as writers, we face a common pitfall. i’m gonna give it to you straight: there’s a way out

Doc Burford
39 min readNov 20, 2023
if you want acclaim, do not pursue it. all screenshots in this article by me unless stated otherwise.

Hello, I’m Doc Burford, and I make toys.

For years, I wrote about games. Sometimes I did it for small audiences, and other times, I did it for quite big audiences. Some of my best work is NDA’d, but it’s on games that quite a few of you actually love. Other work I’ve done is on my own games, like Adios and the upcoming Codename Waifu Death Squad.

I am not telling you this to brag, but to establish a level of experience here; if I’m going to tell you I can make your work easier, you may be asking “well, who are you to answer this question?” Now that you’ve got the bona fides out of the way, I’m hopeful that I can leverage some of that experience to help you learn something that I myself had to learn some time ago.

“I dunno, still sounds like bragging.” Alright, smart one, then what’s with that first sentence? “I make toys.” If you know about my work, you know my game Adios has reached plenty of people — they’ve said it helped them through tough times, reconnect with family, deal with grief and loss, and a whole lot more. To some extent, it might be appropriate to say “I make art.”

As an artist, sure, yeah, I make art, in the sense that all video games are art to some extent, just like all movies are art to some extent. It’s an art form!

But I make toys, as in, these are silly things not to be taken too seriously. It’s great to be grateful when people say your work impacted them, but it’s important never to get braggy about it. Some people have told me that my work impacted them; if I become “the guy whose work impacts people,” and start playing to that idea, then I change. If I make the mistake of embracing the concept of ‘importance’ and begin condescending to the audience — with me taking on the role of ‘savior’ and my audience people in need of salvation — then my work changes. It becomes artificial. No one cares.

You can’t make meaningful work if you’re trying to make meaningful work, in other words.

And trust me, I tried so often to make meaningful work. When I was in my teens, I was always thinking about the message, the goal, the ideas that my fiction would get across, like putting worm pills for a dog in some peanut butter and hoping he doesn’t notice the taste.

It was an epic science fiction story about some rebels on a planet that had a gigantic atmospheric bomb pointed at its head. I was trying to put in some whole “how to be a good person” ideals in the game, tweaking the narrative to get the point across.

Fast foward a few years, and I wrote Adios, a story that was me expressing a whole lot of emotional pain I was dealing with. In Adios, I talked about grief, not feeling like we’re good enough, moving on, sacrificing, and all that — but I did it as a much more confident storyteller. This wasn’t a spoonful of medicine hidden beneath a rich layer of peanut butter; no, I took genuine, true, honest feelings — the story that was inside of me — and I put it out there for the whole world to do with as they liked.

But for the longest time, no matter what I wrote, no matter what I said and did, no matter how hard I tried… writing wasn’t fun. Now, I write every single day. I love doing it. I look forward to it, and sometimes, even when I’m done writing at work for the day, I do a little more writing as a treat.

What changed?

Well, it was a lengthy process, but I’m hoping I can show you how I did it. This helped me; it’ll help you too.

ace combat 5. the screenshot at the top of the article is also ace combat 5


Not long ago, I was chatting with a pal, and I told him my basic theory on fan feedback: He’d written some amazing work before I ever met him, so I felt like it was never on me to offer much feedback. I loved the work he wrote without knowing who he was or having any input on his work, and now that we knew each other, I wasn’t gonna mess with that formula, you know? If I had the ability to get involved, the recipe would change. I would no longer get the same dish. If I loved his work before he knew me, I must refrain from getting involved.

(this means that yes, when you play Waifu Death Squad, you may find yourself going “wow, so this character is hot and that character is hot. i want to pair them up.” meanwhile, I have plans. I know how the whole story ends, where everyone is going. if you love the first game, then stick with me. i’m taking you on a journey. don’t try and take the wheel)

The other day, a friend of mine, Joe Wintergreen, described the way a lot of artists come into art: wanting to be something, rather than do something. I’ve known people like this my whole life; they want to get into games to get famous. That’s dumb, of course — if you want to get famous, get into an industry where agents go around trying to make you famous so they can get paid. Nobody gets famous in games. It’s a foolish goal. Everyone I’ve ever known who got into games to get famous never made anything that mattered, and they wasted time on image control that they should have spent on trying to make cool stuff.

When you get into art, you should get into art to make things — because you have something to express. When we talked about impostor syndrome and how to cure it, the basic idea was: don’t get hung up on other people and how they perceive you. Focus on the thing you’re trying to make. There is something you see that nobody else does. So get that out there! If you’re focused on how people will see you, you’re missing the point; people like art that feels honest and true. If it feels like you were doing it for a quick buck, they will feel like you just sold out.

That’s the irony of the sellout, right? They try to play the part of the artist, so they look at the stereotypes — Keith Moon’s incessant partying, the prima donna who makes absurd demands and writes nonsensical artist’s statements, the false modesty of the would-be ‘wholesome’ game developer… but all of this is done in service of image. They think you need to look the part to play the part.

all images in this article will probably be ace combat 5 until i say otherwise

Nah, nah. If you want to be an artist… you just need to express something genuine, all other considerations be damned. I do not think about my image as an artist because I am a fuckin’ artist, you know? I’m already doing the art thing.

