Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Creativity on Demand

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 5, 2017

In the tech industry, there was an old joke dating back at least from the 1970s or 1980s about how “if it wasn’t for trade shows, we’d never get anything done.” Of course, it was funny because it wasn’t such a joke. In many companies, there’s a tremendous surge of productivity leading up to showing a product to the public. It’s probably second only to an official release. Small deadlines (milestones) on the way help to guide progress so it’s not a crazy mess at the end, but the big ones that scare us are the ones that keep us going.

I’ve noted that my best progress as an indie game developer has also come from having semi-hard (but achievable) deadlines. Putting a stake in the ground… and being serious about them… is a big deal, and makes a tremendous difference. The trick is that I have to be really committed to the deadline. Simply saying, “My goal is to have this level and this feature completed by the end of the month” is just the start of it. If I end there, and it’s a remotely aggressive goal, then I won’t make it.

But does it apply to creative industries, really? The “creativity on demand” thing is a weird one. Somehow I’ve been programmed since childhood to believe in this idea that the creative muse is this ephemeral, random thing. When it hits, it  hits, and you’d best record it and save it, because it might be a while before it hits again. With this concept, the idea of doing anything creative on a deadline is ridiculous. I figured I was lucky to have been blessed with some creativity, so I didn’t usually have to wait all that long to get jolted with ideas. (Amusingly, they often struck when I was bored, which I strive to avoid…)

Some years ago, though, I noticed that when preparing for my weekly RPG sessions, I’d struggle to get an idea for the next adventure. Really struggle. I’d do the same things I’d used to do, but my attention would wander and nothing would come. As time dwindled and I found myself facing only three hours before people would show up, I’d get desperate. I’d open up a blank document and start writing what happened last adventure, and then my vague idea of what was supposed to happen next time (I did have *some* kind of plan, after all). I found that the process of putting words to paper focused my attention, and that plus the deadline of people coming to play and me needing to have a game prepared forced me to put my brain in a creative mode.

In years of running games, I don’t think I ever had a session where this process failed me. Yet it scared me. Every time.

This blog has been the same thing. And yeah, not every article has been a wonder of creativity and insight. I apologize for those times I repeat myself and say very little of worth. But I try. And after years of doing this, I’ve gotten used to facing the blank page on my computer and wondering, “What do I say?” It still freaks me out a bit, but I’ve made my peace with it.

In a class with Toni Weisskopf, she spoke about how many writers needed the deadlines to be creative. Not all, she noted. Some authors do crumble under the pressure, and she has to treat them differently. Some are either incredibly self-motivated or have a high commitment to their own internal deadlines. Most, however, really need the deadline staring them in the face. It helps.

That suggests strongly that creativity is something that can be “on demand” from most people. I also believe the most creative part of the brain is the part that keeps coming up with excuses and distractions to avoid the hard work of a creative enterprise. You have to corner it, scare it, and convince it that there is no escape. No, you can’t putter around with another project (go away, idea fairy!). No, you can’t check Facebook or the news or continue your Netflix binge. You have to hit this deadline or there will be Hell to pay… you will be humiliated, or whatever.

And then… it seems the brain finally gets the clue and starts doing its job. On demand. On schedule, if you worked it out correctly.

I’ve recently had a couple of experiences with writing like that. I committed myself to a very short deadline (and in the most recent case, I was slammed by the day job to a pretty epic level… not the sort of week you want to commit to ANYTHING). While I had to ask for a couple of days of extension on one, I pulled it off, having no idea beforehand what I was going to write. It works.

Now, I’m not going to claim that what I created were masterpieces or anything like that, or even My Best Work Ever. I honestly don’t know and can’t tell, this close to it, but I figure they were okay. The important thing is that if I hadn’t committed, the week would have come and gone, and I’d have had nothing to show for it. Instead, I have something which I believe is of some worth. Maybe not a lot of worth, but still infinitely superior to Nothing At All.

Creativity can be summoned on demand, by deadline. Try it! You only have that Nothing to lose.

Filed Under: Game Development, General, Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Tesh said,

    In some ways, “restrictions breed creativity”. Whether this is coloring inside the lines, working with a deadline, using only a ballpoint pen, whatever, restrictions have a way of focusing our attention. I’d say it has a way of tapping into the problem-solving “left brain” to get the creative “right brain” working effectively.

    Picking a rule and breaking it serves a similar function. You’re locking yourself into *some* sort of structure, even if it’s just flat out rebellion against an existing structure, and then working out a solution instead of wandering about in the weeds.

    Being human, it seems to me, is to dance between strict, boring predictability and exciting chaos. Each has some value when tempered by the other.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Fantastic comment. And that’s absolutely right. I feel like that gives my brain some structure to work with.