Why Difficult Computer Games Are Good For Your Creativity

Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this before, I thought that I’d look at why difficult computer games are good for your creativity – since, although I’m not sure when or if I’ll review either of these games, I’ve occasionally been playing two games that – whilst very different from each other – have one important thing in common.

I am, of course, talking about “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” (1992) and “Devil Daggers” (2016). And, yes, these two games have more in common than you might think – even if it might not seem like it at first glance:

Two images beside each other. One is from a bright, cartoonish 2D platform game showing an adorable alien creature in a forest. The other is from a first person shooter game, showing a hand pointing towards darkness, skulls and blood. The text below them reads "And, yes, these games have more in common than you might think. Let's talk about difficulty, practice and failure"

Screenshots from “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” (1992) and “Devil Daggers” (2016), two surprisingly similar games.

Even though both game look very different from each other and are in different genres, they handle difficulty in the same way 🙂 In both games, there is no “easy” mode and you can expect to fail very very often. But, far from being a flaw, this is actually part of the fun.

In order to make any progress, you have to practice playing them. You have to persevere. When you start a new game or a new level, there is an extremely high chance that you won’t make it to the other end. But, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting a little bit further than you did last time and then doing this enough times that it becomes second-nature to you, allowing you to gradually make more and more progress. These games are hard. And this is really good for your creativity.

But, why?

Well, you’ve probably guessed already, but it is because they not only teach the importance of practice (which is essential for making art, writing fiction etc…) but – even more importantly – they make you more comfortable with failure. Although failure might sound like the last thing that you should be comfortable with if you want to be an artist, a writer etc… It is an essential part of being these things.

Take a look at your favourite novels, comics, albums, movies etc.. They all exist because of failure. They all exist because, at some point in the past, someone with very little experience or practice wanted to be an artist, writer, musician, film-maker, actor etc… And, the very first time they tried this, they failed. They probably failed the second, third, fourth etc.. I’m sure you get the idea. The important thing was that, after every failure, they picked themselves up and gave it another try. They knew that it might take a lot of failures but, eventually, they would get it right.

All creativity requires determination. It requires failing and then trying again. Not only that, it requires being ok with failing and being willing to experiment. And this is another thing that difficult computer games can teach us. After all, if you fail several times in a row at a computer game, then you’ll usually want to try a slightly different strategy. Even in a game like “Devil Daggers” – where there is no way to “win” – you’ll still want to try different tactics in order to survive for a few seconds longer or get a few more points.

Needless to say, this attitude is also one that you’ll want to take when you’re creating stuff. For example, if your novel seems to have stalled or is going nowhere, then you need to take action and do something different. Whether this involves changing your plans for the story, rewriting part of it or even starting a different novel project, the important thing is to think about what to improve, to do it and – above all- to keep writing.

But, more than all of this, difficult computer games are good for your creativity because they teach you the importance of the process, rather than the goal. Although “winning” is a side-effect of lots of practice, the real fun of a difficult computer game is getting there. It is those many nights where, knowing that you probably won’t win, you play anyway because you want to see how far you will get and because you enjoy the experience of the game itself. And if you take this attitude towards your writing practice, art practice etc… then it’ll be a lot less of a chore.

Of course, the massive irony of all of this is that time spent getting better at playing challenging computer games is probably time you could be spending practicing your writing, art etc… Still, if you want to develop a better attitude towards learning a creative skill, then try playing some fiendishly difficult computer games. Just not for too long though.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Tips About When To Abandon A Short Story Project

Abandoning a short story project is a difficult decision, especially if you’ve already written quite a bit of it. But, sometimes, it is the best decision to make.

So, since this happened to me the day before I wrote this article (eg: to a comedy/ literary fiction story about late ’00s Aberystwyth that I’d written about 3400 words of), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about when and why to abandon a short story project.

