The Weird, Bio-Rhythmic Nature of My Creative Process

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"Biorhythm cycles over a 66-day period" by Life of Riley at  Wikimedia CommonsSomething I referred to in my previous post was what I termed “the weird, bio-rhythmic nature of my creative process.” For the most part, I work in natural bursts and I have a hard time forcing creative work. I know it’s possible to teach yourself to do that — and I’ve been able to do it at times — but I’ve yet to get good or efficient at it. This means I have periods of ups and downs along the way.

I generally just let things flow in whatever way they go and try to get as much output as possible in whatever area is working. I ride that initial energy and excitement when it hits until — like a boarder on a wave approaching the shore — it simply wanes and grinds to a stop. I think this is why I always have a half-dozen-or-so projects that I consider to be my “current” projects. They are all in different phases of the design, requiring different sorts of creativity, and I let my brain push on whichever of them it grabs on to.

I sometimes think of game projects as being similar to sculpting or pottery-making …… in that the early phase of the project is a new creation roughly made from large “lumps "Het kneden van klei." by Soyer Isabelle at WikiMedia Commonsof mud” that need to be shaped in order to let you see if it has the potential to be what you want it to. The mid-design is full of turmoil, with new lumps being added and earlier lumps being trimmed down, reshaped, smoothed or removed. Finally, as the project is nearing the finish line, a lot of effort is put into very fine details, trying to get everything to fit and feel right. These different phases take different creative focus and energy.

"Human Brain" from Gutenberg Encyclopedia via MediaWiki CommonsThere are also a wide range of different types of creativity being used throughout the life of a project. There’s the very “right brained” type stuff, such as big, sweeping theme/story/idea creation, new types of mechanics or component uses, and the physical/visual look-and-feel of a game’s components. And there’s the very “left brained” activities, such as crunching numbers, fitting things within real-life specs, sorting, listing and organizing. Finally, there’s the in-between or “both brained” stuff, such as wrapping reality around that big story, or figuring out what needs to be abstracted and what needs to get blown up into exquisite detail.

It seems to me that each of these types of creativity pull from different processes at work in my brain. I’ve found that my creativity comes in varying amounts of each of the different types and foci and energies, and that other things I spend mental time on can use those up, leaving little to apply to games. On the other hand, I’ve also found that things can recharge the different areas, giving me an unexpected burst in production, as long as I’m willing to give those horses their reigns. In a way, it’s very similar to budgeting — only with woo-woo “creative mental energies” instead of with tangible cash.

Dicey Curves, Deluxe Edition, Cars on the TrackOne specific example comes to mind: Back when I spent a month in the hospital earlier this year, there were obviously a lot of heavy topics weighing on my mind. And while I had plenty of free time each day to work on games, I found it very difficult to do anything with story, theme, or complex strategy ideas. It was as if that part of my brain was already used up by thinking about the heavy real-life stuff. But I found that I had no problem working on graphics, sorting out component details and other tactical, physical specifics. So, I rolled with that and the “Deluxe Edition” of Dicey Curves went from an idea to a real product in a very short time. Similarly, the 2-month break I’m coming off of was due in large part to getting overloaded on taking care of a lot of little details in other areas of life.  There just wasn’t much left over to use on the games front.

So, I look for ways to reset and recharge. Obviously, simply putting my game projects on hold and not touching them for a few months is one way to reset. 😉 But normally, I look to daily things to keep my levels steady and get recharged on a continual basis.

Dakota Rail Trail, October 2012I’ve always found great comfort, healing, and new energy in nature. I love to get out in the woods (the picture to the left is a trail that I walk most days), go canoeing, fishing, etc. I enjoy watching and playing sports, grilling good food, drinking good beer, hanging out with friends, and being together with my family. These recharge all of me, not just the creative brain stuff.

Sometimes, I find that I need to consume creative content instead of trying to produce. I watch TV & movies, play Madden, read, surf the web, and so on. Other times, I dabble in other sorts of creative output, like coding computer games, writing stories, generating textures in photoshop, creating databases for silly applications, and other sorts of “doodling.” Sometimes I’m just quiet, praying/meditating, and trying to get my brain to be quiet and just “listen” to what’s going on in there. I take naps.

I generally don’t beat myself up too badly when things aren’t flowing, unless some sort of deadline is approaching, like a contest end date or an up-coming gaming con. Instead, I consider it a natural part of how my brain works — riding out the bad and reveling in the good. Just trying to catch on to that weird rhythm.

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