Previously I talked about some of the circumstances that killed my creativity. Here I'd like to talk about a few things that helped bring it back.
1) Following John Cleese's advice about how to activate an open mind
I used to spend a lot of time thinking and prepping with the TV on for background noise. The problem is that the noise was still a distraction that my mind would latch on to because it was easier than trying to think. Also there was the pressure I was putting myself under, which extended into the time when I wasn't even running a game. So not only did I have to find a quiet place but I had to accept that I was just going to think about rubbish. No idea was finished, no idea was needed. I had to free my mind to explore strange and new things and be okay with the fact that a lot of it was going to be crap.
2) Rediscovering my self confidence
Somewhere along the way I forgot that I can improv, and had run games off the cuff for a long time. I think when the writer's block first began, I looked to prepping more as a means of fighting back. This started the pressure as I felt like I had to create finalized adventures every week, forgetting that the reason I like GMing is reacting to how the players dragged me in unexpected directions.
One of a few days that I simply couldn't prep anything, I just started running something off of the top of my head. I started with the heroes overhearing a shot from an alley way and discovering a dead body. The dead man held the recently fired gun and showed no signs of violence or self-inflicted wounds. What was going on? I had no idea. I just surfed the wave of speculations coming from my players. The man may have been the victim of something supernatural, or he was poisoned and upon realizing it he had fired at the poisoner. It was up to my players to drive the direction of the story BUT... I didn't tell them that. I was so desperate for ideas that I felt I needed to cheat the system. In fact what I did was run one of the best games ever, and the entire time my players believed I had created the entire adventure before hand.
One player enjoys breaking my carefully planned scenarios so I felt compelled to do extra prep for things she might attempt. This time she asked me if she ever broke my game. I told her the game broke as soon as I sat down.
But I had rediscovered why GMing is fun, and my players loved just how flexible the adventure was. They never got the feeling that there were railroad tracks because there weren't any tracks at all.
Now I know that improv GMing may sound scary. I can't bottle it or quantify it for you. I can't teach you how to improv, at least not right now because I never thought much about what or how I do it. However I will say that the good folks at Gnome Stew have taken a stab at it with their new book Unframed. I haven't read it yet but I have read their other works and found them useful. Once I have the disposable income I fully intend to order a copy.
3) Becoming a Lazy GM
I won't link to the post because it is an older post on RPG.net. Just do a search for The Lazy Man's Guide to Gamemastering and read the first post. It was a big wake up call for me.
What I needed to do was less prep, not more prep. I needed to trust myself and my abilities and stop trying to control everything. because no adventure plan survives first contact with the players. I used to know that.
This is one of the reasons I love Savage Worlds. I don't necessarily need to make an npc beforehand because it can easily be done on the fly. I can't do that in games like D20 and Pathfinder as there's just too much math in character creation.
Next time I will talk about my methods of prep (at least at the moment).