Thursday, December 24, 2015


Let's talk for a moment about the importance of other people in our creative process.

Consider the moment that we have an inspiration: we’re resting, waiting for something, listening to a piece of music or watching a show, and suddenly there is an idea. Sometimes it arrives because we’ve been thinking about a problem and sometimes it appears out of the blue because of something we’ve heard or we’ve learned that let’s us put mental pieces together that were formerly lying separate on the table of our minds.

It feels great, it feels right, there is a sudden rush of comprehension (it is actually dopamine, but never mind about that) and we feel energized. If it has something to do with a project we’re interested in, we rush at the project and begin to focus that new energy upon it, sometimes to the exclusion of things we ought to be doing instead. It is always fun to work at something new rather than a project that is ongoing and has become dull.

This is rarely seen as a danger, but it is. New ideas are beguiling, particularly our own ideas. They make sense to us and that’s often mistaken as proof that these ideas will make sense to other people. We forget that our viewpoint is often skewed, that it is designed for our personal experience based upon those things we struggle with that make us who we are as people. We’re all fucked up in our own peculiar way and this is what makes us different.

That is why we should always be questioning those moments of inspiration, because these are bound to be distorted by our perspective. All things that inspire us do so because they speak to us, personally . . . and that is rarely a universal dialogue. In fact, the more powerful the inspiration feels the more certain it is that the inspiration is cued perfectly to our specific brains – and will probably be completely wasted on other people.

Art – and here I include role-playing and DMing, as I always have – must be accessible. It must speak to others. Not every other person in the world, obviously, but to enough people to make it valuable to them, not just to the maker. Otherwise, however beautiful it may seem to the maker, it really is just crap. In that I mean it is like a bowel movement that makes us feel great for having it in the morning but is of zero importance to the rest of the world.

That’s why at the moment of inspiration the creator should stop and think – is this going to matter to someone other than me. There’s no actual way you or I can ever be sure, however. That’s why it always serves well to have others we can trust that we can ask.

We have to do more than ask, however. We have to accept their judgement. We have to hear what others have to say about our ideas and be willing to compromise ourselves based on their judgement. That is why it has to be people we can trust. Because speaking to ourselves and agreeing that, perhaps, that inspiration wasn’t such a good one after all, is the hardest thing for an artist to do.

In fact, most would-be artists never learn to do it. And remember, once again I’m including DMs here. It is just so damn hard to suspend our own judgement and see the world from outside our own minds – but this is what makes it possible to produce a work that others will care about.

Some artists do get lucky. They happen to have a vision that others happen to share. But this is incredibly rare – and most often, the vision they share is a rather ordinary thing. For example, the vision that exists behind most children’s books or that supports every day morality about how children should be raised, what people in general find repugnant, things we all hope to have someday (like money) and so on.

For a DM designing an adventure, chances are the sort of inspiration being pursued isn’t like this. Simply because this is the interest in question, the viewpoint of the inspiration is probably somewhat skewed. We gamers are all a bit ‘out there,’ after all.

The best thing is to have someone – someone private, obviously, since the players don’t need to know what might be happening – that can be presented the idea. It’s good to have someone who isn’t actually playing in the world but understands the game well enough to give an honest opinion. Just to keep us aware that we’re not always right.

Just an addendum: the absence of this, or the sense that success creates that it is no longer necessary, is what destroys an artist’s potential for continuing to produce more good work. The worst thing an artist can believe is that they already know what’s great – based on the proof they feel they have based upon their former glory.


  1. Such an ugly, awful, but true post.

    However, what should we do when the thing that "artistic thing" that helped us succeed (because it did call to others, and not just ourselves, personally) no longer fires our imagination? What happens when we become disenchanted with it, grow beyond it, whatever? When we are ready to evolve to a new stage or level of "art" but the art isn't one that calls to others? Do we resign ourselves to the drudgery of churning out what has always succeeded? Do we give up creating artistic work, because the work we want to do is too personal, too difficult to comprehend by others?

    Your work (with regard to D&D) is done for yourself and your players and is successful for those audiences. There is probably a way you could package it to make it palatable to the masses, commercialize it in some way ("Alexis's Guide to Fantasy Trade Tables" or something similarly silly), but doing so is unimportant (or, rather, of lesser priority) to the manner in which you currently operate, the objectives you currently have...though that means that people who don't share your priorities end up staring, uncomprehending and what you have wrought and how you choose to "play."

    Maybe, at that moment of inspiration, the artistic creator need not just ask, "is this too personal to me to have any appeal to others?" but also "and does that matter?" I suppose your blog post is simply about not having a delusion that our favorite shit will smell wonderful to everyone. One might infer (in addition) that you consider such work (if it IS "too personal") to be unworthy of pursuit. I'm not sure that's the case.

  2. "I'm not sure that's the case."

    That's why, JB, I said not to trust your own judgement.

    Create your idea, show it to other people, ask their opinion. It does allow you to still create the idea - but it also allows the perspective that the creator does have: an outside perspective.


If you wish to leave a comment on this blog, contact with a direct message. Comments, agreed upon by reader and author, are published every Saturday.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.