Joyconjurer Episode Three: Pursuing Dreams (The Life Kind, Not the Upcoming Sony Toolset)


Greetings everyone,

I've been thinking a lot about Chekhov's gun and how every item in Adventure Games is a Chekhov's Item. If you find something that isn't nailed down, it is going to be necessary to solve an important puzzle. For instance... I just noticed this Chekhov's shovel.

Pick up shovel.

I suspect that this will come in handy shortly.

A wild letter appears!

Hi Joyconjurer,

I would love some advice on how to find the time and energy to pursue my lifelong dream of being a fiction writer. I’m the stereotypical 40-something with a demanding professional job and family obligations. At times, it feels incredibly difficult to find time to relax, much less to take on a side hustle that may or may not ever pay off.

So here are a few questions that I hope you can help answer:

1. How do I find time/energy to create? Is taking 15-20 minutes to write enough, or do I need to take drastic steps and dedicate all my free time to writing? Some of my successful author friends recommend the latter, but I'm not sure I’m up for that step yet.

2. Do you have any suggestions for taking joy from the creative process itself? I know I tend to over-focus on the final goal of being published and the risk-reward. It’s especially hard to justify the long hours if I never get published or make money from my pursuit.

3. How do I deal with regret from not pursuing a creative career at an earlier age? I could have gone the fiction-writing path after college but chose a more steady career. Now, I’m envious of published writers in their 20s and 30s who gambled and won, while I live a somewhat-boring suburban life.

Thank you again and also congrats on the new column!

John, aka JDZappa

John, thanks for writing in. This struggle is real for so many.

Creativity is essential to happiness. We are all driven to create and are drawn to the creative work of others. Games, books, film, TV, and all kinds of art become the focal points of conversations and even communities. We're together on this gaming forum for that very reason.

In our modern world, we’re often pushed to focus on productivity and profit. In one of your questions, you measure your creative pursuits by the weight of their monetary return, and then you seek to justify these pursuits by some more obscure value. I assure you, the joy you wish to conjure is always available in creative work. But it may be difficult to unlock and, for many of us, it is buried deep beneath a lifetime of cultural conditioning that minimizes creativity as a powerful and wonderful force.

Ah, something is buried. GOOD THING I PICKED UP THIS CHEKHOV'S SHOVEL EARLIER. Grab one of your own and jump in this hole with me – you'll need it, because there’s a lot to work through.

As we dig, you will have to push aside piles of refuse. Push through all the times you heard the arts denigrated as soft skills (in my case, I still tense up at actor=waiter jokes). Question why it’s common to ask artists to "work for exposure" when we don’t ask that of non-creative professions. Digging deeper still, we’re going to reject stereotypes about lazy, directionless artsy-types and the notion that we should monetize hobbies, push side-hustles, and use profit as the primary indicator of value. And then use your handy shovel to keep turning over this ground to figure out what matters to your deeply buried creative self and what will work within your own life.

So now we’re in this pit, surrounded by awful things on all sides. How on earth do we find our way out?

The first step is recognizing which of your thoughts and feelings about creative acts aren’t coming from the part of you that wants to create. I don’t want to ignore those thoughts, as they are valid and real, but I do want you to accept that they’re not nearly powerful enough to stop you when you’re committed to being creative. I want you to start to let them go, or at least minimize their influence on your actions.

The second step is accepting the obstacles that are beyond your control. You have a family that needs your active focus and attention. You have a job that pays for the life you have established. Unfortunately, we can't instantly manifest the ideal circumstances to nurture our creative endeavors, but there are practices we can establish that can help.

Over the next few articles, I'm going to address each of your questions, one at a time. In the meantime, I'd like to refer you to the Creative Prompt thread I created a few months ago and the NaNoWriMo thread (no, it isn't too late.) I think they overlap with your questions, and that you might get something out of them.

More to come soon! Stay tuned for Chapter 3a - Restoring Your Creative Mana Pool and Maximizing your Artistic Spell Slots! Look for it next Tuesday.

Until then, I would love to hear about creative projects you all are working on and how you find time in your lives to create.

If you have a question or quandary that you’d like to hear the Joyconjurer’s perspective on, email me at [email protected]. Please note: published letters may be edited for length and/or clarity.


Money, regret, and envy are fine elements for a thriller, but poor motivation to be a writer. If the need to write is in you, do it for the love of the creative act. Make what appeals to you, not what you think will sell. Publish it on Amazon's self-publishing service and see what happens. Maybe you make nothing, maybe you make a small return if people like it.

You either write because you love to write, or you write because you need to write. Anything else is a path to madness.

Speaking purely for myself, at this point in my life as a parent and a professional my challenge isn't how to find the time to create. I think I'm starting to reach an equilibrium where I do have time (hint: after bedtime). But the energy and the willpower aren't there. Even though I feel the urge to create, by the time the evening comes around, I can't bring myself to start. And one constraint I still have is "if it's not my job or my kids, it needs to happen after dark or it can't happen at all."

I underestimated how much fatigue really taxes the creative spirit. Isn't it funny how I get to the end of the day and can't bring myself to write or work on hobby projects, but still manage to put an hour into The Outer Worlds between my kids bed time and mine? I feel like my life would be wildly different if I had the availability I have in the evening and the will to create that I have in the morning.

Exhaustion seems toxic to creativity. I eagerly look forward to the next article.

Adding on here that it's important to take time out of our family and job obligations to take time for yourself. The happiest day in my recent memory was when I sent the wife and kids away, took a day off of work, and literally just worked around my house getting my home work bench in order. Take on no guilt when you do things for yourself. You are just as worthy of attention as your job and your family. If that means a day of sitting someplace and writing, then do it, and have no regrets over it.

Thanks for the great answer Harpo! I’m looking forward to the future articles! Just as a quick update, I’ve committed myself to writing an hour a day during NaNoWriMo and am enjoying myself. During this time I’ve stopped religiously following Indy author sites that talk about chasing exact trends or fast publishing.

I have cut back on some gaming time (didn’t pick up Outer Worlds or Red Dead), but another thing that’s helped is spending less time arguing on news sites or social media. A half hour or hour a day recovered is huge. And I’m also not waking around drained and pissed off half the time.

I love this.

That's it. No time to write more right now, but I wanted to get those letters on the screen.