So, in last week’s missive I talked about developing some really bad work habits last year, habits born of “hubris, aggressive indolence, a sad tendency toward procrastination, and my well honed ability to justify anything led me into all manner of poor work and bad decisions”. This is a situation that, I believe, most if not all freelancers fall into from time to time. The cry of, “I’ve got plenty of time before this is due!” has rung from many a home-office or co-working space, typically right before Facebook is opened for the eightieth time in two hours, or the newest DLC for Borderlands 2 is launched. So you upload some pictures of cats, like some pictures of somebody elses’ lunch, and kill a few Drifters, when suddenly it’s three days before your deadline and you’ve got maybe seventy words of a thirty-thousand word assignment written. And you have no idea what you’re writing about, because you’ve been busy with cat pictures and Drifters. And it’s not your only deadline. And you’ve got other, non-work responsibilities to take care of. And…and…and… And, well, it becomes a vicious cycle like in that picture up there. Now, there are some guys, like Scalzi and Chuck Wendig and Matt Forbeck who don’t suffer from this affliction, but I’m convinced that those dudes are robots or aliens or alien robots. I, however, am neither a robot nor an alien more’s the pity, and let me assure you children that I suffer from this affliction in spades.
Uh, yeah. I started a Tumblr. It’s pretty nerdy. You can find it here if you’re so inclined: Amalgamated Fiction – Detroit’s Tumblr
We’re the Pros from Dover.
Once upon a time when I was just starting out, a document came across my desk that I was asked to edit. I was the second set of eyes on the document, the first being the company’s “Head Editor”. I’m not gonna mince words here kids, it was a fucking disaster. It was still full of misspelled words and crimes against grammar. I brought this up to the boss, who immediately jumped to the Head Editor’s defense with the statement, “You have to remember, he’s not a professional editor.” Excuse me? This is a man who, for twenty years, worked as “Head Editor” for this company, a position he still holds today. His name is in countless gaming supplements as “editor”. He gets paid to do the job of an editor. That’s the fucking definition of a professional! So, what is this? I’ll tell you what it is, it’s a problem of perception, of ourselves and our industry, that absolutely pervades this business.
With the ink on his commission still wet, Wes Maucher stepped from the bustling clamor of Gagarin Station’s main concourse into the close, comfortable dimness of Mir’s, directly into a fistfight.
Not bad, eh? Even though Lieutenant Commander Maucher is my thinly veiled analog for Jack Aubrey (he’s also named after my very favorite navy man, my granddad), I’m obviously not going to be able to do Master and Commander scene for scene and just replace H.M. Sloop Sophie with the currently unnamed ancient, clapped out destroyer that Maucher will command. For starters, that’s lazy bullshit and probably plagiaristic right there. It’s also not doable in the sense that a lot of what O’Brian does in the Aubrey-Maturin books is so dependent on the place and time of its setting that it would be impossible to recreate totally in space. The themes, strong, living characters, action, humanity, and humor sure, that’s doable. That’s just good wordcraft, that’s what makes a story and I should be doing that anyway. I’ll just have to find some other device to replace violent storms and the horror of a lee shore if I want or need a little extra drama.
Other than that, which is going to chew up a good amount of my time, I just landed yet another big-ass assignment from Fantasy flight, I’ve got a super-hero thing simmering for a little company called Melior Via, I’m still trying to land more work, I’ve got resumes in to WotC, Blizzard, and Stardock, and that doesn’t even cover all the mundane workaday stuff like taking care of The Kid and keeping The Wife happy and making sure the house doesn’t fall down around our ears. So, you know, no rest for the wicked.
- Fantasy Flight: So far, I’ve worked on every Rogue Trader title so far. For those keeping score, that’s six books and close to 150,000 words. Plus I did some work for a Deathwatch supplement, which was pretty cool. Cultivating a creative professional relationship with FFG was one of the smartest, and luckiest, things I’ve done over the past year.
- Other Companies: Weeeeeeelll…not as such. This is the part I really wish I’d done better at. Having said that, after a kind of disastrous Origins and a great GenCon, I at least now have some leads and face time that I hope to parley into more work.
- Other Projects: Uh, yeah. So, well, not so much this either. I had all these harebrained schemes, novels, PDFs, schooling, becoming a media darling, but haven’t had the stones or gumption to bring any of it to fruition yet. This is something I want to work harder at in the coming year.