The know-nothing pretenders to the throne out there think that artists are sacred, artists are magical and mysterious, impossible to truly understand. Nah. Study artists — watch the special features on your blu-rays, read biographies, study the artists themselves more than the theory. I’ve been reading Sidney Lumet’s “Making Movies,” and man, the director of Twelve Angry Men sure talks more like a craftsman than the way art theorists talk about artists.

It’s important to understand that in making games, we are making toys — never lose sight of that, never pretend to be more than you are. Instead, lean into exactly who you are and make the things you’re excited to make.

People occasionally ask me about my pitches; they tell me how the games I’ve made stick in their mind months and years after they played them. They want to know how I do it.

(I realize that talking about this sounds like bragging, but please understand I am trying to answer the question as it’s been asked in the hopes that you will find it of some personal benefit)

It’s simple, really. I have lots of ideas all the time. Most of them are crap. I just pitch the ideas I like — the stories I want to tell. The reason my pitches are good is because I’m only showing you the pitches I personally have fallen in love with. I post ideas online because I am trying to hone the art of pitching, of conveying the most impact with the fewest words.

I learned early on that games aren’t sold on their gimmicks or their mechanics. You can tell someone “hey, this is a puzzle game with a deceptively simple mechanic that gets wrung out in clever ways over the course of the game,” but that’s not what gets the blood pumping, the nostrils flaring, the heart yearning.

But… I wrote this:

wake up. can’t move. he’s standing there at the end of your bed, cloaked in shadow. the door is open. his head is perfectly round. perfectly. “I’m the moon,” he says. you can’t speak. he knows this. “I need you to kill your moon for me. Can you do that? Can I trust you?”

chopper fuckin dies

And to this day, years later, people still ask me when I’m gonna make this game.

People want, I think, the fantasy that you are offering. The cold logic behind it, not so much. But if you can give them a feeling, and say “the game will make you feel this, do this, be this, think this,” suddenly, people are very, very interested.

I was interested because I can see this moment in my head. I know what it plays like. I know how it feels, sounds, is built. I want to make this game desperately — and so I know that this is what I am going to make one day.

So that’s the first and most foundational step! Make the idea you care about. If you go “I want to do that,” people will connect with that feeling — they’ll want it too.

Now, you may have heard the advice “don’t make your dream project right away,” and that’s true. Adios was not my dream project — but it was a game I fell in love with. I got there by going “realistically, I can probably put together a team of 5–10 people. Why don’t I set some parameters: low budget, single location, single day, no more than 3–5 characters?”

When I found the right inspiration — for me, it was reading a news article about a woman who’d fallen in her pen and been eaten by her pigs, and the sad, melancholic vibes I got thinking about that — I came up with the pitch, tweeted it out, and then, about a year later, after a ton of work, I got to post “update: store page.” We shipped in March 2021.

i always find this screenshot SUPER funny

So you do need to have some level of understanding of what you can do. When we pitched Waifu Death Squad, we figured out how long we’d need to make it and what it would cost to make. We work both to our passion — telling a story we are so excited to tell — and within our means.

You may have a dream project, but maybe that isn’t the right one to make right now. Don’t get precious — you’ll fall in love with plenty of ideas.

For those of you out there who go “but I really only had the one idea? What do I do after that?” it’s very simple: more ideas WILL come to you. Just because you don’t have them now doesn’t mean you won’t later. Waifu Death Squad was weird, because it came out of a ton of ideas I had for other projects I never could make into a full project. Once I realized they all fit together, I was able to put together a pitch, get my team on board, and then get a publisher on board.

Now, that said, you may still be going “but I really only have the one idea!” So let me tell you a quick little story about how to break out of that trap — because it is a trap, and you do deserve to break out of it. Here goes:

A long time ago, I wanted to write comedy, but I couldn’t tell a joke on command. I’m much better at writing comedy now — wanna know why? It’s because I… consumed a wider variety of comedy. It took time, and I also consumed things that weren’t comedy (after all, comedy and horror have the same basic structure — there’s things you can learn about comedy by consuming the scariest horror imaginable, you know?).

I know some people who only want to consume the safe and familiar. This is what they know, so they don’t move outside of that box. Maybe you like one particular animation studio, so you only watch the stuff they make. Maybe you haven’t seen any old movies you like, so you aren’t watching more movies. Maybe you’re just really into superhero movies.

Well, the thing is… did you like Captain America: The Winter Soldier? I know a lot of people consider it the best Marvel movie. Wanna know why they cast this guy in it?

robert fuckin’ redford!!! obviously not my screenshot, it’s some still i found on google

They cast him because he’s in the kind of spy thrillers they were channeling in order to make Captain America the best it could be. You wanna make Captain America: The Winter Soldier? You need to watch All The President’s Men and Day of the Condor, the movies that inspired it.

Inspiration is not some magic bolt of lightning from the gods, it’s a physical process in your brain that happens when two experiences you had collide and something new is created as a result. It’s hydrogen and oxygen bonding together to make water. It’s a chemical reaction.

To achieve that chemical reaction, you need to start stockpiling chemicals, right? If all you got is hydrogen, you just got hydrogen. The only thing you’ll be able to bring to any creative enterprise is more hydrogen, to really belabor the fuck out of this metaphor.

