Sometimes, you’ve got to make sacrifices. Like most creative pursuits, both writing and game development are built around the art of compromise. As a creator who doesn’t really follow a strict plan for my projects, I’ve found that the vast majority of my work turns out rather different from how I originally intended it to be. One thing I’ve learned after doing this writing thing for so long is that the creative brain is complex and dynamic, and rarely ever static. If you’re serious about getting any kind of long term project finished, you need to accommodate your changing creative energy, and that means that you have to learn to make your work ethic flexible. That’s the point of this week’s blog post: the importance of allowing yourself room to play with changing ideas, and learning that it’s okay to compromise and deviate from your plan. It makes the act of working on your project more fun, and it’s when you’re enjoying your craft that you turn out your best work, don’t you think?
For me, it seems that an artist’s original vision is not the same as the finished work. I know of a lot of writer and game developer friends who lose motivation to continue working on their projects because they don’t seem to realise this. Some creators have tightly structured, complex plans for what they want their work to be, and many times, I’ve seen them get burnt out because their quest to have their work realised exactly as they originally envisioned it doesn’t leave them any room to play around. My closest writer friend has a 20,000 word plan for his novel that he follows as closely as he can, right down to the paragraph level. As a result of this, he finds that he’s only able to work on it when he’s in the right “mood” for the style he’s trying to follow in that particular piece. Obviously, he doesn’t get to work on it regularly. It isn’t an isolated case, either. I’ve got another friend who’s working on a fantasy RPG in RPG Maker VX. He’s been working on it for years, perpetually re-balancing game mechanics and tweaking systems to make sure they perfectly reflect his original vision. This game still isn’t in a playable form. My friend’s so trapped within the confines of his original plan that he can’t progress forward. In the end, he doesn’t enjoy working on his game anymore, and eventually, he’ll drop it so that he can finally address that other niggling idea that won’t leave him alone.
It’s a situation that I try to not let happen to me. I hate writer’s block, and I hate being stuck knowing what I have to do but not knowing how to do it. That’s why I try to keep my writing style flexible – if I don’t feel like my piece is working the way it is, or if working on it is starting to grow stale, I just go back a little bit and take it in a different direction. I’m not haunted by the need to work on something different, because I’m willing to change my original plan, sacrifice something that isn’t working at the moment, and incorporate my feelings and ideas of the moment into it. I don’t like feeling as if my time has been wasted. In this sense, it’s not important that the finished product exactly matches the original vision I had for it – what’s important is that the final product is something that I’m happy I spent my time working on and that I’m satisfied was a worthwhile effort.
I’ve done it many times before and it works for me: Legionwood was originally meant to be on a much larger scale, and I cut out a whole continent (that’s still visible in the game files) because it was bogging me down. The original One Night had boss battles and more characters – I cut those out because I felt that the game was becoming too focused on action. Meanwhile, One Night 2: The Beyond originally began as a direct sequel to the first game, though I felt that the story was a stale ripoff of the first game and redid everything halfway through to feel more fresh. My novel, Sun Bleached Winter was originally meant to be the first part of a trilogy. I planned for it to be a lot longer and to introduce characters and plotlines that would be expanded on in two further books. At some point or another, for all of these works, I started to feel that my original plan wasn’t working for me. It didn’t reflect what I felt like doing at the time, or I was struggling to find the right way to go about doing it. For me, it was neccesary to make these changes to these projects and take them in a new direction that worked better. If I didn’t, I probably would still be working on all of them. I did what I felt like I needed to do and made myself flexible, and I’m satisfied with the results.
While it’s not something that will work for everyone, being flexible and giving up the pursuit of the original vision does wonders for me to help fight off writer’s block. I understand that for some people, the original plan is everything, and that if they even think of diverging from it, they’ll feel like they’re going against their intentions as an artist and lose focus even more, but consider this: Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Delaway was supposed to be a collection of short stories, James Joyces’ The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was scrapped once and subsequently rewritten with a completely different tone, and one of my favourite video games of all time, Resident Evil 2, once started off as something completely different. Compromise isn’t for everyone, but it worked for the creators of these works. Nobody denies that the final products are pretty awesome. Maybe it will work for you, too?