Check out The Creative Roleplayer at Mindwalker Training!

Roleplaying is a skill you can learn. Now, there is a textbook for it.

The Creative Roleplayer is a guide for those of you who are hungry for more. Whether a Player or a Game Master, this guide will elevate your game to the next level. Rich with simple, practical advice, it will transform the way you do everything. This system-neutral advice works with D&D, Pathfinder, FATE, GURPS and many more.

Inside, you will find:

  • tips for creating unique characters,
  • tools for building cities and civilisations,
  • advice on making the story memorable,
  • techniques for drawing your character (without needing artistic skills),
  • body language tricks for captivating your fellow players,
  • simple hacks for memorising stats and playing from memory,

And many more vital gaming skills. Every tool is fast and effective, optimised to give you the greatest result from the least effort. After applying these techniques, your game will run smoother and transfix your party. Your creations will be more memorable than ever.

Your imagination is wonderful. The world deserves your mental designs to be the best they can. With this guide, we can achieve that together.


cover

Download the free roleplaying guide, The Creative Roleplayer

Dark Creative Arts

Ever get stuck in a rut? Ever feel like your creativity has stalled? You’ve made excellent progress but now, everything has run dry. A small, insignificant problem has derailed your efforts and you can’t think around it. You try, but you keep thinking the same thoughts. You can’t see the problem with fresh eyes. And it’s killing you.

Have you ever felt like that? I think every creative person has, at one point or another. There are ways around it. I can share with you how to think with a fresh perspective. But you don’t have to keep reading. Be warned: some of these tricks are dangerous. Because they are powerful and risky, you don’t have to continue. They push your mind into new places but this comes at a price. Use them at your own risk.

But before we get into it, have you ever noticed how many creative people are alcoholics?

Continue reading

Memory Update

I talked before about practicing creativity while learning a handy trick for memorising numbers. Those of you who follow my Twitter know that the first time I tried this for 27 numbers between 0-26, I recalled them with 74% accuracy. Better than without using this technique, but hardly a success – that’s one error every four numbers.

But I’ve been practicing. I bumped the amount of numbers I memorise up to 30 – not a huge increase, just enough to get it to a nice, round number. My range has more than doubled – I now can memorise numbers between zero and 60.

My accuracy is through the roof.

I’ve yet to have a perfect run. I have this tendency to make simple mistakes. But I’m routinely scoring 98% accuracy – an error of just one or two digits out of 30 two-digit numbers.

Obviously, I still have a lot of work to do. My accuracy needs to reach 100%. I need to finish committing my system to memory – it’s only useful if I can remember all numbers, not just those up to 60. And memory enthusiasts are probably laughing at my paltry 30 number capacity. They’d also think my speed is ridiculous. Still, it’s not bad for maybe 20 minutes a day, most days of the week.

Learning this new skill has reintroduced me to something wonderful that happens when practicing. My abilities rose quickly, at first. I’d increase the range by five or ten per day and my accuracy was trending upwards. It was fun. But then I hit a wall. It was a struggle to visualise my subjects verbing my objects. It was even harder recalling them later. I could feel my mind working hard whenever it needed to translate an image to a number, or vice versa.

Then one day, it felt good. It felt right. I could feel it deep within my body. The images popped into my head bright and clear. My memory palace was vivid, intense. Real. I could smell the grass, the dust and the pot pourri. I could hear the floorboards squeak beneath my feet. I was fast and precise.

The process was a pure joy.

I didn’t score perfectly that day. When I was translating the images back into numbers I made a simple mistake – I paired the right image with the wrong number. But I was faster and more accurate than ever.

There’s no thrill like when your abilities leap forward.

Now I know how PCs feel when they level up.

Practice Memory, Practice Creativity

Here’s a fun trick for improving your creativity. It will take you a few minutes a day, for a few weeks. By the end, you’ll not only be more creative but have a useful trick for your daily life.

Remember the link between memory and creativity? Let’s turn this concept up a notch.

