Counting on Creativity

Counting on CreativityBy Camila Fisher.

A while ago I did a post on freelancing versus working full-time and how both can affect your creative process when it comes to game development or any other artistic field.

Today I will continue along the same line: Almost all of us see inspiration as a stroke of creativity that comes to us without any previous warning, often at the worst time possible, and puts in our brain what at the moment seems like the brightest, most groundbreaking idea or solution we could have ever come up with.

The problem comes when we count on our creativity to function in our daily work.

Some time ago I heard an interview where Amy Hennig said something like “I don’t know any writers who love writing. What they love is having written”. Keeping your creative side awake on a schedule can be a painful and draining process, that’s why I’d like to try and help by offering a few guidelines on how to do this and hopefully fuel a discussion about it, because it would be a huge lie to imply I’m even near mastering this myself.

1. The first and most commonly used tip to staying creative is also probably the most obvious: Build a reference database as big and detailed as you can, devour any material that you may find appealing and once in a while motivate yourself to do the same with the things that you don’t necessarily feel a burning passion for.

Not only will this practice become a source of useful information when you least expect it, but you could find yourself developing an interest for something you never thought you would and generating ideas that could add something extra to your projects.

2. Like Asimov’s Rules of Robotics, some of these tips interact with each other: Remember this is just a database and not a manual, keep your creativity on top of anything else and use extra information to add to it. Basically, tell your story and use your database to set the context.

3. Stop taking your work so seriously! Even if you are not self-employed and maintain a job at a company or a studio, coming up with the single most perfect piece of art your boss has ever seen isn’t going to do much for you if you use all of your time and initiative to create anything else for a week.

This was a specially hard lesson for me to learn until fairly recently. But at the sight of me being permanently disappointed by my own work, the best advice I received was “Look at what you consider to be your best piece of work and then look at the worst one. You’ve got to start thinking of that last one as your average, and when that average reaches the quality of your best one, you’ll know how much progress you’ve made and it’ll be time to demand more from yourself”.

4. Try new ways of getting your job done, even if it seems extremely systematical and downright boring sometimes. Experiment with ways to make it more efficient or simply different.

Try figuring out ways of gamifying your everyday tasks, like personal time challenges for example. Or research about resources that might help you automate processes that you’ve been doing manually up to now.

Anything that will break the routine and help your mind stay active.

5. Keep the final product in mind, it’s easy at times to get lost in your ideas, but creativity also requires discipline if you intend to express it in any way, much more if your job depends on it.

Remember you need to deliver a coherent result, making a game, illustration or short film about aliens, ninjas, robots, tragic romance, zombies, a man with amnesia, a dysfunctional family and a cow that speaks isn’t precisely going to make it easy for it to be taken seriously.

This is probably something that to everybody seems to be directed at some one else, not me. But beware of those moments of intense excitement for your projects, when everything seems like a good idea. Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound familiar.

6. Ask for feedback from everyone you can. This could be tricky sometimes, as your work becomes more professional, confidential, private or exclusive, projects may become a frequent thing in your life. But even if that’s the case, ask for feedback from your clients or co-workers, about your work as well as about your way of working and participating in the projects.

This process of constantly reinventing yourself in your job is a very efficient way of keeping your mind awake on the long term.

7. Take time for yourself. This is the final and probably most important tip. I know from experience early years in any creative industry can be a never-ending stream of work, unhealthy eating habits and nonexistent sleep.

But analyze carefully what work you need to do and what work you don’t. I remember letting a client go (even though I felt madly passionate about the project) when I realized my weeks had three or five days of unspeakable hours, because I simply wouldn’t sleep.

Don’t allow yourself to grow tired of what you love, leave always at least a little time for your hobbies, loved ones, or simply doing nothing.

Please remember the idea behind this is to create a dialogue. I will encourage everyone once again to include whatever you think I may have forgotten and I hope this helps!

Camila Fisher is a game artist from Chile with two years of experience in the mobile industry. She studied Multimedia Communications and currently works with Learning Shift and a few other super secret local projects. She also writes about games, technology and other things in her free time. Find her on twitter as @kachiito.