Exercising the creativity muscles
Secretly, though some people have told me that I am, I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly creative. Frequently, when I’ve sat down and thought “ok brain, give me an idea”, nothing comes. My brain looks back at me, blankly.
And I’ve never really felt like those ideas that I do generate are particularly original. Most creative work I have done is simply an iteration on another’s ideas, some mashup of the books, movies and games that I’ve enjoyed. The characters and mannerisms I write, simply voices from the past that I channel from memory.
So it was comforting to finally realize that that is what creativity actually is. As captured in this excellent, free series on the creative process and the follies of modern copyright law, everything is a remix. (well worth the watch, that one)
So I got over that fear. But I’ve also, for the last 6 months or so now, been keeping “idea journals”. Started with one for future game ideas, then later added another for story ideas I’d like to write. Either for my future games or for the writing projects I want to start tackling on the side.( For a start, I’m planning to write a novel this year. For fun and to learn about the process of fiction writing. It’s a challenge I’ve set myself, rather like my 365 days of art in 2011.)
I went and counted them yesterday. I’m currently sitting at 48 game ideas and 62 story seeds! Some better than others, certainly, but it’s quite a change. And comforting! New ideas seem to be coming more often, with practice. It’s definitely a muscle that you can exercise. And while I’m still not particularly good at generating new ideas on the spot, there are mental frameworks and tricks that, with practice, seem to make it easier.
And when that fails, I can always turn to my docs.
I’ve also taken to trying to consciously creating space for my subconscious to churn. Something I noticed, the ideas tend to come when I step back from consuming media etc. Many of them come at night, after I’ve crawled into bed, before drifting off. Or lying in the bath, or when I go for a long walk to stretch my legs.
It’s like your mind operates in different modes. I can be in input mode, taking in and consuming media, in output mode, creating things and implementing ideas, or finally in a more neutral mode between the two, a mode conducive to ruminating, to digesting ideas and letting new ones take shape in the back of your mind. You need the all three modes, of course. The input mode gives you new fuel in the form of exposure to new ideas to build on and recombine. And you need to switch to output mode to actually go about the business of building your ideas. But I’ve realized that, with all the distractions of modern life and our always-online gadgets, the time I spend in that third mode has shrunk and become insufficient. I have to consciously make time for it.
One day, maybe I’ll be able to own a specific “Ruminatin’ Room”. Furnished in mahogany and deep, rich reds, walls lined with stuffed bookshelves. Thick padded armchairs pushed close to a cosy fireplace. Tall glass windows along the north wall, rain drumming against them endlessly. The perfect place to wander the paths of the imagination.