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Don't worry about what this article talks about. If you're a writer, or an artist, or a musician, etc and are having trouble getting things done, the solution is as simple as this:

Set a time slot everyday where you will sit down and do nothing but work on creating your art. Doesn't matter if it's good or bad, your only job is to sit there and create for the whole time period. That's the key, is consistently trying to do it.

I highly recommend reading the The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, he goes into this a lot more - https://www.amazon.com/War-Art-Through-Creative-Battles/dp/1...

He also talks about the concept of "Resistance", which is basically a force of nature that's works against you getting things done, and that gets stronger the closer you are towards doing work that is meaningful to you.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -- albeit a perfect one -- to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes -- the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

-- From "Art and Fear"

See also T.P. Wright's Law governing the rate of process improvement with the volume of production. This focuses on labour input, not quality output, but is on the order of 10-15% with each doubling of output.

Good discussion and references here: http://tikalon.com/blog/blog.php?article=2013/technology_pro...

J. Doyne Farmer discusses this extensively in his work (referenced above).

Another example is how patient outcomes improve with the size of the healthcare facility a.k.a patient volumes e.g. http://www.mexicobariatricsurgerycenters.com/analysis-bariat...

Interesting. I'm familiar with the concept and have been for decades, though I don't know that I'd previously seen actual data. A sixfold difference in mortality outcomes strikes me as pretty significant. Usually you'd want to see a caseload severity index when comparing data such as these, though I suspect for elective surgery that isn't a major contributing factor.

You're making me want to dig deeper into this area of study. Thanks.

Can someone with access to google please search gwern.net please find the page where Gwern shows there's no documentary trace of this actually happening and link it please? I'd find it myself but bing isn't up to the task and Google is blocked in China.

I tried looking for it with Google and couldn't find it, either on or off his site. I did find an interesting article about the obsolete practice of sanding floors to clean them: https://www.gwern.net/Sand

Still think it's a dumb example because the quantity group could produce 1 pot that's 50 pounds, and it'd be awful, but would get an A.

From someone who is reasonably adept with ceramics and just bought another 100 pounds of clay this morning (aka I know how much 50 pounds of clay weighs) because I'm making a six foot tall piece in an intermediate/advanced ceramics class that I'm taking for fun: 50 pounds of clay is actually a lot, and not everyone can make a pot that big. So if someone managed to make one 50 pound pot, it would still require quite a lot of work. Plus, there's the assumption that the majority of the people in the class are interested in learning, so they will be trying to make something good.

>aka I know how much 50 pounds of clay weighs

Does it not weigh 50 pounds??

My mom has potted for over 40 years. We had a kiln and a wheel in our house throughout my childhood. I know a fair bit about it, even though I haven't done that much of it myself. At the end of the day, 50 pounds weights 50 pounds. it'd be hard to lift, but to make a crappy hugely thick base with something resembling a pot on top wouldn't take much effort.

If university taught me anything, it's that most people don't seem to be just interested in learning.

It's a story about students with some internal desire to be good at pottery, not just to get good grades. The grading system forces them over the hurdle of hesitation, to produce quantity without being paralyzed by anxieties over not being good enough, and then their own desire to improve nonetheless uses that imposed practice productively.

It would make more sense if they were just graded on number of pieces, considering it's a story not something that actually happened, they should just correct it.

I think the point was that they didn't do that, even though they could have.

It's not something that actually happened. It's hypothetical.

So then why are you worrying about how it could have actually happened.

Also "learn from mistakes" is taken for granted with quantity here, but it is very far from reality that learning comes inherently from practice. In the example, I would assume a student graded solely by weight couldnt care less about learning. I would create 10 pots reaching the minimum quality possible to be considered a pot and move on without looking back.

Also, it is very reasonable to assume that a student graded by quality would practice a lot and discard (and learn with) the worst pots.

