It’s the start of another sabbatical month. I’m taking a month off writing to try to reboot my brain, drain away the anxiety and tinker with other projects that have become stuck.

But what if I walk away from the site for two months? Or three? What happens if Electron Dance goes dark for six months?

Because that is what I’m thinking about.

The spare time I once had for Electron Dance has become incredibly squeezed. Administration, which includes keeping a social media profile that is active, has swollen in the last couple of years as I’ve become aware of the Things You Have To Do To Stay Relevant And Exciting. Trying to keep up with the latest chatter in the videogame ‘verse has become a chore and the amount of time to play all those lovely different games is minuscule. I’ve been playing The Talos Principle since the start of the year.

My children’s bedtimes are edging deeper into the evening and most days I only become free around 9.30pm. Inevitably it means I write tired, stay up later than I should thus get progressively more tired with each passing day. Eventually productivity degrades to a “life support” level and it stays like this until I take some time off.

But what’s really bothering me is… the book.

Separate article ideas dating all the way back to 2010 were eventually grouped as a series probably in 2011 under the title “warning signs”. After years of pushing this project around and working on a great big enormous launch video… I made the decision at the start of 2014 to convert it into a book called The Weapons of Progress: What the Economics of Videogames Tell Us About the Future.

While I keep gathering notes, compiling interviews and doing general research, the truth is the book isn’t being “written” enough. It’s a continuous flow of managed chaos, a battle of frequent re-organisation, because that’s all I can really do with a brain that’s been kneaded into mush. I was planning to release a draft of the first chapter as part of the five year celebrations, but had no time to polish it into shape.

The longer the book drags on for, the longer its stories and messages risk becoming stale and of no interest to anybody. Also, those who responded to my questions will feel like their time was wasted. In fact, if I let it carry on like this, the book will never be finished because for every step forward, I have to take two steps back to re-evaluate what has changed.

He swallows.

How much do I care about this book? It might destroy me if I manage to cross the finish line – destroyed by too little attention after all that work or too much, burning under a spotlight I’m uncomfortable with. But I care about the book. I care a great deal. It’s important to me.

Then he looks into your eyes. The words fumble and stumble from his lips. “It’s not you,” he says. “It’s me.”

I’ve known for some time that the book has been teetering on the edge of failure, but refused to come out and acknowledge the problem. It’s time to be honest about it – and recognise what needs to happen if I want to write this book. What I need to do is drastically reduce Electron Dance output for several months so I can break the back of the project and develop a weekly routine dedicated to it.

This post isn’t really about asking for reader feedback as I know the site audience well enough to anticipate the response to this post. But sometimes crafting errant thoughts into actual words is important. Once you do that, there’s no more pretending. The truth is out there.

Older information on the book

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18 thoughts on “Shutdown

  1. Take 6 months off, do the book properly, come back to Electron Dance happy that you’ve pushed something massive out the door.

    Maybe you’ll even come back with a renewed sense of “Ooh, there’s all these things that happened in the interim that I can blog about now!”

    Books are important. And a book that you think is important but cannot find time to finish is a NIGHTMARE. A BLOODY TRAGEDY. Clearly you’d regret it massively if you didn’t finish it. You’re absolutely making the right decision.

  2. Thanks James. I don’t know if I have anything to add but I’ve still got some bits and pieces to get out (there is another video at least that is in mid-production) and some stuff will float up here. But I’m going to dissuade myself from doing lots of heavy lifting.

  3. Look, Joel: I love, love, love your writing. Like many, I found you when I was trying to figure out what the **** was going on in Starseed Pilgrim.

    Based on my own experiences putting my work in front of people (different medium, but I think the principle is the same), I can say with some confidence that you’re not doing yourself a lot of favors by putting all the fretting about the work, and the worries about the number of subscribers, and the concern about the size of the audience – all of that stuff is not what I read your work for, or what I listened to the podcast for.

    I read and listen because I really enjoy reading and listening to what you think about video games, and how they are made, and how the world around them works.

    If the social stuff is getting you down, ignore it, or scale back your consumption of it severely.