- Became a Dad: I believe I mentioned this. Did I mention this? Yeah, I totally became a father in 2010, which is quite possibly the best thing that I’ve ever done. The Kid is one of the few things that’s kept me sane over the past months.
- Enlarged my Online Presence: So, this here internet weblog thingy, my Twitters, the MCGW Facebook page, an Amazon Partnership…I’ve done all these things in an attempt to grow my brand and make a name for myself via social media. The results are debatable, but I’ve met some great fellow writers and game designers via the intertubes over the past year, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
- Paid my Shrink a Ton of Money: Worth every goddamned penny, too.
- Worried a Lot: I don’t think I can describe how stressful and worrying being a freelancer with a mountain of debt and a new baby is. Seriously, there are days it’s hard getting out of bed in the morning.
- Serious Home Projects: I don’t really talk about this here, but in the past year I’ve refinished all the hardwood floors on our second floor, renovated the bedroom, built the nursery, and framed my basement for a finished room. In all, the house shaped up nicely.
- Made a Bunch of New Friends and Contacts: Always a good thing, especially when they’re nice enough to give me advice even though they don’t know me from Adam.
- Other Stuff: Surely there’s some other stuff that I can’t think of right now. Just use your imaginations.
So, yeah. Not a bad year but not a great one either. If I were being graded, I’d probably get a strong C+, which is better than I ever did in school, but not as good as I’d like. I’ve got a ton of work to do. Work to improve my craft, work to improve my career, and work to improve me. There you go, here’s hoping for a better year going forward.
See, what you should know about me gentle readers is that I’m already pretty domesticated. I do the lion’s share of the cooking since I love food and I may as well use that degree for something. As for housekeeping, well, when I can be arsed I scrub a mean counter and polish a mean floor Hell, I’m not sure The Wife even knows where the laundry room is, and our house is all of 1,400 squares, so you know it’s not hard to find. So yeah, I figured that since I’m good at keeping writing and housework balanced, along with keeping the cars and bikes running and maintaining a seventy-year-old house, that I’d be able to just slot babby in there no problem with just a little re-arranging and keep on truckin’.
Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up parents. No, go ahead, get it out, catch your breath. I’ll wait….better? Right, I know. I know now, that it’s easier said than done. In my short, two-month tenure as Nervous McNewdad, I’ve had my eyes opened to just how time consuming and labor intensive new babbies can be. I mean, I knew, right? I’ve got a bunch of nieces and nephews that I’ve watched grow up so I know that they take a lot of work, but I didn’t understand. It’s hard to keep up a steady workflow when you need to feed/change/burp/bounce/sing to/entertain a little, mostly helpless person every three or so hours. Hard to keep that continuity, you know? Combined with other stresses, like work piling up and the constant, steady creep of deadlines, other things that need doing going by the wayside, no sleep (’cause I’m writing at 03:00 instead of sleeping), dealing with the emotional fallout of being new parents, well, lets just say that it makes the atmosphere a little charged at The Ranch.
I will say however, that The Wife and I are handling it better than most. My unique position as
professionally unemployed a freelancer/journeyman cum stay-at-home dad allows me to take a more active role in the parenting, which helps take the load off The Wife. Between the two of us, we make up one good parent. My biggest problem right now is trying to balance everything out. I’ve got something like three concurrently running contracts with Fantasy Flight right now for both Rogue Trader and Deathwatch. I’ve got to bone up on Savage Worlds and my old flame Deadlands so I can do a writing sample for Pinnacle. I need to get back into my quickie know-it-all essays for Demand Studios cause that’s easy money right there, and Lord knows with a new babby and a bunch of ancient cars and bikes and a house that was built in the victory garden and commodity rationing era there’s never enough money, easy or otherwise. All of that, combined with trying to, well, grow my brand for lack of a better term by writing and shmoozing and emailing and blogging and tweeting and linking-in and all that other stuff that pretty much equates to me standing on my little corner of the internets holding my poorly written “Will write about spaceships for food” sign, well, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Now, I’m not complaining. Well, I’m sort of complaining, I admit. I’ll tell you what, though. Being a dad suits me. I like it, I like it a lot. Even when she’s being a huge pain in the ass, which thankfully isn’t that often, the kid is still great to have around. I couldn’t be happier with her. Well, maybe if she’d come already potty trained that would have been extra sweet. Anyway, I know it’s only been two months that I’ve been a dad, but I’d like to share some advice with any freelancers or prospective stay-at-home dads out there with babby on the way.
