Why do writers get writer’s block

If you are a writer, there’s a high chance you’d have suffer from writer’s block. For the uninitiated, it is the point during one’s writing journey where he or she struggles to put words down. When you sit down in front of your computer, time just flew by you but no words appear on the screen. Even when you did write something, you find yourself deleting those words. You get angry. You wonder what’s going on and started to hate yourself.

I’ve encountered it several times now during my writing journey. After spending some time to dissect it, here are three reasons I believe contributes to writer’s block.

High Expectations or Perfectionism

Most writers, if not all, I believe have traits of perfectionism in them. It is this desire to create the best piece of work before you hit that publish button. Even if it’s not perfectionism, it could be the high-expectation you put on yourself, especially if you have successfully published something that went viral or is starting to earn you enough income. Now with a new piece of writing, you want it to be even better than before.

So you put a high amount of pressure on yourself to deliver. You push yourself a little too hard that you start criticising yourself for every little mistakes you make in your writing. You delete words because you feel like they don’t belong or don’t get the message across. You are spending more time editing than writing. After a while, it makes you cranky and frustrated all the time.

Being too comfortable in your routines

Routines are great. It gives you some sense of stability. For some writers, routines are what allow them to write because it’s something like a primer. However, routines can be dangerous if left to its own devices because it makes you complacent and comfortable. When you are comfortable, you stop coming up with new ideas or thoughts. Your subconscious mind just think there’s no danger. Nothing to worry. And when you finally want to write, there’s nothing in your mind.

Being stuck in the same physical space

Writing can be a pretty lonely endeavour, especially when you are just starting out. When there is a deadline, self-imposed or contractual or sometimes you just want to finish a piece of writing quickly because you think you are in some kind of flow, you withdraw from the world, hide away in some place just to meet it. You stop meeting your friends. You ignore your family. Maybe stop talking to people even.

When that happens, your brain stop getting the right kind of stimulation it needed. And if you think about it, it’s actually very closely related to being comfortable in your routines. Being stuck removes your inspiration because your brain see the same things over and over again.

How to get out of it?

The solution to writer’s block is actually very simple. You will need to audit yourself and asked whether your writer’s block stems from one, two or all three reasons.

If it’s the first reason, then you will need to start accepting and acknowledging you are only human and mistakes will happen. Self compassion is very important here. Lowering your expectations will also help. You have to trust yourself to complete the writing.

If it’s the second, the third or both reason, then maybe it’s time you switch up your environment and routines. Maybe start reviewing that messy wardrobe of yours and began the journey of minimalism. Maybe call up a few of your closest friends and ask them out for a meal. Or maybe it’s time for you to take a vacation.

Resident Evil 2 Remake – Why I think it’s the best survival horror yet

The first time I played a survival horror video game was during my early teens years at somebody’s house. This somebody was one of those temporary friends you make when you are playing with other people outside at the playground, etc. And that game was Resident Evil Director’s Cut on the Phone.

That game was one that I remembered vividly where I couldn’t seem to get past the first few zombies of the game. The reason probably could be I was too young, naive, and didn’t quite understand the game mechanics.

As I got older, I got to play every single numbered Resident Evil game. Until today, I always saw the franchise as one of the best survival horror entertainment product. And the Resident Evil film series is really enjoyable, not for its survival horror element but for what it actually is: a science fiction action series that has its own take on the franchise.

The other survival horror game that I liked was Dead Space until Dead Space 3 where Electronic Arts decided to bungle up what made the first game so good. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed all the games for the reason that I want to know what happened. I wanted to know who invented the Markers that convert organics, especially humans, into necromorphs. Until today, I hope that someone decided to buy the Dead Space franchise from EA and make it good again.

But I digress. My intention is to talk about the remake of Resident Evil 2 and why I think it is survival horror done right.

The first three games of the Resident Evil series relied on fixed-camera view of the game world as we move the characters using tank control. Due to the limitation of the hardware at that time, the implementation serves its purpose of making you panic when a zombie is coming after you since you will struggle to make the character move to get away only for the camera view to change to another angle, creating a somewhat disorienting experience where you know there is an enemy coming but you may have the best view of what’s around the corner.

Then there is the audio, limited ammunition, monsters jumping out when you least expected it on the first play through and your character do move slower when injured, with the latter being found in Resident Evil 2 and 3. All those elements contributed to making you feel more weary. I do remember quietly cheering my characters to move faster as I was running away from a horde of zombies.

Then with technological improvements, Resident Evil changed to a third-person view mode, starting from Resident Evil 4. This time, the game takes on a more action-oriented style with limited ammunition and sudden appearance of enemies, either in waves or a couple, to make it slightly more “scary”. But the real selling point by then was the storyline, the characters and environment design. As least in my view.

The remaining games just kind of further improve on the third-person, over-the-shoulder view until Resident Evil 7 where it got changed into first-person mode.

