New project ideas are amazing. They’re addictive because there’s nothing there. It’s all light and smoke and doesn’t solidify until you take the time to make the idea into something real. Ass in seat, fingers to keys real. When you’ve got the creative juices flowing it can be really tempting to dash something off and call it good. Done, finished, ready for the world to see. It’s something I’m guilty of on a number of fronts and I’m gonna talk a little bit about how to (hopefully) counteract that.
So. Here’s a story.
Back in 2013 I came up with the seed of an idea. Ragnarok, yeah? But in the form of massive, metal dwarven destroyers rising out of the ground. The Viking-type folks in this setting, they don’t know how to fight back against that, so they cry out to the gods for help. Loki–yeah him–gives them the means to bond the spirits of their bravest warriors to the bones of dead giants. Nothing could go wrong there, could it?
That seed became Iron Edda. I wrote the first portion of this thing as a stretch goal for someone else’s tabletop RPG Kickstarter. 8,000 words, felt pretty good about it. The idea wouldn’t leave me alone, though, so I expanded it. Turned it into a mostly standalone game called War of Metal and Bone. Also wrote a novel in the setting called Sveidsdottir because why not make more work for myself?
This is where the part about pushing things out too early comes in. I’d never written a game of this scope before. (Same goes for the novel, so just assume the mistakes I’m about to outline apply to that, too). I wanted it done. Life around this project was tumultuous. I was recently divorced, in a fresh relationship, a new apartment, and damn it I was going to Kickstart this project. I did. It went well.
What followed was a series of missteps that saw me with 500+ copies of each of those two books sitting in my basement. Both projects had been through the hands of editors, had been playtested some, but (as I came to learn) weren’t really ready for primetime. Add to that I was trying to do the entire self-publishing thing with them. I was my own marketing department, my own shipping department, my own personal assistant, the whole gig.
(Oh, and during this period, I was also working to put out other projects. Suffice it to say, the center didn’t hold).
This whole time that I have an RPG and a novel not selling to much of anyone, I’m still running games of it at conventions. People are reacting well to it. More importantly, I can’t get the setting out of my mind. I know it’s not done yet. There was more there, and I wanted the world to have access to it.
Fast-forward to now. Right around the time this post goes up, a new Kickstarter is going for a new version of the game: Iron Edda Accelerated. About a year ago I approached a publisher with a pitch for a second chance at making this something commercially viable and they liked the idea. It’s the second chance I hoped for, dreamed of, and I’m thrilled to have it.
At the Origins Game Fair last month, I was talking to a fellow designer and they clued me in that all of their games–we’re talking TTRPGs, card, and board–have a five-year development cycle. I laughed and said I haven’t ever done that until I realized that with Iron Edda, I’d done exactly that. I just convinced myself that what should have been a polished first playtest was a final draft when I ran the first Kickstarter.
With Iron Edda Accelerated, I got very lucky. Someone else believed in the game enough to want to help me make it a reality. When I look at what we’re going to publish, I’m really proud of it. It’s the game it’s supposed to be. It’s the Iron Edda I’ve dreamed of. It took me five years, a ton of missteps, and a major second chance to make it happen.
So what are the takeaways? What actionable advice can you walk away from this post with? The only real thing I can give you–a lesson I’m struggling to re-learn every day– is this:
There are a lot of places where you can hear someone tell you that time is fleeting, strike while the iron’s hot, YOL-fucking-O, etc. etc. And if you’re in a position where you’ve been dragging your feet on starting a creative project, by all mean get your ass in gear and begin.
But in finishing a project? Especially one where you’re beholden to no deadlines save those you set for yourself? Slow. The. Fuck. Down. It may not feel like it, but there’s no prescribed moment where your success can happen. There’s no magical window of opportunity which closes forever if you miss it. You may miss perceived opportunities like interviews, conventions, cross-promotion gigs, stuff like that. But different ones come along.
You need to release your project when it’s ready. When it’s actually done.
In school, I was a last-minute kind of person. My first draft was my final draft and I got enough confirmation that my work was good enough that I didn’t see much reason to change. Out here in the terror-stricken wilds of the world we live in now, my first drafts are definitely not good enough. I get great ideas, but most of them are just dust and they blow away quickly. The good ones get some words put towards them. Some of them I do just release after a first pass. Sometimes I need to get it out of my head. But the big projects? The Iron Eddas, the ones that won’t let me sleep because I can’t stop exploring the world or the mechanics? Those deserve time.
Do yourself a favor: treat your projects–and by extension yourself–with the respect they/you deserve. Give them time to breathe and grow if that’s what they need. Yes, it feels like the world is burning down around us, and maybe it actually is. But if you want to bring beauty and joy into the world, it needs to be nurtured. Find the space in your life to do that if you can. It’s so hard to do, and so worth doing. I encourage you to try.
I’ll be over here, trying to do the same.