Unfinished Projects: Embracing the chaos of my mind

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If you have a hobby, you have projects. Honestly it doesn’t matter if you’re into miniatures, rpg’s, fishing, music, ridiculous cars or quilting, you always have things you want to be working on if you just had the time. Now the nature of our modern lives means we never have the time we think (or want) to move this stuff forward, which creates a backlog of unfinished, sometimes only dreamed of projects. This is the chaos of your mind. That disheveled area were wild ideas are left to roam. Now there are two methods of dealing with this chaos, especially in gaming.

  1. Complete each project you start methodically, focusing all attention and thinking on one thing at a time. Don’t even consider other creative endeavors until you’re at a finished stage on the previous item. When people ask what you’re working on, it will be the same thing as last time and you always complete what you start.
  2. Keep those dreams alive. Embrace your hobby wobbles and tangential flights of fancy filling your life with mental explorations of those things you’re passionate about. Love the chaos.

So if you can do method 1, congratulations, you’re probably a robot. Seriously, look at yourself hard in a mirror, try and remember the last time you got sick, have an expert ask you cross referenced questions about empathy with a Voight-Kampf machine, because you might not be human. If you can seriously tell me you never think about something new till you’ve finished the old, I don’t fucking trust you. This article is for the rest of us. Those that fall more squarely into method 2. It’s about the rich landscape of the mind and how planning projects, dreaming of armies/systems/terrain and games is an important part of the hobby that should be acknowledged and celebrated.

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A few short weeks ago I adopted a chubby dachshund and had the weekend alone with him. I seriously had no idea what I was fucking doing. I took him for walks, watched him explore the house and probably fed him too many treats. Mainly he just stared at me and rolled onto his back expecting belly rubs, it was quite traumatizing. Part way through Sunday, I decided if he is just going to lay on the couch with me I might as well get something out of it and started watching the Alien franchise from the start. A delivery pizza order and some breaks for walks and we had plowed through Alien (so good), Aliens (fuck yeah) and Alien 3 (deeply flawed) and my mind was buzzing. Why am I not gaming Aliens? Why aren’t we all gaming Aliens? It is so fucking cool. So here I was,  planning out a small survival skirmish game of xenomorphs and marines. How do I build the interior of a space station without too much work? What about the alien infested sections, that could be carved out of foam maybe? Where do I get xenomorph figures (the marines aren’t as hard to get)? It quickly went from inspiration to desire and from desire to project in a matter of hours. This project wormed its way into my brain and took over. My commute, my random internet time etc… was devoured by how to miniature game aliens. What figures, what conversions, how I could paint them quickly, which ruleset all had to be researched, weighed and decided. And then, around a week later, it was gone. Out of mind, discarded to the back of my brain where no man dare tread.

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This is pretty normal for me, I get gaming crushes on things quick, and often times they pass pretty damn fast as well. A week is a little short, but not totally out of the ordinary. I think of something cool, I plot ways to make it happen and then at some point it gets pushed back down the mental backlog due to some other new thing. I’m incredibly susceptible to this, as through fantasy, sci-fi and historical wargaming I can find a way to game just about anything I’m inspired by if I try hard enough. Brad Pitt movie about a tank, now I really want to play WW2 skirmish. Or maybe an Imperial Guard army for 40k vs. Orc Nazis. Polish history class? I was tracking down parts for a Kislev Warhammer army while trying to figure out how to game the freedom fighters of the partitions. Celtic mythology? I can game the hell out of that. Sometimes I have to be careful with what media I even consume as I’m one good book, movie or TV show away from launching into something new. The internet doesn’t help with this, with so much access to hobby info at any time. Some of my favorite ideas stay at the top of the list longer, or return more frequently to my mind (which means things actually get done), but all projects cycle in and out. Every once in a while I try and organize that pattern, impose dogmatic order on it and generally fail miserably.

My project management background says what I need to do is take stock of how long it takes me to do anything miniature related from historical examples. How much did I paint last year? The year before that? Once I’ve determined that velocity, use that to estimate forward progress and plan what I’ll actually have done in a year, two years, hell even 10 years. I won’t suddenly have this golden age where every weekend I sit alone by a sunny window painting my heart out. If it hasn’t happened in the past 10 years, it probably won’t happen in the next. It isn’t as if most of these projects ever see the light of day. Hell, most of the time they don’t even get a single purchase made against them (although plenty sit half started in my garage or closet). What I really should be doing is scientifically looking at what I’ll get done this year, think about only those things and don’t allow myself to be distracted. But candidly, that is one depressing way to live your life. Completing projects is fun, no doubt, but it isn’t the end all be all of the creative process.

