Cultivating a Creative Spirit: Avoiding the Traps of Pride and Arrogance

DSC_2048It’s natural to take pride in your work, and confidence in your own abilities is essential if you’re going to be able to make it as a professional creative. But that self-assuredness becomes an obstacle when it lapses into arrogance. There is, as I’ve said before, always the risk that it becomes about you, rather than the work or the people that you should be serving.

When you feel your audience, including your clients, will be drawn in by your name alone but the quality of the work is not there, you will go into a rapid decline. Arrogance leads you to be less critical of your own work, and therefore the work itself suffers. It invites others who are put off by your palpable ego to scrutinize your work more closely, and seek reasons to find fault.

Remember that your end product is not the work you create, but the reaction others have to your work. Take pride in your process, so that you will do your best and be able to fulfill a need with your work, whatever that need may be. Take pride that others appreciate what you’ve done and have found value in it. But always remember that your work is fleeting, and you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done.

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Wishlist- Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium RPG

dunerpgOne game I wish I owned is the ill-fated Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium RPG, originally to be published by Last Unicorn Games and ultimately getting a limited release from Wizards of the Coast after they bought LUG out. From the photos I’ve seen, it’s a beautiful book. From the reviews, it’s a great game. Katie is a huge Dune fan, so it’s a game that would get played, a lot.

With only 3,000 copies in existence, though, it’s a collector’s item. Over $200 for a used copy. I don’t want a collectible. I want to play it. I want to use the book. I want to let it suffer the wear and tear that comes from extensive use. I want it to be loved to death.

I hold out hope that someday someone will make a new Dune RPG. I’d really like it to be Margaret Weis Productions. They’ve done wonderful things with other licensed science fiction properties. I think that Cortex would be a good fit, too. Most importantly, though, the source material needs to be handled right, and leveraged for all of the game adventure potential that lies within. I think a Dune campaign would be a blast.

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Cultivating a Creative Spirit: The Cost of Fame

DSC_2048Don’t create things with the intent to get famous. That will trip you up. I’m not saying it’s bad to be famous, if it happens organically as the result of the work you do. I’m not saying that reaching an audience or having a platform is a bad thing. But being famous should not be the goal. If this is your pursuit, then your work becomes about pleasing other people, rather than serving them. It becomes about you, rather than the work itself. It also wasting opportunities to do something or say something meaningful.

Fame without foundation is also fleeting. It is better to have a body of work they people can relate to, and admire, and be inspired by. The work can last. The work can be your legacy. Your own ego is a fragile thing, and won’t hold up as long. Best to put your energy into the work, into doing your best, into creating something that serves people, and connects with people, than to serve your own need for attention. Good work will bring you all the validation you need.

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Surreal Talking Animal Lawyer Dance-Off

seadraculaToday’s #rpgaday topic is “favorite convention game,” which I’m choosing to interpret as a game I like to play at conventions. My favorite thing to do in general at conventions is to try new things, rather than play the same sort of stuff that takes place in my home game. I also like to play things that just don’t work in a home game, particularly American Freeform games.  May absolute favorite of these is Sea Dracula.

Sea Dracula, the character, is an anthropomorphic giraffe, and Animal City’s greatest attorney. You play a talking animal lawyer. You argue a court case. There’s a crime, typically absurd and surreal. You make accusations. You call witnesses, and question them. But you’re not limited to being the prosecution or the defense. You can introduce your own topics for debate, provided they are absurd. Blue would be a good color for mustard. Clouds are often far too fluffy. Ham should be reclassified as a vegetable. The stranger it gets and the more it distracts from the actual case, the better.

Yes, the game is silly. Participants score each other on points, but resolution typically comes down to a dance off. “Winning” the game in an epic game of Sea Dracula often involves a dance contest between two or more players. Bringing some sort of device to play music is helpful, but if you have players willing to beatbox, bang on tables, and/or sing a capella, even better.

The best game of Sea Dracula I ever played in happened at a convention. We were calling players seated at other tables, in the middle of playing other games, to be witnesses. They complied, gracefully, and the other players at their table were gracious while we interrupted their game for a couple of minutes and entertained them. That game ended, I recall, with a giant conga line snaking through the convention’s game floor, led by the Sea Dracula players and picking up people as it went along.