1) Think of your readers: First and foremost, think of the reader. Unless you’re just writing for personal enjoyment, it is important to remember that there will be a reader for your short story and, if it seems like your story might not be that much fun to read, then this is one possible sign that it might be better to write something else.

This is also where reading regularly comes in handy, since having direct experience of being a reader can help you to put yourself in the shoes of your own potential readers. To give you an example, my abandoned story project was written in the present tense. This was initially a fairly spur-of-the-moment thing that just happened when I started writing it. At the time, I thought that it added an intriguing level of unpredictability and immediacy to the story.

But, then, I had to choose the next book I wanted to read. There were two books by the same author – one was written in the past tense and the other was written in the present tense. I read the first chapters of both and then rushed towards the past tense one. It just seemed a lot easier and more “natural” to read. So, naturally, this made me think about the present tense narration in the short story I was writing at the time. I realised that it would probably be really annoying to read, so it was one reason why I abandoned the story a day or two later.

So, think about your readers!

2) When it starts to put you off of writing: Writer’s block isn’t always a good reason to abandon a story project. Sometimes, you need to take time to think about what to write next or to just power through your writer’s block by just writing (and then editing later). Sometimes, writer’s block is merely a small everyday hurdle that can be dealt with without abandoning your story.

But, when even the idea of writing any more of your story feels like a chore and you find yourself racked with guilt about not writing any of it over the past few days, then this is sometimes a sign that you need to cut your losses and write something else.

The important thing to remember here is that you need to keep writing. If a half-finished story is standing in your way and, more importantly, sapping your enthusiasm for writing itself, then you need to write something that makes you feel enthusiastic again before you lose interest in writing altogether.

3) Think of your story as a whole: Following on from the first point on this list, having direct experience of being a reader can also help you to notice when your story is becoming less about the story you’re telling and more about other things.

In other words, when you are devoting more effort to things like showing off, avant-garde gimmicks, personal nostalgia etc… than you are to the characters and plot, then the story might not work out. Again, remember that your story will have a reader.

For example, here’s an extract from my abandoned short story: ‘Beneath the glow of the front window, she can just about make out the scuffed stairs driving down into the darkness below. She has only walked down them once, on a cold October night when the club’s cavernous crypts had been decked out in cotton wool cobwebs and styrofoam tombstones. When the lights were as lush and vivid as a heavy metal music video and no-name goth bands wailed in the corner.

Although this one little extract might sound good on it’s own, imagine a whole story filled with these slow-paced and alliteration-filled passages of purple prose. Imagine a whole story where these are the main point of interest, with not much of a plot, lots of rather corny “comedic” dialogue and not that much actual characterisation.

Each of these individual descriptions were fun to write and I felt pretty clever every time I came up with a contrived way to use alliteration and/or rhyme during the narration. But, when I stepped back and looked at the story as a whole, I didn’t see that much of an actual story (that people would want to read), just lots of pretentious prose poetry.

So, think about your story as a whole. If, when you take a step back, it looks less like a story than you expect, then try writing something else.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Things To Do When A Creative Project Fails

Well, I thought that I’d talk about failure today. This is mostly because I finished a failed creative project the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. It was my first attempt at writing a novella in quite some time and, although I completed it (it was about 15,600 words long) it wasn’t exactly the best thing I’ve ever written. I mean, there’s a good reason why I haven’t mentioned it in previous articles.

Yes, it started out well. Yes, I felt inspired at first. Basically, I tried to write something similar to the old second-hand 1970s/1980s horror novels (in particular, the sub-genre of monster-based novels inspired by James Herbert’s “The Rats”) that I used to read when I was younger and rediscovered when I got back into reading regularly a couple of months ago.

Since giant rats, evil scorpions, carnivorous beetles, giant evil crabs and monster slugs were already taken by actual ’70s/’80s horror authors and because I wanted to write a slight parody of the genre, I ended up choosing adorable badgers – albeit ones that have become immortal, and very hungry, thanks to a mutant version of the rabies virus.

