Combatting Writer’s Block

Chris Avellone was telling me about a panel on writing that he attended at Comic-con which devolved into an interesting conversation about circumventing writer’s block. That’s a challenge I struggle with all the time, so I asked him for his notes on the panel, and he was kind enough to share them with me. And now I’m sharing them with you. And you can share them with someone else, if you like. Ain’t sharing grand? PS. Many of these tactics seem as applicable to game design as they do to writing.

  • Go buy three magazines (games) you don’t normally read (play), then flip through them and free associate.
  • Grab a Gideon Bible, open it randomly and then see what it sparks.
  • Have three creative projects going at once so you can switch off when you get stuck with one. (For games, they shouldn’t have to be large in scope; how about having a pet flash, XNA, or mod project on the side?)
  • Do something else creative that doesn’t involve writing – doodling, sketching, painting, whatever.
  • Go workout for 30-40 min with no music and no TV, and then let the endorphins do their work.
  • One guy said that “writer’s block happens because you’re writing something you’re not excited about or interested in,” and he suggests that when that happens, take a step back, ask why, then charge into it in a different direction that does excite you.
  • Keep a collection of works that excite you. When you hit a block, go back to this library, re-read them, and remember why they excited you.

On a personal note, I’ve identified two things that help me overcome writer’s block (and creative blocks, in general) above and beyond all other tactics:

  • Go do something else, and get a good night’s sleep before trying again. (Basically, a simplification of several tactics noted above.)
  • Talk to people about what you’re working on, especially: A) people who know a lot about it, and B) people with backgrounds different from your own who know relatively little about it. B is crucial — it’s amazing how quickly I’ll realize that I’ve been taking something for granted or missing something obvious by speaking with someone who doesn’t share all my pre-conceived notions. Not surprisingly, plenty of research on innovation has supported the premise that bringing people of different backgrounds and functional specialties together tends to result in greater innovation. (Sadly, most people in our industry still seem to believe that if you’re not a lifetime gamer with years of game production experience, you have no business getting anywhere near a game development project. And then we all gripe about lack of innovation…)

3 Responses to Combatting Writer’s Block

  1. “(Sadly, most people in our industry still seem to believe that if you’re not a lifetime gamer with years of game production experience, you have no business getting anywhere near a game development project. And then we all gripe about lack of innovation…)”

    That needs to change, like, right now. The reason it’s like that is because game-making is a high risk, high reward scenario, and the people funding it are trying to mitigate the risk as much as possible. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the above situation. What has emerged along side it is the lack of a clear path to get from not there to there, or any framework for helping junior game designers grow.

    Currently the path is basically, make a game on your own, funded by you, get it published, and then we’ll think about hiring you for a quarter of what you would make doing the former if you were successful. We’re losing a lot of good people this way.

  2. Other tactics:

    – deconstruct the topic. Sometimes the block comes from ‘where to begin’. Break the topic down to subtopics, then break those down. then find a random little piece of the list that you think is easy to knock off. Then proceed.

    – Change venues. sometimes related to the break thing. I’ll pack up at the office and drive to the Starbucks. or vice versa.

    – Talk to someone about the topic. Get ideas. Go have coffee with a friend.

    – And oh yeah. Caffeinate. Heavily! :-)

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