What I Learned from Starting Projects That I Never Finished

Sometimes I tell people I’m going to do something and then I just never do it. I’m not talking instances where I’m like, ‘Hey! I’m going to pick you up from the airport!’ and just don’t show up. That would be very shitty and also harmful to whoever I made that promise to. The times I fail to do what I say I’m going to do are moments where I let myself down more than other people.

Why did I tell people for years that I was going to learn how to program but never approach a course on the subject? Why did I say I wanted to learn French but never took more than a few weeks worth of casual lessons on Duolingo? Nothing ever stopped me from putting in the work other than myself. I bought several courses from Udemy and had Duolingo installed for YEARS. Everything was super accessible!!!

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So what was my problem? I feel like stopping here to scream a Shia LaBeouf ‘DO IT’ would be about as useful as holding in a fart while running from a tornado, or like telling a scrub whose asking how to block that they need to GIT GUD. I’m also skeptical that I just secretly never wanted to put in effort and lied for self gain, so let’s dissect what really was happening in my brain between the beginning and end of these situations.

Sometimes I can easily picture my future self being a lot happier and fulfilled after achieving my goals. Other times I question what I could even do with them along side my meager life in Topeka, Kansas. Making my own game would be awesome but can I really even do that… really?

Living in a French speaking country would be a new way to experience life but when am I even going to France? How am I suppose to get there? Maybe this is all an excuse to overlook what I already have here in America?

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Thoughts like these are constantly crossing my mind when I try to learn a new skill. It sucks! I question myself so much that just thinking about starting a new lesson or project can give me physical bouts of nausea from the anxiety.

I think it’s time I face my inner demons so I can reverse the bad I felt went confronting these two original goals. First, let’s talk about what I learned from failing as a student of programming:

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First off, I just don’t like programming! If I ever need need to learn it, I’m confident I could. However I’m quite sure I despised learning it the first and subsequent times because I just never found joy in programming! Despite this, I’m still very fascinated in game logic but when it comes to drafting line after line of commands based around an API, I just don’t think I’ll ever see myself using it as a creative outlet. I hated experimenting-with and debugging extremely simple concepts. Let me draft up some systemic gameplay, just don’t have me write how it works using anything more than a flow chart.

Failing to grasp the smaller links in code taught me that I start thinking in broad scopes that allow for short, plentiful ideas. Programming is often specific and requires long periods of sticking to the script. Creativity seems like it doesn’t have a place in scripting; it either matches the predetermined game logic or it doesn’t. Letting my mind spending time inside of the tools I use is important in my iterative processing. I’m sure if I were to ease myself into programming by stepping into environments that incrementally increase the amount of coding asking of me, I’ll find some aspects I enjoy about it. For now, however, coding feels so vastly abnormal to other elements of game design that I just don’t want anything to do with it.

Another thing I failed to consider were engines like Godot that don’t require custom script writing at all to make games. I was a gatekeeper to my own creativity by not venturing out to discover tools like Godot exist. I thought I couldn’t do anything in game design until I learned to code because I didn’t explore my field. My belief was never true!

I also never thought about being JUST a level designer for a team that has programming covered. I can easily picture myself as a level designer to the max and am still extremely proud of my first works. From my 1st to my 101st hour using SketchUp, I was flying fast and excited to learn but I wouldn’t have had that moment just yet if I was still hung up on not enjoying programming!

So what about my foray with the French language?

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Well… I’m kind of saddened by this one. I think that using Duolingo for awhile was nice to kind of, ‘dip my toes’ into the language. After awhile, I found myself only using the app in situations where I really couldn’t do much but use my phone. The format of the app grew tiresome to me; quizzes were predictable and I found thought figuring out how to exploit them was more fun than learning the language.

I should have recognized that Duolingo wasn’t working for me. Instead, I let myself get distracted and chose to ignore the signs that I didn’t really like using it. I should have gone out of my way to find something else, maybe courses that were setup like traditional style classes. Even if I only completed the first iteration of a different course, I would have had a developed-enough skill to explore other options for learning the language.

My reason for wishing to learn French was never about the language itself — rather, the music, the people, the novels, the food, the thought of living in another country. Canada and France are both home to very successful indie game studios and modders alike. I thought expanding my ability to work in a French speaking environment would double my chances of landing a design job.

Heck, if I just found a group of people who meet up to practice their French, I could have very easily immersed myself in the language for at least a few hours a week. When learning is directly tied to a single method, you run the risk of thinking you’re screwed if things don’t work out. Instead, I should have listened to more French music or found a French show to watch while taking a consistent, online course. If one doesn’t work out, I’ve at least got the others while I find something better.

Even if I didn’t want to learn the languages but wanted to visit France, a large portion of their population speaks English. ESL (English as a Second Language) seems to be a growing trend across many countries. If I had a good enough reason to live in France (or anywhere in Europe, Asia or South America) tomorrow, I could probably communicate with most people. They’d probably be eager enough to speak with to a native English speaker that I could get awhile with constantly asking what signs say without being a burden.

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Before wrapping up, I want to talk about an occurrence I noticed while brainstorming ideas for this article. There are two situations in every day that I seem to generator more useful ideas than bad ones or none at all. This is the first couple hours that I’ve gotten to work in the mornings (obvious pick) and during the second is the collective of transitional periods of the day like lunch, drives home, cooking, cleaning, ect… What links these scattered moments together is that they’re times my body is on autopilot, meaning my twitchy, ever moving hands are preoccupied my brain is allowed to safely wonder.

A great deal of my ideas surphace during this time but I often can’t capitalize on them that particular moment. It’s easy to forget these ideas as they’re fleeting and not often particularly useful to what I’m doing right then and there. I try to always keep a scrap of paper on me to write them down. After reading them later in the day, they might seem like generic instances of monkey brain. Other times they’re the first step in projects or ideas that I find truly incredible.

There’s probably a scientific explanations for why these moments are so idea rich but I’m going to guess that it’s because they force us to be alone with our thoughts. Kind of like how meditation will, at the very least, help you be more aware of the thoughts you can’t stop repeating.

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“I write jokes for a living, I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen is too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

Mitch Hedberg, from his album ‘Mitch All Together’

While most of Mitch Hedberg’s material across his three albums was extremely clever and witty, nobody would have known how funny Mitch was if he never wrote his jokes down. Let alone take himself serious enough to ensure his material reaches our ears. Unfortunately, there are probably a thousand more comedians as funny as Mitch who failed at one or both of these steps and we’ll never be able to give them the recognition they deserve because of it.

The idea of interlaced television was invented back in 1921 by a 14-year old farm boy after he witnessed and pondered the parallel lines in a freshly plowed field. I think about this story a lot, it helps me remember that the possibilities are endless for those of us who seek inspiration and fulfillment.

Thinking back on everything I’ve written, I can’t help but notice that what held me back the most was my mindset. Somewhere in live, I developed an attitude that it’s better to throw myself at a problem until I’m bloody and bruised instead of weighing the alternatives and picking the next best route. Admitting defeat in one area doesn’t mean that you’ll fail at everything else, nor does it mean that you’ll never be able to do that thing.

Life should be exciting! Rewarding! If you’re dreading the hustle and want to step back for a little bit, there’s no shame in doing so. Your new perspective may even help you develop your interests further as long as you listen to yourself and stay passionate.

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Shouts to SheeshForreal’s senior editing adviser @RealHumanSkin!