My wife Katie has been asking me what I want for my birthday in November. I think I want her to organize a game of Sea Dracula. I think getting to play a surreal dancing talking animal lawyer would be the best possible party imaginable.

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Cultivating a Creative Spirit

scream-cartoon-paintingThere’s a meme that’s been going around for a while about the cycle of self-esteem creatives go through. It begins with a lot of ego: this idea is great, this work I great, I’m great. Then the work gets hard and we start in with negativity: the idea sucks, this piece sucks, I suck. Then we get past the difficult part, and we start to find some balance: the idea’s not so bad, what you’ve created isn’t so bad, I’m not so bad. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, doubt, despair, and elation all roiling around nowhere but inside our on heads.

To overcome this I think that all writers, and all creative people, should learn to meditate. It’s a way to learn to concentrate, to better focus on what you’re doing, and to tune out distractions. It will help you to be alone with yourself and your thoughts, a necessary and important part of practicing your craft. It can also help you learn how to get into and out of a flow state more quickly and easily, which will increase your productivity. As we all know, the more productive we can be, the better the work will be, the more work of quality we’ll be able to produce, and the easier it will be to make a living from our creative output.

A large part of meditation involves dealing with thoughts and feelings as they arise, and learning how to deal with them. That can also mean learning to set them aside, so you can be present with what you’re doing. These obstacles — in Tibetan they’re called dön — often involve negative self-talk, worry about other problems, and generally being hard on yourself for mistakes, bad decisions, and past issues that you’re still carrying around. We need to learn to be gentle with ourselves, accept our own flaws and failings, forgive ourselves, and redirect our energy toward cultivating our strengths.

Over the coming weeks I’m going to write about the various obstacles we create for ourselves, and how we can better deal with them. I want to explore the idea that creative work itself can be a form of meditation, and how we can use the work we’re doing not only as a means of self-expression or a source of income, but as a path to self-improvement. I’m not saying I’ll have all of the answers, or even all of the questions, which is why I invite your suggestions and your feedback. We can pick through this joyful minefield of cultivating a creative spirit together.

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#GamerGate: Transforming Anger Into Something Approaching Wisdom


Misogyny: bad.

Lack of ethics in journalism: also bad. 

Beyond that, it seems difficult to discuss #gamergate without drawing down the wrath of someone, whether it’s a well-intentioned activist, a hateful troll, one disguised as the other, or some hybrid of the two. I’ve seen very little meaningful debate — I’m not saying it doesn’t exists — but I’ve seen a lot of what I’ll generously call “dialogue” that is less than constructive.

There are two issues that are of the most concern to me, and they’re not limited to the #gamergate phenomena. They are larger issues, of which this hashtag is merely the latest expression. The first is that, for any topic that would seem to be beyond debate, there will always be people willing to rise up and defend the dark side. Whether they feel there is a rational argument in favor of being vile, or playing devil’s advocate as an intellectual exercise, or are merely trolling, someone will appear to play up the subjective merits of things that a rational person would think has long ago been established as objectively bad. In this instance, the concept that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of who they are or what they’ve (allegedly) done, and that all people are entitled for fair and accurate reporting free from the specter of corruption.

The second issue I have is with people for whom these issues don’t seem to exist until they happen in their own back yard. There are people who have always cared about misogyny in our society, and who point out #gamergate to illustrate how the problem exists everywhere but tends to concentrate in certain areas. I know that there are people who watch the erosion of journalistic principles closely, and for whom #gamergate is just the latest expression of how far standards have fallen. Yet I think there’s a Venn diagram in there, where one circle would be labelled “my community” and the other circle marked “the problem”, and the small sliver of overlap would be what triggers rage and concern. It feels as if there’s a large segment that didn’t care about, or weren’t even aware of, the larger issues until it somehow impacted them. They would dwell happily in the bubble marked “community” with no concern for the problems, and seem more resentful that it’s happening here and harshing their mellow than actually giving a damn about the problem. They don’t care that misogyny exists; they care that the fight has come here. They don’t care about journalism; they care that the fallout is littering their back yard.

