[Applied Self-Confidence] Finish Your Projects

Moments within Eizouken! that reminds me of working on projects, covering themes that can apply to group or solo projects, large and small. Although I’ve never worked in animation, the moment that struck the most poignant for me was one particular scene. I often saw scenes like this while I was in the indie videogame development scene because once work gets hard, I saw developer after developer secretly or publically want to leave projects incomplete.

The scene is innocent enough: a character brainstorms new ideas idly.

She is reminded of their current project with the quote above, “stop talking about other projects. Focus on finishing the one you’re working on.[1]” When I watched this scene, my mind went back to an amalgamated memory – the location was real, the quotes were real, but they were combined haphazardly to recall then drop the idea – where someone I was working with told me about how disinterested he was in continuing a big project he was working on. I forget how I responded during this amalgamated memory.

It was probably something like the quote above.

When I was a journalist and occasional developer – including some amateur programming – in an indie videogame development scene, I talked to many people about their projects. Some had lofty, impossible goals. Others were more realistic. When I covered my first game jam, where I watched weekend games being started, finished, or failed, I was enthralled by the whole idea. Everyone seemed so smart! I saw many people, including myself, burn out during my second game jam. My third, and final for now, was a more measured deep-dive. Even among professional programmers or seasoned ‘jammers,’ failure can happen suddenly, along with the temptation of starting over on an easier project.

When is it alright to give up on a project?

For games made over a weekend, self-doubt is easy to let creep in, but just as easy is adapting the end product to what you have the energy to complete. Although some people might remember the initial game pitch, the only thing that matters is the finished product that people can play or observe. If it becomes too ambitious to the point of being unprogrammable or unplayable, it’s not worth the time. But can it be salvaged?

Let’s change gears to talk about inside baseball for writing.

The essays you read are a product of a strategy I’ve developed over years. Some six months ago, I started my essay calendar, which was just a list of topics I wanted to write about but then became formalized as I figured out how to quickly visualize what I need to write, edit, and publish next. This essay was the first open slot, where I can write about whatever I wanted, and usually what I’ll do is balance enough essays to write each day so I can pick the title that interests me the most. I was meandering through my screenshot gallery to clear out space and decide what to do next, when I saw this screenshot, and was struck with the appropriate amount of inspiration to start writing.

Usually, this process is a sudden one-shot done in 30 minutes to under 1 hour.

I’ll usually write the introductory paragraph in about 3 to 5 minutes. I don’t do much editing. I would say only once every hundred essays, or so, do I feel any self-doubt about what I write and before I know it I’m at 1020 words. [20 words for the Endtable.] A few months ago, I intentionally cleared out all the drafts that had sat unfinished, because each of these represents an idea that I had been struck with enough inspiration to start, but gave up during that last slog. For essay writing, if the essay doesn’t land, who cares? Who will even read it? Just get it done, even if it’s subpar.

A game is ostensibly a larger project, but it’s the same idea.

I don’t often think about these essays after I write them. When they reach publication, it’s almost like déjà vu for me, because I’ll have remembered writing the essay, of course, but the writing process for me is about externalizing or purging those thoughts. It’s about getting them out of my mind, so I’ve had a month – or when the drafts sit around for years, more – to act on what I’ve realized. Similarly, there was one game I followed at one game jam where the developers turned in a finished product, won an award, and like many others, stated that they would keep working on it.

Unlike most ‘jammers,’ post-game jam, they actually did.

They spent the next few weeks adding about as much as they could without scrapping all of the code they had built during the game jam to realize what they had wanted to build. They stopped working on it after about a month. Just like when I’m writing essays or fiction and there are weird moments, at no point did that group let self-doubt stand in between them and their tenacity to realize what they wanted to realize. Compared to when I heard others idly throw around project ideas, when they were feeling that slog get the better of them, they on their project and me on my projects, when we enter a flow state, even if the end project isn’t perfect, at least it’s done.

When is it OK to brainstorm other ideas or to stop working?

When the project affects your health or finances, stop. When the brainstorming affects your current project or the momentum to keep working, stop. Otherwise, what I’ve found the most rewarding after completing 1403 essays or fiction pieces – as of this writing – is the ability to push through the final moments of insecurity that might distract me from completing my work. I saw an email arrive in my inbox just now. No! This essay isn’t done yet. I can check the email later. This is my current most important project.

Once I complete this project, I can work on the next.

Endtable:
Quotes: [1] The other character keeps idly brainstorming other ideas and this quote summarized the ideas I felt quite well.
Sources: My personal and gamedev experiences, mainly, although I’m sure I’ve learned some of this doing my professional work, too.
Inspirations: Other than seeing the screenshot?
Related: Other Applied Self-Confidence essays.
Screenshot: From here.
Written On: 2020 April 16 [3:29am to 4:15am]
Last Edited: 2020 April 16 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]
My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.