I don’t know how to start these.
This may or may not have something to do with the fact that you were supposed to get about five different versions of this one at various points last year or so. Truth is, I haven’t really actively worked on any personal projects in over two years. If you are seeing these words, however, I have managed to at least put together a couple of paragraphs explaining both what has been and hasn’t been going on. So there’s that.
In January, I somehow managed to move to Prague.
You don’t realise how incredible that is. Not the fact that it’s a nice city and all, the fact it actually happened. If it weren’t already apparent enough, I am not that great at getting things done (you don’t know the half of it). When I say this is incredible, it really is incredible. Everything just sort of fell into place and I suddenly found myself on my own, far away from home, somewhat managing.
One of the main reasons behind this big operation, other than taking a step towards becoming an adult and finally ridding myself of a three-hour daily commute (maniacally laughs in 2021), was a secret hope that it would instantly snap me out of my long-term creative burnout. People seemingly smarter than I often like to attribute a change of environment to major improvements in their mental well-being. Knowing that, I leapt for the bait. Like in a film or something.
I suppose it worked out as far as the first two reasons go.
Technically, that’s still like a D+ at best.
While I haven’t returned to my creative prime at all, I’m a centimetre (not an inch) closer to figuring out what exactly went wrong and how to best approach the issue. This level of investment may seem silly to you, but when you’re the type of individual who spends most of his time selfishly caring about what could’ve been, it just makes sense. When you spend years wondering why you don’t have the motivation and energy to create, you eventually end up asking yourself why you even cared in the first place. If you actually wanted to spend time doing the things you tell other people you supposedly love, wouldn’t you do exactly that?
Apparently, it’s not that simple.
The change was gradual. When I first started making games over a decade ago, it was all for fun. I never questioned my motives, I had no reason to stop. It’s just what I did after getting home from school.
Eventually, I started sharing what I had made with others online. Including music and art, just whatever I felt like doing back then. I didn’t mind if people told me I sucked. I entered competitions, collaborated with people, helped others, constantly started new projects (that never saw the light of day) and generally had a blast. Didn’t think much of it, really. Again, it was fun. Naturally, as time went, my skills improved and I got to a point where I was capable of creating content some people even liked. Imagine that.
Funnily enough, that’s when it all slowly started going awry.
When you’re an introverted nerdy teenager (a truly unique experience, I know) with a still-developing mind, and the only positive things you hear are compliments of your own work from people you don’t even know, a deep connection forms in your brain, and chasing that feeling takes over everything else. It’s all you think about, pretty much everywhere and all the time. You don’t have time for anything else. All the likes and upvotes become your whole world. For once, you finally have a reason to feel good about yourself.
This high seems to last forever until you start slowly noticing that you’re not actually having fun any more. You’re just in it for the final result. Or rather, the reaction to it.
Now it’s all dawned on you. Your ego has lead you into a maze and left you there for dead. The thought of creating for yourself without sharing becomes completely alien to you. Motivated entirely by #screenshotsaturday, you stop finishing projects because people will always upvote any WIP GIFs you post. And based on past experience, you don’t really have much faith left in your ability to bring anything long-term to fruition anyway, so why bother?
You wake up and realise all this validation doesn’t feel as good as it used to. Your willingness to continue can’t keep up with the tolerance you’d built up. Your unreleased work may as well be completely worthless because nobody ever gets to see it. New challenges that spark even the slightest hint of interest in you come by less and less often until there really aren’t many left. Not because there’s nothing in it for you in terms of improving. Quite the opposite, you still have heaps of stuff to learn, but you’re just too busy daydreaming about the idea of caring. Sitting around watching all of ‘The Sopranos’ in one month is the closest you ever come to having fun. You can’t enjoy the work of your peers any longer because it reminds you too much of your own failings. If you could’ve made it yourself, you resent it. Bitterness, jealousy and cynicism take over. It’s too late to turn back now. The passionate, perhaps a bit naïve, creative persona you’d spent ages building and putting out there is long gone. Whatever’s left is no longer recognisable. The follower count you so deeply treasured is dropping at a steady rate. Even if you try sitting down and making something, it just feels like you’re trying to emulate a past version of yourself, which makes you feel just silly. You never feel like doing anything because you know it never goes anywhere. You find yourself stuck in a negative feedback loop that eventually turns into self-hatred.
