SPREY Log #23 – New Horizons

I’m treating this day as a harbinger of things to come.

Yesterday I took the time to thin out some of my social media. I left Twitter and Mastodon outright, Instagram got on the chopping block for a massive content reduction and almost got deleted, too. I swear, there must have been two or more occassions where I thought about deleting Insta before and I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t. It’s probably the network effect in action. It feels like a far bigger loss than it actually would be. I will keep my Twitch to watch and comment on other people’s streams, but I do not plan on streaming myself anytime soon.

Why am I doing this?

I want to reduce the background noise in my mind. Every platform I’m on requires care and content updates from time to time, actually. In a true Pressfield sense I will not tolerate the urge to update my social media as overshadowing my urge to sit down and actually create things. That is…distraction. Also I noticed a mismatch between my mental image of my social media usage and reality.

Social media is not evil and not a bad idea. It’s actually a great idea to have tools and platforms where you can promote your independent creations outside of the classical gatekeepers of your respective industry. It’s also a fantastic idea to have open places on the web where you can converse with people and learn about more perspectives and ideas and keep up with people you otherwise would lose touch with like relatives that live far far away. But as usual the execution is the part that pulls the experience down.

I feel, in order for anything to make sense, I must also touch on something else that is uncomfortable to think about. Humans are hackable. People can manipulate your mood and behavior, people can manipulate your tastes, people can and will manipulate how and what you think. Movies and advertisement are pretty good at it. Any junkfood that is bad for you but tastes better than it has any business to taste does it. Casinos do it. And social media do it, too. You will be influenced by something, anything, almost all the time, while you think you are the ruler over your own mind.

Now bringing it together: so you have these idealistic ideas about social media and join a platform. It is free to use but must make money to sustain itself. If it cannot make money from subscription fees or other direct payments by it’s users, what to do? Well, then it must take something from people that even someone with zero money can give. Time. Attention. Making people watch advertisement that someone else paid for. If a social media platform would openly advertise itself to waste your time, nobody would use it. Nobody sets out to waste hours of their day to scroll random information. Instead you hear about empowerment, networks and networking and how you MUST use it so that other people can discover you and your art.

So there’s pressure to join and use, the fear of missing out. But what happens then, is even more unsettling. You are in a system of loops. The users, as inmates of the prison that don’t know they are in a prison, happily engage with each other, feed the platform with content to discover for others and reward each other by liking, commenting or otherwise approving of what they are offered. This is another case where technology has far outpaced human evolution. You are wired to seek social approval. That was the only way to survive in the past. And your brain cannot distinguish the quality of that approval. You get a dopamine kick whether a random stranger on the net agrees with you or your spouse sitting on the other end of the breakfast table. This is another fascinating as well as terrifying case where your brain cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. It just fires the chemical reaction. The social media company doesn’t have to do anything, people entertain themselves, hunting for more dopamine, both by being validated or just being thrilled by random new and interesting information and pictures they can find. And the platforms do want to make it easy for you to spend a lot of time doing that. In come the algorithms, machine code to ensure content that is interacted with a lot is seen by even more people. It must be either especially good or more often especially outrageous. The algorithm doesn’t judge. It just promotes what seems to be popular to more people. Also, in the case of platforms like Instagram, algorithms also ensure you toe the line as a „creator“ and don’t let your audience down. If you dare to post without buying ads to promote your works, then post daily or perish, be not shown to anyone. Nothing is left to chance in this system of loops. Also don’t think if you give in and do buy an ad you’ll have an easier time. You have fed the beast and now you’re marked. It knows it can extract money from you so you’ll get hit with invisibility double as hard once your ad runs out so that you buy more. And by that point you are probably so far in that the dopamine kicks you don’t get feel like actual punishment and pain to the brain.

And now for me, my situation.

I’m making art and at least for some time, I have been creating things to share almost religiously. But I do not make outrageously good or outrageous art and do not have outrageous takes, so of course it doesn’t stick. I burned out several times, but always stood up and came back, trying again. I just didn’t know any better. While I’m doing everything to improve the quality of my art, I finally realized I cannot „beat“ the algorithm. Not by definition and also not by trying to morph myself into something it might like more. I would betray myself and drift even further away from SPREY or anything else waiting in my drawer. No one is asking for SPREY or any original creation actually, but still, I have to do it. I also cannot create „more“ for the sake of pleasing the algorithm. It is not sustainable.

I even wisened up and understood, while you show up for work every time, you are not entitled to have something finished or ‚shareable’ every day. Especially for long term projects it will be natural and to be expected to have streaks where you create and scrap multiple days or weeks of work because it just doesn‘t come together immediately. It is normal. Sometimes you even have to make several drafts. That’s when things take years to make, but they still get done in the end. I have tricked myself into thinking that this should be otherwise though, that it’s bad to let people down and make them not hear from you at least once a week, even if you have nothing to say and nothing to show. Documenting the journey excessively gives the illusion of actually travelling even if you actually didn’t move. I was actually stressed out by failing to feed the platforms repeatedly. With the context of the things I talked about earlier it was a lot of fuzz about nothing though. Other people who aren’t artists seem to be able to look through this easier, how they don’t care whether you create daily, they can lose interest in you anytime.

