change of place

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Do you ever find yourself in a mental rut?

You’ve been chewing on a problem for a while, much like a cow and her cud, but so far you’ve got nothing to show for it but the bland taste of cud in your mouth. Ew.

You sit down to write and nothing comes. You just can’t figure out the next step for your grand business plan.

Here’s an idea: why not try a new locale?

This article I found (actually, it landed in my work inbox) offers some strong support for changing your environment as a way to stimulate your brain and help you be more productive, whether you’re on the job or working your creative craft.

Here’s a snippet of said article:

Checking off your tasks in a new location is a way to exercise your brain’s neuroplasticity. Essentially, when confronted with new stimuli your brain responds by creating new pathways and mechanisms to accomplish tasks. So what you see as being more efficient in a different location is actually your brain thinking about the tasks in a different light. By doing this, you are climbing out of the stale rut you were in before, activating your brain’s ability to think about things in a new way. 

Besides relocating, there are other things you can do as well. Try listening to some classical music or alpha waves. Try activating your olfactory senses with some new spices or going to a fragrant restaurant. In short, shock your mind by giving it something out of the norm.

Just be careful where you put your nose while you’re out on the hunt for some creative stimulation. Not all smells were created equal.

pain zone

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There’s the cone zone and the danger zone. But what about the pain zone?

Let’s be honest, no one really likes pain, at least not when it’s happening to them. Let me rephrase that, no sane person likes pain. I myself happen to have a very strong aversion to the stuff. I must be quite sane.

Pain is not fun. Pain is not enjoyable. Pain is highly unpleasant.

However, pain is a great indicator when something is wrong. Those who are unable to experience pain often end up causing themselves severe damage. They are a danger to themselves.

But what about those unwilling to experience it? It’s another sort of danger.

For many, pain is a limiter. Once they reach the threshold of pain, they stop. For others, it’s an open invitation.

After reading this post from Pressfield (who else?), I can’t stop thinking about what it means to be deep in the pain zone, and how to willingly stay there.

It’s a very short post, but in case you just can’t be bothered, here’s the gist: the difference between someone who is good and someone who is great is their capacity to go deeper into the pain zone and stay longer.

Personally, I’ve been holding this thought while doing my regular sets of pushups. Even when it’s burning and I want to collapse to the floor, I think, can I stay in the pain zone a little longer? Can I do just a few more?

Not all pain is physical. Indeed, some of the greatest pains can’t be felt in the normal sense. 

How many get stuck, unwilling to press on because their own personal pain zone is too much for them to bear? 

Does that pain zone keep you from accomplishing your goals and reaching your dreams? Does it leave you stuck in Decent-ville, right outside the threshold of Great-topia?

I invite you to feel a little bit more of that burn, to let the sting endure just a moment longer before you back down. Then, when you come back to it again, stronger than before, go just a little further. 

Is it fun? Heck no. But when you learn how to endure and you finally watch your  pain lead to progress, you’re gonna smile through the tears.

mediocre

Have you ever felt like your hobbies weren’t good enough? Or maybe you considered starting a new hobby but never began because the bar for excellence seemed way out of reach.

If so, it’s a downright shame.

Personally, I’ve taken on many-a hobby over the years, some to a greater extent than others, but I’ve found all of them rewarding in their own ways. 

I dove into the fine craft of painting miniatures just so I could have nice figures for a board game that a friend had given me. It’s not something I plan to do again, but I was happy with the outcome and glad to have a deeper understanding of the process.

Lately, I’ve been trying my hand at piano. As is often the case for a skill with a broad spectrum of talent, I began thinking, “hey, I’m not too bad at this!” and quickly shifted to, “oh, this is super hard, I don’t know if I’ll ever get very good.”

But you know what? I still enjoy hitting those keys and making some kind of sound that isn’t totally terrible. Right now, I’m just happy if I can go through one full scale, back to front, without messing up the fingering.

All this to say, you should check out this article by Tim Wu 

In Praise of Mediocrity

In it, he makes a strong case for not only having a hobby, but also enjoying it regardless of your skill level.

I tend to agree; it takes a lot of the pressure off and makes things more fun that way. After all isn’t that what a hobby should be all about?

As You Were Saying

Here’s some exciting news: I just launched a podcast with a friend of mine, Gordon Burroughs.

Just in case you couldn’t tell from the title and image, the name of the podcast is:

As You Were Saying

And you can click the name above to find it in iTunes.

Throughout the show, Gordon and I will discuss a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, culture, technology, entertainment, and faith. We also have a jolly good time responding to feedback and surprising one another with ridiculous questions. You can listen to the introductory episode 0 if you’d like to find out more.

Creating the podcast has been a learning experience to be sure. We recorded three (or was it four?) practice episodes and have experimented with a few different software and hardware setups. Our first attempt at an official episode went, how shall I say it, a bit sideways. So we canned it and tried again.

