How to harness the Creation - Consumption energy loop
On the topic of Creation vs. Consumption, I am of the opinion that the act of “creation”, such as writing, programming, and so on, can be just as entertaining as passively consuming media that other people created.
However, prior to Creating, inspiration often comes from Consuming content.
For example, after playing a video game whose story resonates with me, such as Transistor by Supergiant Games, I might be motivated to create a world of my own, that others can experience. Or you might be motivated to write a blog about your career experience, after reading a blog post that was highly influential on your career.
Despite the frequent motivation we get from Consuming content and media, it can be hard to break out of the Consumption cycle, and act, which is in other words, to Create. More often than not, the next passive Consumption binge comes along, and causes us to forget our ideas and motivation.
In this article, I’ll discuss my approach to break out of the Consumption loop, and how I harness the inspiration from Consumption, and turn what used to be a fleeting motivation into a consistent energy that fuels Creation.
- The Consumption phase
- The Compilation phase
- The Creation phase
The Creation - Consumption loop
I’ve loosely categorized this process into 3 phases: Consumption, Compilation, and Creation.
It is important to note that these are not discrete phases, and there can be overlap between one another.
The Consumption phase
Ideas are free; everyone has practically unlimited amounts of them.
Step 1: Gather latent ideas from day to day moments
The Consumption phase covers the time when I’m not actively Creating, such as developing a video game. In fact, I’ll be playing video games made by others, or watching TV shows, for the most part.
There are usually some latent ideas for video game settings simply from day to day life. Quill Game Studios’ first game was loosely inspired by my childhood experience moving back and forth between Taiwan and Canada - the main character, Syd, previously left Shiba Inu Island for “Canine-da”, but has now returned to her hometown.
At this point, there isn’t enough detail for any latent idea to become a full fledged game. It’s currently just an idea: “What if I made a game with a dystopian world, and dogs?” We can call this “latent idea 1”.
Then, another day, as I take the bus to work, I observe pigeons pecking at trash on the road (peak Toronto). When a car approaches, the pigeons dodge to the sidewalk, and after the car passes, the pigeons return to trash pecking on the road.
From this day to day occurrence I acquire “latent idea 2” - “What if I made a game with pigeons dodging buses?” (Real story). And so on.
Gathering latent ideas is an unstructured and unpredictable activity, but I find that my imagination is more active when I Consume more content, such as playing more video games after work.
Step 2: Narrow down latent ideas after sufficient Consumption
Now, as I’m spending the days playing different types of games, from my favorite Hack n Slash genre (Bayonetta, Devil May Cry), to visual novels (Fatal Twelve, Higurashi When They Cry), and multiplayer games (Killing Floor, Overwatch), I get some ideas of how each genre might work with my latent ideas.
I’m simply enjoying myself, but with several latent ideas, Consumption can help me narrow down which latent idea I enjoy better, and could fit a certain type of game.
For example - one reason I went with the visual novel medium for my game, was because I observed that games I played with a dystopian setting, that happened to be more similar to my latent idea, were likely either visual novels, or open world games made by AAA studios (ruled out because of my budget).
There could be other genres, such as point and click adventure, that had such a dystopian setting, but missing a piece of the specific vibe that I was going for. This was information that I came to observe only by playing a large amount of games myself.
To give an example of someone interested in creating a blog - maybe their latent ideas include writing about cooking, or general tech career advice.
As they’re Consuming content from multiple blogs, they might notice that cooking blogs often include amazing photos, which helps refine their latent cooking blog idea - they might want to practice taking food photos along writing the cooking blog.
Or they might notice different styles of tech blogs as a reader: Does the blog focus on career progression, or interview advice? Do they use blunt wording, or neutral wording?
Consuming is valuable for multiple reasons: it could help improve the resolution of a vague idea, and by seeing how others have Created something you enjoy, you can avoid some mistakes during your own Creation as well.
The Compilation phase
From “just an idea”, to “a plan”. Not yet “reality”, however - this is a major distinction.
This phase is a bridge between unstructured Consumption, and intense Creation.
