February 2018: Everything Has Changed, and Yet Nothing Changes

When I wrote my previous blog post, I was operating under the assumption that my primary source of income would continue through this year.

That’s gone now.

So, I arrived at a fork in the road I hadn’t thought would come for quite some time. To the left, do I head back out there into the world of “let’s screw the little guys?” Or to the right, do I push on and do my own thing, with all the risk that entails?

Let’s put the big questions aside (for now). I talked in my first YouTube vlog about the idea of having three words for the year. These guiding words serve as a foundation for decisions through the year, both major and minor.

My first word for 2018 is transparency. This is a serious undertaking, as it’s a huge ask for me to understand myself enough to communicate the absolute truth of my situation. The biggest truth is I don’t know what I’m doing and most of my statements are guesswork.

Yep, we’re off to a good start.

The Concrete Foundation: Release

My second word for 2018 is release. This one is a bit easier, because it ties to actual, concrete things, and not something as esoteric as “truth.”

The word has a double meaning. First, it’s the essence of relaxation, setting aside time where I’m not stressing about my needs or wants or problems. By forcing myself to do this, I’m getting better, one step at a time. Taking Sunday mornings off from streaming was one of my better ideas.

The second meaning is releasing content, creating things and putting them out in the world. This involves being slightly less judgmental about my work. It also requires that I don’t continually poke at things until they’re “done.”

As Aaron Copland paraphrased from Paul Valéry, “An artist never finishes a work, he merely abandons it.” I’ve done a lot of abandoning this month.

  • There are now 21 songs available in my royalty-free music library. I’m hoping to keep releasing a pack (10 – 12 songs) every week or two.
  • I have a 12-song synthwave album for Seciden ready for release on 5 March. The Seciden project hasn’t received a whole lot of attention (not for lack of trying) but it’ll be nice to have a coherent album under the name.
  • It’s February, so that means February Album Writing Month (FAWM). That’s 14 more songs (minimum) this month.
  • Streaming nine hours of gaming every week has kept my YouTube content flowing. It’s doing all right, given how little I push it.
  • Even moreso, streaming 18 hours of work on Project Castle Adventure has that coming along very quickly. Maybe too quickly.
  • My weekly vlog is some additional content, keeping track of what’s going on.

Going back to the idea of transparency, my struggle is that all these work isn’t translating into much in the way of income. The numbers are little more than a pittance.

There’s this internal struggle in me, because I see growth. I see potential. I’m getting more done now than I did when I had the “distraction” of something stable, and it’s almost justifying my argument that full-time work would detract too heavily from all of this for it to be sustainable.

But then, it’s not growing fast enough. Maybe it’s not growing at all. Maybe the build-up is all in my head, and I need to face the cold, harsh reality of life, that everyone has to keep their numbers up to survive like the real world is some stupid, terribly balanced MMORPG.

Moving Forward: Reflections of Reflections

My third and final word for 2018 is reflection. It’s why I’ve been vlogging and blogging.

I love what I’m doing. I love writing, making games, and creating music. I especially love talking to people about what I’m doing, what they’re doing, and being able to help them in every way I can.

Unfortunately, I have a bit of a “me me me” attitude. It’s honestly not narcissism. It’s just this drive to maximize the amount of time I spend creating, which means time spent focusing on other people’s work feels like time wasted.

The truth, as I’ve come to understand it, is that time spent on other people is never time wasted.

Really, who am I to stand here and say, “Support my project!” when I’m not willing to support yours? This is a mental shift I need to force on myself to get better, to be more a part of the community and less the desert island that no one wants to visit because its only palm tree is dying.

Yeah, maybe that analogy went too far.

Time is an Asset

I’m currently struggling with my focus on Project Castle Adventure. Although I’m streaming development for a mere 18 hours a week, it’s also eating up another dozen hours or so, making it almost a full-time endeavor.

The project isn’t quite massive, but it’s a three-dimensional video game. It would be better suited to a team of at least a dozen working for a few years, rather than a single dude poking at it for six months.

Even setting that aside, it’s probably the most high-risk direction for me to take in using my valuable time. The games industry is flooded to excess with indie games, many of which look better than I could ever hope to achieve without paying an artist (or ten) and that’s well beyond my budget of nothing.

But I really love doing it. So I can’t stop.

Anyhow, a much more reasonable thing for me to produce would be a novel, since I could make that entirely on my own. But that’s ignoring the elephant in the room, which is marketing. I’m not involved in writing circles. I don’t have writing friends. My social and marketing reach is built entirely around the games industry.

Not to mention, it would be even less interesting to stream novel writing than game development, and my audience is already rather thin in that department.

I’d love to live on making music for games, but that’s the flip-side of the problem I have. Very few people are willing to pay for their music, and the jobs go to people with an inconceivable amount of experience. And you can’t get experience if you can’t get jobs.

Maybe I could gear streams toward music production to further advertise my business, but that poses technical problems and hasn’t shown any promise in getting me work.

One thing I’ve learned from streaming is that people are far more interested in getting help than in what you’re producing. Instead of going to a website geared specifically to tutoring or helping people with programming, they’ll pop onto a Twitch stream and ask for a code or music review, or tips on their project.

And that brings us to the education angle.

The Education Angle

I have some experience with computer science education, between my two and a half years writing courses and a few years tutoring in and out of college. This has led me to think about constructing and providing courses, either as a video series on YouTube or something more formally educational like Udemy.

Although I have several ideas about courses, I have no way to know which (if any) will be most interesting to an audience I can reach. The obvious solution is to do what I’ve done with games and music: Just make the damn things, and see what happens.

Of course, my current situation lends itself less to this hand-waving, experimental approach. I need to more seriously think about what will work and what won’t, because it needs to be an intelligent use of my time.

No one has the answers to these things, so it leaves me running around in circles. Probably the best thing to do is put together some smaller YouTube videos and see if any of them gain traction.

Then again, gaining traction on anything on YouTube is a challenge, so that might not be the best metric.

Conclusions? There Are No Conclusions!

My words for 2018 are transparency, release, and reflection. There’s a core concept behind them all: Getting things done and sticking to the plan. In January, life decided to upend that plan. Now I need to rediscover the path, while pushing harder and faster to be better at everything I do.

This year will be a lot of things, but “easy” isn’t one of them.

What are your three words for the year? Are you working on an interesting project you’d like me to share? Please let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @MrJoshuaMcLean.

Thank you for getting all the way through this lengthy, meandering post. I hope you found it interesting.