Recently Youseph has started to write a Dungeons and Dragons adventure and is looking to post about the experience, so kudos to him for doing so. When he initially said that he was going to write the adventure he mentioned the flurry of ideas he has and his excitement for what he was doing, a feeling I’m sure many of us are familiar with.
This got me thinking, what happens when those ideas dry up? Even the best of us go through patches where we are sitting in front of the screen or holding a pen poised above our note pads and you get nothing but net. As you try harder to think of things it seems to become more difficult to draw out any ideas and your mind runs a blank. So where do you go from here how do you get into the grove and make the flow of creativity happen again, the pressure is on as your scheduled weekly or monthly game session is looming and you know as a GM that you need to produce something for the players to do, go or see.
So what I’ve listed below are a few ideas that have helped me to find my way out of limbo and back onto the path of creation.
- This is the one I use the most as often writers block is generated through a lack of knowledge of the setting or the situation, this in turn brings on a bit of anxiety or frustration which compounds the problem. My advice first up is to take a deep breath or two and stretch your fingers, particularly if you are typing as opposed to writing. Then look to describe the broader setting of the situation do not focus exactly on what the players will be confronted with instead look at the surroundings or a much broader landscape. This will let you fill in gaps as you gradually narrow your focus, for example instead of cutting right to trying to work on a tense exchange of magical items that the players are negotiating with local underworld figures, start to describe in your mind or note down why they are looking to exchange the magical items. Was it an earlier quest line, was it through the request of one of the players or maybe you read about the concept in a magazine and thought it may be a good encounter for your players to experience. Then look to think about the setting, will it be in a warehouse, in a sewer lair or through a magical portal? When you’ve got that ask why is it located there and so on. I’m sure by now you get the idea but take the focus back as far as you need to start asking some questions of the situation you eventually want to get to and then drill down. You’ll find this will not only get you out of writers block but also a more in-depth encounter for your players to experience.
- This next one I love. Find things that remind you of what you are wanting to write about, for example to me when Dwarves aren’t drinking ale or whiskey they are drinking hot teas as their environments tend to be cooler climate mountainous regions so whenever I’m needing to write about Dwarves there is always a hot cup of tea beside me to sip away at. If you’re really keen then different clans might prefer different flavours but that’s a personal choice to go with.
- Roleplay. This is almost a strange thing to say as this concept should really come naturally to us all, but get into the spirit of the situation. So if all you know is that the players meet a character who wears a cowled cloak, then go grab a cowled cloak from the cupboard and put it on. For those who do not own a cloak then a throw rug does the job just fine. This type of improvisation and character affiliation works wonders to get into the persona of the NPC that your players will interact with and in a few minutes of putting on a voice and wearing your cloak/rug your mind will start to unlock and your back into the rhythm.
- Go with your flow and your feel. A number of times I know I should really be working on a particular part of my project and products but my heart isn’t into that section and when I try to force myself to do that part I come up struggling. In these cases I simply go with what I feel like doing not what I really have to be doing and that way I circumvent the block after half an hour or so my mind has warmed up to what I need to be focusing on and I change to do that.
I hope you guys find some of these techniques useful; they are all things that I use whenever I get stuck with that most dreaded of enemies, writers block.
Like having a cup of tea to put yourself in the dwarven mindset, it helps to set up your environment to help you succeed. I've found that sitting at the computer desk is often a barrier to actually writing, so I try to arrange times when I work on pure writing away from the myriad distractions of the internet.
The key is to recognize what environmental factors do and don't affect one's own process and configure them to suit being productive.
In the current campaign that I’m running, I decided to write the entire campaign from start to finish. This is the first time I’ve actually endeavored to write something so lengthy, but so far I’ve written every module in the campaign except one. Here’s what worked for me:
1. Start with a plan and outline. The first thing before I actually write the next module is that I need to plan what the next series of modules will be. I need to have an overall consistent story so that module A will flow to module B and that will flow to module C.
2. Outline the individual module. I write about what the encounters are to look like and the overall synopsis of the module. If I don’t like the outline, I begin making changes until I get an outline that I like.
3. Write the Introduction and Conclusions first. I find that writing the introductions and conclusions are one of the more rewarding elements of writing the module. The introduction is written to give the background and information of the plot. The conclusion is written to give the players a sense of what to do next. If the outlines are done right, a great deal of this information is already done.
4. Write the easier encounters first. Sometimes, after I’ve written the Introduction and Conclusion, I write about an encounter in the middle because I think of that encounter being really fun. If the encounter generates a handout, I write it out immediately with the encounter. Then I’ll begin to expand out to the other encounters. Then after writing the module a while, I look for what’s left to write and finish those up.
5. Then I go back and take a look at my encounters and see if there’s any way to spruce them up or make them more fun by adding a trap, changing the monsters, etc.
I’m sure other gamers have different experiences in writing their modules (A-Z, mind-mapping, note cards, etc). Whatever works, but for the most part, I break it up into more manageable pieces. I also don’t worry about things like page count or length as I think that whatever I need to write will be written. Some mods I wrote were only 15 pages and lasted an entire eight hour session; others were over 40 pages and we spent about four or five eight hour sessions on them.
Thanks for the responses guys.
Yea Tyler that's quite true. It took me a while to make sure that when I sat down to write on my PC that I didn't get distracted and break my flow.
Cheers Yong, there's a myriad of ways to go about writing material and you've got some solid suggestions. It's about finding a method that works for you.