“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Creating is an act of bringing a piece of your dreams into the real world to live its own life. Letting other people see and share what you’ve created is an affirmation of its possible beauty. During the entire creation process I bounce back and forth between feeling that my work might be good and knowing it is unquestionably worthless. How do I support my own creativity, learn my worth, and still keep my heart and mind open?
In youth lies wisdom
I recently went to see the musician, Lorde, in concert in Denver. There was a family sitting in front of us – mom, dad, younger sister, and the older sister with her best friend. I know this because teenagers are often loud and talk a lot. There was a moment during the concert where Lorde introduces a song by telling a story about her life during which she said, “I was a writer before anyone knew me. I’m still a writer and I’ll be a writer after everyone leaves.”
The best friend pointed at the older sister and said, “Like you.”
The older sister nodded and they hugged tightly. Then they danced like maniacs as the song started. At this point I started crying and wondered when my own sense of possibilities had disappeared. When did I lose that idea that the act of creating is what makes you a creator? I write almost every day yet I question if I’m a real writer just as often.
I can never repay the profoundly innocent and honest moment those two girls shared in front of me.
The work is where it starts
I’m a pretty good writer at this point in my life. I have gotten that way by writing. I’ve written professionally, written poetry, character backstories, changed game systems, sent sternly worded emails to our children’s school, and started dozens of half-finished stories and game ideas. I put in the hard, monotonous work to improve. I didn’t do it so that I would officially become a writer. I wrote because that’s what the fire inside my heart demanded and it had the unintended consequence of improving my skills. If I had made a thoughtful choice to invest in myself and improving instead of spending years judging myself worthless because I held my work up against those that had already put in the hours to improve I might be even better than I am today.
Becoming a game designer and writer is as simple as designing and writing games. If my goal becomes wanting to be a good designer and writer then I need to put in endless hours of often unnoticed work. I start by making something that I love, let people play my game, accept all of the feedback offered, listen, learn, finish my project, and start again. Through that journey I’ll improve, make better games that people want to play, and build a solid foundation to believe in myself. Many people have a dream to create, but I have become one of the few that were willing to invest their time into making it happen. Just like me, you can make tangible a piece of your heart and courageously offer it up to for the world to see. That is something to be proud of.
Pride vs ego
When I first began putting my work out into the world I worried that any expression of confidence or pride in the things that I created would equate to egomania. I would get uncomfortable and try to talk people out of liking my games by pointing out the flaws. It took me a long time to understand that these people were coming to me with appreciation and support, which I met with doubt and mistrust. I don’t remember the exact moment but one day I decided that it might just be better to say, “Thank you.”
I learned to be proud of the positive parts of my games and learn from the challenges. I send my work out to folks whom I admire and respect who provide feedback that often keeps me humble. I listen to both sides of their insight, learn from it, and then get back to work. I listen to the people that I trust when I can’t trust my own internal voice.
You can learn to see the positive parts of your work too; I believe in your ability to grow though listening, trusting, and learning. You just need to start to believe it too. Taking pride in your hard work doesn’t mean that you’re a loud mouth know-it-all. It means you have an emotionally healthy appreciation of what it took to get where you are.
I just need it to be perfect
There will probably never be a time where I feel like I’ve got it all figured out. Even with the hard fought improvements in my mental health and self-esteem, I will always struggle to appreciate my own work. That’s OK. I’m not without flaws as a person and neither are the things that I make. It’s the specific mix of strengths, bizarre choices, and mundane qualities that make it recognizably and uniquely mine.
The one thing I never want to make is a perfect game. Perfect kills dreams. Perfect is a prison that keeps my goals from seeing light and makes me pay for the privilege by draining my self-worth. Perfect doesn’t want me to finish anything. The message I get from Perfect is loud and clear; everything that I make isn’t ever going to be good enough to love. It tells me the same thing about myself. Perfect is an asshole.
Before you start your project consider making it your stated goal to create an imperfect game. Accept that there will always be things that you would change when you look back at it. Understand before you start that there will be others that think you made a wrong design choice or might not understand the phrasing in the instructions. Force yourself to survive the reality of a completed game. Take what you learn and make the next completed game even better and more spectacularly imperfect.
Creation and love
You and I are both real people that are shackled to the inconvenient realities of the world. If you are willing to accept the truth of perfection you can move past it into making honest and personal games. There are people out in the world that want to see the things that come from your heart. Be brave, believe in yourself, and trust others when you can’t, stay humble, listen, commit to the work, and grow. You can do it.
What keeps you from accepting the title of writer or designer? Is there a project that you’ve completed and would like to proudly tell me about?