Archive for the ‘Life as a Creative’ Category
One of the most dissatisfying things about being a creative person surrounded by successful creative people is feeling like you aren’t achieving progress because what you’re gaining isn’t at the same height as what your friends and colleagues have. And it’s something I see and hear all the time from others.
The straight dope is that I look at what I have achieved and compare it to, say, Jason Morningstar, Fred Hicks, Cam Banks, Kenneth Hite, Robin Laws, Matt Forbeck, Luke Crane, Jeff Tidball, the Dungeon World peeps (to name only a few of the people who I look up to due to their achievements), I fall pretty fucking short, that my creative life is stuck in 3rd while everyone else is cruising in 5th. That feeling makes me want to plot all sorts of crazy shit to “catch up” — or, if we’re going to unpack that sensation with some honest here, it makes me want to somehow feel like I have a portion of the relevance in the world than they do.
I see that struggle from relevance from others not unlike me, at least in feeling this way. Some are all trying so hard to make their first game into something bigger than it is, and others busting themselves on trying to create a whole line when their audience is small. I know what wanting that feels like, so I’m sympathetic to those drives. And if you’re one of those people, I have hope that you’ll get what you’re struggling for.
But I also wince when I see those moments, because I know the anguish that goes with it. The feeling like you’re fucking it up because you’re not hitting a speed you perceive is the “right” one. In those moments, I remind others (in no small part to remind myself):
- Skills take time to hone
- Audiences take time to build
- Moving forward slowly is still moving forward, not standing still
- It’s okay not to break out with your first published work; that’s what trying again is for
- Keep your eye on tomorrow
The last one reflects my time spent planning my suicide, and in that time feeling like I needed to rush to make Some Crowning Achievements. I now take a pill every day that helps me have a tomorrow, so I take advantage of that emotionally. I no longer look at trying to reach whatever perceived level of “internet notoriety” on a short timetable, because that is the path to disappointment and burnout.
I promise you that you’re moving forward, even if you can’t feel it.
(If you think I’m talking about you, then I might be. But the person who gave me the impetus to write this is the same as this post’s author.)
A few months back, I wrote a piece I called “Play Everything.” It was a response to a significant amount of Internet rage over some game, I forget now, and I had an overwhelming need to do something positive and constructive to purge myself from that toxicity, to in some sense rebalance my life. So I wrote this, and later workshopped it and refined it.
It resonated with my awesome friend Brianna Reed, who was already feeling like making a typography poster as a portfolio piece and as a fun thing to do. This is what she made. And now this is what we’re selling.
Some time ago, while I was working on a collaboration project, I happened upon a pitch that seemed totally awesome. But when I got the actual submission, it was boring trite and the subject matter wasn’t what was promised. So, naturally, I rejected it and cited why.
The response I got back was (edited, emphasis mine):
This is surprising and disappointing. I believe that my article was faithful to the pitch I submitted. I worked very hard on this. If you choose not to include it, that’s your business, but I would like to have some more specific reasons as to why it has received an outright rejection.
Here’s how this person (let’s call this person Kris) failed:
- Kris wasn’t graceful about being rejected. If he was, I might be willing to hear a pitch from him in the future. But he wasn’t, and I remember his name, which means this exchange will be in my mind if I’m ever again in the situation of dealing with him. (And understand that being rejected isn’t always about absolute quality — relative quality is a component. If you are good but not as good as other submissions and space is limited, then you don’t make the cut. This time. But if you’re good, you’ll be remembered.)
- Kris said the very words that tell me she’s a complete amatuer. She said “I worked very hard on this.” What, does she want a gold star for participating? Congratulations, this person did the bare minimum I expect out of someone who gives a shit about being a creative: working hard. You’ve gotta do more than that — you’ve gotta pay attention and get your skills up to par. That wasn’t happening here. This is a business, and I have demands in time, quality, and so on that I have to meet. If you can’t meet those demands and aren’t willing to be a decent human about it, I have no use for you.
- The last sentence’s sense of demanding entitlement rather than civility and respecting of my time more or less is the nail in coffin. It’s extremely easy to see that the author just said “fuck you” to me, with a side of “I’m not done with you yet.”
Why post this? Because as an editor, sometimes I have to deal with writers who whine. I didn’t want to use anything recent regarding the subject, but I needed an example that I can point to in order to say this:
If you whine at me like Kris did above, I will fire you. My time is more valuable than that. Granted, I’m far more likely to have a conversation first rather than immediately can you or walk, but it’s important to understand that if you whine at me, and I let you get away with it, then I’m doing myself a disservice. And I may far too little money doing freelance editing to short myself on that.
How could Kris have done better? Try this:
I’ll admit that I’m surprised at this news. Thank you for your time.
Since you were interested in the initial pitch, perhaps we could talk about where I went wrong and possibly letting me take another stab at the project? I understand if you don’t have the time; I’m still eager about this and think I can deliver what you need. If nothing else, maybe in talking with you, I’ll learn what not to do in the future.
That’s how to do the same thing, and not whine. That tells me you want to work hard, you’re willing to accept that you missed the mark, and want to show you’ve got what it takes to hit it.
Kris though that his/her version of “working hard” meant an automatic in, and whining when that falls; the one above is someone showing that working hard is the barest of criteria. And even if I couldn’t because of time grant such a request, that response would leave a positive impression, not a negative one.