If you want to be creative, and if you want to be inspired, you need to absorb as much stuff as you can, from all over. I’m talking bad movies, stories from outside your comfort zone. I’m inspired by everything from “a comic so bad I never want to write like that” to the movie Hud, an existential Western by Martin Ritt, to a book called “The Manual of Detection.” It’s stuff from all over. Right in front of me, I’ve got a disc of “Five Shaolin Masters” that I’m gonna watch at some point.

You know why Martin Scorsese is so widely respected as an artist and nobody really cares about the kind of person who just makes what they’re told at the superhero factory? Because Martin Scorsese watches movies from Turkey, Senegal, Algeria, Cameroon, Argentina, and a billion other co untries. Every great artist is extremely literate. Being ‘literate’ on a practical level means you can read… and write, right? So being media literate is the thing you do that makes you a better writer.

That is how inspiration works. That’s all inspiration is. Sometimes we take from the real world — I read an article about Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a strange town with odd geography — and that influenced me a great deal. Kevin, one of my cowriters, had seen some water towers that had been converted into cell towers, and had some ideas to take in that direction. Phil, my long time collaborator, once told me about how there’s a lot of brick on the shoreline near Toronto because of all the brickmaking that used to happen there. These are all things we can put into a game, just as much as plot beats or anything else.

To make something inspired, all you need to do is put together disparate ideas in interesting ways.

if you put together your ideas the way 8492nd did, you can probably defeat wardog


  1. make something you love
  2. make something within your means — something you know to be achievable
  3. consume as much stuff that’s outside your familiar art zone as possible — don’t be the sci-fi nerd whose references are just Star Wars, you know?

The “note behind the note” here is this: first and foremost, when you are making art, you are doing it because you had something to express. If you’re out there going “well, I don’t have anything to say,” then don’t worry — develop your skill at being able to say things by focusing on the experiences you have.

Once you get there?


It’s time for the big, important step.

But before we continue: Hey, I could use some help with medical bills and groceries. If you want to support the work I do, like this article about the biggest pitfall young writers face and how to get around it, then hey, hit up my tip jar.

I figure this kind of writing helps inexperienced writers the most — which means people who might not have the finances to afford my work if I kept it behind a paywall. A paywall would help me, obviously — I could guarantee a certain minimum that would ensure my ability to continue writing these articles — but the people who need my help the most cannot afford it. So I gotta rattle the tip jar. I know it’s not

I, personally, can only do this with your support; if I wasn’t doing this, I’d have to get a second job, and as disabled as I am, that’s really not great. I have to spend between $145 and up to an entire Nintendo Switch’s worth of my income on medical care every two weeks. Seriously, it was $300 not too long ago. That’s an extremely difficult burden for me.

So it’s either do this or get a second job, and a second job would not be ideal given my current disability. So when you send me a tip, you’re not just helping a disabled writer like me, you’re helping tons of students, disabled people, and others without access. Thank you.

@forgetamnesia on venmo

$docseuss on cashapp

humans are actually responsible for basically all art, grimm


this next section is heavily adapted from — but also greatly modified from — a twitter thread that I did a long time ago. I have always wanted to make it an essay, and here it is

Look I’m gonna give it to you straight: every time you think you’re wryly telling yourself “I can’t do this” and “I’m no good,” your brain actually believes you. Consciously, you may think “hey, this is me just being self-deprecating,” but that’s not how the human brain works.

All those writer memes you post about “haha us writers, always procrastinating, huh?” As it turns out, they actually hurt you, and man, there’s way, way too much self deprecation amongst artists.

There’s an art to it self-deprecation as a form of humor and most of you are using it the way people use a lot of ironic humor — destructively, to yourself. You are destroying your own confidence, telling yourself “writing is not fun,” and your brain believes you. Why would you want to go and con yourself out of the joy of writing?

Because writing is joyful — I mean, think about it: you have an idea, you’re in love with that idea, and you want to get it out there, right? You know how great it is when you share your story idea with a friend and they get excited? Then you know how good it’s gonna feel when you actually write the damn story and get it out there in front of an audience, right?

Nothing makes my day more than the DMs I get of people telling me stuff I wrote matter to them. Just saw one about Adios the other day that nearly made me cry with happiness, it was so kind.

I know people who say “I’m a novelist” but post all the “haha i’m so lazy/I’m total garbage” memes and never write anything at all because ultimately they are psyching themselves out! I’ve talked with my therapist about this and how I’ve done it — I told her that I had to stop being that way in order to actually get stories done.

The biggest thing stopping me was just… me. It was me psyching myself out, me going “man, this is too much, this is too hard, haha, I’m so lazy.”

Obviously, getting trauma therapy really, really helped.

So I want you to do something: Tell yourself “I am a good writer” even if it feels untrue. Tell yourself “I can do this” when you feel you can’t. Talk about your good points. When you discuss writing, talk about what you like about yourself. Remove self deprecation from your vocabulary and thought process.

I have friends who have genuine, severe depression who also say “I can’t do this” and for people like us, yeah, it fuckin suuuucks to feel like the act of writing is a monumental, impossible undertaking. Turns out telling yourself “I can do this” works for that too.

If you are excited to write, then you’ll write. If you psych yourself out, then you won’t be. So you need to transform writing into something exciting.

pictured: an excited little guy

You are actually capable, or you are on the way to becoming capable. You don’t do any good to yourself by being unkind, by trying to make ironic jokes about what you can’t do. But if you tell yourself “what I like about my writing is…” or “what I look forward to writing is…” you’re gonna find that, holy shit, it’s easier to fuckin’ write!

