It’s like an electric shock when it hits. A jolt of static that lights up my brain in the best ways. It’s all promise and potential—the things I could do, the impact my work could have. It’s glowing and bright, living there in my mind. It often means that I make something; maybe it’s an outline or a sketch, a few paragraphs or a playlist of music that puts me in the right mood. Very often, it means I talk about what the spark caused. I go to Twitter and announce a project or I hit a friend’s DMs to talk about all of the glorious things that might be.
More and more often, this magical feeling means that I’m creating a ghost of a project. One that won’t leave me alone, no matter how I hard I try.
The Shape and the Feeling
When I think of creative projects, I don’t always consider them in concrete terms. It’s not just the end product, though I’ve gotten better at thinking about the end goal as the years have gone on. No, what I develop inside is a sense of the project. How it feels inside when I think about it, turning ideas old and new over and over in my mind. What the weight of it is, how its themes and messages would feel as they play out. There are different permutations of those things, too, as I bring end goals into focus. How would this set of impressions feel as a novel? A TTRPG? A podcast?
The thing that I never expected when I first started making things for real is that some projects just never, ever leave me alone. They’re ghosts of finished projects that linger because they’re exactly what ghosts are: unfinished business.
Most of the time, they’re there, way in the background. I can bring them out and consider them fondly. Maybe I open up an old document and read through notes I’d made. Maybe I type a few new sentences, adding here, refining there. Then I can put them away and let them do whatever it is they do in my subconscious.
Then there are the down times.
It Has Me By the Throat and Will Not Let Go
In the best of times, the drive to make something is a welcome companion. It rides alongside me, in an convertible I imagine. Top down, our combined hair blows in the wind as we thunder down the road towards a complete vision. Other times, it’s an encouragement. A hug when I need it and a set of hands to pull me onward when I’m flagging.
When the valleys come, when the familiar thought patterns of inadequacy and sadness lock my thoughts in repetitive motion, that’s when the drive is a goad. It’s a monster nipping at my heels and digging furrows in my back. It’s still familiar to me, so I often feel driven to embrace it. I introspect and ponder projects. I open documents and type some, maybe pulling myself, temporarily, out of a funk because a little action has proven to me that I’m not some flavor of failure.
The thing is, I can’t keep chasing these projects. I can’t keep letting my happiness, or lack thereof, be defined by what I do or don’t make. It’s too much.
Everything is the Same and Nothing is the Same at All
In a recent Kickstarter update for You Are the Dungeon, I outlined a plan to try and fulfill an outstanding portion of the project. In my description of what I was behind, I talked about how my perspective and priorities have completely shifted since having a kid. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. In a matter of weeks, I completely stopped caring about finishing my outstanding projects. I logically knew I needed to finish them because I have an obligation to do so. But that fact often just doesn’t matter to me. My kid is literally the most important thing in my life and everything else pales in comparison.
I know that’s almost a cliché thing to say. I’d have rolled my eyes or nodded along in presumed understanding if a friend told me the same thing. It’s singular and I really don’t know if it’s possible to understand unless you experience it. I think this is especially true for me as a maker of TTRPGs. The games I make don’t pay my bills. In fact, I think that I’ve lost money, all told, across my career.
And here’s me, still getting beset by this maddening drive to make things when I know, absolutely, I don’t have the time or space to make things the way I used to.
An Uneasy Truce
This post, outlining all of these things, this is the first step in me hopefully seeing more clearly going forward. I have a radically different life than I did when I started the three projects I have outstanding on Kickstarter. If I can’t get those done, what chance do I have of seeing a new idea to completion? Especially a large one like a new actual play series or a new setting and game book? I can ride inspiration towards making a small game every now and again, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
All of this is me catching up to my reality. I doubt that I’ll ever really lose the shape and feel of some of these projects. If that’s the case, then there may come a different time in my life when I have more room to try and give them their due. In the meantime, they and I need to find a way to live together in my head. I hope the drive to create never goes away. I just want to not have it try to drown me every now and again.