Start From Yes

When writing in a collaborative setting, I feel a room is far more productive when instead of “starting at no” and running a crucible of ideas where only the “best” survive, folks “try to get to yes” and ideas get supported and built upon until they’re sharpened and clear.

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The latter is much harder to do than you’d think. Writing is weird in that to get anything on the page and show it to other humans you have to have a healthy dose of ego, but to edit and improve and shape your drafts you need to remove yourself from it.

Collaborative writing is even harder. It’s easy to SAY we don’t attach ourselves to our ideas and will accept or remove pieces based on objective judgement, but so much of the finer points of the craft is subjective gut feel and emotional impact.

Our own ideas are familiar, their logic clear to us. There’s also the ego and bias of ownership. Other’s ideas often don’t mesh, or our biases (pro or against) a contributor color our assessment.

Sometimes everyone in a room is on the same page and you hit that flow state. More often it’s a struggle. But if the starting mentality (especially in a blue sky brainstorm phase) is “what if yes” instead of “is that good enough,” it gives wild and poor ideas room to improve.

Some of my favorite choices and ideas and stories and projects started from “bad” ideas that could’ve easily been rejected. Instead it was explored and the collaborators together made it better than its originator could’ve done alone.

Collaboration is hard and often has painful moments, but the feeling of building something greater than the sum of the parts is amazing. It’s why I write for theater, why I work in games.

Next time your knee jerk reaction is to say no, try just imagining if it were yes. What doesn’t work? What could make it better? What IS exciting about it? Sometimes an idea IS just weak or doesn’t work. But exploration yields far more fruit than rejection.

Ideas Have No Footprint

The hardest part of being a writer is the writing.

Writing is hard because it means pushing past the initial inertia and actually setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were).

An object at rest tends to stay at rest; a writer at rest tends to suddenly find the motivation for laundry, grocery shopping, lawn mowing, house cleaning - anything but writing. If this continues long enough, the writer is no longer a writer, but just a person who thinks about writing. 

Writing is also hard because it means trying to extricate an idea from your brain space and transferring it into real space. 

To borrow the words of a fellow narrative designer at ArenaNet: 

"Ideas have no footprint."

An idea takes up zero space when they live in your head. They are amorphous and hazy, perfect in their ephemeral state, where they're just an imagined, shifting concept, where the parts you're focusing on seem sharp and clear and flawless, and the parts on your periphery are soft and blurred and Future You's problem to nail down.

The moment you have to concretely define the idea, craft it into words, pull it onto the page (or screen), is the instant it loses its perfection. It suddenly gains volume, becomes unwieldy, ceases to fit against the needs of whatever confines you're writing against. Suddenly you're limited by your own ability to craft a story, by the necessary structures of writing, by the logical flow and emphasis of what you're trying to say - and in the world of game design, also by word count requirements, length limitations, technological capacities, voiceover budget and talent availability challenges, implementation challenges, gameplay needs, and so on and so on.

It's great to be excited about your ideas. It's unwise to be too precious with them. Pull them half formed, ugly, and sloppy into the real world, plop them in the sand, let them roll around and get dirty and leave misshapen tracks that don't lead anywhere, a hideous affront to your attempts at wrangling words into some kind of coherent order.

Turn your ideas into writing, messy and raw. Give it a footprint; then cultivate and shape and mold it to stumble haltingly towards the direction you dreamed of in your head.