As my knowledge about creating art expands, I’m seeing that there are parts to the process that are ‚invisible‘ such as studies, research, writing scripts and drawing thumbnails and storyboards (not the braggard ones, the actual chicken scratch ones) and therefore not that great for sharing online. You don’t see them much and people don’t understand them. Beginners who don’t necessarily know about them are incentivised to skip them entirely in favor of better shareable pieces of work. I realized, the types of content that I want to make, aren’t very daily share friendly and long term.

That is not things that are encouraged or very visible.

I was worried I’d be wasting my time writing all of this instead of just drawing or doing anything for SPREY. I’m actually pretty scared of the pain of returning to it. But after thinking through all of this what I have written down…I’m even more adamant that a social media break is good for me. I don’t have to worry about it right now. I should first focus on creating something that is actually worthwhile, then I can worry about making people aware of it. Trying to document it in a way pleasing to algorithms does not work. I finally have accepted that. And I finally have accepted how my reality as the creator of my works looks like. I must live with long periods of no validation, but compared to never finishing anything that is a price I am willing to pay.

See you next blogpost!

New arc for this blog

This is a special blog entry.
When you see bigger bumps or gaps on my blog, that can mean one of two things. Either I’m in a creative crisis and barely functional (this is absolutely normal for creatives, it’s a natural ebb and flood cycle), or working on something so big and captivating that it absolutely derailed me from writing. Sometimes both overlap.

I’m doing well lately. I’m keeping my head down and focussing on getting my day to day work done, almost unaffected by whatever else happens. I had an insight or two while drawing and in the breaks between, so today I will touch on the very foundations of this blog again.

I started this blog to document my art journey towards “making it”, leaving records behind of how exactly I did it, what worked, what didn’t work, and what pitfalls to avoid to save yourselves some time.
I have changed since starting the blog. I think when I started I was convinced most pros had some or the same secret they weren’t telling us, even when they were pretending to tell us their full success story of how they “made it”. There was always this very real gap between them, their ranks, and me and my fellow aspiring artist colleagues who still hadn’t yet joined those ranks. We could do whatever we wanted, follow all the steps, at the end of the day we wouldn’t get in. Now with more experience under my belt I’m seeing things differently.

“Making it” turns out to be a surprisingly personal thing. I set my goals, I decide what I’m doing to get there and – of course – I have to actually do these things. And whatever I share with you here on this blog is not and never was universal advice that would work for anyone for every “making it” goal. There is no universal “making it” advice, unless it is so vague that is loses it’s substance again. So the pros did not have one secret. It is more likely that most couldn’t tell you what “their” secret actually was if not a combination of hard work, luck and connections. And the ratio of these things is different for everyone again as are their personal unique circumstances.

So if I want to do you the best service I can I must focus on the personal in my personal journey for the future instead of looking out for the universal. Although I will confidently state I’m a painfully average person anytime, I recognize that the circumstances of my journey are unique – as are yours. We are all beautiful unique remixes of the spark that gives humanity art if this makes sense.

What follows is really hard to write for me, but it is necessary. You must know who is writing this blog, you must know how this person is looking at the world and what the “making it” goals are, so that you can assess how to interpret what I say and what you can use. I am an unworldly dreamer that seeks comfort. That is not a criticism, that is a type. But what keeps me going is that at the same time I’m a hard worker that doesn’t accept giving up or whatever else is identified as defeat. It actually makes perfect sense. That’s two worlds colliding in the same person all the time, creating a lot of creative energy from that friction. Whatever I am, I am not bored, I am always on the lookout to do things to make the pain stop. This can either be a powerful feedback spiral to relentlessly following the dream and working hard to make it come true – or it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as eating for short-term comfort, literally to feel better. And just to reiterate, I am not the only person who is like this, this is a type, although from what I understand one that is rarer in the spotlight or expressing themselves as this.

Dreamers have to be careful with their goals. If it’s too unworldly, it might never come true, because it can’t be done. But what if you can still get it done? Then we end up with innovation which pushes what people thought was possible and is good for everyone.

I might have mentioned it before, but my dream is to tell a couple of stories. I have a list with exact names and summaries. And guess what, SPREY is one of them. I must realize them either as comics or as videogames(most likely RPG-ish) to keep things in a scope a single creator can manage. This dream never changed at it’s core. I love the craft(s) more than anything, so with some things I literally can’t be motivated with money. That is the dreamer’s curse and privilege. But I still must exist in this world, so money is still a thing. I have humbly and without much fanfare started to learn how to code. Whatever my creative ambitions are, I must live with certain realities. I embrace art commissions and freelance work though, of course, but I try to be as responsible as possible just in case there is another long drought that can happen at the beginning of any career. There’s zero drama in this, no bitterness. Others have done this before me.

Rereading this I can’t even tell you what is so special about my stories. I have never asked myself this question. It just is. I came into the world with it. Let’s uncover the qualities of my works together on the journey as I’m learning more about myself and my creations. I realized that I have to change. It is my nature to seek comfort, but I have to be an inverse version of myself if I want to succeed. Everyone struggles with something after all. And I will admit, I’m already curious how I will do it.

See you next blogpost!