You may think you have a poor memory, envying those people you have heard about (or met) who seem to recall everything with such incredible detail. You may even be thinking about those lucky people with eidetic or photographic memory.

Here’s the thing: you have an excellent memory for images and locations. You also have an excellent memory for things that interest you. Your memory is weaker for boring or abstract things. This is our evolutionary legacy – if you had to remember where the best hunting grounds are or which of these two similar-looking berries is poisonous, you would have no problems. Recalling your bank account number or your new colleague’s name – skills far more useful in the modern world – are a struggle, because our brains aren’t wired that way.

What about people with excellent, even photographic, memories? Well, either by natural aptitude or deliberate training, most advanced memories employ simple tricks. Tricks that anyone can learn.

Photographic memory is a myth.

“…there is no scientific consensus regarding the nature, the proper definition, or even the very existence of eidetic imagery…

… reports of eidetic imagery are best understood merely as rather hyperbolic descriptions that are sometimes given, by some children (and, perhaps, the occasional uneducated and illiterate adult), of ordinary (though perhaps particularly vivid) visual memory imagery.”

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/quasi-perceptual.html

The secret lays in that last bit – ordinary, though vivid, visual memory imagery. You can remember an apple easily enough but struggle to retain a random number like 572. Why? Because you can visualise an apple. You can hold it in your mind’s eye. You can see the light bounce off the firm, waxy skin. You can feel the cold, smooth skin that offers light resistance as you pierce it with a fingernail. The flesh beneath is sticky and crunchy. You can smell its sweetness, a thick aroma you can taste at the back of your throat.

An apple engages the senses. You can imagine it. The number 572 is abstract, meaningless, hard to visualise.

The trick is to equate the two. If 572 is hard to imagine, associate it with something that’s easy and remember that instead.

There’s something I like to call a memory key. You create a list of whatever it is you want to be able to memorise – in this case, numbers, but you could use letters, playing cards, anything you can list – and associate each with the following:

  • Subject: a specific person, animal or entity.
  • Verb: an action or activity.
  • Object: a thing that the Subject is doing the Verb to.

For example, in the memory key I am working on, the number 8 corresponds to: Harry Potter heals hair. Subject-Verb-Object.

(As an aside: you might notice that my SVOs for 8 all start with H, the 8th letter. My memory key is, in fact, organised alphabetically. I doubt it makes it easier to remember – it just appeals to my OCD.)

This Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) pattern is how simple English sentences are structured: “The boy (S) kicked (V) the ball (O).” Being simple and concrete, they are easy to remember. This also allows you to piece them together to create vivid mental images.

The memory key I am working on has unique SVO sets for every number from 00 to 99. This lets me memorise random six-digit numbers as a single scene. For the first pair of numbers, I pick the corresponding subject; for the second two, the verb; for the last two, the object. I then visualise and remember the corresponding scene, rather than the number.

memory_key

This is a bit of work. Picking distinctive SVO sets for each number, then memorising them, takes a bit of time. Like I said, though, a few minutes a day for a few weeks will do the trick. They payoff for your memory is that six-digit numbers become visual and concrete. Which is easier to remember: the number 240856 or the image of Xena: Warrior Princess applying animal dung to her wounds? Both mean the same thing, thanks to my memory key.

(What if you need to remember a number that is a different length, say, 2408567? Well, since it’s the same number as above with a 7 on the end, I imagine the same thing next to a 7 – specifically, Xena rubbing dung on her scratches next to a ghost. A small ghost, to remind me the number is 7 and not 07. Simple.)

Learning Your Memory Key

I mentioned that you can learn your memory key in a few weeks for just a few minutes a day. That seems like a tall order – a memory key for the numbers 00-99 has 100 subjects, verbs and objects, plus the numbers they are associated with. But it’s easier than you think, so long as you take it slowly and practice often.

