Tag Archives: inspiration

Author Toolbag: Inspiration

what-inspires-you-v2Anyone who has ever tried to write a story or poem knows the most terrifying thing in the world is a blank page.  You can spend hours, days, weeks, months, even years paging through books, reading online, checking facebook… all to avoid that dreaded first page.

For those of you who have written that first page, there are many more obstacles.  There’s the dreaded middle, where you know where you need to end up but there is all this “stuff” in the way that has to be done first.  For me, there’s the hundred page blues, where I hit one hundred pages and I just start wondering, is any of this good?  There are points where you feel like you’re writing the best story ever and then suddenly you are stuck, everything has gone horribly wrong and you don’t know what to do.

The good news is: the answer is simple.  Sit your butt down in front of the computer (or typewriter or pen and paper, etc) and write.  If you’re stuck on your current story, write something else.  Put words to page.

Sounds easy, right?   Well, if you’re like me, finding that time to sit in front of the computer is the hard part.  So how can you best prepare yourself so that you ensure the time isn’t wasted?

Seek inspiration.  I commute to my day job, which eats up around two hours a day (even after having moved closer, traffic in Denver is absurd).  I spend a good portion of that time thinking and I try to spend it thinking about plot, characters, and writing structure for works-in-progress and upcoming stories.  I also listen to music, which helps getting the creative juices flowing.

Getting outside is another source of inspiration for me.  Seeing the sun is always good.  Walking/hiking in a scenic setting is great for wrapping my head around a fantasy setting, especially with the mountains here in Colorado.  Going for a run and doing a morning workout is also good for me, since I generally get so bored running that I have to think about something.  Exercise is also cathartic, it helps you to relieve stress and releases all kinds of good chemicals in your body and brain.  What that means in layman speak is if you do some physical exercise, you might be a little less stressed out when you sit down to write.  If you have a busy life, it can clear your head so that you focus on what you want to do.

On the other hand, sleeping on it is a viable technique.  If I can get a short nap in before I write, I generally find I write better.  (It is a rare occasion with a very active toddler in the house.  Waking up to being hit in the head with a metal tractor is not a good way to start writing your novel).  A nap can act as a sort of reset, letting you get into things after letting your subconscious sort things out and quiet itself a bit.

These are all techniques I use, but everyone is different.  Writing is a personal experience, what inspires you to write is also going to be personal.  I know a writer who can only write in absolutely quiet conditions, distant music, a conversation in another room, these all make it so she can’t put words to page.  I know another writer who cranks up loud music and still another one who prefers to write while listening to the TV.  These are all viable tactics, I suppose, though some are easier than others to achieve.  In short: find what works for you and do it!

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Computer Games: Retro Mode: X Wing, Tie Fighter, and X Wing Alliance

Going up against a Star Destroyer in a snub fighter, what's not to like about X Wing?
Going up against a Star Destroyer in a snub fighter, what’s not to like about X Wing?

I still remember the first time I bought X wing.  I was in high school at the time.  I spent $40 at the time, was so excited by the idea, couldn’t wait to get it home and hop in the cockpit of my very own spaceship.

Of course, I didn’t know much about computers and discovered I’d bought a mac version of the software, which I couldn’t then exchange (store wouldn’t allow exchanges of computer software).  Money wasted, in a lot of ways.

But the dream lived on, and when I saved up, I got a version of Tie Fighter that worked, complete with a joystick and I settled down to play.  Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t a very good simulation for actual space combat.  Ships moved at WWII aircraft speeds (sometimes WWI), the graphics were great for their time (but very dated now), the physics were completely inaccurate, and the overall gameplay was relatively simple and linear compared to modern games.

What the game did do, however, was tell a great story, give challenging scenarios that required skills, thought, and even tactics.  This further evolved with the follow on game a few years later with X Wing Alliance, which updated the graphics and allowed the player to play through a fun campaign, as well as evolving the multiplayer a bit more and allow crafting of scenarios.

What did I get from these games?  Well, they let you live out some of the most exciting aspects of the Star Wars universe, putting yourself in the pilot of a tiny ship and pitting your skills against not only the computer, but other people.  They were tremendously fun, but they also were a key aspect of inspiration to me.  They opened up a section of the Star Wars universe that was, until then, sort of vague and abstract.  You could not only see what it was like to be in a military unit in this universe, but you could see how the flight mechanics, technology, and tactics could unfold.  You could witness the awesome firepower of a Star Destroyer and also work together as a team to take one down using outdated snub fighters and hot-shot piloting.

I still maintain that a lot of modern games lack that same spark.  Games like Mass Effect and Eve Online are RPGs, where it is the skill of the character rather than the player that determines an outcome.  This is fine, in many ways, but it also somewhat distances the player from his accomplishments.  With an RPG, you can ‘build’ a character to accomplish tasks.  While you might take some pride in taking down a ship or discovering some new planet, you aren’t the one doing it… your character is.  At most, you have skill in using the character’s abilities… which isn’t the same thing at all.

With simulator games like X Wing and it’s follow-ons, the player has a direct connection to their accomplishments.  I think that brings a whole new level of excitement to the game.  In many ways, getting into space behind a joystick is the pinnacle of my dreams… and doing so as me versus a character is far better.  Other games, like Freelancer also explored and expanded on the groundwork, adding more options, entire worlds, star systems, and other mythologies as well as a bit more accuracy in physics and technology.  They still have a WWII fighter feel, but they have entire star systems to explore and discover, with options to trade, explore, defend, and pirate.

These games, in many ways, allowed their player base to live out their dreams of reaching the stars, if only in a limited sense, in a way that RPGs can’t do, in a physical, exciting fashion that brings the risks and rewards of space to the player.  I’ll gladly admit that those old space simulation games inspired me with ideas and possibilities, and in many ways were responsible for keeping my excitement over space travel alive.  I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for the excitement that these games gave me in my youth.  Unfortunately, these types of games became less and less common in the last decade, with most of the focus going to First Person Shooter games, sports games, or RPGs/MMORPGs.  Space fighter simulations basically vanished, especially as big developers, like EA, consolidated a lot of the gaming companies and set about producing incrementally improved games based off their big sellers.

Check back soon for my next post: Computer Games: Modern Space Simulations.