You clearly know what's wrong with parable, so adjust it accordingly. Give an A to the top 25% of the class when sorted by number of pots made.

If someone told you to produce "a huge quantity of ceramics" would you go for huge in size or huge in number of items made?

I'm an amateur writer / hobbyist. Having had a decade+ practice of this back-and-forth procrastination with my writing, I'd add "blank page" to War of Art and your excellent comment.

"Blank Page" refers to having a separate notebook, or open document page on your computer, that you write why you don't want to write, during your time period.

If I don't want to write, I write that: "I don't feel like writing today. It's not going to mean anything, or I'm bored with the story. Today wasn't that good of a day.." etc. Eventually, it dumps the things distracting you, and after five minutes I'm typically back into writing my actual work.

Creative endeavors/procrastination has always been interesting to me, as I haven't had an issue dumping 90-120 hours into different employers, but have the issue with my own writing.

This is also a tool used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in various forms of use, namely, sleep. If you can't sleep at night, sometimes you need to dump everything in your brain on paper (which many times turns into a huge to-do list).

I don't keep a separate page, but this is pretty much what I do as well. If nothing is coming, i just write garbage until I find something I find interesting, gets the thought process going, and lets me concentrate on something other than "i can't think about what to write next".

Both of these are excellent ideas! I'll try them out!

This is very interesting. I'm going to give this a try for when I procrastinate at work.

An important thing to note: I wouldn't call this a fool-proof way of getting creative, necessarily. I tried this just now, and writing down my concerns and "stoppages" actually brought up some pretty good points as to why not to bother.

I tried this for gamedev, just for some background. I've been putting off starting some sort of one-off game in Unity even though people scream at me "just make something!!". I thought about why I was hesitating to do so, and wrote down a Blank Page. Here's a few notable things I came up with:


> It's too hard on my own.

Games are multimedia projects. They incorporate audio, video, input, networking, etc. Game development teams are composed of experts in each of the fields the game touches. It's like making a movie, and making an entire movie on your own is somewhere between extremely difficult and laughably impossible.

> It involves a lot of planning.

In order to make games the "right" way, you need to design the right way from the very beginning. There's a lot of prep work ("preproduction") that involve determining gameplay systems, art and sound direction, and a whole bunch of other things in advance.

> It's not something I already know how to do.

True, nobody is born knowing how to make a game. But that just means you need to gain the skills in order to do so, which involves learning said skills, which involves time and effort. Therefore...

> It's a big time investment.

Making a game is in fact a significant time investment. Even if you're offloading graphics and netcode work to someone or something else, you still have to write gameplay code, playtest, debug, redesign, and iterate. Games can and often do take on the order of years to develop. And even outside of developing the actual game itself, the skills needed to even start (e.g. programming, game design, art, etc.) are things that people spend their entire lives mastering.

> I won't really be able to make something worthwhile.

Even if you do spend your free time putting your game together to the point where you're happy with its polish and development, it can still ultimately be an uninteresting failure - in which case, all that time and effort is arguably time not well spent. That's a huge blow, especially in a day and age where free time is at a premium. This makes trying to make a game a much less appealing prospect. And even if someone can make something worthwhile, it'd be after a few games that aren't as great anyway, so that time and effort spent multiplies.


Writing this down actually helped me put my concerns into words: games are not single-person endeavors, even for relatively simple ones. Books can be written by a single person since they only touch upon a very specific subject and field that's reasonable for a single person to handle, but games are a very different beast that tie together many different disciplines. To put it in software development terms, books are comparable to web apps and command-line utilities, while games are more comparable to operating systems and enterprise software.

That's not to say the Blank Page exercise isn't worth it, not at all - it's very helpful for organizing your thoughts and for self-reflection, and you can see how it helped me. But sometimes, if you procrastinate so much over doing something, the reality is that you might just not want to do it in the first place.

Here are some counter-arguments, for anyone who might be considering the dilemma:

> It's too hard on my own.

