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Shower Insight: A-ha! Moments and Clearing GM’s Block

Posted By Martin Ralya On June 24, 2008 @ 3:39 am In GMing Advice | 15 Comments

I’ve tried different approaches to game prep over the years, but lately I tend to do it all in one big rush. The rush is preceded by brainstorming and outlining, but most of my prep happens all at once.

One thing I’ve found about this method is that it’s almost inevitable that I’m to going to get GM’s block during prep. I reach a point where I just don’t know what should happen next — I’m stuck. I start by doing a little freeform brainstorming to see if I can get past the block, but a lot of times this doesn’t work.

What always works is hopping in the shower.

When I need to get my ideas flowing again, I count on shower insight to get me through. This shakes out in one of two ways, but in both cases, I spend my shower thinking out loud about the game.

  • Poof, my GM’s block is gone! The block clears. I get an idea or two that fits perfectly, and as soon as I’m out of the shower I write them down and get working again. I’m consistently surprised how often this works — it’s not like it’s a highly scientific method arrived at after years of intensive study. I’d say this works about 75% of the time.
  • The gears slowly start turning again. I don’t have an a-ha! moment, but I get a couple of ancillary ideas that are useful — and loosen my mental block. When I sit back down in front of the computer, a little brainstorming or staring into space gets me back on track, and I get past the block then. This happens the other 25% of the time.

So far, shower insight hasn’t let me down. I’m sure it will someday, but I hope that day is far off!

Taking a break to get past writer’s block isn’t a new idea, but what surprises me about shower insight is its 100% success rate. I’ve tried different things to clear writer’s or GM’s block in the past, and while they work more often than not, this works the best for me.

You might find that for you it’s best to go for a quick jog, play a couple rounds of Halo, spend some quality time on the porcelain throne or watch an episode of your favorite TV show — any activity that gets you away from the computer and lets your mind roam.

But give shower insight a try — you never know, it might work just as well for you…

What techniques do you use to get through GM’s block?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Shower Insight: A-ha! Moments and Clearing GM’s Block"

#1 Comment By Ish On June 24, 2008 @ 6:57 am

I’m actually considering keepign a dictaphone or similar digital voice recorder in my car; ideas always seem to come during the drive to the office or on my way _home_ from the game.

#2 Comment By davethegame On June 24, 2008 @ 7:39 am

Yep, in the shower or driving for me.

The technique I’ve had the most success with is planning games while I’m in class ignoring a lecture. But I don’t recommend that for everyone.

#3 Comment By noisms On June 24, 2008 @ 8:12 am

I have a secret, non-public blog where I write the ideas I get during work. Nothing beats GM prep when you should be working.

#4 Comment By arthwollipot On June 24, 2008 @ 8:16 am

I have a couple of good friends that I bounce half-formed ideas off. It’s always worked for me so far. In fact, one of my most successful recent games was helped along by a particular friend.

#5 Comment By MountZionRyan On June 24, 2008 @ 8:20 am

@NOISMS
Yup!

Here’s a technique I use. I imagine I am being interviewed about the final product by someone like Terry Gross (good probing questions about why I choose to do something a certain way). I find that I sorta trick my unconcious into a creative place. Since I’m being interviewed the project I was stuck on must have gone well and I must know the answers so what are they?

#6 Comment By Cole On June 24, 2008 @ 8:39 am

I usually try sharing the burden of the story with the players. If I add a new player, the players have to tell me the background. While working for a NPC, if they do something crazy, the NPC will ask them how they can tackle the problem.

Once they give an overall idea, I have to flesh out the exact details, but that is a lot easier than coming with the entire story myself.

#7 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 24, 2008 @ 9:16 am

Driving’s my favorite time to work on plotty / non-crunchy campaign stuff as well, even though my attention wanders. One of my bigger puzzle pieces fell into place while I was at the Police concert last year, not thinking about the campaign at all, just trying to have a good time.

@cole: Collaboration is wonderful! One of my players provided me with several useful NPCs who meshed with my existing story ideas very nicely, and our collaboration on those characters and their roles resulted in NPCs and stories more complex and interesting than I ever could have come up with on my own.

The right group is definitely a boon; it’s nice to discuss upcoming plot events with the players when you know their PCs will react like they had no idea. It also seems to intensify the surprises the players didn’t see coming, but YMMV.

@mountzionryan: That’s really good. Maybe my game could use a breath of Fresh Air too!

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 24, 2008 @ 11:39 am

Yep, the shower usually works for me too. Often the day of my game I get last minute ideas while in the shower. Another way I get around GM’s block is by picking up a random book that has nothing to do with gaming and just flipping it to any page. I read a little bit about whatever I’ve stumbled across and usually that gives me a fresh idea.

#9 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On June 24, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

I write. Anything, it doesn’t matter what.

Sometimes, when I’m blocking HARD, I write by hand. For some reason, this loosens up the logjam, and I start thinking again.

This works Every. Single. Time.

#10 Comment By Swordgleam On June 24, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

I always get my best ideas just as I’m falling asleep. Sometimes I even remember them when I wake up!

I’ll also bounce ideas off a GMing buddy of mine who isn’t in any of my games. Half the time, when I’m explaining something to him, I’ll realize more about it myself.

#11 Comment By Sarlax On June 24, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

I don’t spend much time prepping, just about an hour for a session. Still, blocks come – not in trying to plan events (since I avoid that), but in writing people and places. The best thing for me? Reading roleplaying books for a different game.

If I can’t figure out how to write up the illithid city or the githyanki invasion, I crack open Aberrant, Changeling, or Transhuman Space. It completely changes my thinking and I only need a few minutes before I can get back into the game I’m actually running.

#12 Comment By Dire Emu On June 24, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

Wow, I thought I was the only one who used the shower for brainstorming. The isolation is good for rambling off dialog and introduction tales and such. I do a lot of plot-storming there and while in the car.

In fact, any time I am alone and feel that nobody can hear me, I will rattle off possible dialog between NPCs or bits that might be read from manuscripts, or told by storytellers, etc.

#13 Comment By matholwch On June 25, 2008 @ 12:35 am

I find that playing Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero, or anything by Wagner clears the little grey cells.

When I’ve finished dancing around like a loon for a few minutes everything just flows :)

#14 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 25, 2008 @ 5:58 am

Good point, Telas – writing about anything else, even if it’s just a deliberate exercise to get your juices flowing, is often a lifesaver.

Working on my campaign’s wiki sometimes does the trick – there’s always an NPC in need of stats or a portrait (or a page). Also, writing the fiction interludes that get slotted between the sessions sometimes gives me seeds for future adventures.

#15 Comment By Bercilac On December 9, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

I use this for essays, mostly (being a lowly undergrad). I’d say it works 66% of the time, and that only includes times that I’m actually trying to write. Sometimes I sit down “to work on an essay” and actually have NO INTENTION of doing it. I write 100-150 words, and before I know it I’m rolling up NPCs for my campaign.

Actually, the best way to break GM block for me is to attempt to do some real work.


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