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Let your creative ideas percolate!

An alien woman looking contemplative as her coffee percolates from a coffee machine

Over the last two years Ryan has been reminding me that we had a 70% drafted out book sitting on the metaphorical design shelf. Each time we sat down to talk about upcoming releases he’d remind me that Hal and Roger’s Creature Compendium 2 was at an advanced stage.

Sometimes he’d also nudge a bit by reminding me that it was nominated for an ENNIE award and as such maybe we should finish the sequel and get it to market.

And he wasn’t wrong. Who sits on an award-winning series? Well, me it turns out. Why? In all honesty, I wasn’t that happy with the sequel. Something about it didn’t sit well and I couldn’t figure it out.

So, I left it, deferring a release date and then pushing back the internal date multiple times. I also didn’t work on the book, I left it. I even, in partnership with Ryan, wrote a different collection of creatures The Arcane Index Vol 2, which I loved writing and is a book that I’m proud of.

And still, Hal and Roger’s second volume sat in the background although I did go back to the file a couple of times and read through it. But publish? Nope, I still wasn’t happy.

And that’s the only thing I can say about how I felt, it wasn’t that anything was bad, it was the same layout, same observations from Hal and Roger – all good content that I still liked. But it wasn’t right, I wasn’t happy. I could feel that the book could be better, but I couldn’t work out how.

And time passed.

And I guess, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, the wheels were turning. Because maybe a month ago, I revisited the file. I hadn’t planned to, at least no more than normal when I consider projects sitting in the background. But I opened it, moved a page around, read an entry that was lacking an image so I thought, ‘Hmm, should have an image’ and created one, then another for the next entry and then I changed a stat block… And three hours later I realised that we were cooking with gas. (As they used to say when I was growing up).

We are now on the cusp of the book going to Kickstarter and I’m very pleased about it. It looks like I want it to look, and it reads like I want it to read.

So, what made the difference?

Honestly, time. Time for the ideas to percolate, not just about the content specifically, but my ideas for large book formatting, my ideas about DnD5e creatures (the book is written to be compatible with that system) and about my ideas on layout and creature art.

As I read the original draft, the current me thought ‘Not bad two-year-ago me, but we’ve learnt some things since then, been to other places, and written a lot of content since this material. This could be slightly different. I’ve got new ideas on all this now.’

Nothing much has changed, but everything is, I feel, just a little bit better. Interestingly, one area where it is better is that the book has perhaps 25% more creatures in it than the previous volume and in the original draft of vol 2. And that’s whilst keeping the page count to ensure that postal costs stay manageable.

Once I worked out that layout challenge (the solution was remarkably simple in hindsight) I felt a lot happier about the book.

The take-away from all of this is that there is a real power in writing ahead of yourself when it comes to your creative content. Not because it puts you ahead of your deadlines, but because it gives you time to go away, learn, develop and improve your thinking, so that when you return to that content that you previously created, you can do so with not just fresh eyes, but more experienced ones.

Two years is a long time to leave a project, and I’m not suggesting you do that. After all, experience can be gained over the course of a single event that occurs from one day to the next. The point is that if you are being actively creative all the time, you will improve and refine your thinking regarding your content.

That means that next weeks you, might have a different view on the work that the current you has done. If you are the dungeon master for a monthly RPG session, then write the content for next month now, then review it next month, and be prepared that the future you might have some new ideas.

And a bonus point for all this? This makes it worth dusting off the old ideas that you had that didn’t quite cross the finishing line. It might be that the current you, with all your newly accumulated experience might be able to craft something wonderful from the original draft.


I hope you have great success refining your old ideas, whether that's for your home games, or content you sell to others.

Until next time, keep gaming.





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