What? Okay, I suppose that makes a fairly poor blog post. Alright.
I’ve been working, on and off, on a number of projects with Cyberpunk, RED as well as 2077. Mostly 2077. And this question keeps coming up.
We’re conditioned to continuously evaluate “ROI” on everything. Time’s the one resource that’s uniformly finite, and we’re way past the point of “enough.” Or are we? That’s the interesting part of this thought.
One of my big haiku role models is Ákos Fodor, a Hungarian poet who, in my opinion, was able to own the genre without compromising the fundamental concept of it. His poetry is a huge source of education and inspiration for me, and there’s a haiku of his that sprung to mind:
a rendfenntartó idő;
In a quick (and frankly crude) translation:
heartbeat marching to
the rhythm of time’s command;
my heart beats back
I mean, why would I write a string of sonnets about V and Judy’s love in Cyberpunk 2077? Why would I toil away at writing for Cyberpunk 2077/RED, if I could just as well write a setting-agnostic cyberpunk-ish sci-fi story? Is it worth my time to do fan-fiction for Cyberpunk (or Warcraft, or whatever) if I could tell the same (or pretty similar) story with a better chance for being picked up?
I do it because that’s what interests me. It’s worth my time because I started to not fear time.
I don’t have any more time in a day than anyone else. I’m 40 years old, which sounds old to a lot of people, but I no longer fear time running out on me. Worrying about where I am in life, in my career, always comes from external validation and measurements. I understand it’s part of the “game” we creators “play” to reconcile the compass of our creativity with the map of the market.
Letting go of the idea of success is liberating. Not letting go completely, but — to summon Neil Gaiman — viewing it as a distant mountain you walk towards. As he says:
Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.
I think about this a lot.
To be fair, there’s the dream and Neil also acknowledges the reality:
Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you'll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.
And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.
Asking the question isn’t a bad thing. Answering it however you want isn’t either. You set your own parameters for success.
I was watching an interview with Casey Neistat the other day, and one bit stuck with me. Casey is a creative juggernaut, and by any measure he’s hugely successful. And the way he talks about making videos still doesn’t carry even a hint of yearning for fame. Sure, anyone can say they don’t care about the numbers, but it sounds hollow when saying it while playing the numbers game. Casey’s enthusiasm and pride when talking about spending days on a video that was viewed by 4 (four!) people in total is genuine.
Peter McKinnon, another big inspiration, speaks to a similar theme in this video:
You miss out on the fun.
Doing Cyberpunk 2077 sonnets and Warcraft fan fiction is worth my time. So does this blog. How many people read it? I have no clue, because I removed all tracking and analytics. If I’m the only one ever visiting this website, I’m okay with that. The primary reason I make it in the first place is to keep myself accountable. And to have fun, and hone my craft, and make some sense of the chaos that’s inside me.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate all the reads and shares and the like. Of course I want to get closer to my mountain. I want to be successful and able to support myself from writing my silly things. I love my day job, I love the people I work with, but I do not love working for someone else. Eventually I’d like to be on my own. Will it happen? I don’t know.
But as long as I do what I can, the way I feel it needs to be done, answering to no one but myself, I’ll remain happy. Audience is great, but an audience that’s “tricked” is not what I want. I’d rather have 10 people reading my work because they want to than 10.000 because I compromised my creativity for their interests.
This is a fairly naive approach to creativity as a business. But I can work for someone else and do my own thing on the side — I’m doing it right now, and it’s fine. Working for someone else (the coveted audience, the market) would be just exchanging one boss who tells me what to do for another.
I don’t judge anyone who plays the game. If you can, and want to, power to you. It’s just not for me. Ask the question. But also come up with your own answers.