Warfare

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What sort of act is creativity? Is it an act of love, of defiance, of expression?

Were this a multiple choice, I’d say all the above. Honestly though, I hate when they put that as one of the options in multiple choice tests—it’s seems kinda cheap and non-committal.

Anyways, authors like Steven Pressfield and K.M. Weiland claim creativity is an act of war.

Weiland wrote a nice little post about the subject based on this quote from Twyla Tharp,

“Creativity is an act of defiance.”

It got me stirred up and ready for battle—in a good way. Really, you should check it out and let me know what you think.

looking back

Have you ever looked back on something you made a long time ago and felt a sense of shame or disgust?

This just happened to me. But first—backstory.

The computer game Thief: The Dark Project came out back in 1998. Twas a good year. Though it’s aged a lot, Thief still remains my favorite video game of all time.

Besides the game itself (a sneaky medieval steampunk-ish game), one of the excellent things about it was the strong fan community. I learned a lot about proper (and improper) digital etiquette through the company’s online forums. 

 Even cooler, the developers released the level editor for the game, allowing fans to create and share their own missions. Many did, myself included.

Though I expect it had happened before, this is the first game I’m aware of to release a level editor to the public. And this wasn’t the polished user-friendly sort of fare you see today. It was clunky, technical and difficult with more commands you had to type in a prompt window than buttons—something clearly made more for the developers than the fans.

Anyhow, I made and finished two missions, as well as a handful of incomplete ones and some contributions to other’s missions. The experience was a valuable one, and partly the reason I have the full-time job I do today.

My mind has returned often to those old missions I’d designed so long ago, especially the half-done ones I wish I’d completed. But interests change and life requires one to move on.

When relating these experiences to a coworker, I got the idea of searching for images of my old creations. I found something even better: a play-through of my first mission on YouTube. I began viewing with a sense of trepidation and it didn’t get better as the video played.

Turns out the person playing it didn’t enjoy the mission very much at all. And I couldn’t blame them—it was bad, much worse than I’d remembered. It’s a wonder they bothered to play it at all, and even finish it. Truthfully, I could only watch in little five-minute spurts.

Looking back, I think of all the things I could have done differently, how I could have made it so much more awesome, wondering why I’d made some of the decisions I had back then. But that was then and this is now. I’ve come a long way, baby.

That was my first ever foray into game design and I’ve learned so much since then. That particular mission had quite a few challenges and barriers to completion, and yet, imperfect as it was, I still finished it and got it out to the public.

All this to say: when you look back on your old stuff, don’t judge it too harshly. It isn’t who you are now, but it was an important step to getting to this place. Even if you think it’s ugly, embarrassing, and amateur—you should consider it a trophy of accomplishment; it’s a  piece of the story, a necessary part of who you are today.

UX

User Experience (or UX as it is abbreviated) is something I’ve considered without thinking upon specifically.

What I mean is, I’ll ponder what makes one game more fun than another, what sort of teaching methods I find most helpful, or what assembly manuals I find the most clear and enjoyable to read. These are all cases of user experience.

Creativity is a tough thing. In one aspect, we want only to create in our own private world without having to bother about anyone else. But, really, if you want your work to be effective, you must consider your audience.

What will they think? How will they be affected by your work? Is your message easy to understand or veiled?

Engaging with creativity is as much a part of user experience as anything else. With a little forethought and planning, us creatives can make the “user’s” experience that much better. 

A friend of mine shared this article with me about the subject. Upon reading, I found it to be quite helpful. In short, it was a good experience. 

Check it out:

The 7 Factors that Influence User Experience

 

book update

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Hello friends and faithful readers. Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to these days. Wonder no more!

It’s been a while, but I have an exciting new update on the book I’m writing: The Endless Creative. I’ve finally completed a draft I am proud of and have sent it off to my editor. I may have overshot my planned deadline by over a month, but life happens and it feels good having finally reached this point.

The Endless Creative is about finding purpose through creativity. It follows the journey of the creative as it parallels the three-act story structure and the hero’s journey. It’s something I’m excited about and looking forward to sharing with you all.

For me, writing the book has been a journey in itself and I’m eager to discover what changes my editor suggests (beside the usual spelling and grammar fixes). Though I like it where it is, I know there are many ways it can be improved. I’m just not sure yet which improvements are the best. Really, I’m trying to prep myself for the many changes I expect it’s going to need, and to not become disappointed by it.

Oh yeah, I should mention that the image above is not the final-final cover, but the artwork you see there is about finished. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out and had a great experience working with the artist, Robert Clear.

I just threw on that text for this post. To be honest, I’m no fan of choosing fonts, I prefer to leave that to the pros.

Having focused most of my creativity on getting the book ready for edit, I’m taking some time to celebrate. I often experience a little bit of a letdown after reaching a big milestone, but I’m also learning how important it is to recognize and celebrate big achievements for what they are. And then I need to figure out what’s next.

I have a life coach who has been helping me in that area, keeping me focused and goal-oriented. It’s a new experience for me, and it’s been a good one so far.