Think of your brain like a dog, and think of encouragement — self-encouragement — like giving it treats, while “i’m no good” is a smack on the head. Give your brain treats. Tell yourself you are good, even if it feels like a lie, because it actually IS NOT a lie.

Learn to like what you’re doing — don’t write stories you don’t like.

Ira Glass once said:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

If you’re spending all your time doing the “us writers, huh?” memes instead of fuckin’ writing, even when the writing doesn’t make you happy because it’s not at the level you wish it was, then instead of becoming an expert at telling stories, you’re becoming an expert at shitting on yourself, and you could be spending those moments being kind to yourself instead.

Ultimately, it takes 10,000 hours to get good at anything, so they tell me. Do you wanna spend 10,000 hours being amazing at telling yourself how much you suck? Or do you wanna actually write the story that is burning inside of you? What story do you have — this is rhetorical, never tell me your story ideas unless I ask — that you think you can achieve, that you are excited to tell? If you don’t have it, then consume more art and write more shit until you figure it out. Spend those ten thousand hours. Become an expert at looking forward to the writing you do every day.

Liking yourself is a choice that you make. It is something you have the power to do — not me, not someone else: YOU.

You and you alone have that power. So exercise it. Choose to look forward to writing. Go “well, it’s not where I want it to be now, but it will be!” John Swartzwelder (who famously wrote that delightful Simpsons line “To Alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!”) once described his writing process like this:

I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue,” he explained. “Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done.

It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So, I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight.

fighter jets r cool

Even one of the best writers The Simpsons ever had thinks his writing sucks until it doesn’t. Just telling yourself “it sucks” won’t get you anywhere. Look at how he thinks about it — he made a hard job easy by focusing on the part he enjoys: editing.

Sure, right here and now, you might look at your writing and cringe and go “I suck” but that’s okay, you’re at 10 hours, 1,000 hours, 5,000 hours, you’re getting there. Be kind to yourself, inside your own head, to teach your brain that this thing you love is rewarding. How could doing something you love be anything else?

I know more people who want to tell themselves ironic “us writers, huh” memes as a way of defending themselves from feeling inadequate while they learn to become a good writer, but all they’re actually doing is punishing themselves.

Having a really vivid imagination isn’t anything; ultimately, a writer ships. I know what I don’t like in Adios. However, nearly every review praises the game, so rather than reinforcing any doubts I have about myself, I tell myself the game is 95% positive on Steam.

You’re already tricking yourself into thinking you’re bad, so why not trick yourself in the other direction? Tell yourself that writing is fun and that you like what you’re doing — because, hey, you followed part one of this article, right? And you’re telling a story you want to tell, yeah?

I am going to train my brain to look forward to writing, and I am NOT going to give it permission to trick itself into thinking everything I do is no good. Ultimately, falling prey to that trap made writing hard for me in the past. Now I’ve got over a hundred thousand words written for my next video game — that’s several orders of magnitude more than Adios’ mere 4,600 (which I wrote almost entirely by myself, though there’s a delightful bit that our voice director Kris wrote as well).

I think a lot of people focus on “writer as identity” and join writers groups and share writers memes and so much of it is this self-deprecating awfulness. The successful writers? They don’t bask in their shortcomings or identity-as-writer. They are not unkind to themselves.

The successful writers — all the writers you ever admire — aren’t out there posting “haha god my latest draft is such garbage” nearly as often as so many aspiring writers who literally beat themselves up. When was the last time you saw a writer you admired going “all my writing sucks ass”? I bet never. Sure, sure, they definitely aren’t always happy with their work — but that’s what editing is for! The successful writers have stories they are excited to tell, and they tell those stories.


A great art teacher of mine, a portrait painter who repaired Porsches as a hobby, once told me that you’re never ever gonna be finished with a piece of art, but you do need to be done with it at some point. Even the best artists are never really gonna ever be 100%, completely, totally, and utterly satisfied with a thing.

So be kind to yourself! Write a lot so you develop expertise. Turn writing into something you look forward to doing, and stop giving in to the unhealthy habit of telling yourself that you aren’t any good. You are incredibly good, but maybe… maybe you aren’t there yet. You will be — as long as you put in the work. So… make it easier to work!

“But Doc, don’t you spend a lot of time not writing?”

Correct, but as you may have noticed, I’ve got a game with 95% positive reviews on Steam, with all reviews praising the writing, because, you see, I am a good writer. I also have a specific process that works for me.

But it doesn’t mean it’s time for me to slack off — good writing is a muscle. You don’t get to slack off. You go to the gym! And I bet I can get better!

All that time I spend not writing? The 60+ games I finish every year (but likely not in 2023, a very rough year for me for a lot of reasons, mostly health and working full time on a big, big game) help me get better. The movies I watch, the tv I watch, the short stories I post and twitter pitches I make… all of them matter.

“I can’t write, so why should I bother?” I hear some of you say.

Deep breath.

Steepled fingers.