Here’s a short extract from one of the more dramatic and well-written parts of the novella: ‘In an instant, Wilson saw everything. The cattle stalls were a disorderly mess of steaming offal and buzzing flies. In the eaves above, Jerry sat on a beam with a pitchfork in his arms and a look of abject terror on his face. A low chittering sound echoed through the air. Wilson spotted movement next to one of the beams. At first, Wilson thought it was a stray dog. But, as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he noticed that it was a badger. Crimson foam frothed around the creature’s mouth as it stared up at Jerry and clawed at the beam.

However, large portions of the story really aren’t as good as this short extract. If I was reviewing the novella, I’d probably only give it two or three out of five. It was, in short, a failed project.

So, I thought that I’d give you a couple of basic tips for what to do when a creative project fails. And, yes, you’ve probably heard these before – but they’re well-known pieces of advice for a good reason.

1) Do a post-mortem: This one is fairly obvious, but it can be a bit of challenge if you’ve never really done anything like this. In essence, you need to take a step back and look at both what went wrong and why it went wrong. This might sound like a rather depressing thing to do, but it can teach you what to avoid in your next project. In other words, it reduces the chance of making the same or similar mistakes again.

In addition to teaching you general lessons, this also helps you to get to know yourself better. Because one of the best ways of finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are is to actually make something and then see what parts of it do and don’t work. Once you’ve found this out, you can play to your strengths and/or focus on your weaknesses in your next project.

For example, with my failed horror novella, some of the major flaws/lessons I found included:

– There were literally too many characters for a story of this length. Not only that, since I knew that all of the main characters were going to be eaten by badgers, I instinctively skimped on the characterisation since I’d find it too depressing to put too much emotional effort into developing a well-written character who was going to suffer such a tragic fate. So, the lessons here were to include fewer characters in my next project and to ensure that the characters have a good chance of surviving the story.

– A lack of pre-planning (resulting in somewhat uneven plotting) and the fact that I tried to write it relatively quickly (in about 18-19 days) meant that, whilst I was able to stay motivated, the writing would often get somewhat repetitive. I’d often re-use descriptions (eg: when describing the sounds the badgers made etc..) and many of the story’s dialogue segments would also sound incredibly repetitive too. The lesson here was to spend a while longer planning the story and to focus more on quality than quantity.

– The narrative voice throughout the story was incredibly uneven. Some chapters were supposed to be a parody of bad writing (which quickly turned into actual bad writing), some chapters sounded very “modern”, some chapters read like something from a thriller novel, some chapters had a more American-style narrative voice etc… A lot of this stemmed from the fact that I’d used third-person narration, and I’d had more practice with first-person narration in the past.

I could go on for quite a while…. But, working out what failed and why will help you to improve any future projects.

2) Remember that it happens to literally everyone: When a creative project fails, it can be easy to make the foolish mistake of thinking that you are a failure. That you’re not as good as the writers, artists etc… who inspired you to start your project. Well, I’ll let you into a secret. They’ve failed before, just like you have.

In fact, it is impossible to get really good at anything without failing. The only reason that the people who have inspired you seem like talented geniuses is because you haven’t seen their failed practice projects. They’ve failed just like you have. And, after they failed, they learnt from it and then tried to make another project. Eventually, they got better at writing, making art etc… because they refused to give up.

I mean, there’s a reason why – for example – pretty much every piece of writing advice out there will tell you not to publish your first novel (or first three novels or whatever). It usually takes quite a bit of writing practice before someone can produce a publishable novel. It’s not something that most people can get right on the first try. And, that’s ok. After all, you wouldn’t expect to be able to – say- play the guitar perfectly after picking up the instrument for the first time.

In other words, if you’ve tried to create something and failed horribly at it, then you’re doing exactly the same thing that the people you look up to have done in the past. In other words, you’re doing the right thing. At the very least, you’ve actually created something. Most people don’t get to this stage. So, consider your failure to be one of the steps on the road to greatness.

