Anton Strickland

Watch Your Life For Rolling Rocks

I've realized lately that I don't enjoy sitting in front of a computer and coding as much as I once did. I'm sure most of that is because I do all kinds of unpaid work that involves running into errors building obscure programs on the command line that nobody knows how to fix. So I struggle with that, get frustrated at the fact I have no one to turn to for help, and ask myself why the hell I'm even doing it in the first place.

Lately I've been trying to get back into writing, both fiction and non-fiction. I've managed to figure out that, on a good day, I can write anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 words no problem. Extrapolate that out, and you'll find I could realistically write the first draft for a whole novel in a single month. I used to think those numbers were impossible, but now I understand how to get it done. I just need a solid outline and a strong motivation to actually write it all down and share it with the world. If I don't have that, I get stuck, and nothing happens.

Years ago, I'd write a thousand or so words in a day, then second-guess myself and erase them. And so I felt like, at the end of the day, I hadn't accomplished anything meaningful. It felt like writing was a waste of time. I was occupying all my mental energy on a problem that didn't really even exist, concerning myself with my own fictional world. I could either struggle all day to resolve these plot issues, or I could just say "screw it" and do something else with my time. I ended up choosing the latter.

But now I've realized I'm running into the same issue with software development. I can spend days coding a new feature, running into a bug, fixing the bug, and then finding out that feature needs to be cut from the project. Is that really a good use of my time? At least if I went back to writing, I'd have something to share by the end of the month.

I've gotten tired of going through these same motions. Write stuff, erase it. Build stuff, take it back down. You're reading this post on the second iteration of my personal website. I've redone the Goldbar Games website at least 5 times. The game Witch Doctor Kaneko was rewritten from scratch 5 different times across three different engines, and the scripts for Detective Butler (both the released game and its unfinished sequel) have been rewritten more times than I can even count. I started that game in 2011, published it in 2013, re-released it on Steam in 2017, wrote DLC for it in 2020 and then ported it to my own game engine. All for a few hundred dollars (and at the expense of a few thousand, plus opportunity cost).

I was hoping I'd have a more diverse portfolio by now. Dozens of games, or websites, or books, or videos, or something. I prefer games. But I've spent so much time redoing the same ones over and over. It's no wonder I burnt out.

My advice is that if an idea doesn't motivate you, then don't work on it. If it truly motivates you, then get it done as quickly as you can. If you have an idea for a novel, write the outline from start to finish before anything else. Make it a solid outline that you truly understand. Then get the whole thing done in a single month. The same thing applies to games.

While brainstorming a title for this post, I read up on Sisyphus Syndrome, named after the character from Greek mythology Sisyphus, who endlessly rolled rocks up a hill only to watch them roll back down. But it describes this problem perfectly. Upon nearing the completion of a task, whether it's writing or coding, I feel like I have to start all over again. Something that was once finished needs to be redone. I keep revisiting old ideas and projects, even though the only thing I want to do is work on something new.

Part of this problem comes from my own desire for perfectionism. I want my work to be the highest quality. But I've learned more recently to embrace the idea "perfect is the enemy of finished." Nothing is perfect. Even my favorite video games from when I was a kid are imperfect -- new bugs in their code are being found evey day. Not even a team of fully funded developers can make a perfect game. Even if they did, not everyone would find the game fun. There will always be at least one negative review. There's always someone who smashes that "dislike" button (even if you can't see it).

So where does the need to be perfect come from? You could argue it's my ego wanting me to be the best. And to a certain extent, that may be true -- when I have the vision for a game or app, I want it to be done the way I imagine it. I just think the real issue is me wanting to provide something good for other people. I don't try to make something perfect if I'm the only one using it. It's only if I want to show it to someone else. I have the fear that I'll be judged harshly for any mistakes or wrongdoing. As a result, I'll lose the respect of these people (be they friends or fans) and my business will be ruined. This is all in spite of the fact that, because of this stifling fear, my business never really got off the ground anyway.

In other words, it's me worrying about future repercussions that likely won't actually happen -- anxiety. I wonder to myself "if this isn't good enough, people won't like it, and then they'll all leave me." Well, it turns out I've mitigated that fear by going silent long enough for most people to leave me anyway. Maybe they're just being polite and don't want to bother me. But now that I've managed to let go of that fear. I have nothing more to lose.

Without that fear, I've found myself writing those 5,000 words per day. I find myself writing blog posts like this one. Because, in a way, my anixety became replaced with a new fear: the fear of being left in total isolation. That my thoughts and ideas won't ever reach another person because I was too caught up in trying to perfect them before trying. I'm more worried that I'll suddenly pass away before I can finish all my projects (or at least the important ones) rather than being worried that they won't be good enough.

That said, quality is important, and sometimes you just can't rush quality. I get it. Especially in games. Nobody wants to buy or play a crappy game.

But I think I need to give myself some room to breathe. I go online all the time and find games that I think are garbage, but their sales are just fine. If that's my competition, then surely my work isn't as bad as I think it is. I'm just my own worst critic.