Looking to the horizon and what’s up ahead, I’ve been thinking more about this blog, my email list, and what I want to do with them in the future. More on that later. For now, we’ll leave things as they are. As always, I’m open to suggestions and advice.

I do have a short sci-fi story that a publisher is interested in and willing to work with me on. That may be the next big project right now. I’ve got some smaller things as well, but you’ll hear more about them when they’re finished.

Until next time, I hope you are excelling in and completing your creative projects, whatever they may be. If you need help in that area, you should grab my free e-book, Done! which is about that very thing.

And I’d love to hear what sort of creative things have you been working on lately. Feel free to share about them in the comments below.

Creatively yours,

A. P. Lambert

a journey of dreams

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I’ve been reading a lot of excerpts from Steven Pressfield’s blog lately. He’s become quite big when it comes to writing about creativity. And he has a lot to say on the subject.

I don’t quite agree with some of his conclusions, but, in many matters, I think he’s spot-on.

Here’s a passage I read recently that really jived with me. It’s a subject I’ve discovered leads to resistance when talking with people who don’t understand the importance or need for works of fiction:

THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS A JOURNEY OF DREAMS
I never wrote anything good until I stopped trying to write the truth. I never had any real fun either.
Truth is not the truth.
Fiction is the truth.
The artist’s medium is not reality, but dreams. I don’t mean “dreams” in the sense of made-up bullsh*t. I mean dreams as the X-ray of truth, truth seen through and seen for what it really is, truth boiled down to its essence.
The conventional truism is “Write what you know.” But something mysterious and wonderful happens when we write what we don’t know. The Muse enters the arena. Stuff comes out of us from a source we can neither name nor locate.
Where is it coming from? The “unconscious?” The “field of potentiality?”
I don’t know.
But I’ve had the same experience over and over. When I write something that really happened, people read it and say, “Sounds phony.”
When I pull something completely out of thin air, I hear, “Wow, that was so real!”

 

(FYI, I've edited the naughty word, you know, for the kids)

This is a portion of his serialized version of The Artist's Journey. You can find the full post here

 

tags off!

After moving to northern Arizona, I felt obligated to buy boots. 

I should preface this by telling you I am not a cowboy in any sense of the word. Were the boots to help me fit in? Sure, I’ll take some ownership there.

But really, they’re just good to have on when working outdoors. There are all sorts of foot enemies about in this country: snakes, cacti, other pokey plants, biting insects, biting children, that sort of thing. Boots are a great preventative to injury. Plus they make me taller, which is always fun.

After purchasing said boots, I kept the tags on and walked around the house in them for a while. This looked especially ridiculous because it’s the dead of summer and I’m wearing shorts. I know, highly unfashionable.

Boots are not the exception though, I do this for every article of footwear I purchase. You see, I’ve got a tenuous relationship with shoes of all varieties. It takes me a good while to trust them.

The thing is, I’ve got some very real (and completely undiagnosed) foot issues. This has been the case ever since I went on a week-long backpacking trip in Yosemite and then lost feeling in one of my toes for about half a year. I blame the hiking shoes for this.

My shoe problems have persisted since then to the point that even when shoes feel comfortable in the store, they’ll become pain-inducing by the end of the week. It took me three total trips to a New Balance store before I could find cross trainers that felt good on my feet. The clerks were rolling their eyes by my final return. The struggle is real, people.

Back to the boots. Yes it looks silly stomping around the house wearing shorts, high socks, and boots—but it’s completely necessary. The good news is, the boots have been feeling good and I’m about 90% sure I’ll keep them.

So, why the long story about boots? This realization came to me as I was clomping about: many people treat their creativity the same way. They try it out, maybe wear it around the house where its safe and free of judgement, but don’t really own it or take it out. They keep the tags on, so it can be returned if it turns out to not be so great a fit.

I can’t tell you how many highly creative (even artistically talented) people I’ve talked to who will not admit their own creativity. It’s truly shocking.

Creatives, it’s time to tear those tags off and own it! It’s time to have your “first rodeo” and show the folks what those puppies can do. There are puppies at the rodeo, right? Again, not a cowboy here.

inspired

Have you ever wondered where creativity comes from? Why do some people seem to be more creative than others? Is it an innate ability only a select few are gifted with or do we all possess the same creative potential?

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed: all the really creative folks I know hold a genuine and ongoing interest in many things. They’ve got an increased receptivity to inspiration. 

Is this something they’re born with or something experience has developed in them? I couldn’t say, but I do know this: it’s a posture everyone can develop—a wellspring available to all.

There are times in my own life when I have kept myself closed off and closed in. As a result, my sense of inspiration waned dramatically. But when I’ve focused on dissevering and appreciating more of the world around me, BAM, inspiration hits like a load of bricks (though not as painful).

Chances are, you already have a good idea of what you find inspiring. Consider what excites you, what piques your interest; what do you find fascinating? 

Dig deeper until you gain an understanding of why you find inspiration from such sources, this will help you look for it in other places.