But now we’re up and rolling. It’s been a growing experience. I’m learning to be less self-conscious about everything I say and worry less about how my voice sounds (it seems way better in my head than on the recording).

The podcast isn’t specifically about creativity, though it is certainly one of my creative endeavors, and a fun one at that. It’s actually being hosted from this site and, for the time being, you can find it right here.

I’m looking forward to finding out where it goes from here and hope you give it a listen and maybe even a review.

Tyrus

Even though Google may be taking over the world and all, I do so enjoy their Google doodles about people of importance. Often they choose lesser known figures who have made a great impact in some way.

Recently, Google featured Tyrus Wong, a Chinese-American artist, who passed away a couple years back. I’d never heard of him before but I’m glad I know of him now. 

Tyrus was the driving creative force behind the animated Disney movie, Bambi. He was also a major influence on the artistic direction of movies like Rebel Without a Cause, and his work can be found in many household items such as dish wear and greeting cards. Besides all that, he also designed really fantastic kites that look like animals.

Turns out he had a pretty hard go of things in the US, traveling here with his father as a young boy, leaving the rest of his family behind. He endured a lot of racism and didn’t receive much recognition until later in life (he lived to 106). But his work has now made it into museums alongside some other greats like Picasso and Matisse.

Besides being in awe of the man’s brushwork, I always appreciate creatives who are good at more than just one thing. Hey, why not be a painter of movies and dinnerware as well as a kite maker? As I’ve found while working on writing and game design, creativity has so many applications. Why limit yourself to one? Just don’t try to do them all at once.

There isn’t much more to this post than to say you should look the guy up, just do an image search of “Tyrus Wong” and be amazed.

success secrets

It’s not hard to find a ten-step list leading to almost guaranteed success in just about any field. While these lists don’t always have exactly ten steps, they’re pretty common nowadays.

I’ll admit, they can be helpful in breaking down an otherwise complicated process to its bare essentials, but such guides often do not lead to the success they promise—at least not immediately.

Here’s the problem: there usually isn’t just one formula that works all the time for everyone. Otherwise we’d all be rich, famous, bestselling authors with amazing six-pack abs.

There are just too many factors and too many complications to know for sure that the same course of action will yield predictable results for everyone.

Like it or not, most of our long-term goals will take a good amount of time and dedicated effort. Those promised shortcuts may exist, but they’re few and far between.

That said, I got a lot out of this article from Paul Kilduff-Taylor on The 10 Secrets to Indie Game Success (and Why They Do Not Exist)

Even though I’m not an indie game designer, I discovered some great insights that could be applied to creative design in general.

To entice you, here are a couple quotes from the article that I quite liked:

Your sojourn on this plane of reality is incredibly short and your perception of time accelerates as you get older — you will not have the hours, or the mental space, to work on everything that matters to you in your lifetime. If you can, spend your time creating a legacy that you will be proud of. 

 

Confidence, rather than arrogance, comes from being able to see the true value in yourself and in your work. You can be polite and humble but still have high self-confidence: in fact, these traits often go hand in hand. You do not have to become an all-singing all-dancing extrovert, but if you have issues in this area then you do owe it to yourself and others to work on them: the rewards will extend well beyond game development.

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.

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

 

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

 

Con-unity

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This summer, I attended a Christian writers conference called Realm Makers. It wasn’t the first Christian conference I’d been to, but it was my first writers con.

In short, it turned out even better than I had expected (not that I had a lot of expectations going in, good or bad). I met many a fine folk and gleaned quite a bit from the seminars and panels I attended. I boarded the plane home feeling rejuvenated and restored. Plus, I have a few new books and a bunch of new friends now.

There is something to be said about being around creative people with similar goals, mindsets, and experiences to your own. The sense of belonging I felt there was wonderful. It was a little like being home but with 300 people I’d never met before.

Generally, while out in public I have my guard up. Now, I’m a rather friendly guy, but I operate with a sense that most people I’ll meet don’t truly understand or resonate with where I’m coming from. Meeting someone I have a strong affinity with doesn’t happen often, even at other conferences and conventions I’ve gone to.

This event was an exception. Not a single person I talked to felt like a stranger, despite how different our personalities, backgrounds, and even appearance might have been. There was a connection, a feeling that, on some level, this person gets me, they’ve dealt with (and maybe still are dealing with) some of the same struggles I have.

Creatives, if you can find a place and people such as that—people who you can truly identify with—I highly recommend you make a strong effort to attend. Yes, such things can be expensive (besides just the registration, there’s travel, accommodations, and a time commitment). Despite my severe lack of sleep during the con, I felt refreshed by the end.

It’s healthy to live and work around people who have a different outlook and walk of life than your own, rather than living in an echo chamber of people who all sound the same. But it sure helps to take the occasional opportunity to refocus your creative energy as you glide along, squawking merrily with some birds of a feather at your side. 

Oh, did I mention we ended the whole shebang with an epic Nerf gun war? Totes awesome. And the sweet pair of mugs I won in a raffle didn’t hurt neither!