We’re All Faking It

Every now an then, someone who’re really competent and awesome says “Man, I’m just faking it.” Daniel Solis said that a couple weeks back, to which several of us replied back with “Dude, so am I.” Today, I’ll tell you the story of how I’m faking it, because I want every to know that faking it is how you succeed. (There’s a specific person I’m writing this to, but it seems broad enough for others.)

I went to school for software development. Before that, well before that, I was a child hacker. I started programming at like six or eight, something like that, and I’ve been a keyboard jockey for the last 25 years.

What does that have to do with game design and editing? Not a damned thing.

In my sophomore high school, I took a semester of Creative Writing, which was probably the best class I could have taken at that age. I took it to hang out with one of the cool kids. I took a second, independent study semester of it my senior year, because my teacher wanted to see what I’d do.

Still, that was high school. What does that have to do with game design and editing? Not a damned thing.

I have no background in this thing I do. I just spent years with an analytic eye trying to figure out what about things I did or didn’t like, what about things worked or didn’t for other people. I decided, on a lark, to edit an anthology, so I had to pretend I was a good editor. Apparently I pretended well enough for Paul Tevis to hire me for A Penny For My Thoughts, to both edit & develop the game. I still remember when he asked me that, and the reaction of “Really? Me? C’mon, I’m no editor.”

But that wasn’t the right answer, and I knew that. Instead, I decided to keep faking being an editor. Then Fred Hicks figured “oh, Ryan’s an editor? He also is a fan of Don’t Rest Your Head, maybe he can edit this supplement idea…” and hired me for Don’t Lose Your Mind.

Still faking. I said yes, because I decided a few years back that if something scared me, I should go for it. But still, in my mind, I was just “playing” at being an editor.

Don’t Lose Your Mind won the silver ENnie for Best Writing. A Penny For My Thoughts won the Indie RPG award for Most Innovative Game. Now, I wasn’t the author or designer, though without my efforts maybe[1] they wouldn’t have received these awards. I did whip DLYM into shape, and I pushed Paul to complete the design that was meant for his game. The entire time, though? I was just faking it.

Working on the Dresden Files RPG, as the Lead Project Developer? As the guy whose job it was to actually get the book released, in a salable condition, in time for Origins 2010? To also do design, writing, and editing? Faking it. Yeah, we succeeded, but I didn’t have a background in project management when I started. I just watched what other people did, and made some decisions based on that. “Educated faking” if you will.

You may have heard we won some awards for that.

Everything I’ve worked on as a game professional has been me faking it. Everything. The work I’m doing with Evil Hat right now? Totally faking it. Just happens that I’m faking it in a way that gets results.

Now, the objective reader might say “Ryan, I’m pretty sure you aren’t faking it anymore,” and maybe that’s true (though, eh, fuck if I know). And I do know that I’m good at the stuff I’m faking — I know I’m a sharp editor, etc. But it doesn’t mean I feel like I’m not faking it anymore. I still feel like I am.

Most of the time I post on my blog, I figure I’m just spewing whatever’s on my mind. I’m not even trying to fake being an expert or guru or anything. Really, I’m just a mouthy fuck. But people take some of the stuff I say and read it like it’s sage advice, and it helps them. So who the fuck am I to say I am or am not an expert? Honestly, that’s not my call.

There’s a saying “Fake it ’til you make it.” And that’s so true. The best thing I can say is that you’ll make it far before you’ll feel like you have, so keep faking it. The world will recognize the difference between the fakers who aren’t competent and the ones who are.

And that brings us to the end: most of us who are damned good feel like we’re faking it, because we don’t have the context in our minds about this thing. We arrived at these states in this weird, organic way that have no rites of passage or anything like that. We don’t “graduate,” we just trying to publish something and see if it works, and then do it again. Because of that, we don’t know when to leave behind that “yeah, I’m just faking this” initial mindset. What’s important, though, is how others react to your faking. If they react by being impressed and enriched, keep on. You’re faking right. And chill about feeling like you’re faking — that just means you’re one of us. :)

Which is to say: It’s okay to fake it right now. You might be damned good.

