Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It Starts with an Idea

Teaching like an artist largely involves the habit of staying inspired so you can inspire. And the heart of that is getting ideas, making them real and seeing how far they go.

It all starts with getting an idea that's good enough to pursue.

Someone once said the only way to get good ideas is to have lots of them. Most ideas aren't good enough, so quantity is the key to success. How do you keep coming up with them? Well, I think the trick is really to just be more aware of them.

One time we had a local author speak to our students and he said something I always remember--Ideas are like air. They are all around us. 

Once you start looking for them, you'll find new ideas for lessons, new approaches to your your biggest obstacles and fresh ways to breathe life into your work in everywhere. 

Again, most will be rough and most likely not good enough. Most will already be too similar to things people have already done. Don't be discouraged, though. Seeing ideas is a habit. Keep at it.

The best advice I can give anyone in their creative pursuits is to keep a notebook or a file where you write down all the ideas you have. Do you want to blog? Create games? Write songs? Whatever it is, get a place to store your ideas as soon as you're done reading this post.

When I made games I would write my ideas on any slip of paper I found nearby. If I saw paper, I started thinking about games! I was always writing down ideas or fleshing out ones I started previously. I made up a lot of cards for party games when my students were taking tests.

At some point I started compiling the notes in Notepad and then eventually Word document on my computer. It was around a couple hundred pages after a few years. When I was home and I had a chance to work on games, I'd scroll through the document and add a thought here or there to my notes. I'd keep a few active designs near the first pages of the document, but all those other ones, even if they were abandoned for good reasons, were still there if I cared to go back to them.

My game that probably traveled the farthest around the world started in my computer file. It was from an Einstein quote that caught my attention:

"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, 
     and it seems like an hour. 
Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, 
     and it seems like a minute. 
                 That's relativity."

I didn't even really have an idea from that quote right away, just a sense that there might be something there. Over time, it developed into an activity of ranking things in relative order. I made a playable prototype and had a lot of laughs with friends. Eventually it was published and people from all over the world have been entertained by it. (I wrote a detailed story of the development and my experience with publishing here.)

Every great act starts with someone who has an idea and acts on it. Get in the habit of finding ideas. See how far they go.

Learn from the success and the failure. Tell the stories. Eventually you'll find a place to shine. it might be only a dim light or a bright flash.

But it will be unique, in a place and in a way that no one else could.

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