During those years between Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 7, Dead Space served as what I would call over-the-shoulder view survival horror done right. The dark, poorly lit game world with blood all over, necromorphs jumping out at you and attacking you when you least expected it, limited ammunition and the general creepy and eerie audio all contributed to make it the true survival horror game.

Resident Evil 7 then went ahead to redefine what it is to be a survival horror game by making you only able to see what’s in front of you with its first-person mode. But I personally found it to be nauseating because it was too close to the action. I didn’t quite enjoy that game

Then came Resident Evil 2 remake and there are a few reasons why I think it’s the best survival horror game yet.

The game went with using the same over-the-shoulder view pioneered in Resident Evil 4 but this time, it looks like they took elements from Dead Space to make it the perfect survival horror game based on the various YouTube videos I have watched. The dark corridors that are sometimes claustrophobic. With the over-the-shoulder view, you just don’t really know what’s behind you or around the corner until you turn around. Then there is good use of lighting. You need to rely on a torch light to see dark areas. Enemies like the Licker could be hiding up on the ceiling. The other game that I played which uses that to good effect is The Evil Within. I had to light up certain candles, lamps and whatnot to see what’s around me. Then there’s the enemies jumping out from certain places and hunting you. The good old jump scare technique.

Second, characters can make or break a game and there are few game characters that resonates with the players. You have got Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn that’s very well received and resonate with a lot of people. She’s a strong female character who fought against the traditions that defined the village from which she was birthed in to explore the world and understand what’s going on while still show compassion for the world around her, though she’s cold at times. Then there is Issac Clarke from Dead Space that’s memorable. And I love him because of his so call ingenuity in crafting weapons using tools used in engineering work in the game universe. He resonates with me considering that I’m a trained engineer too, though on the software side. For Resident Evil, the characters would be Leon and Claire. Unlike Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, Leon and Claire are the more average characters in terms of skills and abilities who got thrown into an impossible situation. Over the course of the game, we get to see them grow and survive the outbreak. And that’s in the original game. Now we get to see and experience their stories in Resident Evil 2 in a different way.

Third, we get to revisit a favorite location in the Resident Evil series. Raccoon City. That’s not the say the European setting in Resident Evil 4, the Africa setting in Resident Evil 5 or the multi-nation setting in Resident Evil 6 aren’t good. For the record, I actually like the Tall Oak or Lanshiang part of the game. I always love a good survival horror setting set in a metropolitan area or a place where ordinary people have to live their lives only to die from a disaster. Just like Titan Station in Dead Space 2. It’s just a personal thing. I’m morbid that way. That’s why going back to Raccoon City where it all started is a great thing in my view. And I believe there’s more story to tell there. I actually wish there are more single-player, numbered Resident Evil game set in Raccoon City to show the outbreak from a different perspective. And no don’t cite Resident Evil outbreak 1 and 2. I hated those games because they are so lacking in focus with so many characters, short missions and poor story telling.

The fourth thing is the inventory management system. I think it’s what made survival horror survival horror. And I dare say it’s more realistic. Put it this way, short of having a large haversack on your back, there’s just no way for a person to carry so much stuff. And even if you do, you won’t be nimble enough to move around zombies. In Dead Space, you also got limited space to carry your items. It makes you think about what to bring as you go through the game and then make you backtrack to a “safe location” to retrieve something if you forget it. The journey back sometimes is dangerous since enemies that weren’t there before may just appear. It adds a little bit of tension there.

The fifth reason is the limited resources. In a major disaster, I really don’t think you would be able to find caches of bullets lying around unless you raid an armory before it all began. Even so if you get to raid an armory, you will eventually run out of ammunition. So having you conserve your ammunition by having you decide what you shoot at or run is a great game mechanics. The Evil Within 1 and 2 are the two games that does a great job at this. It can contribute to creating a sense of helplessness when you run out of ammunition or health kits.

Finally, there just isn’t another survival horror game coming out anytime soon that could fill the shoes of Resident Evil. I have personally completed The Evil Within 2 and loved that game. Until the next The Evil Within or someone proceed to make Dead Space 4 the way it is supposed to be, Resident Evil is just the best-in-class survival horror game.

And I digress bit for a rant. Seriously, I just disagree with EA’s stance that they need to change a game so much to cater to a diverse market to make the most money and then killing the franchise just because it didn’t meet sales expectation. To me, it’s just not the right way to go. We have seen enough success stories where companies continue to build their niche products so that it is the best in class product and people will buy.

Now, I’m just really pumped about the game and looking forward to get it when it’s out.

Being grateful and self aware

Am I the most discipline person?

Am I living my life deliberately?

Am I the most creative person?

No. No. No.

I’m in fact the most mediocre person ever. And probably the most boring person you have ever met. I’m just not the chirpiest person in any group.