Once the #gamergate hashtag has run its course, essentially, I expect the majority of gamers to go back to talking about games, and to forget that these issues still exist in their community as well as in the world at large. Once they’ve cleaned up the the litter in their back yard, they’re not going to keep going and clean up the rest of the neighborhood, or the city, or address the larger global litter problem.

I’ve been scolded and told that you can’t make people care about the larger issues, and that I shouldn’t judge people because their new-found awareness of these problems isn’t transforming them into activists on a broader scale. I’ve been told, for decades prior to this little uprising, that I expect too much from people. I do wish that people would learn. I do wish that people would take these sorts of experiences and cultivate some wisdom and compassion from them, to learn and grow from them. I would hope that every time something like this flares up it’s a different issue, something we haven’t dealt with before, because the previous issues have been resolved for all time and no longer require debate.

Misogyny: bad.

Lack of ethics in journalism: also bad. 

This shouldn’t even require a discussion.

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To Do Well, First Do Good

“An obstacle is something that cuts the line of our intention. If, while sitting in meditation with the motivation of benefiting others, we realize we are thinking about work, then obviously or intention has been cut. We are no longer on our intended journey.”

- Sakyong Mipham

The old adage says that if you do what you love the money will eventually follow. The counter-argument to that is not every labor of love is capable of paying the bills no matter how deep your devotion to chasing that dream. It’s unlikely you’ll become a millionaire sitting around in your underpants playing video games and eating pizza. There are some criteria for success beyond wanting it really, really badly.

The reason loving your work results in financial success, in my mind, is because you want to do your best possible work. You will practice your craft because you enjoy it. You will get better at it. To apply the quote above, you’re not trying to get good so you can make money. You’re trying to get good because you care about what you’re doing and you want to be good. Your devotion is to doing your best for its own sake, not for the money you’ll make. You’re not thinking about how to make money, you’re thinking about how you can produce the best quality whatever-it-is that you can. And the highest quality will result in the highest value financially. If you start thinking about financial motives, rather than doing what you’re doing for its own sake, you’re sabotaging yourself.

Advice for entrepreneurs — and I believe that deep down, all creatives are entrepreneurs — often includes the notion that what you’re doing has to solve a problem. I’d tweak that to say that whatever you do should somehow be in the service to others. Think about how your creative output will be used. Will it inform? Will it entertain? Will it validate, include, encourage, or heal? Never underestimate the power of your own work. When I work on games, I try to design with the idea of players having the most fun, and my duty to provide them with the best experience possible. When I write just about everything else, I think about what I want the reader to come away with, and how that will add value to their lives, educating them, validating their opinions, making them feel less alone, something, anything that serves their needs rather than my own financial needs.

If you’re serving others well, and you’re filling their needs, then demand for your services will increase. If you approach your work with love, enjoying what you do because it not only fulfills you creatively but serves others, you will be successful. In that respect, do not think about the money. Do good, and ultimately, you will do well.

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Buying Things at Conventions

rpg03Today’s #rpgaday question pertains to the best convention purchase I’ve ever made. I actually had to stop and think about whether I’ve bought things at conventions. Of course, I have. Most of what I’ve acquired were smaller games from small companies or author-publishers, so that they’re getting 100% of the profits and not having to split them with distributors. Not that I have anything against distributors, but as a one-man operation myself I understand how much every extra dollar counts.

In many cases I got to play those games with the designers, and got their autograph on the book to commemorate the occasion. I don’t view those as purchasing things. I see that as investing in an experience. I can buy a game online. It’s not an activity that’s unique to a convention. I’m not a collector, so I’m not looking for rarities and oddities and other bits of memorabilia. The whole point of conventions for me, is to get out and about and meet people, try new things, and have experiences different than I get from a home game. I especially enjoy the opportunity to see how a designer runs his or her own game, and to be able to pick their brains about various and sundry rules and setting decisions.

Of course, those purchases aren’t necessary to those experiences. Every designer I’ve ever met at a con has been more than willing to talk up their games, whether you buy something or not. I like buying their games because I want them to feel appreciated, to validate that I had a good time sitting at their table, and that I value the work that they do. That’s also part of the experience — supporting the industry, and the hobby, and the people that make it possible. That’s much better than merely acquiring more stuff.

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