Now, obviously, the question is whether or not there even is anything wrong with not enjoying the process of creating itself in the first place. In every project, there are obviously parts that you don’t feel like doing, but the whole journey in general shouldn’t feel like a chore, should it?
Maybe I’m just looking at this the wrong way, but in my eyes, what I’m experiencing doesn’t just seem right. I know some people would say that I should just “get on with it”, but I fear that this approach would only result in producing something mediocre. You can usually tell when whether or not someone actually cared about their work from its quality.
I want quality. I want to care.
So I stared looking for answers.
For years, I tried my best to find a single person familiar with the situation I got myself into, with no luck. I searched online, read books, went on walks as often as I could, tried to disconnect from social media, analysed my old projects, listened to podcasts, did anything I could think of to help me crack this puzzle on my own.
I don’t regret doing any of that, as it certainly helped me straighten out some of the other mess in my head, but as far as what I was truly after went, I didn’t make any real progress. Somewhere along the line, I got a job doing what I was good at, which for a while kept me preoccupied enough not to spend too much time worrying about any broken promises I had made to myself.
The clock kept ticking, however, whether I liked it or not.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. The city is pretty nice. I haven’t exactly started properly exploring my surroundings yet, but things are generally going pretty good. Got my own furniture and everything. Learning to cook, also. Given the world we currently live in, my life could be hell of a lot worse. Admittedly, the fact that creative burnout is the thing I complain about probably says a lot. Anyways, I was surprised to find out I’m not completely terrible at taking proper care of myself. Two years ago, I dropped out of uni. Now I live on my own and have a stable dream job, which already is a lot more than I’ve ever had any right to ask for. Guess I could’ve done a lot worse as far as being an adult goes (by today’s standards, at least).
It’s certainly far better than what I imagined my life would turn out like one of those late autumn evenings of 2017, when I almost had a mental breakdown while waiting for my bus home, having just started uni. The difficulty of my courses, loneliness, getting up at 5 in the morning to commute, feeling scared and generally unprepared for the unknown that lurked just ahead was a lot to handle. If I could go back in time and tell myself that it’s not gonna be all doom and gloom in the end, I would. I’d also try and convince myself to put more effort into learning maths, but that’s beside the point.
What I figured out so far is that I am not, in fact, in a movie starring myself. That, and that I have a pretty clear idea of how to start trying to get myself unstuck from this rut in a way that wouldn’t make me feel completely miserable. Having a newly-gained confidence in my potential to make stuff happen made me start self-reflecting in a more productive way.
To start off, I decided that maybe changing things around here and there in terms of how I come across online wouldn’t be that bad of an idea. You may have noticed that something’s a bit different about this very website. Starting over with a new name is a lot less scary than I thought it would be. No regrets, though. Letting go of old branding I didn’t like, despite the tiny amount of recognition it’s gained over time, was the right step, I believe. In addition, my aforementioned attachment to internet numbers really made it seem like the most logical and healthiest thing to do. My gut told me it would just feel right.
And it did.
But maybe I just care a bit too much. I should probably stop lamenting over not doing things and just do them, you know. Given everything you’ve read so far, you might start wondering if making a post like this isn’t a bit counter-productive. To be honest, I don’t really know why anyone would be interested in reading this. Neither I nor my work are that important. I suppose I’m simply explaining myself to myself. In actual words on ~paper, rather than in my head, where it would just continue taking up space. It’s a starting point at least. Setting things if motion and letting you know so people other than myself can hold me accountable, if you like. Heard offloading in this fashion does wonders for one’s sanity. According to all your favourite subreddits, I should feel like a brand new person right after publishing this.
Though taking into account the fact that this took me a week to write, maybe I really am just lazy. Let me know what you think.
In the meantime, I’ll take my chances. We’ll see how it goes.