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A Weekend, or Five Years?

Yesterday, I got this tweet, so today I want to talk about it:

I wrote this game over the weekend” is like saying “I painted the Mona Lisa in a day”; it makes the rest of us #jealous

Putting aside the self-deprecating “trust me, HK-TK is no Mona Lisa,” that it’s only 6500 words, and that other people designed most of the parts to this — that reaction is something I’ve thought about my whole adult life, as it’s been said often to me ever since college.

Except it was said about being a programmer. A few of us were always done with coding labs within ten minutes, when we were given an hour. Other people who were struggling in class would ask us how we were so fast at it. The answer was both simple and useless: in my case, I’ve been fucking with computers since I was six years old. And while the specific subject matter is new, it builds on subject matter I’ve been contacting with for years and years. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to finish these exams back then (putting aside that I might have just walked away to find a juice box).[1]

No, I know I’m not a particularly fast writer; at least, not consistently so. On the other hand, my friend Matt Forbeck is known for his Herculean writing feats. He’s often teased on Twitter as a robot, or we “lesser” writers tease each other about our own tiny wordcounts. Matt’s an icon when it comes to our industry. But, just as I wouldn’t be able to do the coding things I can without the nearly-three decades of practice and scholarship, neither could he have done his tremendous daily wordcounts right out of the gate.

Well, unless you believe some of the Myths of Forbeck, in which case he was born from the written word itself, so yes, he could.

That’s because what we’re doing in a day or weekend or whatever relies on what we’ve been doing for years before that. I’ve been solidly fucking around with RPG text & game design since 2006, and half-assedly well before that. So I have a sense of what reactions & rewards I want, which pieces produce what reactions, what happens when you put different pieces together, how to present them in text, etc. I’m not saying HK-TK actually works; it hasn’t been tested. But it certainly isn’t something I could have written in 2006. Or 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. Maybe I could have last year.[2]

I’m sure it’s the same thing with John Harper’s Lady Blackbird, which was also quickly written up & visually designed if I remember right.

With time & practice comes understanding of your craft, and with that comes loads and loads of little tools in your mind that allow you to do things faster or better. And while this might impress some people, the reason I’m not self-impressed is because I see all the little marks of time in this document, the mistakes I’ve made in the past or seen others make, places where I am trying things that have worked in the past, stuff like that. I see five years of practice in a hastily written, unedited document.

Pretty much anyone can do that. Just takes time & practice. Which means it just really takes passion. So if you’re passionate about something, start putting some more time & practice in. It’ll pay off like you won’t believe.

And with enough passion, time & practice, perhaps any one of us could ascend to be like Forbeck. ;)

– Ryan

P.S. And just because something looks easy to another person doesn’t mean it was. But the hardest parts of writing HK-TK is another post.

[1] And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to finish them without exposure to how other people do things, learning from them. Not unlike taking pieces other people have designed, seriously thinking about them, tinkering with them, and putting them together. Same principle: no one of us is an island.

[2] Disregarding the fact that I wouldn’t have been inspired by Push until 2009.

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11 Responses to A Weekend, or Five Years?

  1. Matt Forbeck says:

    Good stuff, Ryan, and you’re absolutely right. We’re all the sum of our own histories and passions, and that jealousy is misplaced, if understandable.

    When I show people the overflowing bookshelf in my office that contains copies of most of the things I’ve worked on, I often feel I have to explain to them that I’ve been at it for 23 years. If someone gave them a memento of every job they finished over that period of time, they’d have at least a full bookshelf for themselves too.

  2. If that jealousy motivates others to get off their duffs and get to designing / writing that thing they’ve been toying with forever, isn’t that a good thing? I’m preaching to myself on this one, too, by the way.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I don’t agree with that. It’s one thing to say you’re inspired, but jealousy is a purely toxic emotion.

      – Ryan

    • Fair enough. I think people all too often use the words interchangeably. I will be more careful in future.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      As a writer, I don’t trust those who use such words without thinking. :)

      – Ryan

  3. Steve Segedy says:

    I’m betting it also helps that you’re visiting family and a little out of your usual routines. It’s good to get away from distractions, even pleasant ones, to focus on making a thing.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      To an extent. I don’t quite have weekends to myself while I’m out here, so I’m not distraction-free.

      – Ryan

  4. Last time I talked trust with you, Ryan, I offended you due to 140 character limit. I’m more cautious now. I also don’t want to derail a comment thread. ;)

  5. dbng says:

    What software were you using? Your pdfs look beatiful and mine are always ugly for some reason…

  6. dbng says:

    Ryan, thank you very much!