive in a Beverly Hills 90210 way, I also found it quite brutal in some ways (possibly because I’m a parent). I’ve had Nicholson’s book on my wish list for a while and finally bought it at a fantastic discount through the publisher. It’s a wonderful summary of his summer 2008 online video course on the same subject, a practical resource for those of us who prefer such material in print for handy reference. Nicholson creates a framework for talking about games, including categorizing games, participants, and goals within a library context…one people could easily port to other public and educational venues.
Rory’s Story Cubes: These wonderful storytelling toys have so many applications in gaming and writing, from challenging one to weave an entertaining tale using the random, inspiring images to generating non-player characters (as demonstrated over at the Solo Nexus blog). I gave it a try recently as a break when I hit a snag in the “Quick Freelance Project” above, and rather nicely generated a fantasy roleplaying game adventure idea on the fly. I’ve yet to try using them with my toddler to inspire some imaginative storytelling, but right now he’s overcome with the euphoria of both the impending gift-giving holiday and his own birthday.

Holidays: Whatever you celebrate this month, it’s a welcome break from our often less-than-festive everyday lives. Despite some of the stress from all the hectic preparations (and lots of baking on my part), it’s a change of pace that gives our bodies and minds a break from routine and helps us re-focus on family, friends, generosity, and the tiny, glimmering light of hope in the darkest time of the year.

Refocus on A+: Back in August game designer rock star Monte Cook waged a campaign to remain positive online during the month of August, encouraging others to follow his lead and be a bit more civil online. I’m aspiring to take that further in my own life by seeking to be positive in my online interactions as well as my face-to-face, real-life dealings and my general outlook on developments in my life. I’ve had my moments of negativity and pessimism during periods of my life, many of which I’ve identified and regret. At times it’s challenging to remain positive given the host of negative stimuli in our lives, from personal setbacks, online criticism, and world events, especially those that make everyone re-evaluate how they relate to each other (both the holiday season and the tragic events in Newtown, CT, frighteningly close to my childhood home of Ridgefield). I hope to engage others in more positive, generous, and compassionate interactions while trying to improve my own general outlook. This more positive re-focusing isn’t just a momentary variation in my creative palate but a greater change in the way I view things that helps put all my other activities in perspective.

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