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How to Siphon Creative Flow from Your Leisure Time

Getting work done can be a problem for creatives. We don't see the world in the same way that others do. Even so, we generally want to be paid for exercising our talents. The challenge is producing consistently and efficiently. Beyond that -- getting a book deal or screenplay option on your first try is a great way to make a living. But for most of us, the grind is waiting just beyond the horizon. And beyond tomorrow's horizon -- more grind. Here's a trick I've used successfully to meet the challenge.

There are several ways to motivate yourself to work on your art. One of my favorites is to come up with characterizations and plot lines while I'm doing other things I enjoy. Like playing video games, or watching movies. Movies are an easy one because there's an established plotline already waiting for a couch potato critique. It's a simple thing to tweak a few lines or a character arc in your head to imagine how things could have gone differently. You can implement the nuances you create in a future project. A lot of video games have an established plot too, but some of them are sandbox environments where you can create a character and do whatever you want within the world. These kinds of games are phenomenal story mills for a creative mind. These days I'm playing Mount and Blade: Warband. I've created a whole backstory and plot arc for the character I made in the game that I'm planning to stick into a project I started working on recently. It was easy to do, since the game gives you the basic foundation for characterization already. You have to decide what your background is by answering a series of questions, and the game assigns you attributes based on your responses. Due to the nature of the game, your character runs a medieval-era mercenary company. So, I have a mercenary captain with a name and background from the start, and I've been filling in his personality and intangibles as I play. Playing sandbox games can be an easy and fun way to work in your spare time while doing the things you enjoy.

Dungeons and Dragons has long been hailed for its ability to churn out characters and plots. If you're not familiar with the game, it's a pen and paper role-playing game where each participant makes a character and goes on an adventure designed and narrated by another player called the Dungeon Master. If you're a regular player, this is a great opportunity to test out and build characters for stories. You respond to the scenarios and events in the same way you think your character would, and before you know it you'll have a living, breathing dark elf rogue for your next novel. Or, if you're a dungeon master, you can easily convert the modules you build into plot lines for stories. If everyone consents, you can even use their characters or models based on those characters. You can write a whole story that's already been played out in real-time. Fifth edition just came out this fall, offering old players and new a revitalized and more intuitive gameplay experience.

There are plenty of ways to come up with material. I find the best ways are methods that you enjoy. I love playing games and video games, and I love to watch movies and read books. Immersing myself in all of these stories allows me to find elements of my own characters and stories, piecing my work together as I go. Inspiration is different from stealing, however. So make sure you aren't lifting whole characters or plots from your favorite movies and books. That's not only ridiculously illegal, but also a terribly shitty thing to do. So have fun, don't get arrested, and build your worlds with gusto.

Image credit: Nevit Dilmen

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