On the first day, start at 00. Visualise the subject for this number – make it vivid, distinctive and interesting. If possible, incorporate the number onto their body as a logo on their chest or pattern in their fur. Picture them performing the Verb – again, make it vivid and, again, incorporate the number. (How do you add a number to an action? Maybe someone is shouting the number as the verb happens.) Then imagine the object the same way. So you have the Subject Verbing the Object, with the corresponding number tattooed across the scene.

Do the same for 01, then 02. Stop after 04 and revise what you have covered.

Do the same for 05-09, then revise those, then revise 00-09.

And that’s all for the first day. This only takes a few minutes and gets faster with practice.

The next day, during some mental free time – say, on your commute or in the shower – run through your memory key. Make a note of where you are struggling. Consider changing your memory key for elements you just can’t get, but don’t go nuts – unlearning an association is harder than learning it in the first place.

Later this day, learn 10-19 the same way as above. The next day, run through the whole memory key in the shower again.

That will take you ten days – a week and a half – to cover the entire memory key. The only other thing you need to do is practice.

Practicing Your Memory Key

I encourage you to apply your memory key during your day. Convert numbers you come across using your memory key, then back again.

You might also benefit from truly random numbers, though – dates and times work well, for example, but don’t include higher numbers. There are websites that generate random numbers for you or, if you know programming, you could write a simple script. If you want to make your own simple random number generator without resorting to programming, you can do so in Microsoft Excel.

Write the following formula in three adjacent cells:

=RANDBETWEEN(0,99)

The RANDBETWEEN() function generates a random number between the first element (in this case, zero) and the second (99).

You might notice that occasionally this number is shorter than six digits. This is because it displays ‘8’ instead of ‘08’. We can fix that with custom formatting:

  1. With these three cells selected, press Ctrl-1. This brings up the Format Cells window.
  2. Under the Number tab, under Category, select Custom (at the bottom).
  3. In the Type field, enter ‘00’ (without the quotes). This forces Excel to display the number as two digits at all times.

And this is creative, how, exactly?

By now you have learned a neat little trick. While useful for remembering dates or phone numbers, it doesn’t help you be more creative.

Except of course it does. To do this well enough for it to work, you end up practicing visualising things. A lot. Really vividly, distinctively and interestingly. This exercise isn’t a memory exercise; that’s just a side effect. Rather, it’s an imagination exercise. Your ability to create depends a lot on your ability to mentally visualise things – at the end of this, that is something you can do much better.

Improving your creativity is fun, though a lot of hard work at times. The thing is, training your mind to be more creative makes it better at everything. A lot of people would doubt you if you said improving your creativity can improve your memory, but here we are, steadily improving both at the same time.

The Good News about Creativity

I’ve talked a lot about using energy and focus (and a little about using memory) to drive creativity. Now it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Creativity… what is it, exactly?

You already have a definition in your mind, even if it’s ‘I know it when I see it’. That probably beats the most common definition I come across: the process of generating something both new and useful. It works but it feels a little flat. I think we can do better.

Creativity is magic.

I’m serious. Think about it – your senses pour information into your brain that gets stored as memories. Creativity is the act of pulling something out of your memories that was never there in the first place. Like a rabbit out of a hat, except there is no trick or illusion. Creativity is like remembering something you never learned. Magic.

Now, you might think that definition is a little odd. And you’d be right. After all, remembering is a smooth, clean process – you delve into your thoughts and retrieve the information you want. Creativity is a messier process where you combine and experiment and create and tweak. Except… that’s not right. You are not a computer. Memory isn’t a clean process; it’s a messy one. The act of remembering information requires you to imagine it. Each time you remember something, you change it a little. Memories don’t sit in well-organised boxes; they are an entangled mess like the cords behind your computer – follow one cord and you’ll likely end up at the wrong power point.

Simply put, you don’t remember information – you recreate it. This is how false memories work. Your mind creates something new and mistakes it for a recreation of something old.

This is excellent news, especially if you have ever described yourself as ‘not creative’. If you can remember, you can create.

Now, again, you might object to this oversimplification. And, again, that would be fair. Someone who memorises a book about painting doesn’t suddenly become a creative artist. That’s true, but there’s a couple of points I’d like to address about that.