Edit: some people are apparently getting all bent out of shape because I wrote about shitty writers. I’m just going to assume that everyone who is is a shitty writer who sees themselves in Kris, and is combating self-reflection by complaining about me. <a href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/115238641855986579653/posts/FefFbr8H1d7″>If you don’t like that, that’s life.</a>
People frequently ask me how to “break into” game editing. This is a natural and reasonable question to ask a nerd-famous game editor. The thing is, you can’t replicate what I did. Below is the story of how I got started, and it’s a winding path.
First, I went to school to be a software developer — specifically a web application developer — and I was pretty good at it. I did some creative writing in high school (and even got an award and a standing ovation at a show for reading my work), but that was just dabbling. In college, I didn’t write much, as I was more obsessed with code.
After some layoffs and bad decisions, I had a tech support job for a local ISP, and worked alongside one of my gaming buddies. This job gave us time to make game materials, and it was here that I wrote my first two published works (which you can find here and here).
While working for the government, I got invited to write a serial story for a monthly webzine, which I did for a year. The stories were crap, though there were occasional gems in it, and I credit those to my friends who edited my work before I sent them off. I got to see all the redlines, and felt shitty because I was a new writers and these people were doing things to my words that I totally missed.
I never fought against the editor marks, but it took a long time to grow a thick skin about them.
Later, I had this idea to make a fiction anthology for Hurricane Katrina relief — some of you know it as the out-of-print Finis: A Book of Endings. With me and 16 other authors, I had to suddenly be an editor. At first, I was shitty at it, because I was too concerned with individual authorial intent to be focused on the book’s overall goal. Two things broke that: (1) talking with my good friend and writer on the project, Jennifer Brozek, and having her tell me to stop being delicate with her stories and actually edit them; (2) breaking up with one of my writers & editors on the project, which was an emotional turmoil that turned into me becoming a more serious editor.
The best way to explain that last part is that I didn’t want a hellish time in my life to be permanently archived by producing a shitty book. So I had to not just step up to my A game, I had to figure out whatever the hell that was in the first place.
Paul Tevis (who I met in a chance meeting when went down to the first Gen Con SoCal, which I almost passed on) was one of my authors on Finis, and he was working on a game that I became a huge fan of, called A Penny For My Thoughts. After a series of IMs and email exchanges about reader & playtest notes, he said:
“Let’s make this official. What are your rates for editing?”
And with that, I became the editor on Penny.
I should say that by this point (which was late 2007), I had been podcasting for several months, and had interviewed a few people, including Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions (who also become my layout artist on Finis). While having lunch with him and Paul at Dreamation 2008, Fred asked me if I would like to edit Don’t Lose Your Mind.
For those keeping score, that’s my second paid editing offer. (Though, it would be by publication date the first to be released.)
The story continues, in the form of people telling others to talk with me about editing, and me feeling confident enough to put myself out there when others mentioned jobs. But that’s how this all started, or how I “broke in.”
When I respond to the “how do you break in” question with “Do interesting and awesome things that people can see, meet new people, make friends, and put yourself in the position for chance meetings,” it might sound flippant or simple. But it’s not.
There is nothing simple about making something awesome. There is nothing simple about forging friendly bonds. The problem is that I can’t say more than that, because the journey is personal.
(How to survive and grow is, of course, a completely different question.)
I mentioned this at a Gen Con panel, and Mike Shel made some great additional comments that prompted this post. There are three big ways that writers fuck up when it comes to mental illnesses (and media in general, thus people in general).
Schizophrenia doesn’t mean Dissociative Identity Disorder
Not only do people use them interchangeably, but some also use schizophrenia as a synonym for hallucinations (which is a part of, but not the whole of, this condition). And folks use dissociative identity disorder to mean full-blown “fully realized identities who aren’t aware of each other” conditions, which is the rarer form of this.
If you’re a writer on one of my projects, and you pull one of these out, you’ve better goddamn well know what you’re talking about. And even then, I’m going to give your usage a hairy eyeball because so many people don’t actually know what these conditions mean — a casual use of the word “schizophrenia” will conjure completely contrary thoughts in the head of far too many readers.
Asocial doesn’t mean Antisocial
Many people use “antisocial” to mean “this person doesn’t like hanging around with people/is a recluse/is an introvert.” Everyone who does sounds like a moron, because antisocial personality disorder is a condition that is closer to being a sociopath than it is to being someone who doesn’t like leaving the house.
Here’s more about asociality. And while I’m generally loathe to quote Wikipedia, in this case it’s spot on:
Asocial is distinct from antisocial as the latter implies an active misanthropy or antagonism toward other people or the general social order.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Unless you seriously do your research, don’t even go here. Why? Because many people with PTSD play our games. Many of them are soldiers. How about not trivializing the shit they go through. And this isn’t just being politically correct — do you really want to anger armed individuals who have been trained in combat?
In general, if you’re going to throw around mental illnesses and disorders, do your damn homework and make sure you can portray it in a way that will properly get past any erroneous preconceived notions that various readers will have. And it’s very easy to look like a moron to those who do know about the subject matter. Let’s make characters, not caricatures.
What other ways have you seen?