For fun or for success?

I’ve been thinking about this in the back of mind for a few days, but I find myself looking at my projects in two ways. Pet Projects or Products.

I hear a lot about how to make creative works successful, you know mantras like “fail early, fail often”, etc. On one hand I have a ton of unfinished short stories, ideas and notes filling up my notebook and unfinished scraps of software on my laptop’s harddisk. Yet I still preserve with my Lost Heroes RPG, a project perhaps I should have quit on an age ago when it has become apparent it’s not going to be some sort of whirlwind success or if a minor success (for the record, I’m not going to quit on it and I’m currently working on a rules system for it).

Makes me think, there are two types of projects, defined more by your attitude towards them than anything else. A product is something you’re trying to “sell” (in some abstract sense) and if it doesn’t sell or find an audience, it’s a failure. But a pet project is something you do because you want to do it. It’d be great if you find an audience, but if you don’t, so what?

For me products are the stuff I do in work. I get paid to do them and they are done at a professional level. You have to be ruthless about it, avoid adding new features, doing everything as right as you can straight up.

Pet projects are stuff I do for fun, in my spare time. I make mistakes, I learn. I explore options and tangents and cut away stuff at my own impulse. Lost Heroes RPG is my on-going pet project. I’ve learned about writing, mythology, game design, etc. and it’s brought me in contact with other gamers and writers. Even if, no-one else reads it, I’m still enjoying working on it.

It’s a little bit about sanity too, if I’m working on something because I’m enjoying the work, then “failure” is only what I chose it to be. If it’s a product, I can prepare myself for failure by simply distancing myself. I’m not talking about what failure is, only how I treat and react to my spare time projects.

TDO-Mini-Forms was also a pet project, one that perhaps should have been a product in hindsight. I was working on it because I was enjoying it. I was learning about PHP, coding for the web, working with WordPress and so on. But people were and are using it, expecting a supported product. That’s a bit of a disconnect, working on something as a pet project but random people consuming it as a product. I would have been happy with a small number of users and supporting them, while extending it and learning how to do things right.

But the number of users is quite high. Still not getting used to google occasionally telling me about some random dude on Twitter who stating that it’s utter crap because of X, Y or Z. It stomps all over why I was enjoying working on it. Turning a pet project, not into a product, but into a chore was/is a death knell working for the appreciation of faceless strangers. Will I start up work on TDO Mini Forms? Maybe, but I’ll need an attitude adjustment towards it first. I’d be tempted to start over, doing something from scratch, taking what I learned from TDO-Mini-Forms. I’d also need a machine that gives me reams of extra spare time to work on it as well.

I think if I were to start trying to write a novel (I have a few ideas) for example, I would be treating it as a Product, taking on board everything I’ve learned from writing Lost Heroes RPG and the various little flash fictions or short stories I’ve hacked together and being a bit more ruthless about it. The same would go for any software project I might start that’s bigger than a very simple tool.

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