Lessons Learned Playing Freecell

FReecell1Okay, now you know I’ve completely freaked out and am ready to frolic with the jolly green giants and pink elephants dancing around my study, right?

Actually, no. I think I’m as sane as I’ve ever been – which is always a subject open to discussion and fiercely opposed opinion.  Basically, I’m not helping myself am I?

No,? So let’s get to the point. Many, many authors play Freecell. In fact I am amazed at how many (novelists in particular) use games such as this to get their brains into gear. I’m not alone. When I tire of Freecell, I turn to  Solitaire, Spider Solitaire and Mahjong.

I play and use them like ‘thinking music’. Remember the old quiz shows that used to offer thinking music?  I play when I’m stuck in a scene, I play to warm up for the day and I play when I’m plotting out future scenes (in my head). I play to clear my head – to get away from the work at hand – to give myself another perspective.

So, what have I learned?

  1. PLAN YOUR MOVES.  This helps me in life and in work. Madly moving cards around usually ends up as a waste of time and me facing a brick wall. Planning saves a load of time. Even if you’re a pantser, know what you want that day’s writing to achieve.


  1. YOU CAN’T FORCE AN OUTCOME. I sit in airports a lot. A LOT. To chase the boredom, and occasionally play (Freecell) favourites where I’ll determine that the first king to start its own row will be red. And I’ve learned too many times that I can’t force that to happen.  In other words, manipulating a scene for a specific purpose (to make life easier for me the author) won’t work. In the game I’ll be at a brick wall and that red king will mock me.   In my work, that forced scene will be just as obvious as that red king, and it will jar in the story. The story won’t work.
  1. MOST SCENES CAN BE REDEEMED. Quite often I’ll play a game and then suddenly that pesky “There are No More Moves’ message flashes at me. Do I give in? No way. I sit and undo every move right back to the beginning – or to where I think I went wrong  (which is almost always the beginning ) and start again. This time I’ll look at different moves, study the format more closely, plan ahead. This is exactly what can happen with a scene that doesn’t work. If you believe in it and if it has a specific purpose (furthers the story, reveals character etc) then go back to the start and work it again. Perhaps it’s the viewpoint choice that’s sent it awry. Maybe it’s the tone. Maybe it’s in the wrong place.  Too soon in the story.
  1. WATCH YOUR PACING. Sometimes I want to move more cards than I’m allowed to. freecell3And I’m annoyed. But you know, it’s more than just rules – I see this as pacing. In our story pacing is of the utmost importance. Moving too fast can be wholly detrimental to your story. Just as dragging out scenes that ultimately put the reader to sleep. Be aware of when you can move fast and offload a heap of cards – and when you need to move slowly. One card at a time.
  1. GOALS ARE IMPORTANT. I have a very high success percentage (93%) because I always go back and ensure I win every game. Those % that I’m down on occurred before I started viewing the game from this new perspective, and are result of unfinished games, abandoned rather than lost/failed.  Now though, I ensure I NEVER not win. And that has actually strengthened my view of my goals. I always set goals, always have – and mostly try to achieve them. Now, I’ve taken that determination over to other areas of my life. I kid you not – this has had a profound effect, and this is from someone who has always been fairly diligent!
  1. ALWAYS LEAVE BREATHING ROOM.  This is more about life and finances than about writing. I never fill all those four boxes up in the top left hand corner. I call that the holding bay –I have no idea if it has an official name.  Fill that holding bay and you’re often in trouble – no room to move. Same as with your debts and credit cards. Fill them to the max and you have no wriggle room if something goes wrong.  Similarly, squeezing as much into every day is great – but if it involves responsibilities to other people try to space them. Why risk burn out, or loss of faith or respect from these people you may let down when simply asking for an extra day or so might have saved you all that. Probably you’ll get the work done early or on time then, because you’ve reduced the pressure on yourself. And then you  find yourself with a bit if free time! Win! (Maybe even a few minutes for a quick game of Freecell!! Ha!)
  1. LEARN WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Prioritise. I also know people who spend WAY too much time paying games – and that frightens me.   Allow yourself only a set time or a set number of games. Be in charge – don’t let other things distract you or leech time from your real work. Being an expert at Freecell won’t build your career. It won’t pay your bills. And you could end up hating yourself. These things can become addictive. So, enjoy but be aware of those things that can eat your time: Email, surfing the net, playing games. Get to the end of every day and despite whether the writing flowed or had to be gouged out with a blunt instrument, be able to look back with the satisfaction that you gave that day your ‘all’. That you couldn’t have done better.

Question: Do you think I’m crazy? Ha! Too easy, right?

Harder question: Have you learned anything from an unexpected source?


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