How Process Changes You

I’ve been struggling with the start to the book I want to write. The urge to write it hasn’t faded, and I have the opening scene in my head. The problem is that I’ve changed in the many years since I used to write regularly.

When I used to write, I would sit down with joy and excitement. I’d probably been thinking about what would happen next as I went about my day’s work, so I was eager to start. Once I started writing, though, it was as if I were watching events unfold outside of my control. I depicted the occurrences–the brush strokes were mine–but the events themselves felt surprising even to me.

Afterward, I’d put on my editor hat and ruthlessly purge extra words, trim the story down, and make whatever changes I needed to tell the tale I wanted to tell. I wasn’t afraid to make any alterations, even ones that radically changed the course of the book, if they improved the story or the flow. Even in the rewriting, though, I would hear and see the events happening and although the choice to make the change was mine, what happened felt again like I was bearing witness.

Now, all these years later, I make my living as a creative professional. I literally have to solve tough creative problems every day. Those problems often involve characters and stories. Yet as a professional, my process changed and, in turn, changed me.

When you’re creative lead on a game that costs a ton of money/time/people, you have a lot resting on your decisions. They have to be well-reasoned, logical yet creative–something you’re convinced is the right thing for the player at the moment he encounters it, but also the right thing for the team, the amount of time you have left, and the technology.

More important, these decisions have to be carefully planned. Some of the most dysfunctional, unhappy, crunch-heavy teams I’ve ever seen were the result of one of more creative leads who flew by the seat of their pants. I’m not knocking intuition or even hunches–I have them too–but you owe it to your company and your team to stop for a minute and mentally walk the path of every change to make sure you’re not leading them astray. I take that responsibility very, very seriously.

So now, when I sit down to write, I feel stuck. I have no plan. My memory (which is never the best) vaguely recalls that magical feeling when writing used to be spontaneous, when the book came to life for me. Yet, the rest of my brain tries to prevent me from moving forward until I have every single moment of the book outlined in detail.

I actually started that outline. I began going down the logical, planning path. Then I decided I’m going to learn to let go again. It’s not going to be easy and I’m probably going to have to set some rules to do it (like a certain number of words a day). I’ll bet my tricky brain will find all kinds of excuses to browse the web or watch the X-Files. I’m going to persist, though, and get past this block.


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