My good bitch, you told me you were EXCITED about this story. I know you. I know this story means the world to you. The only thing stopping you — in your own words — is that you keep “joking” about you not being good enough. Get them 10,000 hours in.

but WHATEVER YOU DO, do not play ace combat assault horizon for PC. assault horizon legacy+ is a completely different video game on the 3DS that is ACTUALLY good, but do NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES play assault horizon, which sucks ass and was, i think, written by the American Sniper movie writer

But also, see what I did there? My therapist told me to look at what I HAD done, what I DID do, what I am CAPABLE of doing, what I am EXCITED about doing. I know it’s HARD, right? I have a severe case of a major depressive disorder on top of it all! And post-traumatic stress disorder from shit like being told “you’ll never be anything without me” and “you whore yourself out for words, God will not prosper you” and stuff like that.

So other people might not be kind to me, but if I am kind to myself, I can make things. If I am unkind, I will never have the strength to create. There are other habits I need to develop that will help me output more, and obviously treating ADHD, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder will help tremendously.

But it starts with kindness. So be kind.

“Doc, what about that thread where you called yourself a himbo” yeah that’s ACTUAL self-deprecating humor and it was genuinely funny. Most “self-deprecating humor” doesn’t have a punchline and isn’t funny, you’re just teaching your brain to think the lie that you are not good.

Think about it: what’s funny about saying “haha, I suck.” Nothing. But writing a thread where the punchline is “I am a himbo” — like, the thing literally designed to get the audience to guffaw — that is actually funny. Is your ‘joke’ funny or are you just shit talking yourself? Cut it out. No more shit talk. You’ve had enough of that.

By the way if you read this thread and you started beating yourself up because “omg I’m such an idiot, I’ve been telling myself how stupid I am,” that’s just another way of falling into that trap. So, I want you to stop, I want you to say “I forgive myself,” and then realize this is something new that you can do!! It is a new tool in your kit.

It’s not your fault that you didn’t know this! But now you do! It’s like not having a gym membership and getting one. Great! Take advantage of it! Start working out! If you walk in there already ripped, you’ve missed the point — you go to the gym to become ripped; you’d never go there if you were already fine, right?

“My biceps aren’t already big” isn’t a reason to beat yourself up. That’s a goal. You want to make your biceps big. So do it!

I am giving you this tool to help you grow more powerful! I am not berating you for not having it already. Now that you have this tool, you can use it in the way that helps you best.

It’s probably going to feel like a lie to you to tell yourself “I am good” if you have been training your brain to think “I am not good” so consider trying “I will become good if I keep at it” or “this idea is so good I have to share it with people,” if “I am good” doesn’t work.

But remember — you tricked your brain into thinking you sucked, and you got encouraged because your taste was probably better than your skill. So you need to break the habit and cut “I suck” out of your vocabulary. So it’s gonna feel really weird, bad, and even wrong to say “I am good,” but you need to keep at it. Don’t lift a ton on your first day. Lift what you can. Develop the skill.

When I originally wrote my thread, I said “I think this might actually help you if you have impostor syndrome” because I figured that impostor syndrome comes from years of telling yourself “haha it’s so funny I’m not actually good” Because of course you’re going to worry everyone will think you’re a fraud if you’ve been joking that you are! I mean, you told them you’re a fraud, right? So… of course once they pick you up to work with them, some small part of you is gonna go “well, actually, maybe I suck.”

That’s a self-inflicted wound right there, bud! Joking that you suck is what undermined your confidence in yourself! Build up that confidence by telling your brain to fuck off.

“But, Doc, I’m beating myself up because of writer’s block.”

Writer’s block happens! It can happen because you’re tired, because you need some piece of information you don’t currently have, because you overworked the muscle that is your brain. There’s no real mechanical difference in your brain between “I can’t make this computer code work right” and “I can’t make this story beat work right.”

it’s nier replicant, not nier repliCAN

Did you sleep? Shower? Take a walk? Are you hydrated? Are you properly nourished? Once all of those things are taken care of… try solving a different problem. In Adios, there’s that line, “when I fix something, I fix a little part of me.” It’s true! Fix something, and then the other problem you are having may solve itself! Maybe a base assumption you were making was wrong! Sometimes the best lesson is to let something sit! You write by not writing! Let it percolate!

Creative labor is labor. It is a physical process. That brain is a component of your body; it has an electrochemical system. You have to fuel it with nutrients — lots of omega 3s and shit. Talk to a nutritionist, I’m recollecting what I’ve heard, but I ain’t the king of medical science.

One time I was doing squats. 350 lbs or so. 20 reps. And I’d been working too hard — and nobody knew about my congenital heart defect called Wolfe Parkinson White— and while I did it just fine, a few hours later, my legs gave out as I was climbing up some stairs. Fell right on my ass.

I was sore n’ shaky for over a week. Cause I pushed too hard. I want you to know that sometimes you can work too hard and that’s burnout; there’s nothing wrong with you, you just need to take a leg/rest day. That’s part of the routine. Not ‘lol us writers we’re so lazy.’ You overextended a muscle, now it needs time to heal.

Just try to get something out. Doesn’t even have to be every day. But do it with a physical timer, not your phone timer. One of those timers with a crank on it.


Get yourself one of these, crank it to five minutes, and put some words down on paper. Could be anything, doesn’t have to be prose. Could be just some dialog. Could be some details — a character’s outfit, a description of events in a scene in bullet point format — just crank the timer for a few minutes, get something down.

And then?