It can be, but it really does depend on the scale of what you're making: there's a large class of games that aren't too difficult for individuals, and a large class that are; and, in the class of approachable games, there are still fun, interesting, novel projects that can be undertaken.

> It involves a lot of planning.

This is one thing you'll learn to find a balance with by writing games. There is too much and too little planning. Don't worry too much about making them the 'right' way to begin with. In my own case I intentionally didn't look up any info. on the correct way of making games until I'd tried my own way first (which is much more fun and worked out fine). After doing that, looking up established practices was way more interesting (and my own approaches were laughably bad in comparison—but ya learn!).

> It's a big time investment.

Some are, some aren't. As others have mentioned, you can make a quick game in two days or so. More importantly though, I'd say to try it out and see if you enjoy the process: if you don't, then the time investment probably will be too much, and you could end up spoiling your love for games in general. If you do enjoy it then, whatever the final outcome of the game, it was time well spent.

> I won't really be able to make something worthwhile.

You may get ambitious about it one day after you've developed your skills to a certain extent, and find yourself with a greater interest in sharing an experience through your game than in working on it. If you get to that point, you're now in the realm of working on art, and that's got its own whole host of difficulties.

Scale is important.

You should scale your expectations down, come up with the most simple, minimum viable product. If you still don't feel the scale is small enough, try to break off a chunk of that MVP you think you /can/ complete.

Then try.

You're probably going to make an initial version as you're learning, and your design is either going to radically change as you learn more about the problem you're actually trying to solve and the tools you're solving it with, or you'll end up throwing it away and refactoring the entire thing when you do have an understanding.

Then, when you've got something that works, you'll start tweaking it. Making X better, or adding Y; or even removing Z because you realize it isn't something that should be there.

That's the programming equivalent of the 50 pots thing. Each iteration you run being like a small test-firing, and each deployment being like a pot you actually feel like putting through use tests.

If you're worried about how to make the game, I really recommend watching some of the handmade hero videos:


I think it's really cool to see Casey walk through all the steps that go into figuring out how to make the game on stream. I skipped the very beginning, as it was pretty windows specific, but the first episode I watched was really cool:


He sets up auto-hot reloading of the C++ game code, to cut down on dev time.

It's actually a large body of work, (more than 100 hours!), and even watching at x2 speed, it'll take a long time to get through all the videos, but I think they are pretty informative, and fun to watch.

I think you're overthinking it. Making simple games isn't hard. Just sit down one day and write a clone of Tetris in 24 hours, adding some twists of your own if you want. If you do that, you'll be a million steps ahead of anyone who thinks, "I should make a game someday." You'll have learned more than any book or tutorial can teach you, not just about technical matters, but about your own abilities. Or just join a 48 hour game jam and make some small thing with some friends.

After making some small things like that, you'll see how easy it is to just jump into some cool idea you've been thinking about. If you don't do this, and instead just plan out some big multi-person hobby project, there is literally 0% chance it will ever get finished, or even started. It's literally never been done before.

Question: Do you like being a game developer or do you like the idea of being a game developer?

I've never been a game developer, so I'd have to say the latter.

It'd certainly be fun to work as a game developer and learning about game design is fascinating (if mindblowingly complicated), and I might be open to working as a game dev on a team sometime in the future, but at that point, it's much like any other dev job. I like games, I can tell you that, and I want to see more games of the kind that I like, but I'm certainly not learned or developed enough to put those games together myself.

To expand on this: there's a difference between being interested in something, and being motivated or driven to become something. I'm kinda meh on all sorts of software engineering fields like networking and systems programming, but I was hella motivated to get into the software industry so I could get a job and become independent. Likewise, I find game dev and design interesting to read and learn about, but I don't really have any motivation or drive to dive headlong into the game dev and design industry like I did software dev. They aren't mutually inclusive.