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(My Warhammer Dwarves, one of my ongoing wargaming crushes)

It is important to recognize wishing, planning, dreaming and frothing about new and creative things are all important parts of the hobby. That magical honeymoon period of a project when everything is fresh and discovery and adventure are what fills the time is pretty damn awesome. For years I’ve felt bad about this, about having all these ideas and no way to actually complete them all. I’d feel guilt fantasizing about a 1990’s Eldar army when I should be painting the shit I already own. Well I’ve decided I will feel this guilt no more. Instead, I’ll embrace the joy of pointless dreaming. I’ll dive into planning games I know deep down will never happen because it’s a great fucking way to spend a train ride or an episode of some terrible show you’re only watching because your wife has the remote. And it isn’t just me saying this, its science.

A few years back an incredibly interesting Dutch study came out focusing on the happiness of participants and how vacations affected it. The study found that participants who went on vacations were generally happier than their non-vacationing peers. Not a shocking result. Vacations are pretty damn sweet. What was compelling though, was when they felt most of this happiness. Generally, the study found, “there is no difference between vacationers’ and non-vacationers’ post-trip happiness” and that “vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness, compared to non-vacationers.” The possibility raised by the report, and talked about in other articles was that the anticipation of the vacation provided much of the happiness for the vacation, and many of the actual chores and responsibilities of travel brought happiness levels back down when the vacation was taken. When I think about this it makes sense, as I’m often most positive and excited for a trip when I’m doing the initial planning or waiting to go. If you spend 6 months thinking you’re going to go on a pretty bad ass trip, then those are oftentimes a pretty positive 6 months just through the anticipation of that great vacation. The simple act of planning or thinking you’ll go on a vacation can improve your mood and happiness level, even if the eventual trip doesn’t turn out the way you want (or even happen).

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(Me, on a Dutch vacation, with my happiness lowering every moment I’m in this shoe)

Now let’s extend this to gaming. Your projects are vacations, and that early planning stage is just like the early stages of vacation planning. It is all a wonderful frenzy of websites, dreams and wonder as you dive in and out of the minutiae of a project. Painting up test figures, building conversions, ordering figures all comes next and represents that next level of investment. This process, regardless of whether you end up committing and completing the project, has merit. By filling your rich internal world with gaming ideas, you give your brain a creative outlet, even if it ultimately results in nothing permanent or tangible. It brings you joy through the anticipation, and like vacations, this can result sometimes in more of the happiness than actually completing the thing.

This not an argument to never get anything done. As much as I enjoy dreaming about my vacations before they happen, if I never took one I would expect that anticipation generated happiness portion would be pretty low. If you never finish (at least in some form) anything you start in gaming, you’d most likely lose the joy of the planning phase as you know without a doubt that shit just ain’t getting on a tabletop ever. This is more about avoiding self-defeating guilt, and following your passions and inspiration while you have it. Finished projects are fucking great, especially when they result in amazing gaming memories. I’m sure I’ll be writing something soon about tackling my own personal lead mountain. This isn’t about that though, instead, it’s about trying to enjoy the process as much as the result, because honestly, it can bring you a lot of bliss if you do.

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(Completed projects can be great, like this 1930’s Pulp game some friends put together)

A final word of warning, much like vacations you may never take, I have only a little patience for hearing about projects that are going nowhere. What I have been doing so far is advocating for your own internal happiness from thinking, plotting, planning and working on projects that might have no tangible result. Until there is some progress however, some concrete step, I probably don’t want to hear much about it honestly. A quick word about something you’re considering?  Sounds great. Questions about where to find the best BPRD and 1950’s soldier equivalents to game Hellboy 1952? Yeah lets fucking do that. Color schemes or how to base an army on a certain theme? Let’s talk. But until you have something to show for it, keep it to a minimum. I don’t want to hear the entire history of bands you never started, businesses you never opened or armies you never made. So when it comes to personally launching into new hobby directions, keep doing it, know we all do, and know that it has value. Guilt free hobby wobbles for all.

 

3 thoughts on “Unfinished Projects: Embracing the chaos of my mind

  1. Couldn’t agree more. You need the wobble and the dreams to make the labour of actually putting stuff together feel less like work, and you need the occasional finished project to keep the interest up. Doing X army/scenario/character for Y event is the only way I ever get shit done. At the moment I’m working on a Skorne army for SmogCon – and it does feel like work, because it’s being carried beyond the initial rush of “oh shit those are cool and they do this in the RPG and phwoar” – but things are actually being built and played and painted because the con’s in seven weeks and there’s a deadline involved. Doesn’t mean I’m not spending time reading about cannibalism and the First Crusade, or how the flying ships work in my D&D world, or window-shopping for SAGA figures. One of those things might well lead to the next thing.

    • I get the most done generally during two phases of a project. The initial burst of enthusiasm and the looming deadline. I’ll have a Fadgrave Warband with sealant still drying on my way to England due to deadline painting…but I’m already planning whats next.

  2. Fuck, you’ve vocalised a vast amount that I’ve been feeling about painting and hobbying for the past year or so. I’ve always found that the whole planning stage is nearly almost as fun as actually acquiring stuff to work on and is a great mental run-through / filter for projects that will either run the course or be flights of fancy. I still get a buzz from finishing stuff off, but it’s never quite the same as that primary attraction.

    PERMANENT VACATION(S)!

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