Then i want you to shout “fuck yeah! I did it! This rules!” or some other celebratory thing, and if you want to write more, write more. If you don’t, do the same exercise tomorrow. And instead of going “hah, us writers, we’re lazy,” give your brain doggie treats; reward yourself with praise for the act of doing.

Don’t punish yourself until you’re terrified of writing ’cause you’ve been reinforcing that negativity for so long, okay?

Start making writing rewarding by telling yourself how much fun it is. Eyes on the prize, people — write what you love writing. Look forward to the time when you can share that story with people. Don’t worry about what they think; if the story excited you, it’ll excite the right people. Trust me.

genshin impact is one of my favorite games and i found a random screenshot in my giant random screenshot folder


this was also a twitter thread that has been significantly reworked

Over the years, people have told me that I brag too much.

Some of it is because I write articles in the first person and I explain my process. As you probably know, the real reason for this is because I am explaining my process. I figure, if I tell you in exacting detail how I work, the people out there who are stuck and struggling like I used to, will have something to work off of.

Rather than writing in some stuffy, academic “the artist must perform this process by which transcendental blah blah blah,” I’m like “HEY YA’LL MOTHERFUCKERS WANNA KNOW HOW TO WRITE?!?!” and sometimes that hits people and they get to write. I write as if it’s a dialogue, because if you and I were talking in person, this is how I’d be talking to you. You are a human and I want you to feel like a human is talking to you, because I am.

But, still, some people go “you’re a braggart.”

Yeah, well, it’s called self confidence! You should try it! Maybe you’d hate yourself less if you actually talked like you liked yourself.

See, a lot of people who do ironic self-deprecation are actually just trying to give cover to their own feelings of inadequacy. Me? I realized nobody else was gonna cheer me on, so I’d talk like my own biggest fan. That would give me the confidence to write, and then I’d be able to write well.

I know people who hate themselves fuckin hate people who express confidence — it’s like the crab bucket metaphor, right? All the crabs could get out of the bucket if they worked together, but some crabs see a crab getting out and are like “man, fuck that guy. Everyone should stay miserable, just like me.”

And here’s the thing: dude, I’m not gonna hate myself for you, you know?

You might hate yourself, and you might wish we were all down there with you, but why should I? Why would I? I make cool shit, and I like the shit I make. Adios? Loved the melancholy, wanted to make a melancholic game. Waifu Death Squad? Telling a multi-perspective murder mystery seems exciting, and now I love all these fuckin’ characters so much, and when I don’t love a character, I take them aside and put a note on them that says “MAKE ME MORE INTERESTING” and then I work on them I do love them.

Why in the fuck would I talk shit about myself on behalf of the crabs that wanna stay miserable in their shitty little crab bucket? I am self-confident; I have no obligation to burn my own self-confidence because someone who lacks it has decided I shouldn’t have it. They don’t get to make that choice.

treat every room you walk into like you’re donkey kong and you just got introduced as the GROUND POUNDIN’ PRIMATE!! do that instead of self deprecation

Same goes for all of you: you can just be self confident. Do it because you like it, you know?

The important thing, of course, is not to believe things about yourself that aren’t true. For instance, I know I’m an excellent writer, right? But I also know that there are areas where I can improve. Like I’m horrible at prose. There are many better prose writers out there. I, likely, will never write a novel.

Talk about yourself like you actually like yourself, sure, but don’t become your own fuckin’ yes man, you know?

Funnily enough, this is actually the problem with one of our characters in Waifu Death Squad. He has become his own yes man, so he’s no longer able to be as excellent as he wants, because he does not have any sense of what’s real anymore. You can’t be the best if you aren’t realistic about you, because you have to pretend you’ve overcome every obstacle, which means that if there’s an obstacle right there in front of you, you’ll have to ignore it, and it’ll whack you in the fuckin’ teeth.

The more this character — or anyone with this mindset — thinks “I am better than other people,” the less he believes in other people. This means that when push comes to fucking shove, he’s going to get his shit kicked in because he’s incapable of accurately estimating his opponent.

His arrogance leads to chronic underestimation of all obstacles, which means his life becomes much more difficult as a result, because he’s never adequately prepared. It’s why there’s no benefit to getting high on your own supply.

Like yourself. Genuinely like yourself. Don’t start lying to yourself, though.

I think the reason people do this is because they feel inadequate. They puff themselves up in order to run from feelings of self-loathing, rather than dealing with them head-on, lying about the world around them cause they can’t just like, go… “hmm maybe i should improve myself.” It’s about running away from the feeling of inadequacy.

But, hey, to reuse the gym metaphor, it’s like a guy who refuses to go to the gym and just starts saying “I’m fuckin’ ripped, bro. I can lift 800 lbs. I got 36 inch biceps!” Then you look at him and he ain’t even close.

What he should have done is go “I’m not there yet, but that’s the goal. I’m gonna go there!” and just go there. Developing a weird complex where we all have to pretend he’s got all that shit because he’s afraid of looking inward and getting his shit together is just… well, it’s the crab bucket mindset mechanics in play, right? Making everyone else just act as if something is true, regardless of what it is.

Be realistic about where you are, where you want to go, and then just… start working towards it. “I want to bench 220 lbs.” Okay. That takes time. So get started.

“I don’t suck! in fact, I’m better than YOU! and you suck! you’re probably a piece of shit too!” That? That’s all just someone feeling inadequate, right? We see this a lot in particularly fascist types — it really fits the character we’re writing in Waifu Death Squad as a result.

