Quitting While You're Ahead

— July 07, 2010 (11 comments)
My favorite computer game genre by far is graphic adventure. These are the games where you're given a character with a story, and where exploration and puzzle-solving is what will win. Reflexes, practice, and endless hours on the XP treadmill won't help--just persistence and a clever mind. Classic examples of the genre include the King's Quest and Space Quest series, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and (my very favorite) the Monkey Island games.

But adventure games can be frustrating. You might walk around the same screens, looking at the same objects, trying out the same inventory items over and over wondering why you can't GET THE DANG PIRATE TO GIVE YOU HIS FREAKING GOLD TOOTH!

Or something.

Then after banging your head against the wall for an hour, you'll close the game because you have to pick your kids up from school, but when you get back... you don't want to play. Because you know when you do, you'll have that same puzzle staring you in the face, mocking you.*

Does this sound like writing yet? It does to me. I'll get stuck on a plot point, staring at it for an hour, then have to close the manuscript because the baby is crying and the boys are killing each other and my wife needs to buy food (I offer to, but you know)... and when it's all over I dread going back. I dread seeing that cursor just blinking, blinking, saying, "What are you gonna write now, big fancy pants writer, huh? HUH?"

So here's what you do. It's totally non-intuitive, but it works. When you're at a part you're really excited about, don't write it. Stop and save it for next time.

I mean, obviously don't stop if you have another hour free to write. But whenever you are done, try to stop in some place where you know what happens next. Not only will you have the motivation to sit down and write next time, but you'll also have momentum to keep writing after the exciting part.

This won't solve everything. You'll still need persistence many times (I was stuck on that stupid gold tooth for a week), but some days it just might help you get your butt in that chair when you otherwise wouldn't want to.

And if you need a little gold, give the blond-bearded pirate some bubblegum. His tooth will come right out.

* And you don't want to cheat, because then you can't brag that you figured out the game by yourself, even though it took you five years** to beat it and nobody cares anymore.

** NEVER happened.

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  1. I see the problem now. I need a walkthrough for my stories.

  2. "I see the problem now. I need a walkthrough for my stories."

    I hear that's how James Patterson does it.

  3. I love those games too. The most recent one I bought is a puzzle game called Braid. I recommend it.

    Whenever I'm stuck, in a game or a book, if I put it away for a while I can be pretty sure I'll make progress when I pick it back up again. Maybe I won't get the gold tooth, but I'll find something new to do.

  4. Yep, I get stuck a lot. And, unfortunately, there's no cheating even available.

  5. That's an interesting idea. I guess I've never done it on purpose because the scenes I'm excited about never come out right if I save them for later. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't work if I took some notes... hm...

  6. This is why I don't play games. I would just shrug, let the guy keep his gold tooth if he wants it so much, and go watch Glee. However, the writing is very different. I want that bad.

    "What are you thinking about, Mom?"

    "Eh? What?"

    "What are you thinking?"

    "About a story..."

    *kid shakes head*

  7. That does make me more eager to get writing the next day, but I try not to put off writing something when I'm in the story and the next bit is coming to me (dialogue, description, ect.). It might not be there the next day.

  8. But, Susan, if you don't get the gold tooth, then Cutthroat Bill won't join your crew! And if he doesn't join your crew, you can't fight Captain Rottingham and get the map to Blood Island! And if you don't get to Blood Island, you can't get a real diamond to replace the cursed one that turned your fiance into a gold statue!

    No, Susan. I'm afraid you have to get the gold tooth.

  9. No, Susan. I'm afraid you have to get the gold tooth.

    A great laugh to start my day!

  10. Those games always frustrated me. yet attracted me. Yeah, the writing analogy really works here.

    I will say that ending at a point where you know what comes next, but aren't exhausted, really helps my morale. I look forward to the next time, more.

    Morale is half the battle for finishing anything.