What New Creators & Publishers Can Learn From Working Out

Recently, with the good weather coming out and convention season coming up, I’ve decided to get back outside and do some light working out. I went to a sporting goods store this weekend to get some small hand weights, and have three nights this past week gone out to walk around the neighborhood and do some arm weight exercises. Of course, as I start doing this, I think of how what I’m doing maps to advice for getting into publishing.

Start Small

The physical fitness industry thrives on people who decide that they’re going to get fit and them jump in the deep-end with buying $500 machines. But often, those machines become expensive, unused towel racks because the person didn’t actually have the commitment when buying it, just the idea that they might get the commitment.

I bought two things this weekend: two 5-pound hand weights (pictured above). In fact, I bought them on a Father’s Day sale. I could have bought more, and eyed some other stuff, but decided that I would demonstrate that this wasn’t a passing fancy before putting more money into it.

When you’re a new game producer, it can be tempting to throw yourself into the deep end — in fact, I know some people who do that because they’re afraid they won’t stick to a commitment by doing it slowly. Wade in slowly, though. Demonstrate that you’re really interested in this journey before buying an expensive ticket.

Pacing and Continuing is What Matters

Working out once doesn’t mean a damn thing, which I think common sense would tell us. You’ve got to get out there, do it over and over again, to get results. And you’ve got to pace yourself so that you don’t harm your body and so that you do actually get something out of the process. That means being able to get yourself to work out when you don’t want to, when it’s inconvenient, etc. You can’t only work out when you’re in a bright, high-energy moment. Do this long enough, and it’ll become a ritual habit.

As a creator, you’ve got to be willing to sit down and do the work even when it’s hard. If you’re “waiting for your muse” to strike, you’re not serious — but like with working out, you can turn writing (or however you create) into a ritual habit. Once you can do that, you’re on the road to being a stronger creative.

Trainers are Invaluable… When You Listen To Each Other

I took weight training classes in my 20s, and had a few sessions with a personal trainer at a gym in 2011. That experience taught me a lot about working out that I’m reapplying now. Lessons and koans run through my mind as I’m exercising, reminding myself of what I need to do and what I need to avoid. This is because the people I worked with listened to me and my specific issues, and I listened to them about how to achieve my goals.

Bringing on people who more experience than you — editors, artists, layout people, or even a publisher — is like that. You’ll learn a lot from bringing on someone who is willing to listen to you, as long as you’re willing to listen to them. Let these people educate you on the process of making and publishing something, but also make sure you’re getting out of this arrangement what you need.

(Caveat: remember, start small.)

Know Your Limitations

I’ve talked about this before, but you really need to know your limitations. To continue with the workout analogy, I have to deal with gout flare-ups and with (as I’m slowly admitting to myself that I have) asthma. I can’t push myself crazy hard like I wish I could — I did the first day, and spent several minutes choking and coughing for air. And if I don’t treat my feet with kid gloves, I’ll wake up the next day in extreme pain. *That happened with the first couple personal trainer sessions, though thankfully he listened to me and did some research on gout).

You also need to know your limitations, whether it’s on time (as I know many parents have), money and other resources (which is one of my biggest limitations), people to playtest with, emotional issues, and so on. You need to know what your limitations are, and make a plan for how you’ll deal with that, whether “dealing with” means finding ways to avoid (like I do with my gout) or finding ways to mitigate (as I’m going to do with my asthma by contacting the doctor).


You folks out there have any other aspects of this analogy that I’m not thinking of?

– Ryan


5 Responses to What New Creators & Publishers Can Learn From Working Out

  1. I have a few possible extensions…

    Make A Public Commitment To Exercising
    It is easy to tell ourselves well exercise and then to let ourselves off the hook when we don’t feel like working out. If you have told friends and family of what you are doing, they will offer support and encouragement and give you the strength to work out even when you don’t have it yourself.

    In terms of Publishing, tell some trusted friends or community members about what you are working on, and let them know how things are going. When you hit one of those frustrating mechanics, or a bad playtest, or more editing comments than you thought were possible, they will cheer you on and give you the strength to keep going.

    Get a Workout Partner
    Many people enjoy working out alone (myself included) but there are many others who enjoy having company, someone who is working beside them being a companion and a role model. There are only some types of exercises you can do with a partner, and when you run having a partner will often spur you on to run faster.

    In Game Design, find someone to collaborate with, and work on your ideas together. Ideas in a vacuum are never as rich as those that are created through collaboration. Find someone who shares your design philosophy and your passion and work with them either together on one project or in parallel as you work on your own projects, and make something grand.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Nice! I think there’s some danger in the public commitment one, in the same way that gamified exercise can cause you to push yourself too far rather than respect your limitations. But if you have a supportive network, having a public commitment can be great.

      Having a design partner, though, is utterly different from having a workout partner. The former is a joint effort, and the latter is about doing a solo activity alongside each other. I’ve talked about the perils of coauthorship and how to make it work in the past. But you can turn the idea into a write-in — I know a group at a nearby coffee ship that has a day set aside where they write in the same space, as to give it concrete ritual that others immediately see. (Which makes it more akin to working out together.)

      – Ryan

  2. This one’s related to several of yours, but it’s this

    Set Goals

    You’re starting small, you’re pacing yourself. What’s your goal? Not your end goal (“publish my own game”), but a milestone you can strive for. Something attainable, something reasonable. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “Do this by x date”-kind of thing. To borrow from the analogy, one goal might be to run a mile without gasping for air at the end.

  3. blackcoat says:

    Everyone works a little different. You may find [1] that you do best working out in the morning, our evening or on your lunch break.

    Also, you may find that certain aspects call to you more. You might like lifting iron, you might like swimming, etc. The same, you might find that you like writing copy, or designing systems, or world building.

    [1] yourself in a shotgun shack

  4. Jon Bristow says:

    Observations from working out:
    – Working out as a group is more fun than working out alone, but it has a social anxiety cost for a lot of people.
    – To see (real) improvement, you must push yourself to your limits as much as possible.
    – Embrace the suck. Work on the things you’re not good at. Keep doing the things you ARE good at to give yourself an ego boost.