You can seriously solve like 90% of the problems you have in the world by simply not acting upon your insecurities. Be secure by cheering yourself on for all the cool shit you do. Realize you are good at things and play to your strengths.

Be realistic and like yourself. That’s it. Mission accomplished.

“But what if I am constantly worrying I’m not good enough or that I will fail?”

I had a teacher once who told me the reason adults are harder to teach than kids is ’cause adults know what the good result is and will make shitty things and go “welp, I can’t do it. I’m done.” Kids will fuck up and fuck up and fuck up and get better and fix it ’cause they don’t know how to suck or not. Taste helps you get to where you want to go, but it can be a real confidence booster when your skills don’t match your taste, like we said before.

So, the answer is simple: if you’re realistic and like yourself, you’ll go “yeah I’ll definitely fail, but that’s okay, because I’ll get better!” Making shit that sucks is how you end up making shit that doesn’t suck!

If you treat yourself like you like yourself, then you’ll forgive yourself when you mess up. Forgiveness is not absolution, of course, but look at how people who don’t like you are going to be uncharitable about anything you do. Why be uncharitable to yourself? You really wanna join them? They’re fuckin’ assholes. Why are you listening to them?

You can make shit you like by liking yourself. Don’t give ammo to the crab bucket guy.

The mistakes won’t end up with you beating yourself up for them if you like yourself. I actually found some old writing of mine that is so, so cringe. Just… man, it is so embarassing.

But some people think I’m a good writer now, and that’s because I wrote a whole lot of total garbage (which I thought was amazing when I was 17).

Instead of being self-deprecating, you should just cheer yourself on, and then you’ll be less paralyzed by the fear of fucking up. You won’t be adding to the mass of crabs trying to tear you down.

hello? yes, this is art speaking. art is cool and you should consume lots of it.


You know why mid creatives — the ones with taste but without the wisdom to be done with a piece — will spend five, ten, twenty years working on something that never ships? They’ll keep polishing to perfection. They’re too busy trying to close the gap between what’s in their head and what’s on the page in front of them.

The secret is this: it’s a futile exercise! It’s futile because your brain fills in gaps.

Seriously, do you know how often the brain hallucinates things? Even eye movement is a thing the software in our brain smooths out to trick us into thinking we had one beautiful, fluid movement from A to Z, when actually it was super jittery.

I read once that one of the reasons babies cry all the time is because they haven’t fully developed the ability to filter everything out yet, so they’re subjected to all of the noise, all of the heat and cold, all of the stimulus, and that (combined with the fact that everything they experience is The Most Loud, The Most Painful, The Most Stimulating thing they’ve experienced in their short little lives), is way too much for them. As we grow, our ability to fill in the gaps increases.

So sometimes you imagine a line in your head, and you try to write it down on paper… and it just. doesn’t. work. it made more sense in your head, right? But here it is, in front of you, and it doesn’t feel that way. Well… yeah, sorry about that. That’s just your brain going “okay yeah here’s these feelings” and “here’s some ideas you have in your head” but it’s not the whole-ass idea!

When we make art, a lot of us — especially the beginners, are chasing a feeling of importance that we get when we see art. Meanwhile, Ridley Scott goes “fuck off, I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, the point of the movie is to be fun,” and he’s the greatest filmmaker in the first century of filmmaking, so maybe you should listen to that.

A lot of people — we’re now circling back to the start — have this idea that to be a Great Artist, you’ve got to… find some way to create The Feelings that make Great Art so great. They treat it like it’s sacred, magical, mystical, whatever. Nah. Like I said, pay attention to the real artists. Look at how they do this shit.

this one’s another thread — as you can see, I was drafting this article for a while, experimenting with it, trying to make it work, and it’s finally here

I think some people feel the magic of art and go “oh my god, the artist must be magical. I could never do this. I cannot create that magic!”

(remind you of anything? like “hey i suck”?)

Those feelings are silly, because what you are feeling is connection with another human being! You give that feeling by just doing the genuine stuff!

Art is not a magic spell that makes you have Some Feelings! What you feel when you experience art is quite literally the same feeling you have when you connect with another human being, so you aren’t gonna ever, as an artist, go “I am casting this spell.” That’s not how it works!

When I was writing Adios, I sat there at my keyboard, tears in my eyes, as I finally told Toby goodbye, three years after he was put down. I said goodbye because I should have been there when they put him down, and they didn’t fucking tell me for weeks. That fucked me up, and three years after he died, I finally felt like I could talk about it.

So I wrote to him. If you pick the other path in that conversation, you’ll get what I wrote to Katy, my beloved golden retriever, who I got up one Saturday morning to greet. I called to her, increasingly worried, as I realized she wasn’t moving, and I went to her, and reached down to shake her awake, only to find she was stiff as a board. She’d died that night.

I loved Toby and Katy very dearly, so I wrote to them in Adios, and the act put tears in my eyes. I didn’t think about you at all when writing that. I didn’t think how you’d see me, what you’d think, or anything like that. I just told my dogs how much I loved them.

…the thing is, there are some of you who read that, and who reached out to me, and said how amazing it was. I didn’t do anything amazing — I just wrote what I was feeling. That’s all, but it felt like magic to you, because that’s what connecting to a human is.

