20 May

How Creativity is Like Swordsmanship

Pen and Sword crossed

Warsaw Sword MaidenHow do you carry your sword?

Me, I carry mine on the hip, opposite my lead hand. That way I can draw it in one perfect motion-and-cut. Or in a stop-thrust with the pommel. I can even do a partial draw followed by a two-handed blade thrust to the side.

You know, in case my buddy suddenly decides to stab me at the dinner table.

I don’t practice Iaido. I’ve gone a few time but it was terrible on my knees and not quite as much fun as I had imagined. I don’t do Aikido. It looks fun but all that rolling around wasn’t for me. I’ve thought about LARP-ing but weaving chain-mail is a drag. I’ve never attended an SCA-meeting.

By now you’re guessing that this post has very little to do with wielding ancient weaponry and something with game design after all. You may be right. But back to the question at hand:

How do you carry your sword?

On your hip, ready for the draw? Over your back? In your hand? At the ready? Or do you carry a blaster instead?

Yeah, there’s definitely a lesson on design in here somewhere.

I carry my sword on the hip. In every daydream I have, I carry it on the hip. Occasionally I’ve tried thinking of it across my back but it just doesn’t feel right. Not even in my imagination, without any weight behind it, does it feel right on my back.

Yes, I could run for miles with as word strapped to my back. Running with it at my side is bad; I have to hold it with a hand, effectively locking my arm in place. Still, it doesn’t feel right across my back.

Neither does it feel right carried in my hand at the ready. I don’t want to run for miles with my sword, I don’t want to show it to the world, not use it to badger those around me, display my prowess or power.

The Pen and the Sword

Pen and Sword crossedI just want a sword at my side. Ready yet covered. Hidden yet present.

I carry a pad of paper at my side. Everywhere I go I carry it with me in my thigh pocket. I had those pockets custom made when discreet cargo pants went out of style. I just couldn’t live without my pad at my side.

See, my pad is my sword (told you there was a lesson in here somewhere). Not that I think of it that way normally. Nor do I use it to cut people up.

I don’t let anyone see my pad, I hate it when someone asks me to borrow my pen. It’s my pad, my pen. They’re part of me, or more correctly, they’re part of my dreams.

When I was younger I envisioned me with a sword strapped to my back, ninja style. I’d climb around, then draw it in a smooth motion and strike.

‘cept that you can’t draw a sword from your back. You let it down to your side first. Or you prepare it beforehand, struggling to get it out when no one watches. I don’t care what people who’ve seen too many martial arts films say, truth is, and this I’ve learned from practical trials, that you can’t do a clean draw of any sword worth a damn from your back. If you try you’ll cut your ear off. Or you’ll get stuck. Or you have to carry it so far down your back that it’s practically in your butt.

You can’t draw your pad from your back either.

I’ve tried. It’s a chore to pull it out of a backpack and get it ready. Much easier and smoother to have it in my leg pocket. I can pull it out and start scribbling at two seconds’ notice.

Drawing my pad out and scribbling is a natural gesture for me. I come up with ideas all the time and having my pad at the ready means that I can jot them down while they’re fresh.

Some people don’t like that. Some people like to mull their ideas over, think them through, work on them. Then they pull out their tools and use those ideas to create. I’ve met people like that, those who seem to come up with finished creations on the first try.

That’s because they’ve been working on those creations in their heads. I admire them for it. But I can’t do it myself.

Thinking With Your Tools

I think with my fingers. That’s how I’m writing this post: I’m making it up as I go, with only a vague idea of where I’m going. (Sorry if you could tell, that’s the downside of thinking with your fingers – sometimes it doesn’t go away in post-production.)

Thinking with my fingers means that I need to have my tools ready. So why don’t I carry my sword in my hand?

I’m still ashamed for creating. For years I’ve heard the term “real job” and thought that making stuff up, whether games, writing or other, wasn’t one. That’s bad parenting for you. (Mom, dad, if you’re reading this, I love you but your advice stinks.)

Today I still carry the traces of my real job phobia with me. I carry my sword on my hip, ready to draw but invisible. I don’t like to discuss it, I’m having trouble showing it, selling my creations. It’s not that I think they’re bad but the showing part is hard.

But carrying my sword at my side helps me to think about it in terms I can relate to. I don’t like violence; I’m deathly afraid of getting hurt. Even when sparring my instinctive reaction was a stop-kick and a shove (I’ve got long legs). I didn’t want my opponent too close. That’s another aspect of carrying my sword at my side – not letting anyone get too close to my creations. Carrying at the side is something that conceptualizes that, the problem of drawing, of wielding and fighting and cutting my way forward.

I see you’ve managed to make it through a thousand words of padded sword fights. I guess that means I owe you a payout, so here it is:

How Do You Carry Your Sword?

How do you carry your sword?

Do you want it with you, to wield sometime in the future? Do you want it ready but invisible? Do you want it drawn and proudly displayed for all?

Each of these situations comes with its own problems and challenges.

Sword in CarryIf you’re carrying your sword across your back, running and looking but not yet ready for action, you may want to test carrying it at your side. Generate ideas – concrete ideas on paper. Save them, show them that you care, that you want them, that you’re willing to listen to what your muse tells you. Get comfortable with doing it and your muse will get comfortable with you. As you grow used to generating ideas and working on those ideas you’ll see a shift in your perceptions. You’ll start to like the feeling of carrying your sword at your side. You’ll start to think of yourself as a creator, an artist, a designer.

If you do carry your sword at your side, if you view yourself as a designer and are willing to say that you are one to the people around you, then it’s time to start learning how to actually wield your sword. Develop your ideas. Learn to find the ones that work and change the ones that don’t. But that’s only part of it. You’ll need to get comfortable with having your ideas tested, tried and killed by others.

I’m in that phase myself. I’ve learned to accept that my designs are torn to shreds by playtesters and alpha readers. I’ve learned to accept feedback. I haven’t learned to accept rejection by publishers. That still hurts, a lot.

I’m not yet ready to wield my sword openly, to send my ideas to battle and see them fall. I’ve had a rejected book in my in file for almost a year now. I sent it out to five publishers at once (that’s a big no-no in this industry), knowing that I wouldn’t have the guts to send it out again if I got a rejection. And I haven’t found the courage to send it out again.

That’s where persistence comes into the picture. If I force myself to persist in this phase I’ll be able to carry my sword in hand later.

If you’re someone who does, well, I can’t advise you. I guess you’re at the point where you’re taking your creating from a hobby to a job. I’m not there yet. I’m not sure if I really, truly want to be there. It’s a frightening place, open and exposed. Perhaps you’ve conquered it. Go you! Me, I’m still striving.

But I know that some day I’ll at least try to carry my sword at the ready.

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