The Creator’s Dilemma

Posted on December 2, 2014 By

Yesterday I tweeted about what I termed “the creator’s dilemma,” which is this: We need to consume in order to create, but consuming doesn’t pay the bills.

To put a finer, more personal point on it: If I don’t take the time to play new games, read new books, and watch new (quality) movies and TV, the games and stories that I create will begin to suffer. If I don’t want my work to stagnate, I need to invest the time in refueling my creative reserves.

But time spent consuming is time not spent creating. Creating is how I get paid. I could take two hours and watch that movie, or I could draft a short story, which I can sell. I could take 200+ hours to play that that new video game, or I could work towards finishing this game design for which the client will pay me upon completion.

Yes, as one of my Twitter friends pointed out, every hour of consuming is an investment in higher-quality creating… but it’s hard to convince myself of that when the mortgage is due, the kids need braces, and the car’s back in the shop for brake repair. Sure, learning to master that hot new Euro game will make me a better game designer in the long run, but I need brake pads right now. Consuming might be an investment, but it feels like a guilt-inducing distraction.

But it’s not all whining and angst. As sometimes happens when we shout into the Twitter void, the void shouts back words of encouragement and helpful tips.

  • Daniel Solis tweeted that he has had success dividing his time between creating (during official work hours) and consuming. Jeff Tidball and Rachel Kahn seconded that idea, implying that by declaring evenings “after hours” they’re more able to watch, read, and play things without so much “should be working” anxiety.

  • Will Hindmarch offered a tip that I think will help trick my brain into letting me watch more on-screen entertainment: go ahead and watch that movie or TV show, but keep a notebook nearby to capture any “work-related” ideas inspired by what you’re watching, (or as is often my experience, jogged loose by zoning out while watching).

  • As a game designer for both digital and tabletop games, I’m constantly wracked with guilt over my lack of time spent playing games. Seth Johnson, a fellow game designer, has found a solution to this problem in game stores and cafes where you can sample a lot of games quickly. Podcasts and video reviews, as Daniel pointed out, are also great for getting you up to speed on the the new hotness without needing to coordinate the schedules of multiple players.

It was encouraging to hear from these creative professionals that I wasn’t the only one torn between the need to create and the need to consume. And it was even more encouraging to hear their strategies for balancing the two sides of the creative life. If you find yourself wrestling with the creator’s dilemma, I hope you’ll find this encouraging as well — and that if you’ve got your own strategies, you’ll pass them along so I can add them to the list.


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