The End is Near…So What?

Just a few days ago, Alex Guillotte and I pushed our Call of Cthulhu collaboration Deliver Us From Evil onto DriveThruRPG. This project started as my effort to write something punchier, shorter, and more procedurally driven than my past scenarios. I wanted to force myself into a linear structure (a railroad!) but use different narrative elements, like modified game mechanics and flashbacks, to create player interest. I aimed to create a cinematic experience rather than a typical investigation. For certain, I failed to produce something short and punchy, and I will continue to chase this White Whale. 

As the project neared its end, though, I viciously questioned the linear narrative, my mechanical fiddling, and well-worn tropes. I was finding reasons to hide something that I was so excited about and had such a great time playing with other folks. Once again, I was getting in my way, and I needed to sit down, pound the keyboard, and have a conversation with myself. Feel free to bail out now…

Resistance to complete a project pushes us to slow down, compromise, fear the critics, and perseverate on minute changes. I have to realize that each new thing isn’t going to surpass whatever came before it. As much as I’d like to believe that progress follows an ever-climbing linear or exponential curve, it does not. It’s usually sinusoidal with a slight upward tilt. The goal is gradual progress, not rocketing to fully realized perfection. And the hard truth is that progress is rarely ever smooth. 

About to step into my editor’s office.

So much of this is an internal struggle as a project reaches its end. For some of us, the failure fear mounts. Quiet it by seeking the opinions of others. Not just friends and family, but unfamiliar players. Hand it off to an acquaintance to read or run. You will be surprised how generous people can be with their time, especially when awarded due credit or a free copy of the final product. Of course, if you have the means, an editor, a proofreader, or a sensitivity reader is immensely valuable. They can each offer you their opinion AND constructive criticism before your work enters the wild. If you’re having difficulty finding folks, check out this list of Miskatonic Repository Creators Helping Creators.

Receiving this feedback is often very challenging, but it is critical to growth as a creator. Sitting down with a redlined manuscript and a pile of editorial comments takes time and effort, but the aim is better writing, honed style, and a refined product. It’s not just about this work, but all the work yet to come. 

Setting up for an Origins playtest.

As the scenario undergoes refinement so should the playtests. These are also an excellent space to seek feedback and motivation. They should follow manuscript iterations. I prefer to start with my familiar home group and then move to conventions to see how people receive it. This is easily done online. I avoid spending a long time in the playtest phase, as I cannot expect to anticipate the needs of every Keeper (or player). If my players consistently have fun during playtests and I have worked out the kinks, I move on. I always seek out feedback following a playtest, and I follow the same procedure outlined in this earlier post. 

While these outside opinions can help soothe the anxiety, there is a final hurdle I must overcome. It’s recognizing that ultimately I will be ignored or judged. If I enthusiastically promote my work, the risk of judgment runs higher, and being ignored hurts more. I remind myself that I’m happy with what I’ve created. The process has brought me joy, and the experience I’ve had in sharing it with players and collaborators has been an ample reward. 

A great book on the topic of creativity.

I gird myself with this satisfaction as I release the finished product into the wild. I tried something new for myself. I may not have written the Great American Novel, but I feel happy with what I accomplished because it was fun and different. I refuse to hesitate to create something I find unique because someone hates it and decides to call me on it. 

If I’m not careful, this fear of criticism can bleed into my future work. It pushes me towards safe bets, playing to the crowd, and writing for other people. Instead, I examine the criticism for any constructive elements. Anything that can be applied to refining my current and future efforts. If it is simply an expression of disappointment or disdain, there’s nothing to learn. It’s just an opinion.

Most of the time, I get to wear the criticism with pride because I have been judged, rather than ignored. In these cases, I have the privilege of producing something worthy of remark and I can choose how I receive it. If someone points criticism in the direction of you and your work, it’s because you succeeded in drawing their attention. You have done something worth talking about. 

And it need not just be perceived as a dead-ended critique. Consider it a doorway to conversation. This is not to say you have to engage, but others might. Simply witnessing the ensuing discussion can be very informative. 

Finally, what’s the point? What endures is what’s been created. Nothing can strip the knowledge and experience we have gained from our latest effort. Fear is a fleeting emotion. The sting of criticism fades. The accomplishment of transforming an idea into a realized product is forever yours.