Sometimes, just before I fully awaken in the morning, my mind goes into a place of pure creativity. It is a wonderful place, full of shiny new ideas and golden possibility. For those brief moments just before I wake up, I feel the new idea lucidly, as though I can reach out and touch it or play with it. Then my eyes pop open and I rush to recall all of the details, to recreate the form in my mind again and get it down on paper. With age, I have begun to question if these little visions are creative gifts or merely self-indulgent distractions preventing me from actually finishing a great many side projects. It truly feels like both.
One thing is for certain: the promise of these new ideas is enough to make me push aside current projects and focus on the siren’s song of the new one. I have personally fallen victim to this sort of fickleness countless times in the past. It is something I wish to get better about, however, and I do attempt to mitigate these distractions and get on to the business of finishing my side projects.
For example, the most fun I have making video games is working on little game jam projects. Generally these game jams last for 2 – 7 days and require me to get to the core of an idea quickly. 2 days to make a game seems like an insanely short amount of time. Despite that fact, I almost always walk away feeling good about myself after I’ve taken part in one. I sat down and asked myself about this last night:
Inquisitive Me: “Why do you like to work on game jam projects so much?”
Creative Me: “Because the time constraints of game jams don’t leave time for distraction. I only have a short time frame to make something happen and if I waste time on doubt or indecision or playing around, I’ll have nothing to show!”
Inquisitive Me: “So it’s about having something to show for your efforts?”
Creative Me: “I guess so. It’s not a lot of fun to spend time and effort on something that completely fails.”
Inquisitive Me: “How do you feel about the failures?”
Creative Me: “They suck. I don’t even like to think of failure as an option, but when it does happen, I get really upset. Sometimes I learn something, but it always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Assuming that I wasn’t lying to myself, this means that I like finishing projects and I really dislike failing. Sounds about right to me, but that hasn’t stopped me from failing to finish my projects countless times in the past. But if I look at game jams and see what I’ve done, I’ve nearly always finished and always had something to show, even when the time frames were ridiculously short. This made me sit down and put together a list of things that game jams force me to be better about, and I think these can be applied to bigger programming projects.
- Have a clear goal in mind. Know what you’re making.
- Divide the workload into small tasks, not large ones. Try to make each task bite-sized.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Too much detail too early in the process can and will bog things down.
- Get a skeletal version of the game or feature working ASAP.
- Stay on track with tasks. There is no time for “feature creep” until all critical tasks are complete.
- Make tangible/visible improvements quickly and often. This will help the whole team stay energized.
- Shut out all outside distractions and be hyper-focused on the task at hand.
- Ask for help often when confronted by a roadblock. Ask a teammate or go to Google. Someone has probably already solved the problem.
- Communicate with teammates about current tasks, methods of implementation, and expected time frame to completion.
- Have a positive attitude. This is super fun!
- When it’s time to step away from the project and rest, do so.
I am coming to realize that we are all capable of doing great things if we can simply get out of our own way and get to work. If you want to see for yourself, go finish an old project that’s collecting dust. I guarantee it’ll feel better to finish what you’ve started than to dream about doing something new.
It’s what I’ll be trying to do!