Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tips from the Pros, Part 2

We're almost halfway through Worldwide Adventure Writing Month. Keep up the good work! You can do this! If you get stuck, here's some great advice on overcoming writer's block from S. John Ross. Mr. Ross has been working in the game industry since 1990. Click here for some of Mr. Ross's credits. Nowadays Mr. Ross runs his own publishing company, Cumberland Games & Diversions. Cumberland was one of the first all-electronic publishing ventures, though in recent years Mr. Ross has made some of his product line available via print-on-demand. Below the line are S. John's tips for beating writer's block.

As a warm-up, any game-writing newbie facing “writer’s block” should consider discarding the phrase “writer’s block” entirely. It’s a heavy phrase, encumbered with quasi-mythical creative fears. The net result is a kind of Wizard of Oz effect where the tiny trembling little problem puffs itself up into a Great and Powerful foe. Yank that curtain back; and see? It's just workaday anxiety.
  • Walk away – for a little while. Never use this as an excuse not to write, but sometimes just going for a swim, washing the dishes, having some sex or taking a brisk walk is the best tonic. Don’t bring work along (mentally or physically); just swim, wash, screw or hike, as you please. Work the knots out, stay active, and make sure there’s more going on in your mind – and your life – than whatever it is you’re trying to write. Stay physical, stay social, and keep perspective.

  • Feed your brain with good writing by others, but feed it something unexpected. Read (or watch, or listen to) something tangential. If you’re writing a fantasy module, try a crime-TV-show episode guide or an article on windowsill gardening. If you’re writing a space-adventure piece, read about ancient Persia or try a new cookbook. Sometimes, you’ll find inspiring fragments you can translate back into you work, but for the most part just focus on the writing. Is it clear, engaging, informative? Let it inspire your approach. Is it muddy, dull, and rambling? Let it inspire you to show them how it’s done. Writing well is its own wellspring of energy.

  • Take your eyes off the finish line. You eat a pizza one bite of one slice at a time; don’t try to shove the whole pie down your throat. Pick a morsel and savor it, devoting yourself with gusto to a single portion of the project – a sidebar, a particularly eccentric NPC, an especially deadly monster encounter. Then, move on to the next morsel, and enjoy just how different the pieces can be. Before you know it, you’ll be reaching for the crumbs, all done and still hungry for more.

  • Never forget to groove on the joy of what you’re engaging in. This is game writing, and that rocks. If the idea of creating RPG material excites you, then you’ve already got the one true secret weapon: tap into your greatest campaigns and favorite characters from the gaming table. Everything you need is right there.


John said...

What I've found useful when I can't figure out what to write is to imagine myself at the gaming table running the game /right/ /now/. I've just finished running the adventure as far as I've written it and the players are looking at me trying to figure out what comes next. The initial ideas I come up are not always good, but it gives me something to start with.

I think it's helpful because instead of using the "planning" or "writing" part of my brain, this technique engages the "extemporating" part of my brain.

Jeff Rients said...

Wow! I like that technique a lot, John!

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice!

Del "NN" Esau
Black Powder Games

Anonymous said...