- Work: If you’re gonna work from home, you need to straighten some things out first. Sit down with your wife/babby-momma/significant other/platonic life partner/co-parent/whatever and have a chat about distribution of responsibilities. Make it clear that your work is every bit as important as theirs is, even though you do it from home in your jammies and they go away to an office. Set down some guidelines about standing watches, as The Wife and I call it. Guidelines that say who gets the babby when, and when one or the other simply needs to be alone in a locked room to get any work done. If this involves making child-care arrangements, so be it. You’re not a bad parent just because you have to clear the decks and get a little peace and quite so that you can get work done.
- Communicate: Seriously, this should be obvious but you’d be surprised. No matter how strong a marriage/life-commitment is, there is a shit load of emotional fallout that comes with having a babby. Make sure y’all aren’t holding wants, needs, desires, frustration, or any other emotions inside because I guarantee it will completely wreck you.
- Get. The Hell. Out: Seriously. This goes for freelancers who don’t have kids and it’s doubly important for journeyman dads. Have a place away from the house where you can go and relax or get a little work done sans kids/partner. I’ve got a couple comfy-ass coffee houses that I go to. They’re staffed by handsome young women, feature excellent coffee, hot and cold running internet, and, if I’m not working too hard, make for some excellent people watching/chatting up the regulars. This is super important for home-bound workers. Remember what happened to Jack Torrance? The last thing you need is to be chasing your partner and kid around the house with a fire ax because you’ve been staring at the same words/monitors/walls for a month straight. The cops frown on that shit.
- Communicate: Just sayin’…
- Nail Down a Schedule/Work Regimen: You’re never going to get anything done if you have to do everything. Prioritize your work. Make sure you’re getting regular meals, regular showers, regular walks, and regular you time. Don’t work all the time, all it does is hurt the quality of your work as you get more and more burned out.
- Get Thee to a Therapist!: Now, I don’t want to make this into a very special episode of Motor City Gamewerks or anything, but seriously. Know how I mentioned that emotional fallout? Post-partum depression isn’t just for moms anymore! Journeyman parents, depression is no joke. Trust me, I know. Having a babby stirs up all kinds of shit, shit you didn’t even know was in there. If you feel like you need help, get help! My therapist has been an enormous help and comfort during the past two months. I don’t like to be evangelical about getting your head shrunk, but I’d recommend it to anyone. If you’re not into therapy or can’t invest the time or money just remember, you’re not alone. With a little legwork I’m sure you could find some stay-at-home working dad support groups in your metro area. Whether in meatspace or on the internets, just being able to piss and moan about new-dadding over a few beers or a round of Left 4 Dead will do you worlds of good.
- Stay Gold, Ponyboy: On a related-to-psychological-health topic, journeyman dads, make sure you don’t stop being you! If you gamed or mountain biked or did metal work or baked artisan bread before babby, make damn sure you keep doing so after babby. Hobbies are there for a reason, they keep you sane and act as a pressure valve. Don’t think for a minute that you need to drop everything and seal yourself off from the world just because you drafted a new member on to the team. I’m not saying that your schedule isn’t going to tighten up a little. What I am saying is that it’s important for you to keep involved with your friends and activities after you have the kid. It’s related to getting the hell out. You know what throwing your old life away, not calling your friends, and staying at the side of the bassinet 24/7 leads to? Resentment. Resentment leads to anger, anger leads…well…you know where this is going. Finally…
- Communicate: Y’all saw this one coming a mile off, didn’t you?
So, there. *gets off soapbox* This is what works for me, and things that I think are important. As with any advice, your mileage may vary. If you want to be there for your kid and your partner, you have to be there for yourself. Don’t feel guilty about working, do stuff you like, make your needs and feelings known, get out in the sunshine now and again, and enjoy being a dad.
PS: Any other journeyman parents out there? I realize that this is a pretty dad-centric point of view and my experiences are, well, unique to me and my worldview. I’d love to hear from other freelance moms and dads here. Leave a comment, tell us a story, let us know how you’re holding up.
Hey look! It’s a whole new week, and you know what that means gentle readers. It means back to the salt mines for yours truly. Well, maybe not salt mines exactly, but it does mean that I need to get back to work after taking a week off to help care for my new daughter, who you see up there with dad. So now, with roughly seven hours of sleep under my belt since last Sunday, I’m back in the saddle. Speaking of babby, I’d like to tell you a little story about how I phoned it in to my regular Thursday game last week.