Firstly, ‘creativity’ doesn’t mean ‘can paint beautiful landscapes that make you weep’. Obviously it can mean that. But normal, everyday creativity is something that everyone has. There are a few things in life that can be objectively optimised; for everything else, creativity plays a key role. Deciding what to cook for dinner or what shoes/shirt combo to wear invoke the same mental process of a grand artist, just smaller and faster.

Secondly, while memorising information about painting doesn’t automatically lead to creative art, the reverse is not true. Highly skilled creative people, by necessity, have memorised vast amounts of relevant information. Some of this information might be from books, but much of it will be informal: techniques observed from other artists, styles they have experimented with, and so forth. Any skill – every skill – involves memorising incredible amounts of information.

Think about a skill you do well. Now think about all the information in your head about that skill. If you wrote a book about it, it would fill volumes.

So, the good news about creativity. You already do it. Misidentifying yourself as ‘not a creative person’ because you cook by following recipes is neither helpful nor true. (Besides, even if you never deviate from recipes, there are infinite recipes out there – how did you choose your favourites? I doubt it was using some optimisation technique.) Rather than think of creativity as something ‘other people’ do, recognise that it is a core part of your life.

If it is something you already do, it is something you can improve.

A lot of creative skill relies on memory. You might never rival Picasso but, if you learn a lot about painting, you will exceed the average person.

It is easy – nay, inevitable – to learn lots about things that interest you.

So find what you know deeply and embrace your creativity.

Creative Forces: Focus

If you read this blog, you know that I talk a lot about creativity. Creativity and what enables it. Rather than some unknowable quantity or fixed biological trait, the ability to create arises from the interplay of so many dynamic factors. These factors can be nurtured and enhanced. Creativity is a skill, one that you can learn.

Everything changes your creative state. So far I’ve mentioned a few factors in particular. Continue reading

Memory and Creativity

What is the link between memory and creativity? Is there one? If so, how does it work? How does the ability to recall facts and situations impact on your ability to imagine new concepts?

I’ve heard a lot of opinions on this topic. Since I’m on a quest to understand and explore creativity, I decided to dig into these opinions and see where the facts lie.

Possibility 1: Memory and Creativity are Unrelated

I’m not sure how popular this opinion is. In my circles, this is a minority view. Even though memory and creativity seem, at first glance, like very different skills, most people I know suspect that there will be a connection between any two brain functions. Even if memory and creativity don’t directly influence each other, there are likely to be indirect effects. One will impact on something, which will tweak something, that will alter something else… until every aspect of the brain is affected.

It’s also hard to prove a negative. If there is no link at all, we will struggle to see that in the data. The only thing we can be sure of in neuroscience is that it is complex beyond our wildest dreams – we will likely see patterns even where none are there.

Still, let’s assume we can trust our data. We’ll put this possibility on the backburner and revisit it if none of the others fit.

Possibility 2: Poor Memory Fosters Strong Creativity

This is an interesting idea. I think it becomes more plausible if, like myself, you have a pretty poor memory.

Memory is a fiendishly complicated thing, so this will be an oversimplification. But imagine someone with excellent memory for details. If they wish to recall a fact, it usually comes easily to them. If they can’t recall something, chances are they can remember where to find the information. They consult some repository – a book, a colleague, a website – and are reacquainted with the information.

Contrast this with a bad memory. Details often slip through the mental cracks, leaving behind the gist of things (if that). If such a person tries to remember something, it is a struggle. Their brain digs deep and works hard, testing a range of memorised facts and concepts to see if any fit. Such a person is mentally equipped to deal with broad concepts (at the expense of details) and their mind is constantly churning unrelated information together. It sounds exactly like the creative process.

On some level, this feels right to me. As a creative individual with a poor memory, I can attest that this struggle to recall information is weirdly similar to the act of synthesis. After all, it is clear that even good memories don’t take perfect replications of what they experience – rather, each time you remember something, your brain is imagining it. This is why false memories are so common – your brain can’t distinguish between a memory and an imagined scenario.