    And yeah, take the time off and come back. People who care about what you do will come back, and people who are interested in what you do will find you the same way that I did.

    Just two cents. Hope this helps, and please tell me to stuff it if this isn’t useful.

  4. Eric – only YOU managed to figure out the true reason for the blackout!

    Brendan – Thanks for the honest advice. It looks like there’s a word missing there and I’m guessing you’re warning against writing in the open about getting attention/subscribers etc.? It is curious as I’ve always leaned away from meta talk (aside from the infrequent autocritique piece which was meant for other writers) because I think there’s nowt more dull than writing about the writing. That’s not why people stop by! The fact that I’ve frequently broken one of my own private rules to discuss how the site is doing is a sign of these unresolved stresses talking a toll.

    When I started in 2010 it was important to post on a regular schedule so that people knew when to come back. In 2015, most visitors are drawn through social media so that approach doesn’t make sense any more. Although you can get your head full of social media madness (what words to use, what time to tweet, which image will grab attention) it’s likely you don’t have to worry about hitting some weekly deadline like in ye olde days.

    However, I was also a big believer in a deadline to focus the mind. I’ve always worried that relaxing the schedule would eventually lead to quitting as I’ve seen many blogs go the same way: without deadlines, the gap between blog posts gets wider and wider… well, we’ll see what happens! The decision to draw back from the site was taken remarkably quickly – it occurred to me yesterday afternoon – and without consultation. It was obvious that it was the right thing to do. I’m pretty energised to dedicate lots of time to the book, I find the whole thing exciting.

    However, I’m afraid we played more Minecraft this evening!

  5. Too much focus on clicks, views etc. will always make a site dull, but I’ve personally found the small amount that you talk about quite interesting. I like to see “under the hood” once in a while – plus these issues are also true for game devs, and really anyone operating on the internet. I feel like they’re a part of Electron Dance’s remit: just because they affect this site too doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the system.

  6. I’ll miss the blog during the blackout but you should definitely not let the blog be a thing that stresses you out, which it seems like it has been.

  7. Cheers Matt. I hope to figure out what kind of schedule might be better in future, give up the weekly and maybe more refined pieces over 2-3 weeks. Or maybe Pewdiepie.

  8. Just noticed this thread and though I would add my voice of support.

    As my posting tendencies suggest, I don’t check your site daily (or even weekly, if I’m honest) anyway. I like to save your articles for a time when I feel rested and can focus on your thoughts, because a lot of the stuff you write is worth understanding.

    Good luck on your book!

  9. Thanks Sandy! This last weekend I spent many hours on the weekend researching the “Hershey’s Kiss” experiment usually trotted out to advocate for fremium. Yikes, I had hoped to make more progress than that!

  10. As I’m sure you know, I’ve been saying for some time now over emails that you ought to ease off a little because, wow, you don’t half know how to pile stuff on your plate Joel! I’m all too aware of how conscious you’ve been of easing off too much as well– that’s definitely a danger to be cautious of.

    That said, I think this is a fine and positive step that makes a lot of sense for your own sake as well as the book’s. I might not comment much on here but I do read most of your articles (and newsletters!) and they’re always great so while I’ll miss your usual output on ED, I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to indulge in your book! It would be a shame to not let the book out of you!

  11. Speaking as someone who’s forgotten how to write, I can sympathize with both sides of the problem. But ultimately something that is exhausting tends to get more exhausting over time, until you’re maintaining an effort against your own will. Don’t do that.

    Mental health is an important part of running a site like this, because there really are no shortcuts. It is work. Fun work, sure, but still, it’s work, and work takes time, and time is limited, etc etc etc. Life is a zero-sum game.

    I’m with Gregg (and everybody else) — take a break and get your energy back. The worst that’ll happen is a reversible dip in clicks; don’t let it get to you. Better to keep the spark than lose the fire.

  12. Hi Steerpike. I’d forgotten all about this site. A keyboard decorated with cobwebs; a dull blue light winking, trying to tell something had changed. Another comment had been left in the dark.

    I’m doing a little more work on the book right now but not as much as I’d like, largely because of the “life debt” I’ve been building up and have to work through. (And Minecraft.)

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