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The Code of the Crucible

As a creative individual and collaborator, I live by the Code of the Crucible. The Code is simple: Burn everything you create. Do not suffer a weakness to live. Surround yourself with others who believe in the Code of the Crucible.

Burn everything you create. Anything unworthy will be consumed. Anything worthy but unfinished will be shaped and refined into something stronger. Anything worthy and finished will be tempered.

Do not suffer a weakness to live. There are people out in the world that will treat your work with scrutiny, with skepticism, with viciousness. So if you are not doing that to your own work before releasing it, you’re not finished. Weakness will breed more weakness, and the outside world is good at sniffing those weaknesses out.

Surround yourself with others who believe in the Code of the Crucible. Sometimes you will hesitate to burn what you create. Sometimes you will hesitate to kill weakness. With allies that will do that with you, your work will not suffer for your momentary weakness. This isn’t just a suggestion — you need allies to bring the full heat of the fire.

I’m posting this up so that anyone who ever asks for a critique or takes me up on such an offer, or wants to work with me, understands where I come from. There are two phrases that, if you say, will cause me to I’ll apply twice as much heat:

“But I like that” and “Because others do that/it’s a a part of X genre/other reason that’s poorly thought through.” These are excuses for shitty design and content. When the answer is stronger, about what exactly it’s doing and reinforcing, then that piece of the work is tempered. It is only through this process that you fully understand what you’ve made.

I’m disappointed in creative individuals who don’t apply the fire. I’m disappointed in those who have the potential to be awesome, and allow weakness to keep them from achieving that. But nothing disappoints me more than when I am tempted to be go easy on myself, because I’m tired or afraid that the fire will consume all of my hard work. So I live by the Code of the Crucible, to keep myself honest and true to my purpose.

After all, rarely do people decide to make a piece of shit. That just ends up happening when you allow weakness to rule over your process. When you allow fear to take control, or rush something unfinished because of arbitrary and unrealistic deadlines (especially before you’ve gained the skillset to work that fast). It happens when you let things slide. And when that happens, and you publish, those compromises can’t be taken back. You have to live with knowing you left known weakness in when you handed it to others.

– Ryan

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8 Responses to The Code of the Crucible

  1. Eddy Webb says:

    Amen, brother.

  2. Garret Narjes says:

    I’ve known artists who will actually burn some of their finished work. It becomes a metaphor that they use to help sharpen their creative process, or reduce the importance of outside recognition.

  3. Graham says:

    If you’re writing about a process that works for you, then great. Fantastic. I’m glad it’s working.

    If you’re writing more generally, then I’m more doubtful. I have a real problem with the culture that says: if you don’t criticise bluntly, you’re being dishonest.

    It can be about more than blunt criticism. It can be, for example, about encouragement, about holding back on criticism to help someone develop their ideas. And that need not mean you’re being dishonest, nor encouraging bad things.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Graham,

      Part of it is about my process, and the process of those I work with. You’re right; there are people that this method would scare into not working. I have found over the years that I have drifted way from people who need encouragement, not necessarily intentionally.

      In case there’s a miscommunication, I see a different between being blunt and being an asshole. (Though, unwanted bluntness is probably being an asshole, at times.) And saying what works and why it works is as important as saying what doesn’t — otherwise, without that flag, I might accidentally remove what does work to fix something that doesn’t. (The “why” is also good, because something might work but not for the reasons I think it does.)

      There have been a number of critique sessions where I or someone else has eventually said “Okay, there’s a lot that doesn’t work. Can we focus on what does for a moment?” But there’s a skill to critiquing, as we both know.

      – Ryan

  4. This is pretty close to what I had already been doing.

    From now on, I openly and formally adopt the Code of the Crucible.

    Regarding bluntness and encouragement, I do believe a very important part about putting something through the fire is to ask the creator “do not tell me how it can’t work, tell me how it can” and be adamant about getting a down-to-earth answer.

  5. Graham says:

    Fair enough. But, again, it needn’t be about being “scared” of criticism. Again, you’re presenting a dichotomy between honest feedback and craven mollycoddling. It’s more complex than that.

    • Eddy Webb says:

      I don’t think so. I read his comment as “some people would be scared by this,” which is true. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone who doesn’t like this method is therefore a coward and hates feedback.

      That being said, while I prefer open, honest communication like this, I agree that there is a difference between honesty and being an asshole. Badgering people who don’t get off on this method is being an asshole. But the reality is that artists who don’t push themselves don’t improve, and this kind of high-pressure honesty really works for some people, like Ryan. Other people improve by different forms of critique, but criticism is necessary to grow.

      I work in a company where screaming matches aren’t uncommon — that’s a bit much for me personally, but I’ve been able to say “Hey, let’s reframe this and get to what needs to be done,” and have been successful. The criticism and focus on improvement is still there, but without the screaming.

      So, yes, it is more complex, but I don’t see anything in the post or in his comments that indicates that this is the “one right way” or that it’s a simple, two-sided issue.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Graham,

      Eddy’s got it on the money. And my post in no way addresses the language I use to critique. The harshest one I’ve given recently for fiction was. “So, this intro people makes me not care about your story, because it’s all world-building and no characterization. It’s well-written, and would be interesting if I actually cared about the world. Move that after we see some characters and see a situation that makes us care, and you’ll hook the reader more.”

      Or on the game text front, telling some game designers that their language was both confusing and pretentious.

      Again, that’s for people who are asking for me to look over their stuff or work with me. And I do get disappointed in work that I see published that could have used that. But my focus is on people who are getting something ready to publish, not people who are just starting to explore a space. (In fact, now that we bring it up, I’m being much gentler to someone who is only starting to show people his work that I would be for someone who is writing to sell a story.)

      – Ryan