Overcoming Creative Anxiety

Posted by (twitter: @thghtreactr)
August 26th, 2016 11:06 am


With the preparation of any upcoming event or task comes some anxiety. It is a natural part of our brain’s ability to cope with change and adapt for the future. The problem is our brains often don’t help us distinguish the good anxiety from the bad – it all generally feels the same. Sweaty palms. Lack of focus. Stammered speech. Nerves and anxiety distract us from the reality we’re facing as a means of getting us to recognize the impending thing that we’re anxious about. Nevertheless, this feeling usually brings on more anxiety. Anxiety over being anxious.

In the case of production, anxiety can leave us at a standstill. This creative anxiety, as I call it, is the number one killer for developers participating in Ludum Dare. You can be super prepared and still find that your creative juices aren’t flowing when that theme drops. It may feel different to each of us, and come upon us in different ways – but it is the same mental blockade that our mammalian brain creates. The simple beauty of instinct can often bite us in the ass!

Can we actually overcome this anxiety? I argue that it isn’t about overcoming, so much as it is about channeling it. When we can sit back and try to be cognizant of our anxiety we can gain control over it. Whether it’s the fear of failure, feeling like there’s not enough time, or just feeling unprepared for chaos – these things are meant to give us a certain clairvoyance. The physiological aspect of anxiety is often what bogs us down. The mental aspect can be used as a powerful tool.

I wish it were a simple thing to just channel it. It’s not. Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others and, as mentioned previously, are affected by it in different ways. Now for the motivational part of this blog.

You are not your anxiety. You are a creator and your anxiety is a product of your passion to create.

An event like Ludum Dare is daunting. I’m on my 9th Ludum Dare and I wouldn’t even think of telling you any different. This shit is nuts. It’s absolute masochism to put your brain through such a test. That’s the kicker – just putting your mental fortitude through the ringer will embolden you. There is no trick, no life hack to get you through Ludum Dare. Like our good friend Shia LaBeouf says you just have to “Do it.”

Now, not everyone has perseverance, you say? This is true. Some of us crack under the pressure – I’ve done so 4 out of the last 8 times I’ve done this. But I keep coming back for more. The same must be true for you in the small sense. Keep coming back for more. Don’t stop. Keep grinding. You may not finish. You may feel like you failed. In the words of a fortune cookie I so coincidentally received yesterday:

Failure is the tuition you pay for success.

Failure is not an end – it is a beginning. It is how we learn and adapt. Is that not what anxiety is for, as well? Does anxiety not teach us about failure? Anxiety often emphasizes failure and for all the right reasons. We, in a society that thrives on success both individual and collective, have done ourselves a disservice by linking failure with meritocratic grading systems and negative connotations. Failure is learning.

Your Ludum Dare experience – even if you get it done – will be filled with micro-failures. You will hit walls. You will feel like you’re coming up short. Just keep these things in mind and you can and will persevere:

  1. Your time is finite
  2. Your task, whilst seemingly insurmountable, is actually quite simple – only you will allow your anxiety to complicate it
  3. This contest is about mental fortitude – not perfection, not popularity
  4. Fail fast, learn faster
  5. Fail some more
  6. Have fun!

The last thing that is worth noting is managing all this in some sort of process, right? Outside of trying to mobilize your mind around acceptance and flexibility, there are procedures that can help. They won’t work for everyone – and often don’t work for me. Some of us have a hard time staying on top of things without notes, lists, and so on. If this is you – leverage these things. But bear in mind that you don’t want to resort to micro-managing. At this level, anxiety is dictating you. Every last detail is not important and trying to account for all of them will push your mind to deeper anxiety, an anxiety you can’t channel.

If you can take away one thing, let it be this: we are defined by our success, but our success is defined by our failures. Do not be afraid to have to settle for less – this is a good failure that promotes a higher level of reasoning with the tasks you have in front of you. Do not convince yourself that the art, the code, or the music is not ‘perfect’ or even ‘ideal’ – and by whose standards? Your task with Ludum Dare is to make a game in 48 or 72 hours – just make the game!

Good luck to all the participants! Only 9 hours until we get this puppy rolling!

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3 Responses to “Overcoming Creative Anxiety”

  1. wouldntsavezion says:

    tl;dr : GLHF

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