This stuff is hard.

About once a week, I’ll be talking with someone and they’ll ask me, seemingly out of the blue: 

 ”So, have you been working on any games lately?”

And every time, without fail, something in me seizes up and this fight-or-flight response kicks in. I want to say things like:

 ”Uh, no. I’ve totally dropped the ball and accomplished nothing since the last time we talked. Happy?”

Or: 

”Nope! Turns out I’m paralyzed by my inability to believe wholeheartedly in my own ideas and so I’ve pretty much just been dumping those hours into playing Overwatch and anxiously refreshing Twitter. How’ve you been?” 

Or this charmer:

”Yeah, so, I looked into that and—as it turns out—I was never any good at this, so I gave up. Weird, right?” 

Of course, I don’t say things like that. A part of my brain reminds me that my friends are just showing interest in my creative work, and they want me to keep creating if it’s fulfilling for me. I know that, and it really means the world to me. Or it should. But something else keeps butting in and shouting at the top of its lungs that we’re being attacked here.

Why is that?

I’ve been giving it some thought lately, and I think I’ve figured it out, at least for myself. There’s this awful thing I do where I deny myself the right to indulge in my own interests. I convince myself I need to keep deferring my passions and hobbies in order to clear out an ever-expanding and meticulously curated checklist of “things” to do. Like: sure, you should get back into making games, but first, don’t you have to move? And don’t you have a ton of studying to do for your new job? And don’t you need to keep reading books to accomplish your annual GoodReads challenge? (I’m ahead of schedule, by the way.) And so on, and so on.

I don’t know exactly why I started doing this—that’s a topic better addressed by a therapist—but I do know that it applies to more than just my hobbies. Another thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time is get a pet—a dog, probably, or maybe a cat. I’ve been casually planning off and on for two years, but I’m still no closer to adoption. I dunno who I think I’m kidding, but I’m gonna be 32 this month, and that’s two years closer to the grave. Why would I defer something I want to do for two whole years without being able to point to a single defining reason?

Being able to delay gratification is often seen as a strength in our society. Steady hands, long-term investments, and so on. But I think I follow through too far on it, and I wind up creating a cocoon of never-ending busywork in order to avoid devoting my scarce free time to things that could really enrich my life: writing, making games, adopting a new pet, curating a small collection of plants (it’s the millennial thing to do, apparently). And as far as I can tell, there’s only one reason that can explain this behavior:

It’s fear. 

I’m terrified of making bad games. I’m terrified of getting months into a project and being unable to complete it because it just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m also terrified of dying with all of these ideas I believe so strongly in never fully materializing, never seeing the light of day even. More than anything, I’m terrified of failing my friends and my peers. I’ve always been the stable, clear-headed one, and I think it’s kind of horrifying to consider what it’s like to hang that mantle up just for a moment and take a leap of faith into the unknown.  

I’m also afraid of opening up about this. Back in my teenage years I wouldn’t have hesitated to bang out a 5000-word screed on my LiveJournal about how hopeless this all is, but I’m an adult now; we don’t really talk about the things we’re afraid of in public. 

But I think that’s dishonest. Making the games I want to make, and telling the stories I want to tell...they’re vulnerable games. They’re stories about real anxieties and real joys and real struggles. Or they’re psychotropic dalliances in ‘90s ballads. Whatever. Either way, there are some real thorny subjects I want to address in my work, but fear of rejection, and fear of inability to do those topics justice, has held me back. And I think to deny that, or to never open up about it, would be wrong. 

Creative work is inherently scary. Making a statement and putting it out into the world is not for the faint of heart. Hell, I’m terrified to post anything of actual sincerity or substance on Facebook or Twitter these days. (On that note: I’m thinking about taking a hiatus from both, like, starting immediately, so if you don’t see me around, that’s why.) But I think confronting fear in the interest of making something real is a pretty noble effort, even if you goof up and fail to stick the landing. At least you tried. And even if it’s delivered in a flawed package, there’s something real inside it. (Feel free to slap that on your Tinder bio.)

Anyway. I miss writing like this. I miss being real. So maybe I’ll keep writing. I dunno. Either way, I clearly need to work through whatever this is if I’m going to feel good about confronting my creative work again and finally putting those gears back in motion. 

Thanks for reading this. I hope I’ll have some news to share soon. And if not, well, look forward to more strained ruminations on the precarity of creative output.

Nick Cummings