– Ryan

[1] I’ve been told numerous times that the word “maybe” doesn’t apply. Still, that shows my thought process.


13 Responses to We’re All Faking It

  1. Cam Banks says:

    I faked being a writer which lead to a published short story and then a novel. Really all I’m doing is brain dumping in a pleasing fashion to the reader.

  2. When someone shows me what not-faking-it looks like I’ll believe that there is someone who isn’t faking it. We’re a hobby and industry of fakers (my iPod autocorrect wanted to change “fakers” into “gamers;” I feel it knows things better than we do). It’s cool.

  3. Gareth says:

    You need to watch this. Amanda Palmer giving a commencement address about “faking it” — and specifically, everybody’s fear of the non-existent “Fraud Police.”

  4. JDCorley says:

    Hell, I fake it every morning when I put on a tie – just like I used to do when I costumed for that Vampire LARP! “They’ll think I’m a real grownup.” I say. “I’m sleeping.” says my wife. “Go to work.” And I do!

  5. Carl Klutzke says:

    1. “What does that have to do with game design and editing? Not a damned thing.”

    According to Jesse Schell in The Art of Game Design, everything has to do with game design. And anyone who starts designing a game is a game designer: the first exercise in the book is to say to yourself, out loud, “I am a game designer.” (I love this book.)

    2. I wish I could remember where I read it, but I recently read someone pointing out that you can’t pretend to write a story. You know what you have when you’ve finished writing a pretend story? A story.

    3. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

  6. I totally get what you mean. But in my book that is not “faking it” per se.

    You see, the most valuable lesson I learned at College was what has become one of my main mottos in life: The important thing is the end result, not the exact way you reach it.

    So yeah… Background, education and all that jazz look very cool on paper. But in the long run what matters is what works the best. The good editing that the game got (regardless of the-one-who-edited-it background).

    Can you imagine some hypothetical book that got a “professional”, fully trained and degree’d Editor, but whose editing sucks? Now that is what I’d call a fake.

  7. David Berg says:

    Huh. I’d say as soon as you fulfill your end of a transaction, you have done something not-fake. The creative process is fun to chat and stew about and can feel fake as all hell, but the product is what separates Fake from Proven to other eyes.

    I’m curious about how you made the anthology and Penny transaction agreements happen. Did you offer proof of your skills, cheaps rates, or what?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I honestly have no idea how to answer your question, especially with Finis — I was the publisher, I put out a call for submissions, I made a book.

      And don’t get caught up in thinking “product” is the difference. That’s missing the point of everything we’re saying.

      – Ryan

    • David Berg says:

      As for “product”, I’m not saying that output, like, makes someone good at something. I’m just saying that, if you form an agreement with someone to do something, and you do it to their satisfaction, especially if there was anything on the line (i.e. they really needed it for some reason), then it’s really hard for me to think in terms of “faking it”. You know?

      If someone pays me to make a drawing they can use to illustrate their game, and I sit down and sweat and worry and guess and google some techniques, and then in the end I have something I’m ambivalent about, but I must concede that it does meet the project specs… and my customer says, “Cool, I can use this!” … then, well, I kinda KNOW I’m no faker than anyone else is. In fact, I’m LESS fake than a lot of people are.

      I agree with your points about the realities of creative work. I just think that one way to overcome feelings of fakery is to come through on your promises.

      That’s what a faker is, right? A pretender. Someone who can’t back up what they say.

      When you deliver on a promise, you back up what you say.

      Not that this is only true of promises to others. Keeping promises to oneself is big too.

  8. David Berg says:

    Ah! Gotcha. You started a project, and that project required you to edit other people’s work. Nifty.

  9. David Berg says:

    Er, that was supposed to reply to Ryan’s comment to me. Sorry, sloppy posting.