So, yes, failure happens to literally everyone. It is how you think about it and what you do afterwards that really matters.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why A Failed Painting Is Never A Total Failure – A Ramble

The afternoon before I prepared this article, I made a failed painting. It was meant to be a memory painting/self-portrait which would show me sitting in a room I used to live in. It was to be illuminated entirely by the streetlights/headlights outside the room, in order to create a cool “film noir”-like look.

Unfortunately, the final digitally-edited painting looked nowhere near as good as I’d hoped. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th October.

Still, as annoying as this was, it wasn’t a total failure for a number of reasons. After all, a failed painting is never a total failure. But, why?

Firstly, failure means that you’ve tried. This isn’t a “participation medal” motivational statement. It’s a fact. If you’ve failed at making a piece of art and you feel bad about it, then this means that you care about making art. It means that you want to make good art. It means that you have intrinsic motivation. So, your failed painting isn’t a total failure because it can remind you of how much you care about making good art.

Secondly, failure usually means that you’re trying something new or different. For example, the painting I showed you gave me a chance to try out a slightly different technique for painting light and rain. If you look at this close-up of the window, you’ll see that the raindrops surrounding the headlights are the same colour/brightness as the headlights.

The raindrops surrounding the headlights are brighter and/or more yellow than the raindrops in the background. I’m surprised I didn’t think of doing this before…

Although the painting as a whole wasn’t great, it gave me a chance to experiment with new lighting techniques. Which means that, when I make a good painting, I’ll be able to make it at least slightly better by using this technique (if I remember to use it). So, failed paintings usually mean that you’re learning new stuff.

Thirdly, a failed painting is never a total failure because failure is relative. If you’ve been making art for a while, then there’s a good chance that your current “failed” paintings will still look better than the “good” paintings you made when you were less experienced. In other words, a failure can remind you of how far you have come as an artist (and how far you still have to go).

Fourthly, a failed painting is never a total failure because you actually made it. Seriously, even a failed attempt at painting or drawing something is much, much better than just thinking “I can’t do that” and doing something else instead.

So, even if the painting turned out badly, you still made it. You still followed your inspiration or tried to challenge yourself or something like that. In other words, you did more than 99% of people probably would have done.

Finally, a failed painting is never a total failure because it can teach you what not to do. If you’re able to work out why you failed, then you can use these lessons to improve your next painting.

For example, in the failed painting I showed you earlier in this article, it failed because I got the composition wrong (eg: I should have used a “camera angle” that included two windows) and because I was a little bit over-enthusiastic with my use of shadows in some parts of the picture.

Yes, it can be easy to forget the lessons you learn from a failed painting. But, even if you have to fail ten times before you learn something, each failed painting you make will teach you something.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When A Short Story Turns Out Badly- A Ramble

Well, once again, I thought that I’d talk about last year’s “retro sci-fi” Halloween short stories. In particular, I’ll be talking about the eighth story and what to do when a short story doesn’t turn out that well.

In short, I had writer’s block before I wrote the eighth story… and I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote the first draft too. As such, it ended up being a somewhat badly-written “film noir”-style detective story (with a 1950s horror comic-style twist) that contained barely any sci-fi elements. In addition to this, the story didn’t really fit in that well with the fictional “world” that I’d been trying to set all of the stories in. It was a failed story.

So, my first thought was to edit it a bit. Basically, I removed some of the more superfluous descriptions (that made the story sound so amateurish).

For example, I changed the opening sentence from “By the time the neptune blue neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day” to just “By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day“.

By removing some of the extraneous descriptions, I was at least able to make the story sound a little bit more focused. However, this also caused a few continuity problems that I didn’t spot until a while later (eg: I’d removed a description of a character having brown hair, only for the narrator to refer to her as “the brunette” later in the story). So, I had to think about the story in more logical terms and rewrite a few sentences that referred to parts of the story that no longer existed.