On the other hand, something about this feels off. Although there are different types of intelligences, it seems counterintuitive that a mind that fails at something as fundamental as memory could excel at something as high-level as creativity. At best, this possibility seems… incomplete.

Possibility 3: Memory and Creativity Nurture Each Other

Have you ever tried to deconstruct your own creative process? If you have, you know it’s a difficult task. Self-analysis of any kind is hindered by your own brain tricking itself. Your mind wears blinders when it gazes upon its own inner workings.

Having said that, you probably understand your creative process enough to know this: ideas are not born in a vacuum. Every thought, no matter how unique or innovative, is built on others. Maybe it is taking two concepts and blending them to create a third. Maybe it’s taking the mental tools of one discipline and applying them to another. Maybe it’s taking an idea and tweaking it, then tweaking it again until it no longer resembles the original. Whether you are designing an engine or writing a novel, you are standing on the shoulders of giants and nothing is original.

Now, it seems a little late in the post to ask what we mean by ‘memory’. After all, the term covers many functions of the brain. But in this view of creativity as a process of modification rather than genesis, it doesn’t matter – all types of memory are useful:

  • Working memory – storing the words in this sentence and the details in your mind right now.
  • Short-term memory – storing what you had for breakfast and the gist of whatever you read before this.
  • Long-term memory – everything that the mind can draw on days or decades later.

We would expect the creative process to draw on all of this. A strong working memory holds the thoughts as they are mutated, mixed, tested and refined; a strong short-term memory adds useful recent acquisitions to the working memory frenzy; a strong long-term memory provides a vast library of resources and raw materials for you to work with.

The Verdict

The argument linking creativity and memory is compelling. But just because I convinced myself, it doesn’t mean the question is answered (remember what I said about the brain tricking itself)? When you can’t trust your own opinion, it helps to find others.

For example, there is this article from Psychology Today:

“…the only route to finding creative solutions to a problem is to find information in your memory that will help you to solve the problem…”

In the article, Art Markman Ph.D. argues that creativity requires existing knowledge. This makes sense, as raw talent only gets you so far. Consider skilled chess players – chess is seemingly a game of pure calculation and analysis, but the best players have vast repertoires of moves stored in their mind. The right answer is as much remembered as deduced.

How about this quote from Brain Pickings?:

“… perhaps the most potent use of memory in the creative mind is the cross-pollination of accumulated ideas and the fusing together of seemingly unrelated concepts into novel configurations…”

I recommend reading the whole article. But while opinions are nice, does science back it up? Well, according to a paper titled Effects of an Episodic-Specificity Induction on Divergent Thinking published last year in Psychological Science:

“These experiments provide novel evidence that episodic memory is involved in divergent creative thinking.”

So it seems that a strong memory plays a role in creativity. Quite interesting, don’t you think? But there is more evidence of a link between these faculties, evidence which deepens this connection: memory nurtures creativity, yes, but creativity also nurtures memory.

How can creative thinking (the act of coming up with something new) help memory (the act of accurately storing information)? Talk to a mental athlete – you know, the people who competitively memorise decks of shuffled cards and random numbers. If, like me, you don’t know anyone matching that description, read Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer.

According to people who have trained themselves to have the best memories in the world, the trick is to take what you want to memorise, mentally change it to something bizarre and surprising, and remember that instead. This process takes things like numbers – abstract and dull – and makes them vivid, visual, memorable. And it’s not surprising to learn that this skill takes enormous amounts of imagination. If you use it right, a good imagination is the best tool for improving your memory.

Congratulations. Having read this far, you have learned more about how the mind operates. The more you understand creativity, the more creativity you will feel. This is a journey, an education, and this short article is an important part of it. Why? Because the next time you feel creative, a small part of you will observe the process and remember these words. You will feel your memory and creativity working in tandem as new ideas blossom from your mind.

Create well.