Idea Sharing & Premature Ejaculation

(I will now get a lot of new, interesting search term results for this headline.)

Yesterday, someone on Twitter asked me to post more about Mythender. Right now, I don’t have plans to — not in the “I’ll post every X amount of time’ schedule. I’ll post occasionally, and I’m continuing to work, but here’s the thing: the more I talk to you about an incomplete project, the more likely it will stay incomplete.

Some of you are all “my gods, that’s just insane! tell me more!” or whatever, because you would think that discussion generates interest, and interest generates accountability. But that’s not really true. There are two sides to this equation here:

  • The person who is leading the discussion with his or her ideas
  • The people listening in

The people listening in are being infovores — which is not a derogatory term, since we’re all infovores. And there’s a feedback loop when we share our ideas to people who like them. I mean, a biochemical feedback loop. Happy chemicals.

But that feedback loop diminishes. The first time we tell a story about something that happened, or share some idea we thought up, we get a huge bit of feedback when sharing. The tenth time? Not so much. Twentieth? Even less. To where we get to the “oh, you want to hear that again?” state.

So I see it as a choice: I can either share an unfinished idea now, or bottle up that urge to share & get the happy reward cycle. When I hold off, I keep working. When I share prematurely — and since I often use sex as metaphor, you now understand the title — then I’ve given away that drive. Now, if this game were somehow paying my bills, it would be different. But it’s something I’m doing on the side that won’t pay anytime soon, if it pays at all. Thus, I need the non-monetary rewards to help me carve out time for it. (From the amount of time I have that isn’t spent trying to pay my rent, dealing with life stuff, or being blissfully unconscious.)

And since I want to actually finally fucking finish[1] Mythender, I have to make my decisions about sharing those ideas with that in mind.

Yeah, sometimes I still need to talk about an idea. I might be overthinking something and need to talk with a friend to help me undo that. I need feedback in different parts of the process. And sometimes I really do just need a pick-me-up because the project has me down, so I share an idea about it with a friend. But that’s something I need to keep in check. You’ll note that a couple times I wrote “a friend” — if I limit who I’m sharing with in those times, I’m hopefully reducing the diminishing returns factor.

This doesn’t just go for game design. It goes, and perhaps more so, for the different forms of story writing, or application development, any case where ideas are your clay.

Do what you can to keep that drive in you. Don’t share too often, or be premature in public sharing. If you can hold back enough, you and your audience will have a satisfying finish.


(Dear sweet merciful Odin, do I love using sex analogies.)

– Ryan

[1] Alliteration is hot.


12 Responses to Idea Sharing & Premature Ejaculation

  1. Gareth says:

    Yup. I’m with you 100% on this.

    I tend to look at it like this: Every concept has a finite amount of “Story Energy.” If I expend all of that energy telling you about it, I have none left to power the process of *actually getting it down on paper.*

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Especially when you get to a point where you’re not trying to suss out the story, but just re-tell it.

      – Ryan

  2. Lily says:

    Not everyone has a brain that works like that, though. To use my own brain as an example, my synesthesia is a consistently dominating experience in my life, to the point that discussing stories with others is something I have to in order to move my work forward. Talking to someone else helps me translate a story out of my own synesthetic perceptions and into something more readable by others.

    “Blue turns into black and then it rains quiet” isn’t as legible to others as “A husband watches his wife going mad as she is tormented by the music of Azathoth.” Post-stroke brain damage, aphasia, hearing impairment, language issues, are all a few things I can think of where talking to someone else helps you keep going forward, instead of staying unfinished. I admit I’m pointing out experiences that are not normative, but they’re still present in both writers and designers alike.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Sure. And that’s where this advice gets rough. I tried to bring up the “and sometimes you need to talk with people, so do it then” bit. I guess I would boil it down to: know when you’re getting something out of sharing, and when the sharing isn’t helping you. Which is something to be learned over time.

      Because I think through conversation, sometimes I need that before I have words I can put down on paper. But I’m starting to recognize when I don’t actually need that, and to keep myself honest about whether I’m doing what I need or doing just what I want.

      – Ryan

    • Chad Underkoffler says:

      My brain tends to cycle — sometimes I need to keep quiet, sometimes I need to talk.

      Problems come when my cycle slips a gear (meaning I talk when I shouldn’t, or bottle up when I should talk), when the audience for talk and I are out of phase (I want to talk and they don’t, and vice versa), and from the fact that I both bottle and talk VERY LOUDLY (if you get my drift).

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Yeah, it takes a lot of self-training to become aware of those moments. And I still have a ways to go on that road, so I hear you.

      – Ryan

  3. Burrowowl says:

    Have you tried thinking about sports while you talk about your formative game ideas? I hear it helps.

  4. grumpymartian says:

    I totally get this. I think I need to talk a lot about a project for the first 20-30% to get the juices flowing and then there’s a cycle of diminishing returns in the middle where when I do need to talk about it it’s little fiddly specific things and then I need to go silent for the last 30-20% where it’s all “sit the fuck down and work to the end”.

    …and that totally ended up working as a sex analogy. Hmm.

  5. This is good advice. An important aside is who are you talking to and why.

    I commonly share ideas with a peer group well before there is anything of substance. Because it’s a limited group there is no danger in spoiling the reveal for a larger audience but I still get most of the feedback I need to direct the project.

    For me personally I have a very hard time actually writing anything, so before I can explain a concept clearly as rules sometimes it’s easier to write a blog post. My new method here is to not post it right away, but to get the work done and then post to the blog.

  6. The way I tend to phrase this is like so: If I talk about it, the juice goes out of it. I don’t want to get the satisfaction of sharing it before it’s done or I’ll never finish it. A little bit of excitement for the future, a little anticipation, is great… but that can come at the expense of the mission. What I ultimately want is to tell a story that compels or provokes or excites. If I can do that through a tweet or a blog post or whatever, I am unlikely to go to all the trouble of finishing the game- or novel-length version of the project—even if it’s not really “real” or complete until the feature-length version exists.

    I wrestle with this all the time.

  7. I’m really irritated that you wrote this post today instead of two weeks ago. I posted an early copy of a new game I’m working on, and almost immediately found MAJOR design/playability/etc. issues with it that I now worry will seriously impact everything to do with any of these folks future potential to enjoy the game. The main sticking point I run into is that I really want other brains for bouncing ideas around, and have not yet built myself a support structure for that. Anyway – screw you, Macklin for writing this post too late, and I can’t wait to see Mythender, so shut up and get back to work ;-)

  8. JDCorley says:

    There is one exception to your very true rule, which is that if you have an idea that has a beginning, middle and end, and you think you’re conceptually done, describing the idea to someone who is listening will make you realize the gigantic hole you left in it more or less 2/3 of the way through.