For example, after playing more games, I’ve solidified my latent ideas, and narrowed down the list to one or two ideas. Unfortunately, my pigeon dodging buses idea was put on the backburner.
In the Compilation phase, I further codify and narrow down ideas based on inspirations from the Consumption step, as the launch point for the Creation step.
At this point, I’m able to articulate that I want to make a game in the visual novel genre, and the main characters are loosely character 1 with personality traits <x, y, z>; character 2; character 3, and so on. The world setting is loosely <foo, bar>.
At the end of this phase, I’ll have a loose outline of what to create, and a list of tasks broken down.
In the example of an outline for a tech blog, I might have the following written down:
- Purchase a domain or not?
- Research good ways to deploy a blog
- My first blog post will be on grad school applications (with a list of ~5 other ideas)
The Creation phase
The project goes from “a plan”, to “reality”. This is where most ideas simply fizzle out, never to be executed.
With reasonably specific plans from the Compilation phase, I then enter the Creation phase.
This is where many people struggle - it’s easy to fall off the bandwagon and return right to the Consumption loop, despite having been struck by inspiration. “I’ll do it another day…” The “idea” fizzles out, never to become “reality”.
Tip 1: Escape the learning curve trap- MVP in a week or less
I find that “casually” starting a new project doesn’t work for me.
I try to knock down 3~5 items on my to-do list in a week or less - sometimes even in a day. This gets me past the curve when it still “seems like a hassle after all”.
With the to-do list of creating a tech blog from the previous section, by already buying a site domain, setting up a simple front page, and jotting down a draft of my first blog post (in 1 or 2 days max), it makes my blog seem more like reality, rather than “just an idea”.
If I only bought the domain (not an act of Creation, anyway), it’s easy to just forget about this whole project, and the blog is never created. (It’s happened to me before.)
The same goes for when I develop a new game. In the following example, I’m also learning a new game engine. In a week or less, I’d download the game engine, try out at least 1 tutorial project, and also create 1 short scene in the game engine.
By doing a lot, intensely, in the first day, I often am able to speed past the “bump” that many people encounter, which prevents them from carrying the idea to execution.
I’ve been there too - some of my ideas have died right here because I wasn’t fast enough to get it from “imagination” to “an MVP of possible reality”. I share this in the hopes that it can help you get past the speed bump for your own projects.
Tip 2: Actively avoid distractions caused by Consumption
I also actively avoid Consuming too much during this time, due to it affecting my Creation focus.
For example, let’s say I have already settled on writing a how-to blog about my academic experiences and time management techniques.
Suddenly, on a 3 hour rabbit hole binge of random blogs, I come across an academic blog that is more focused on the academic content (e.g. explaining game theory in an easy to read way). I might be swayed by this and think, “what if my blog was about that, instead?”
This is a type of distraction that I’ve succumbed to at times, but have learned to avoid when I’m in an intense, focused Creation loop.
Putting all phases together
My approach to intensely speed over the initial learning curve for Creating something new, combined with intense time management techniques, might be why it seems to other people that I’m “always” creating.
However, the point I want to make with this article, is that Consumption is pretty much how I get my ideas for Creation, and that I do spend massive amounts of time on Consumption, just like anyone else.
But by being aware of how to harness the Consumption / Compilation / Creation phases, with the methods I’ve outlined above, I’m able to be consistent in getting to the Creation step in the first place.
To be honest, a perfect cycle like this doesn’t often happen for me - sometimes there are other priorities, such as pausing my game development due to full-time work picking up. I’m sure it’s the same for you.
In practice, the order of these phases might look like:
- Consume for 4 weeks → Don’t do anything for 3 weeks → Compile for 2 weeks → Create for 3 weeks, running out of steam or ideas → Consume
- Consume for 1 year → Compile + Consume for 6 months → Create for 6 months → Consume for 1 month → Create for 3 months
I provide this framework and vocabulary of how I harness the inspiration from Consuming media and content, to fuel the projects that I Create, in the hope that it can help you with your own project plans.
I especially want to help you avoid getting stuck at the speed bump at the beginning of the Creation phase, where plenty of my own ideas have died before.
In the end, I hope we can all bring more of our ideas to life!