I don’t have an Infrared Isolation chapter ready for today (Holidays, y’all), so I figured we might as well return to an old classic instead of just putting up a short post about skipping a week. Plus, I felt the need to stretch, metaphorically speaking, after some rest, and figured this would be as good a way as any.
I don’t typically believe in inspiration or motivation as forces that drive creativity. I think discipline is a much better tool to rely on, since its very nature means it can be counted on no matter (barring extreme circumstances, of course). I feel like that should be pretty obvious, given my daily routines, my penchant for writing posts a week ahead of time, and the general self-management that sets my days. Still, I believe there is a place in the creative process for motivation and inspiration. They shouldn’t ever be what you feel is responsible for pushing you to do work, to create things, but should be allowed to make the process easier. Inspiration isn’t for the moment of getting to work but for firing up your mind at any time with some new idea. If I needed inspiration to start a blog post, maybe 20% of my current posts would exist (motivation doubles that number, but that’s still not much) and few of them would be published on anything resembling a schedule.
Most inspiration comes in moments of discussion with other people, while I’m consuming other media, or while I’m letting my mind wander away from whatever I’m actually doing. Most of the time, I’m not in a position to start writing the moment I’m inspired and that feeling of passion has usually burned out by the time I can get to work. I don’t think the passionate drive of inspiration has ever carried me entirely through whatever I wound up working on, either. For instance, Infrared Isolation was a story inspired by a dream I had about wandering a snowing wasteland, passing through moments, finally finding a sanctuary, and then arriving just in time to see it destroyed by a monster. I had that dream over half a decade ago and none of the passion I felt for the story I dreamt of lasted until I even started working on the idea later that same day. Poetry tends to get a bit further through the process before the inspiration burns out, but even a shorter poem I wrote yesterday, prompted by the crystallization of something I’ve been feeling for months upon seeing something online, didn’t make it through the end of the writing process. Eventually, I had to actually figure out how to make the idea work and that’s not very conducive to passionate labor.
Most recently, I was inspired by a comment from a friend during our game of The Ground Itself. We were wrapping things up, going through what we didn’t know was the final card before the game’s end, and I was setting up a development based on an earlier card. I’d had an idea that seemed fun, since it explored the whole “actions have consequences” idea I love including in my D&D games, and introduced it as what turned out to be the final action of the game. During the wrap-up, one of my players tweaked things a little bit, saying that the moon immediately rose instead of setting (my previous action established that the moon was always visible, even after setting, as it continued to orbit the planet). In that moment, as we asked questions and slowly fleshed out what this last tweak meant about the world that we’d built, my mind was elsewhere as it raced through the implications, what they might mean, and the really exciting idea I’d formed in that moment.
This moment of inspiration wasn’t me being filled with creative drive (I already was, thanks to the fun I’d been having with my friends) and it wasn’t some brand new idea appearing in my mind, fully formed and ready to go. It was a thought sparked by something someone said that created the missing link for an idea I’d been working through already. It was the last puzzle piece I needed before the larger picture came into focus and made it clear where all the other pieces of the puzzle belonged. It was a small idea that sharpened and refined the big idea I was already working through. Because of my discipline, because of the work I was already doing, because of the effort I had already put forth, this moment of inspiration turned into something solid, something real, and something I could work with in a way that would be lasting, fun, and stronger than any swift flight of fancy could be.
I’m excited to continue playing D&D with this group of friends, especially after the really bad rolls that the players had during the initial bit of playing we did following the end of The Ground Itself (it had been four months since we’d had a proper D&D session for this campaign, due to scheduling issues, so we were all eager to roll dice again). A lot of setup got paid off right away, a lot more has taken further steps toward revelation, and everything is in a state of potential change and danger. All of which means I’ve got my work cut out for me, as I develop these ideas, work on creating encounters and story threads that will work in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and figure out how to make sure my players are given what they want out of the story we’re telling. After all, I have to provide them the opportunities they need to tell the stories they want, rather than tell those stories myself. It takes a bit more work, in my experience, but it’s worth it. Discipline will see it done, now that the inspiration of that moment has passed.
I think that’s what a lot of people miss, when it comes to things like writing and any kind of creative process. It takes a lot of work. Some people might make it look easy (like my ability to pivot and improvise in a TTRPG session), but it really takes a whole lot of work to get to the point where I can do that. I am only as good at pivoting and changing things on the fly as I am because I’ve spent so much time developing the world and the people in it. If I know all of that, then it is easy to change things on the fly since I know how people and the world will react to stuff rather than being stuck with the one inspired idea I had. In fact, the only reason I can work through a blog post like this in under an hour is because I’ve put so much work into writing these in the past. Practice and discipline will always get you further than raw talent. It’s nice to have both, of course, but I’d pick discipline and practice over talent any day.