Leveling Up: Dealing with the Feeling of Inadequacy

I like to think that I'm a fairly optimistic and level-headed guy. I won't deny that there are days when my head seems totally in the clouds, and this generally happens when I'm either about to start a new project, or when I'm just finishing a current one. The desire to see it, and anything I do, soar with all the potential I know it has is strong, and it doesn't take long before I'm overwhelmed with the dreams of seeing the books line shelves in stores they will likely never see, resting on coffee tables they will likely never touch, and be followed by other books, toys, movies and television shows that will honestly never happen. I hate my work when I'm doing it, but when I'm done, it tends to be the best thing in the world to me.

And yet, the last few days, I have felt marred by an undeniable sense of inadequacy; a worry that my work isn't worth sharing, or even completing. It's a strong feeling, and while I can pinpoint what fanned its small spark into a roaring flame, it's much more difficult to pick out what caused the spark in the first place.

Some days you just can't help but feel like you're meant to be more than you currently are. I've made a lot of progress in these last few years. I'd dare to say I've grown more since 2012 than I have my entire life before that. But every so often I'm hit with the undeniable feeling that I should be doing more with my creativity than I currently am.

This last Sunday I was filled with the desire to revisit an old passion of mine; the science-fiction universe of The Mumon Rift Wars. There's a wonderful blog devoted to cataloging its brief success and its untimely fall, but it was a wonderful, exciting, intelligent and original scifi world that captured my imagination only after it was already dust in the wind. I will be running a tabletop role-playing game set within its mythos, and so I wanted to brush up on my familiarity with its cultures and conflicts. Unfortunately, merely revisiting its once grand array of characters, stories, art, and history. It was a world that had such potential, had such quality and heart behind it. Its aspirations reached far beyond its capability, and it fell long before it reached its prime.

By revisiting its short yet vibrant life, I was reminded of its demise. I spent hours pouring over old blog posts, short stories, and RPG material, eventually losing my original goal of data-mining for my own RPG, and instead just immersing myself once again into the world of 2004. And I was bitterly reminded of how something with such promise had failed to accomplish even a fraction of what it had set out to do.

And it fanned the spark that had ignited within me just days earlier, that had lingered unseen and unnoticed, just waiting for something like the tragic story of WARS to bring it to the forefront. Suddenly, I was facing a grim realization, a fear that had always been lingering in the back of my mind, but was now thrust before my eyes and I could no longer deny it. WARS had the team, the skill, the experience and the planning, and it still failed.

It made me question the quality of my own work, from my writing to my game design, from my acting to my aspirations. Every corner of my creativity was suddenly brought into question. Was Astral Tides good enough? Was Cybersaurus good enough?

Was I good enough?

The market of fiction books, and of tabletop role playing games, are both larger than they've ever been before. The rise of self-publishing and online tools and resources have made it so that anybody with some time and a simple word processor can create content in either of those markets. Anybody could, and so the selection of content, whether it was quality or not, was growing. Yet readers and gamers found that, in order to find the true gems, they'd have to dig through mountains of dirt and junk.

So was I a rare gem? Was my writing something worth people to spend their money on? Some thought so. But did they do it because they really wanted to read my work, and thought I was a good author and game designer? Or did they do it just to support their friend, cousin, coworker, brother, son, and husband?

And, regardless of what they thought, what did I think?

There was a time, stretching roughly from while I was writing Cybersaurus: The Awakening to just about a month ago, that I truly felt I was one of those gems. I was a rare stone, waiting to be found amidst the dirt and junk, waiting for the light of the sun to gleam off of my glorious facets. I thought I was amazing. I thought I was a wonderful and talented artist who's work was worth the time -- and money -- of every consumer in the world.

I was wrong. I was very wrong. I have talent, sure, but it's still growing. I may be a gem, but I'm a dirty gem, one with blemishes and imperfections. Am I a world-class writer? No. Should my work be purchased and adored by everyone? No. I am nothing special.

At least not yet.

I realized that this feeling I was having, this undeniable sense of inadequacy, was simply me growing as an artist. I was looking at the imperfections in my work, the ways that it didn't stack up to my standards, and I was actually noticing them for once. No longer was it simply "it needs to be edited again". It was now "I can write better than that."

Every time I write, every chapter, every episode, every book and blog post, I get better. It's incremental. It's a little bit here, and a little bit there. But I don't always see it, and sometimes when I don't, it turns into frustration, uncertainty, and even despair. I grow tired of myself as an artist -- or rather, I grow tired of my old self as an artist. So these moments of perceived inadequacy are simply me beginning to put what I've learned into practice.

These are the moments when I've earned enough Experience Points, and I level up.

After the frustration passes, after the feeling of inadequacy turns into a drive to do more work, and faster, only then am I a better writer than I was before. Only then have I truly used my experience.

There are better books out there than mine. There are better games out there than mine. And there always will be. But I shouldn't let that make me question what I'm doing with my creativity. I am an artist, and my medium is the written word. Rather than close my laptop, and put down my dice, I will continue to strive to be the best artist I can be, and learn as I go.

Are my products worth your money? Only you can really be the judge of that. But if they aren't today, then rest assured that there will come a day when they are.