My interest is everywhere and nowhere. So sometimes I got nothing to share. All I do is observe and listen.

And there is always someone better out there. More talkative than me. Smarter than me. Faster than me.

And I’m ok with that.

Only by accepting who I am, am I free to pursue the things that make me feel inspired and do my best work.

And I don’t care how you judge my work. As along as one person is happy with what I have created and it helps him or her, I’m good. I’m grateful.

Random Thoughts Collection #1

  1. A nation’s infrastructure is a representation of its wealth and management. Singapore government constantly repairs or repave our roads because it is necessary. A failing infrastructure will cost the nation millions if not billions of dollars. Try imagining poorly maintained roads resulting in traffic accidents or goods tumbling off transport vehicle
  2. I never liked working on legacy systems with limited budget. It feels restrictive… Stifling…maybe part of it is because I wasnt there to build it… Thus never get to see it grow up… So yeah….hate to work on somebody’s stuff
  3. You pay money to subscribe to a service. And then you come with an expectation of how the service should be. So if there’s something wrong you’ll get upset and wonder why you even pay for that service. And if the customer support goes the extra mile, you are happy. It’s the same thing as being an employee. The concept is exactly the same. The company pay you for a service and therefore they expect to get their money worth. So does it make sense for company to continue to pay you for poor service? Are you as the service provider even worth the kind of money?
  4. Glass half full or half empty. Neither. It is simultaneously full and empty.
  5. In your writing, it is necessary to achieve a balance between your privacy, authenticity and vulnerability. You don’t want to be revealing too much details about your life but reveal enough to show that it’s real.

A thought on improving voice user interface while ensuring privacy

Voice user interface is going to be one of the ways we interact with our devices as we go about our daily lives. It is just a very intuitive way for us because we communicate primarily via voice with text and images to complement.

But there still are various problems that need people to work on them to improve the overall experience. One of it is related to how the AI behind voice user interface can interact with us more naturally, like how we interact with fellow human beings.

A premium Medium article written by Cheryl Platz got me thinking about that. It also covered a little on privacy and why it is a contributing factor that make it difficult for current generation of AIs to speak more naturally and understand the context when we speak. Unless, companies don’t give a shit about our privacy and start collecting even more data.

In this article, I am going to share what I thought could help improve the AI and ensure user privacy.

Current Implementations and Limitations

What an AI needs to be better at understanding and responding in ways most useful to us are processing power, a good neural network that allows it to self-learn, and a database to store whatever it has learnt.

The cloud is the best way for an AI to gain access to a processing power and huge enough database. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft offer cloud computing and storage services via their AWS and Azure platform respectively at very low cost. Even Google offers such services via their Compute Engine.

The problem with the cloud is reduced level of confidence when privacy is involved. Anything you store up there is vulnerable, available for retrieval through security flaws or misconfigurations. Companies could choose to encrypt those data via end-to-end encryption to help with protect user’s privacy but the problem is the master keys are owned by said companies. They could decrypt those data whenever they want.

Or you could do it like what Apple did with Siri, storing data locally, and use Differential Privacy to help ensure anonymity but it reduces the AI capabilities because it doesn’t have access to sufficient amount of personal data. Two, Siri runs on devices like Apple Watch, iPhones and iPads, which could be a problem when it comes to processing and compute capabilities, and having enough information to understand the user.

Although those devices have more processing power than room-sized mainframes from decades ago, it’s still not enough, energy-efficiency and capability wise, to handle highly complex neural networks for better experience with voice user interfaces.

Apple did try to change that with its A11 Bionic SoC that has a neural engine. Companies like Qualcomm, Imagination Technologies, and even NVIDIA are also contributing to increase local processing power with energy efficiency for AI through their respective CPU and GPU products.

Possible Solution

The work on the hardware by companies should continue so that there will be even more powerful and energy efficient processors for AI to use.

In addition to that, what we need is a standard, wireless-based protocol (maybe bluetooth) for the AI on our devices, irrespective of companies, to talk to each other when they are near to each other and in our home network. This way, the AI on each of those devices can share information and perform distributed computing, thereby improving its accuracy, overall understanding of the user, and respond accordingly.

A common software kernel is also necessary to provide different implementation of neural network a standardized way of doing distributed computing efficiently and effectively.

So now, imagine Siri talking to Alexa, Google Assistant or even Cortana via this protocol and vice versa.

Taking privacy into account, information exchanged via this protocol should be encrypted by default with keys owned only by the user. Any data created or stored should only reside on device also encrypted and nowhere else. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the generated keys should come from some kind of hardware-based “Secure Enclave”.

To further improve the neural network, Differential Privacy should be applied on any query or information sent by the AI to the cloud for processing.

Conclusion

The above is really just a thought of how current the AIs powering voice user interfaces can be improved.

At the end, it’s really up to the companies to decide if they want to come together and improve all our lives taking into account our privacy and security.