Surprisingly, I didn’t embellish or change the dialogue too much whilst editing. Although the dialogue sounded a little bit formal and generic in many parts of the story, it was at least functional.

In short, the most important part of writing dialogue is to convey story information. So, even if it’s a bit generic, then “functional” dialogue can still work. Plus, since it was meant to be a “film noir” story, this minimalist approach to the dialogue hopefully wouldn’t stand out that much.

Luckily, one thing that mitigated all of the story’s problems slightly was the ending. Since I’d added a melodramatic plot twist and some dark comedy to the last few paragraphs, there was at least some “payoff” for any reader who slogged through the rest of the story. So, at least the story didn’t feel like a complete and utter failure. So, a good ending (or, even better, a good beginning too) can be a way to mitigate the problem of a failed story.

In addition to all of this, I also put a bit more effort into the story’s title illustration. Since this was the first thing that the reader would see, I wanted it to look spectacularly dramatic. In part, to distract from the slightly lower quality of the writing and in part to make up for the slightly lower quality of the writing. It was probably the coolest thing about the story, but at least it was something cool:

This is the title graphic for the failed film noir story.

But, most of all, I actually posted the story on here. Although you shouldn’t do this if you’re publishing stories commercially – if you’re writing non-commercial fiction, then actually putting something out there, however crappy, can at least be a way to keep up momentum.

If you’re worried about what your audience might think, then just remember that a finished story – regardless of quality – that actually appears online is still better than posting nothing.

If you are writing a series of stories, or you post short fiction online regularly, then your audience is more likely to forgive a badly-written story. Why? Because it shows that you are still sticking to your writing schedule.

In other words, although your audience might not be that impressed by the story you posted today, they will at least feel reassured that a better story might appear tomorrow, or in a couple of days’ time or whenever. So, posting a bad or mediocre story is better than posting nothing (when your audience expects you to post something).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Ways To Deal With Failed Paintings (Emotionally)

Well, although I’ve written about the topic of failed paintings a few times before, I thought that I’d return to it today.

This was mostly because, despite attempts to salvage it with various digital effects, the heavy metal-themed painting that I’d prepared a few hours before writing this article was something of a failure. Seriously, it looks like a piece of badly-made abstract art! Here’s a preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 30th July.

So, how do you deal with the emotions that can appear when a painting you had high hopes for ends up turning into absolute rubbish?

1) Don’t judge yourself: Although it’s always useful to think about the reasons why a painting failed (so that you can try to avoid the same mistakes in the future), try to remember that you are more than just one painting. In other words, don’t judge yourself.

One failed painting, or even a hundred failed paintings, doesn’t mean that you are a failure. All it means is that you either had a bad day/week/month/year, that you need to learn/practice more or that you made some kind of technical mistake in that one painting. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist. All artists make failed paintings (even if many don’t show them off). Failure is an essential part of being an artist.

The fact that you actually finished a painting, however badly it turned out, means that you’re more of an artist than many people. The fact that you care about the fact that your painting didn’t turn out well means that you’re more of an artist than many people. So, don’t judge yourself. You are an artist! Just work out what went wrong and then get on with making the next painting as soon as you can.

2) Remember, it won’t last forever: One of the good things about practicing art regularly for several years is that you start to see patterns and trends. The main one of these is that periods of failure and/or uninspiration don’t last forever! In my experience, they usually only tend to last a few days or a couple of weeks at the very most.

So, if you keep making art, there’s a very good chance that you’ll end up making a good work of art again. In fact, that chance increases with every subsequent “failed” painting that you make – for the simple reason that repeated failure will prompt you to either try new things or to work out a way to get around the failure.

The only way that a period of artistic failure and/or uninspiration can last forever is if you give up and don’t make art again. But, if you keep making art, then – even if it takes a while – you’ll start making better art.

