Just a warning. This post is a bit less structured than my normal posts and is a bit more stream of consciousness. This topic is something that has been on my mind for a while but not something I have a fix for, so I cannot lay out a structured approach of problem and solution.
Rather, today I am going to tell you my problem, what I have done so far, and hopefully, through writing, find what I should do next.
To put it simply, I lost my creativity.
I suspect I am not the only person who lost theirs.
Where Did I Last See It?
Well, this will come as no surprise, it was sometime in early March. You know, before the Pandemic changed everything. I don’t mean to be coy about that, there is nothing coy or funny about what has happened and what is still happening. But before the lockdown, which for me was March 16th 8:15 am (that’s a story for another time), I was doing fine on the creativity front. My creative energies were up, though I was working on a very large project at work, which was taking up a lot of brain-space.
After the lockdown, my creativity was gone. The most likely explanation of this was from something on Facebook that talked about Maslow’s Pyramid which basically said that because my security was at risk, activities like creativity (part of self-actualization) were shut down. I don’t really know if that is true or not, but it was comforting when I read it. It also seemed to make sense at the time. There was fear of catching covid-19, there were shortages of some foods in the grocery store, the uncertainty of how the kids were going to do school, etc.
The first thing I did, and likely the best thing I did for me, was to quickly forgive myself of any creative endeavors. We skipped a few podcast episodes, I stopped working on the game that Encoded was gearing up to put on Kickstarter, another game I was designing with Senda, etc. I took that extra time and allocated it for self-care, which turned out to be a lot of Star Trek, Minecraft, Mario Kart Tour, and TikTok.
To be clear, I understand that is a very privileged thing to do. My day job, which I chose to keep when I started in the industry, was secure and pays for all the necessities. So, I was able to slow down my RPG hustle and care for myself, friends, and family. There are people who are not in that position, and I want to recognize that.
While my creativity was down, my desire to play RPGs was still high. While writing adventures and campaign management did not seem like fun, getting together on Zoom, and playing with my gaming groups did. So I maintained that, by running mostly published material. This was another way to relieve me of having to be highly creative. By using published adventures, and making tweaks along the way, I was engaging in what was the fun part of gaming (at this time) while avoiding the parts that I was not up for.
These two efforts have sustained me for a number of months.
The Creative Itch
Late last month, a number of things in my life started to clear up. The kids were on summer break. My largest project for the year, the one that I was working on in March that got delayed, finally completed. While the pandemic is still raging, here in New York State the curve is currently flattened, and I feel safe taking trips out with my mask on, or even sitting outside with friends (socially distanced, of course).
That is when the itch returned. One day I started to get the urge to make something new. The problem was I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to make. All I knew was that the creative itch was back.
Going back to Maslow’s pyramid, it’s not that I am that much safer than before. While infection rates are down in my area, they are not anywhere else, there is no vaccine, nor any reliable front-line treatments. But here I am looking for something to work on. I also ran into another article online that said that while Maslow’s pyramid is a nice concept, we are capable of working on different levels non-linearly. It explains how art can be made in wartime. Again, I am no expert, but it made sense to me. I am also thinking the universe keeps putting these things out in the world for me to find, as forms of guidance (Thanks Universe).
Finding An Outlet
So now with a creative itch, I could not figure out how to express it. Normally my burst of creativity comes with something to do, something to write, or something to make. But nothing seems interesting.
So at times when I am lost, I fall back to some brainstorming in the form of mind maps. I made a mind map of all the things I could work on. It was not a small number of things, but after a few days of adding to it and reviewing it, I did not find a thing that I wanted to jump into.
So I made a second mind map and started to address why I wanted to do something creative. The idea is that if I knew why I wanted to be creative, as in what would be creatively satisfying, then it might help me find what to work on. This was fruitful in that it showed me what I was currently valuing and not:
Valuing: Problem-solving, creative expression, learning something new, self-enjoyment, external approval of friends.
Not valuing: Making something permanent, feeling relevant in the industry, external approval of strangers, external approval of my peers.
That list is not the same as pre-pandemic. What it tells me is that my urge to be creative is something I want personally, for me. It is not the need to make things for consumption. But it also shows me that these needs change in different situations.
So What Am I Going To Work On?
I am not sure. I think that where I need to look is at things that are not going to be future Encoded products, and rather things I can create for me and my friends. That means I should be working on something that I can share and run for them, without worrying about whether it is publishable, needs licensing, etc.
That does narrow down the field a bit as I continue to look.
My Advice To You
I don’t like to write articles without providing advice to you. So here is what I have learned over the past few months.
- It is normal in these uncertain times to not feel as creative as you once were.
- It is normal to not be interested in the projects and games you were before all this started.
- Be kind to yourself. Do not be down on yourself for where you are and what you are feeling.
- Engage in self-care. Take care of yourself and make sure that you are not only surviving but in the quiet moments between the stresses of life, that you have a bit of enjoyment. A video game, a square of chocolate, cooking a new or favorite meal, enjoying a game with friends.
- Use published material if you are not feeling creative but still want to game.
- When you do start feeling creative, ease back into it.
- Spend some time self-reflecting on what you want out of doing something creative, and then go and find something that matches that as best as possible.
Good luck, take care, and be safe.