In 1987 a set of genius designers published a computer game called ‘Dungeon Master.’ Essentially it was automated Dungeons and Dragons. Unlike other games of the era, this one put you directly into the action, as if you were looking out of the eyes of the leader of your band of intrepid adventurers. The idea is to select a group of four heroes, some of whom were female, and enter a complex, 3D, multilevel dungeon where you fight monsters, solve puzzles, try to stay alive and, eventually, trap the bad guy. Weapons, amulets, potions and magic abounded, of course, but you also had to find food and water or your party would starve. Rich and complex, without complicated game-play, DM was far ahead of its time in concept, graphics, sound, playability and just plain fun. Fireballs exploded, skeletons clanked, giant crabs skittered and you could hear monsters coming from around the corner. One thing made a sound like wet concrete sliding off a steel trowel. My 10 year old grandson was totally taken by the game, for all of the above reasons.
What does this have to do with writing productivity, you may well ask.
I learned something from this game, something I always ‘knew’ but never had completely assimilated into my psyche. To tell you what I learned I have to tell you something about the game, specifically how your heroes grow and change. To start you must choose four out of twenty-four different characters, from a barbarian with a club, to small but powerful magicians, and everything in between. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, so choosing the right mix is important. Four magic users do you no good if there are five bad guys. The last one will bash your powerful, but depleted, magicians on the head and, voila, instant skeleton pile. So balance is the key.
And therein lies the basis for the lesson. In the beginning your (usually) two magicians are physically weak and vulnerable, but they’ve got those fireballs they can throw at the bad guys. Your physically powerful barbarians can protect them and bash any monsters that get too close. But even barbarians can do some magic. So a good tactic is to load the powerful magicians with fireballs (or some other really nasty spell) and use the little magic your barbarians have to keep the lights on. But they need to keep doing it, because the lights eventually fade and you will be left in pitch blackness, waiting for a purple worm to come along and eat you.
So when the lights start to fade, you have the barbarians work a magic spell to brighten them up again. After a while, the barbarians do so much magic, they gain a skill level and now can do a little more magic. And more. And yet more. Your magicians have to hold those fireballs to use on animated skeletons or poison rockpiles, so they don’t get to do as much magic work. Pretty soon you find the ‘barbarians’ have surpassed the magicians and are now the more powerful magic users, because they have been actually using magic, while the magicians are mostly on standby for emergencies. Sort of like muscles, if you don’t use them they atrophy.
Or your brain, if you don’t think much, it turns soggy and unresponsive.
Or writing. If you don’t do it, it goes away.
Which brings me to my brilliant insight: Writing productivity is the application of the seat of the pants to the chair.