Uhhh, that's a win in my book. The process helps you do things you think are actually worth doing, and not do things that aren't.

>An important thing to note: I wouldn't call this a fool-proof way of getting creative

I didn't interpret it as a way of getting creative in the qualitative sense of "creative" but rather in the "productive" sense. To that end, the exercise you went through and shared supports that notion.

Yep, I agree with this. I wrote my first novel during my daily commute (40 minutes each way), and part of the trick was getting into the habit of opening my laptop as soon as I sat down. I also discovered a lot about writer's block. I wrote about the whole thing here: https://medium.com/@gabrielgambetta/how-i-wrote-my-first-nov... (the companion article about the open source pipeline to get it published was discussed in HN earlier: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12311200)

Very interesting! Would love to see your Dan Brown novel scene breakdown spreadsheet out of curiosity if you were open to sharing it.

I have no troubles with writing. When I start a new novel, I start with the plot and quickly lay out each chapter by starting it with 1-2 summary paragraphs, which are later discarded. Then I simply write until the novel is finished.

I write only in cafés, so watching other people is my main distraction, but surfing the net and checking emails is also nice from time to time. Procrastination is an important part of writing, I don't see what the problem is with it. Are there still writers who are paid by page/minute?

Personally, I don't trust machine gun writers' writing very much. Whether it's creative or scientific writing, nobody can think that fast, and producing good texts takes a lot of time, corrections and rewriting anyway.

Now if I only knew how to sell my German Sci-Fi novels and make at least a little bit of money from them. That's the real problem. :-/

A break here and there isn't a problem; I wouldn't even call that procrastination. Never starting, or starting too late to do the job right - that is the problem.

Can't you sell them on Amazon?

Of course, I'll do that with one of them very soon. Not that I will sell many copies without marketing...

Sadly, in the German book market Sci-Fi is almost dead. The reason for this is not so bad, though. There are so many outstanding English writers that originals and a few translations here and there cover almost the entire program segments of the traditional publishers.

Unfortunately, Amazon is not the ideal solution either. They are kind of evil and universally hated by bookstores. It feels a bit like selling your soul to the devil.

John Cleese talks about the same as you're saying in his lecture on creativity: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/04/12/john-cleese-on-crea...

The videos in that link seems to be down, but the whole talk is worth a watch: https://vimeo.com/121544005

I also second that book. I think the other possibility that people who are struggling with getting things done is maybe they like the idea of something more than actually doing it. I came to that realization when it came to programming. I discussed with one of my teachers (who also happens to be a life coach) my struggles, and when he suggested maybe I just like the idea of being a programmer more than actually wanting to be one. It definitely got me to think about things. Now I'm just spending more time learning about what I'm good at and focusing on my strengths.

You're completely spot on about consistency. I was told long ago that when practicing guitar (scales, ideas, etc) it's important to actually focus on the activity, not just half-way paying attention while watching TV or something. The focus made the connection, and from there growth and results came forward. After 20+ years of guitar, not as my source of income, granted, I gave the Eric Clapton method (myth?) a try: Put it down for 6 months. That was really refreshing. Callouses come back.

Also, totally a personal experience thing, but I've tended to favor music creation when in "cheerful" head space (usually summer) and gravitate more toward writing projects when in "downer" like conditions (usually winter). They barely overlap, and the pattern has taken me years to notice, but it's there. I've frequently felt like creativity in my realm is not often controllable, but more like an eruption to be harnessed. Thus the discipline and "making time" for hobby-like efforts in the creative realm is where the real effort and hang-ups tend to happen for me.

Mason Curry also wrote a book about artists and their schedules http://masoncurrey.com/

>That's the key, is consistently trying to do it.

Laziness is a virtue; at least among programmers. "Writers" just use different language.

Writing to say you write is just creating needless noise at best, and perhaps a kind of technical debt at the worser ends.

If you have something to write, write it. If you don't, you don't (because you are doing something else).

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