The magic is in the connection, not the art.

this big dog in monster hunter rise was really fun to fight. his name is bazelgeuse. say it three times and nothing happens

If you want to appreciate art, you need to consider that’s what every piece of art you ever encountered is. A human being, on the other end of the line, making something, expressing something, putting something out there. Humans did that! It didn’t just emerge, fully formed, from Zeus’ forehead, as Athena did! A human made decisions, and those decisions were, little by little, made into what we call “art,” and that work of art reached you, and the magic you felt was just the chemical interaction of that art on your brain.

Artists who hate their work usually either have the skill/taste gap (“I’m still learning, so my skill doesn’t match my refined taste”) or thinking their work should have the same magical qualities that the work that inspired them having (because they’re not realizing the sender is going to feel differently than the receiver).

You will not feel, when making the work, the way you would feel when receiving a package in the mail, right? You will instead feel like the person who sent the package, which is a different feeling. When you are an artist, do not fear because you do not feel the joy of receiving — you are the sender now.

I just cannot empasize how much, the ‘magic’ of art, that ‘sacred’ feeling of art, the thing that makes it feel special and powerful to you — that’s actually you responding to a human being that is being human.

It wasn’t the art that was the magic. The art was simply the avenue through which you and the artist connected. It is the humanity shared between you two that is the source of your feelings. Giving and receiving feel different, though, so of course the act of making will not feel the same as that first, awe-inspiring piece of art.

A quick, easy way to disabuse yourself of the notion that art is magic is to watch the director’s commentary of your favorite movies. Watch how they’re just… so… matter-of-fact about it. I was watching the special features of James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma remake the other day, and he was making decisions like “let’s get these alleyways a big longer so we can make it feel like there’s more to the city than there is.” Those decisions matter — but you don’t really think about them when you’re getting awe-inspired, you know?

Recently, I watched a video with Bill Watterson (you know, the Calvin and Hobbes guy) and John Kascht talking about making art together, and I think it was Bill who said something like ‘well, we’re very different people, our approaches collided’ and i was thinking “yes, yes!! because it’s chemistry! hydrogen and oxygen make water!”

You see why I put that earlier in the essay? ’cause I was getting here.

Just focus on the work you are making. Only consider the audience when you must — like when you’re going “hmm, will this land right?” When I’m telling my crew to consider the audience, it’s not “so they give us awards” or anything, it’s… well, it’s like giving a gift. When I buy someone a Christmas gift, I do it while thinking about how they’re going to feel, not about how they will think of me for the gift, right? I go “what would make them happy?” and then I try to do that.

Art is often the same way. Sure, I told you I didn’t think about you when I wrote to Toby and Katy. That’s true. I didn’t. But when I do think about you as I am writing, that is how. How do I make sure you don’t suspect the surprise birthday party? How do I make sure you don’t know what gift I’m giving? How do I make sure your eyes bulge and your face lights up and you feel so warm and fuzzy inside? How do I pick the perfect gift?

If you get hung up on “but how will people see me” or whatever — dude, that means you’re posing! Don’t pose. You make what you are feeling. You focus on expressing that. That is what art is — expression. The people who need that particular expression will find it.

shin megami tensei v is actually the best reason to own a switch and i hope it comes to pc. you know i’ll play that shit again

A Conclusion

This is one of my shorter articles, but it’s still plenty long, I hope. Usually I’m around 13–15k, and lately I’ve been hitting 20k, so hopefully it’s okay if this one’s a bit shorter.

What you are doing when you make art is saying something that is in you to say. You don’t have to communicate a message, convince the world of some greater truth. It was Vonnegut who pointed out that all that protest art sure made the artists during Vietnam feel good, but the art didn’t actually do anything. I think he described it as hitting society with all the force of a custard pie dropped on the ground.

Don’t worry about being important. Don’t worry about having an impact. We make toys. We like our toys to be fun to play with. We give these toys away as gifts. The toys we choose to make are the toys we fell in love with, the toys we wanted to make. We’re going to put them out there, but we can’t — and we must not attempt to — control how they make people see us.

We just make toys.

Don’t get self-important. You’ll become a servant to the desires of others, and that’ll rob your art of authenticity. If you let your ego win, you’ll become a sellout, and your art won’t hit people anymore.

If you want to be somebody, then be yourself, okay?

Hey, I could use some help with medical bills and groceries. If you want to support the work I do, like this article about the biggest pitfall young writers face and how to get around it, then hey, hit up my tip jar.

I figure this kind of writing helps inexperienced writers the most — which means people who might not have the finances to afford my work if I kept it behind a paywall. A paywall would help me, obviously — I could guarantee a certain minimum that would ensure my ability to continue writing these articles — but the people who need my help the most cannot afford it. So I gotta rattle the tip jar. I know it’s not

I, personally, can only do this with your support; if I wasn’t doing this, I’d have to get a second job, and as disabled as I am, that’s really not great. I have to spend between $145 and up to an entire Nintendo Switch’s worth of my income on medical care every two weeks. Seriously, it was $300 not too long ago. That’s an extremely difficult burden for me.

So it’s either do this or get a second job, and a second job would not be ideal given my current disability. So when you send me a tip, you’re not just helping a disabled writer like me, you’re helping tons of students, disabled people, and others without access. Thank you.

@forgetamnesia on venmo

$docseuss on cashapp



Doc Burford

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.