3) Congratulate yourself: After you’ve made a failed painting, it can be easy to feel that you aren’t very good at making art. Ironically, if you feel this emotion, then it probably means that you are at least slightly good at making art.

Why? Because you’re probably comparing your failed painting to other paintings that you’ve made, some of which are probably reasonably good. And, if you made those good paintings, then that means that you are good at making art. If you weren’t, then you wouldn’t have made those other paintings.

Think about it this way. If you’re an absolute beginner at making art – then failure doesn’t usually feel too bad. Since you’re new, you don’t expect to produce something great instantly. So, although failure can be annoying, it doesn’t feel too bad because it’s an expected part of the learning process. However, if you’ve been making art for a while, then failure can feel bad… because you’ve made good art before. So, feeling bad about failure means that you are already good at making art.

The other important thing to remember is that everything is relative. A terrible painting that you make today will probably still look better than a good painting that you made a few years ago. Feeling bad about making a failed painting just means that your painting is a failure in comparison to the good paintings you’ve made within the past year or so.

So, if a failed painting makes you feel miserable, then congratulate yourself. It means that you are a good artist – even if you’ve had a bad day or an uninspired moment.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Benefits Of Making Terrible Art In Less Than Optimal Circumstances

The night before I wrote the first draft of this article, I was in that terrible combination of being in an awful mood and feeling extremely tired. Plus, I still had to prepare one of the daily paintings I’ll be posting here next month.

Although I was able to salvage the painting a bit after scanning it and editing it extensively on the computer the following morning, it ended up being predictably terrible. Not only are the shading and reflections slightly wrong, but (due to covering up a few mistakes) it’s also about a million miles away from the vivid, heavily saturated art that I normally make. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th March.

So, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to do with why making terrible art under less than optimal circumstances can actually be a good thing sometimes. Yes, you heard me correctly. It can actually benefit you. I’ve mentioned all of this stuff before, but it’s always worth repeating.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that comparing it to bad art (or even good art) you made a few years ago can show you how much you have improved as an artist. This can be an invaluable motivational tool if you’re in the kind of mood or situation that results in bad art.

For example, in the painting I just showed you earlier, I probably wouldn’t have thought to add falling leaves to it (to give it a sense of momentum and depth) or to digitally desaturate it (to cover up a few imperfections) if I’d made it a couple of years ago.

The second reason is that it’s a test of your artistic skill and motivation. If you manage to churn out a painting, however terrible, in less than optimum circumstances then this shows that you still have some kind of artistic motivation. It shows that you’re still determined to be an artist.

Not only that, if you’ve got limited time or energy available to make a painting then it can also be a test of your skill in the sense that you have to find a sneaky way to make the least-terrible terrible painting with the resources you have. Likewise, if you’re feeling extremely uninspired, then working out how to make a painting (however terrible) despite this can be a great test of your artistic skill.

The third is that it can actually increase your artistic confidence. If you’re in a situation where making art feels more difficult than usual, then even producing a bad piece of art under those circumstances means that you’re more dedicated to making art than some artists might be. After all, if you still have the confidence to know that you can still make art under adverse circumstances, then this is always a good thing.

Likewise, having the confidence to actually show off your failed artwork can help novice artists too. There seems to be this misconception that even vaguely good artists are people who only ever produce great works of art. This isn’t true! All artists make crappy art every once in a while.

Yes, even the artists who are so good that they make you think “I’ll never be able to make something as great as that!” will make terrible art occasionally. The main difference is that many artists tend to hide their failed pieces, to give the impression that they only produce great art all of the time. They don’t.

Finally, it gets you used to failing sometimes. Being able to handle failure is one of the most important parts of being a creative person, since it’s the only way that any artist, writer etc.. improves. If you want to get better at making art, you have to fail sometimes. So, making terrible art occasionally can be a good way to get used to it.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