Making things

Designers are never short on ideas, they’re usually short on the ability to do them, so just give most of them up. Writers are likewise never short on ideas just maybe short on things to do with them that might not be just about the words. Finally, technology people are usually short on ideas, but can make things. The universe is cold and unfeeling like that. I should say that I’m a fantastic combination of all of these: a brilliant, ground-breaking designer, astute and terribly well read writer churning out prose and of course a confident and a virtuoso technologist constructing the life-changing tools of tomorrow. The fact is I’m not even vaguely any of these.

What I am is willing to do is work, and that is what you need to make a thing. It might be my Rustbelt upbringing or that immigrant tireless work ethic. Not sure and it doesn’t matter. You need to be willing to get your hands as dirty as the sketchbook page and just spend the time. I wish there was a magic formula. I wish I was writing the blog post that was that magic formula, something along the lines of “5 Easy and Quick Things That Will Take You To The Creative Software Stars,” or something like that. This would be the dream, that there is a shortcut, a succinct and definitive list of best practices that would take your creative idea, the one that lives and breathes in the back of your mind throughout your paying-the-bills hours. It doesn’t exist. If it did it would be the shortest article in the world and would go something like this.

If you’re a designer or writer and you have an idea for a thing that you want the world to see and use, you have to work at it. You have to put the sketchbook down – you have to stop writing about it. You have to start working at making it happen. There is no other way.

As a designer you’re good at thinking up and describing how things should be done and created. This isn’t necessarily good for actually doing that. We designers have to make some of the things we think up and that takes putting it out there into the real world, talking to anyone and everyone about it, and spending a lot of time and money you won’t probably ever recover putting it out there. It’s all very thankless, but there is no other way.

When I started Bastion, I just started. I started with the story and how that story should work, and then how it would be read and then the software evolved around it at the same time. I had no idea what I was doing, despite how much I thought I did, which I’ve written about before (Bastion’s Last Stand pt.1: How Not to Develop a New Way of Reading). It was about making things and telling stories and it took all of these three things to make it all come together. And still went nowhere. But that is fine and that isn’t just me lying to myself because it is. The point in retrospect, with those 20/20 glasses we all have years later, is the work. That’s it. Not the idea. The work, no matter where it goes, especially considering statistically it’s likely to go absolutely nowhere.

And that’s it really. We all have ideas in our heads. We all dream of the things that should be and how we would do it. The only way to get it out of your head is to do it. Doesn’t matter how, maybe you just write about it. Doesn’t really matter. But the ideas will sit there and stew and bubble away through the years and eventually drive you crazy. So you have to get them out, on paper or something else, before they kill you. We’re attached to our ideas because they make us feel special, just like when you solve that thing and the world loves you for it, which never happens. Working to get it out and letting it die there on the deck of the boat out of water is probably a really bad metaphor but you have to let you ideas die which is a hard thing to do.

If you're wondering how I kill ideas, you might be slightly interested in Killing Darlings.