(Ok, ok, I admit it. The real reason for making this post is so I can tell someone somewhere that I just beat the 750,000 point challenge on Peggle.)
But there really are lessons to be learned from playing any sort of computer game.
1. Start simple
Most computer games are designed this way. In Peggle, the first option for play is called “Adventure” and it walks you through the various special skills one at a time. It’s fairly quick and challenging enough to be interesting, but not so much that it discourages you.
2. Increase the challenge to keep it interesting
After you work your way through the “Adventure” levels you can then start in on the “Challenge” levels. These get increasingly difficult. In “Adventure” you only had to clear 25 orange pegs to win. Now you have to clear 35, then 45, then 55, and finally the entire board. There are increasingly difficult point challenges as well.
3. You don’t HAVE to start at the bottom, but it’s easier
I could have technically started with the “Challenge” levels and skipped learning the different special skills and gone straight to the 750,000 point challenge or the Decathlon (which in some ways is a harder challenge because it requires consistency), but I would’ve struggled a lot more if I’d started with the most difficult challenge. By working my way up, I was able to gain confidence in my skills and learn a few cool tricks along the way.
4. Sometimes you need outside help
I’ll admit it. I finally gave up and googled how to beat the 750,000 point challenge. I was getting 500,000 points plus, but never the 750,000. When I googled it I realized that I was using the wrong special skill and doing it on the wrong level. Not to say that it was impossible the way I was doing it, just that I was much more likely to succeed following the path others had followed before me.
5. Even with outside help, it’s still going to take a certain amount of skill on your part
Even after I googled how to beat the 750,000 point challenge, it still took me a good hundred tries to win. (If not more. I try not to think about how much time I spend on stupid shit like this.) I watched a video of someone making the shot I needed to make, but it still took me ages to make that same shot. It looked simple enough to replicate, but it wasn’t.
6. When you think you’re done, there’s always another challenge waiting for you
I finished the challenge, got my Peggle Grand Master trophy, and was all ready to close the game and be done forever. And then, in the congratulations message for getting the trophy, it tells me that I can get another trophy if I manage to clear all of the levels. Damn. (You know I can’t resist a good challenge. And just when my index finger thought it was going to get a bit of a break…)
So, see, my playing Peggle wasn’t a complete waste of time. I was thinking about writing while I was doing it. (Of course, thinking about writing and actually writing are two very, very different things, aren’t they?)
In terms of writing, what does this mean?
Start with the basics. If you’re not in the habit of writing, form the habit. Write a journal or a blog entry or a snippet of a scene or something every day. Once you’re putting words on paper then up the challenge by writing specific things.
(I think a lot of people start with short stories because they’re easier to complete (3,000 words versus 80,000) and your focus is more narrow. But I think you could do this in the novel context as well.)
You’re just getting started, right? So, write that scene from a novel that’s been bopping around in your head or that snippet of a short story. Or, if you’re writing non-fiction or memoir, write that one chapter or event that wants to come out the most.
Eventually you’ll tie those scenes or chapters together into a cohesive whole, but in the beginning you just need to focus on practicing translating what’s in your head to words on paper.
As you gain skill with your writing, then challenge yourself to write more complex stories. Add in multiple senses – taste, smell, touch, sound, sight. Add in multiple story lines. Add in multiple characters. Add in multiple viewpoints. Add in multiple story lines. Etc.
It’s highly likely that those first few baby steps at writing won’t be publishable. One character doing one thing in a virtual void probably won’t interest anyone. But it’ll let you master a basic-level skill that you need for later stories that will be publishable. At some point in time what you write will cross that magic threshold and you will write something that others will pay you for.
And don’t be discouraged if the next story doesn’t get bought. Because at that point you’re still learning and growing and as you add to your skill base you’re going to slip back a bit here and there, but if you keep working at each new skill someday you’ll knock their socks off.
And then the trick will be to keep it interesting for you while still delivering what “they” want.
But it’ll be ok. Because if you ever find yourself stuck and unexcited by the whole thing, you can always go play Peggle. (I’m telling ya, after that 750,000 point challenge, writing a short story will be a breeze.)