When it comes to the inter-webs, Pinterest is a very popular source of inspiration. I hardly find a baked good, craft, or room design that didn’t have a little help from Pinterest these days. In fact, my wife recently used it to get some ideas for our son’s dino-themed first birthday. 

She discovered a clever way to cut watermelon so it looked like a monster’s head. However, we didn’t just straight-up copy the design, we added some flavor of our own, including little cantaloupe wedges for teeth and head spikes. Personally, I think it made a nice improvement, and the kids loved it.

Check it out:

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Pinterest hunting is fun, no doubt about it. But heed my warning, oh hunter of inspiration, once you find it, never take it as-is. When using it for your own creations, you’ve got to change it in some significant way—make it your very own. 

This might not seem like a big deal for cake pops and bookshelves, but the more serious you are about growing as a creative, the more important it is that you don’t just steal another person’s work.

For a little more on the subject of inspiration vs. stealing, check out my post: The Planets.

Death Cloud

In case you haven't noticed, I like to share other creative projects from time to time, usually ones completed by friends of mine.

This week, I present the super ominous, super cool Death Cloud. It's a novel by my buddy RJ Batla from his Senturians of Terraunum fantasy series.

He's trying something new this time and running a Kickstarter campaign. Naturally, I've backed it.

If you're interested, you can check it out right here!

 

And hey, if you've got some cool creative project you're ready to share with the world, let me know about it. You never know, I might just check it out and post something.

AlphaMystica

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So, what’s the deal with AI these days?

What do they know? What are they capable of? What do they want from us? And how do they feel when we abandon them in the woods with their sad little faces staring longingly into our swiftly departing rearview mirrors?

You’ll find out all that and more from this article.

Designer Diary: The Search for AlphaMystica

Alright, I confess, it’s not really about that stuff I said before. But it is about AI and boardgames. 

Tysen Streib, an AI developer for games shares his insights and struggles as he works on an AI for a digital version of the game Terra Mystica.

I’ll admit, the article gets very technical by the end—even for a genius like me (yes, I still have to look up how to spell the word ”genius”), but the beginning part is especially interesting. It turns out that not only can AI beat the best chess player, they can also beat the best Go player.

First, there was AlphaGo, which learned by studying human games, then came AlphaZero, which was completely self-taught and markedly better than AlphaGo. It’s kinda freaky when you think about it too much (which I do), especially if you’re really into boardgames (which I am).

What other areas of life will AI develop complete mastery over their human competitors?

Well, I have yet to meet one able to make a better quesadilla than I can, so we’re still safe for the time being. But when that day comes ... be afraid, be very afraid.

mystery

I figured I’d continue on the Star Wars trend (ha, I almost wrote trek) from last week.

Most people over the age of 7 agree the Star Wars prequels (episodes 1-3) are not great. I suppose they have some redeemable qualities (if you look really hard) but I found most of the content to be either forgettable or unforgettably bad. Sorry, George. 

One of those memorably bad decisions has to do with the introduction of “midi-chlorians.” Apparently, they’re microscopic life forms that facilitate The Force, or something like that. Anyways, midi-chlorians brought The Force down quite a few notches on the coolness scale. 

But why are they so bad? Don’t we love getting a scientific explanation for things we don’t understand? Sometimes, yes. But not always. Here’s the big problem: they explain away the mystery.

Without mystery, creativity dies a slow, boring death.

More recently, Lucas announced his original plans for the later trilogy in the main storyline (ep7-9)

“[The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world. But there’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force… If I’d held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told.”  

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a terrible idea to me, for the very same reason. It takes everything people love about Star Wars, throws it out the window and instead dives into a detailed explanation of how The Force works. It mercilessly slaughters the mystery.

Without mystery, creativity becomes quite dull. Rather than surprising and exciting, it morphs into a prison of predictable pattern. It ceases to be new and therefore ceases to be creative.

Magic tricks are fascinating, but once the trick is revealed, that sense of awe and wonder is lost—it becomes a rational, ordinary thing.

As a writing teacher often reminded the class: RUE, resist the urge to explain. A story is much more interesting when it unfolds slowly. Readers enjoy the excitement of each reveal that comes with a new plot point, rather than being given all the juicy secrets in chapter one.

There is something to be said about not knowing. True, not knowing can drive us crazy sometimes. In our information overloaded world, we want to know everything. But there are times when knowing can be even worse than not knowing. How many times have you discovered something you were curious about only to look back and realize you would have been better off remaining in the dark?

Take the TV series, Lost, for example. When the writers tried to explain all that weird stuff happening on the island (smoke monsters and polar bears anyone?) during the last season, and especially the last episode, it felt like they were taking all the magic they had created and dumping it down the toilet.

Sure, it’s good to be well-informed and prepared rather than confused and befuddled, but there are times when a state of confusion can lead to greater innovations. Confusion forces you to question what you know, to look for a solution that isn’t obvious.

So, I say, don’t be afraid of the mysterious and strange, they might open a new window and allow a light of inspiration to shine on that creative mind of yours—one which is completely (and blessedly) devoid of midi-chlorians.