Hello there World.
Today I would like to talk a bit about a problem that I like to call excessive creativity. It could also be called bubbling brain, because that is how it can feel sometimes. Basically too many ideas and not enough time, or more accurately too many ideas and not enough focus. It is a problem that has plagued me since pretty much as long as I can remember. I have been creative my entire life, but so few projects have ever been finished. I have written several songs but only four made it as far as being recorded. I have poured countless hours into creating characters, stories and entire worlds for D&D but never had a campaign actually end, just kind of peter out or stop dead. I discovered a cool piece of software called Magic Set Editor that allowed me to create actual properly laid-out Magic: the Gathering cards, got part way through creating an entire block, then just stopped. I even have my old blogs; I’d get an idea, start working, then another cool idea would strike. My brain would immediately switch track, spend far too long on this other tangent, then struggle to finish what I’d already started.
Even this very post was originally supposed to be written last Friday. I got about half-way through, then got distracted by a different idea for a post for another day, then completely bombed my thought process. Which was in part why we have such a short post for Friday. [Ed.- Although the irony of losing focus during an article on staying focused was REALLY funny…]
So the thing is- how to deal with this problem? Because you really can’t go through life never completing anything. At the very least it’s bad for your self-esteem.
Well, the first thing is to ask yourself who you are and what you want. Because every project that you commit to is going to take a chunk of your precious, extremely finite and non-refundable time, any time lost to things that don’t matter or speak to you on a personal level is time that you then can’t spend on the things that do matter. If you see yourself as a social-conscious serious journalist, writing some overly silly fiction piece is not going to help move you towards serious social-conscious journalisting, and nor is writing a piece that undermines or diminishes your personal message or stance. By the same token if that self-same writer also values quality family time with their children and their daughter loves stories about magical multi-colour ponies, then writing a silly fiction piece about these ponies will still be a valid use of their time. If you want to be a blogger, save learning about video editing software until after you’ve posted your daily blog post…
The second thing to ask is can this project wait until a later time. If something is particularly time sensitive, then it becomes a bit more of a priority to do it now. But I’m pretty sure that you’ll find that most often there is wiggle room. There is no need to immediately drop whatever it is you are already doing and do this other thing. Of course, if it does need to be done now you still need to take the time to at least temporarily wrap up whatever you are doing first. Don’t just drop everything exactly where it is, because you almost certainly won’t be able to just jump straight back in. Any flow will have been lost. Even just a few scribbled notes may be enough for you to be able to pick back up again where you left off. And, of course, if there isn’t a time crunch then just make a note of this new idea then get back to what you were already doing.
The third question is how big is this project? One of the reasons that some of my ideas have flumped is thinking too big. When creating the M:tG cards, I was not just building a set of cards, but I was working on a whole block. For those not in the know, basically a block was a series of connected sets that covered a year’s worth of releases- one large set and two smaller sets that further build on the themes and mechanics and advance the in-game storyline- somewhere in the region of roughly 600-700 cards (a practice that has actually been phased out over the last few years). And I was doing a job that for Wizards of the Coast (very wisely, I hasten to add) took an entire company. They had three separate design teams (one per set), three separate development teams (one per set), a whole art team, and many others around them. For a long time I felt bad that I never fully finished the block (actually, I never actually even fully finished the first set…) but in fairness I had set myself an unreasonably Sisyphean task. Had I broken it all down into smaller tasks and organised myself better I would almost certainly have gotten further with the process. But instead, I kept darting around from idea to idea, and even from set to set with little rhyme or reason or focus. I was searching the internet for artwork that fitted the cards (whilst aware that I had created some world-specific bits that I wouldn’t be able to actually find); I was creating cycles of cards (faction specific cards based around a specific mechanic or theme, one for each faction), mega cycles of cards, cross-set cycles, and individual cards. I was world-building (and using the same campaign world for both M:tG and D&D). Needless to say, the current iteration is quite the mess, and still unfinished to this day. TLDR: Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Finally, make sure that where you do the whatever-it-is is conducive for it. Trying to write while that TV blares at you and your kids are underfoot and everything is a mess is guaranteed to fail. If you allow yourself to work in a place with distractions, your brain will find ways to distract you. I have taken to leaving my phone in a different room more often to avoid the temptation to let myself get sucked into the mental cocaine of social media and Reddit. It always starts as “I just need to check something” and ends with railing against the latest political catastrophe. Or “What did that card say?” turns into “Oooh what does that deck do? And what about…?”.
I have only very recently started being stricter with myself (okay- since Friday…), but already I think that I am seeing a difference. I make the point of always having my cheap journalist’s notepad with me, either within arms reach or in my back pocket. Any time I have one of my random thoughts, whether an idea for an article, a deck idea, or even a memory of a song that I suddenly want to try and look up, I just jot it down. For one thing, the last few blog posts have had at least a smidgeon more thought going into them rather than just sitting down and letting my hands wander on the keys. As I said above, I try and keep my iPhone in a different room. I work in my basement office, and only on week days, when no one is around.
Of course, you don’t need to use a notebook; smart phones have note apps and voice memo apps and all sorts of other doodads let you make little notes to yourself for those that have more mobile-related self control. You can even just grab an odd scrap of paper and jot something down.
All I will say is whatever method you use, make sure that (a) you stick to it, and (b) make sure that you have somewhere to consolidate ideas. For example, if you have many ideas for a D&D campaign, don’t leave them spread over several notebooks, make sure that you have one place to keep all of the notes together and set aside regular time to consolidate them. That was one of my biggest downfalls with that particular pass time- I had ideas on my laptop, ideas in a couple of exercise books, ideas on scraps of paper, and no real organisation system. Looking back at some of the old stuff now I struggle to remember where I was going with a lot of threads, which is a real shame.
And that I think will do for today. In fact, that’s probably actually the final thing to say here- know when to stop. Just because you think you may be able to think of more things to say, doesn’t mean that you need to do it.
And finally I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that today is a special day for Fay and I, as it is our eleventh wedding anniversary (Woo!! Yeah!). I was originally going to lead with this, but in light of the topic at hand it seemed somewhat counter productive.
So with that, I will bid you all a fond farewell and I’ll see you again tomorrow. TTFN!