Okay, I don’t know how many of you are parents, but if you are you know what the first week of parenting is like. Those of you who aren’t parents, and I highly recommend it, let me tell you something. It’s a lot of work. Like, a lot of work. Since babbies are essentially massive, incontinent time sinks, I felt it was prudent to not drive the 50 miles to Ann Arbor on Thursday for our weekly game. For a while now, our group has been discussing virtual gaming due to one of our guys getting his jaw wired shut and the fact that both Wayne and I live over 50 miles away and, frankly, a simple wish to play in our underwear from the comfort of our own mancaves. So, since Thursday was upon us and I was going to have to miss Harn, Jacko, Riff, and I set about ginning up a solution to the problem.
First thing we needed was a way for me to talk and listen. We looked at both Teamspeak and Ventrillo, and eventually settled on Vent. Riff picked up a decent, temporary microphone and ordered a very nice one, and both he and Jacko provided the on-site hardware and software solutions in Shade’s basement with some speakers, the mic, and Riff’s laptop. Once everything was set up, they configured Vent for voice activation and set it to stay active for 30 seconds or so. In theory, that would keep the mic on their side on the whole time as long as someone was making noise. We did some troubleshooting with the setup and found it good and they fiddled around with mic placement and input/output levels, and got it pretty well nailed down before the rest of the group showed up. On my end, I prepared by getting into my jammies, pouring a cocktail, settling in with babby, putting on my headset, and setting Vent to “push to talk”. Push to talk is, of course, the best setting when you plan on both gaming and making googoo noises and babby talk at your kid.
So everyone showed up, we tested the room with everyone in it to make sure that the mic would pick up all the players, and set to playing. The verdict? Well, it was a mixed bag. I was able to play from home so I could be available to help with the kid, I didn’t have to drive an hour each way, and I saved money on gas and take-out food. On the other hand, we quickly ran up against the technical limits of Ventrillo, the lag eventually got pretty bad as the buffer tried to keep up with all the chatter, and I missed out on the face to face socializing and the after session debrief at Denny’s. I felt kind of disconnected and distracted, which is probably attributable to the kid more than anything.
In all, it was a very successful experiment and, while not optimal, a good short-term solution we can use to play when a player would otherwise be absent. Since then, Jacko and I have worked with Skype and have decided to go with that instead of Vent. It doesn’t seem to have the problems with lag and handling multiple speakers at once that Vent has. The better microphone arrived to replace the cheapie stop-gap mic used for the first session, which should improve sound quality and range. We’re also looking at a virtual desktop program for mapping and die rolls and such, probably MapTools. Oh, and a webcam probably so I can see what’s going on.
So that’s it. My first experiment with virtual gaming with my friends was by and large a success, and even with some technical glitches I was able to take part in the session and still have fun while being able to stay home and be a dad. I’ll be doing it again Thursday, so we’ll see how it goes with Skype and the new mic. I’ll keep you posted.
In the admittedly short amount of time I’ve been making a go of it as a
professional journeyman writer, I’ve come to understand some basic truths about it as a career. At first I was all, “Hell, yes! I can write about these spaceships and giant robots all day!” and I could. The shine hadn’t worn off and I could still pound out a bunch of words and not think about anything else. Then, just like all hobbies that you take up as a career, it became a job. It’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastination and laziness when you’re at home in your jammies making up stories all day. “Oh, man.” you say to yourself. “I’ve written five-hundred words today, time for a nap!” That kind of attitude isn’t going to get you anywhere except unemployed. So if I may, let me share some advice with you gentle readers. Things that I’ve found that help me actually get work done at home.
The most important things you need when working from home are structure and discipline. Make a plan, execute the plan, stick to the plan. Make yourself a schedule that works for you and breaks your day into blocks, but is flexible enough that you can adjust as necessary. Michael Chabon states in “Manhood for Amateurs” that he writes from 10:00am to 6:00pm Sunday through Thursday, which is great for him but not, say, for me. Plan out when you write, when you lunch, when you do other business like chasing down leads and signing contracts. Also, make sure that you schedule in some free time in each day. Time enough to leave the house for a cup of coffee or play some games or something. Anything to keep your brains limber. Remember, all work and no play makes Homer something something…