“Some people need to be left completely alone to contemplate, or to distract themselves before their mind will be ready for that sudden blast of light that makes the way forward clear. I am not one of those people.“
Outsourcing Eureka Moments
… Every time I have had a “breakthrough” with a problem I’m working on, it has come mid-sentence while talking to somebody else. Since I recently became aware of this pattern, I make a point to spend at least a little time talking about my creative blocks with those around me.
I think this happens for a variety of reasons. It’s not always that other people have the answer I’m looking for (though sometimes they do), but that others see my problems through a different lens.
I was recently working on a game that takes place in the 8-bit Old West. I was waffling back and forth on the inclusion of some kind of text noise—a kind of semi-vocal blip to sound on each letter. I was bemoaning my indecision with one of my colleagues at Bearcowboy when he remarked that the Old West equivalent to that sound would have been a typewriter.
Boom. I made the decision immediately to build a group of lightly bit-crushed typewriter sounds, followed by a carriage return sound for newlines. While certainly not a new idea to the world of sound design (in fact a bit of a cliché), this was significant to me in that it ended a frustrating mental block. These kinds of blocks tend to add up, and so I find it’s important to frequently “outsource” my own mental background processes.
“By ‘outsourcing your mental background’, do you mean talking to other people and seeing what they think?”
Yes. Smart people around you are an invaluable resource: they should be utilized as frequently as possible, and likewise you should make yourself available to them. There is always the fear that involving others too much will lead to second guessing yourself, so I propose a flowchart:
- If you’re wavering too much, stop seeking approval all the time and make a decision.
- If you find yourself ambling between two weak positions on a decision, not feeling like you’re bringing the fervor a design question deserves, it’s probably a good idea to talk it out.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”These kinds of blocks tend to add up, and so I find it’s important to frequently ‘outsource’ my own mental background processes.”[/pullquote]
When I was six years old, I wanted to grow up to be a scientist. I didn’t know much about science, but I knew that scientists got to do things with electricity, put pink stuff into green stuff until it exploded, and that they were best friends with robots.
I also knew that the world was being simplified for me. Every time I would ask a question like, “how do light bulbs work?”, my parents would do their best to come up with an explanation that a child might be able to understand. Somehow I knew I wasn’t getting the full story–not that I’d have been able to understand it. I knew that there was another, deeper level of truth that I wasn’t able to grasp. This realization was initially only frustrating; later, it would become an obsession.
Though I became a musician somewhere along the way, I never stopped wanting to be the mad scientist (or as XKCD would say, ‘mad engineer’). I lost many nights of sleep on Wikipedia, trying to cram advanced science concepts into my hamburger brain. In particular, I’d read about electronics, linguistics, biology, physics, and programming. It was never enough.
Once I started to understand high-level programming, I had to understand assembly.
Once I knew the roles of the components on a computer, I had to learn how digital circuitry worked.
I couldn’t feel satisfied until I felt I had glimpsed the workings of a system from top to bottom through the prism of my art-school education.
There’s a really weird feeling I get, and I sometimes wonder if other people get it too: when I start to understand something (especially if that something explains some aspect of reality which I had previously taken for granted), I start to want to giggle and burst into tears at the same time.
This feeling was very pronounced the first time I understood the relationship between a chemical’s number on the periodic table and its physical properties. It was even more pronounced the first time I picked up C++ for Dummies. The feeling is as if as though you’re standing over what appears to be a very shallow crack in the ground when it suddenly plummets, becoming a canyon right before your eyes.
Living with depression and anxiety that come and go as they please, finding consistent motivation can be a challenge for me. But my obsession with understanding never seems to wane, and oftentimes I can use it to trick myself into feeling inspired.
In one instance, a client wanted some spec music, and I really wasn’t up to working. At all.
So, I decided to focus on the aspects of the project that were unfamiliar to me, leveraging this obsession with knowing the unknown to kick myself into gear. The client wanted a cinematic, emotionally driven sound. My music tends to be more driven by kinetic sensation than mood, and had never sounded especially cinematic. The drive to understand the source of cinematic music’s lush pathos was enough to get me working.