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.
Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother…
In the years that I’ve been in the semi-public eye as a game writer, I’ve never made any bones about the fact that I’m in therapy. In fact, I credit my therapy for being in the industry at all. Without my shrink and her withering eye and her sphinx-like demeanor and her habit of giving me just enough rope with which to hang myself, I would not be here today. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s like every joke you’ve ever seen about laying on the couch and talking about your feelings, and sometimes it’s like the goddamned Voight-Kampff Test. Today, I had a pretty harrowing session wherein I talked about writing and about how what a writer writes says a lot about said writer, including many things he may not know or would prefer to keep hidden. So that’s what we’re gonna talk about. (Note: This post is going to take some personal and, perhaps, dark turns. If you’re not interested, and I can’t blame you, please allow me to draw your attention to this hard-hitting expose of Wesley Crusher which is, without a shadow of a doubt, completely unsafe for work.)
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.
Welcome to Amalgamated Fiction – Detroit, Gentle Readers. What’s all this crap you ask? Well, let me lay it out for you. Motor City Gamewerks is gone. Like the grim, deadly foundries and factories from which I took my imagery for that site, it’s been torn down and replaced by a cleaner, more efficient, forward-looking site! Why did I do it? Well, read on.
So, yesterday I spent the day doing actual work to avoid blogging. Doing actual work to get out of doing fake work, what has become of me? Anyway, since I need to write about something to justify calling myself a writer, howsabout we talk about starting campaigns?
Well, well, well. It’s 2011! Did Santa bring you everything you wanted this year? New dice? Pathfinder books? A trip to the Mojave Wasteland, perhaps? It was a very nerdy Christmas at our house, with a lot of Ugly Dolls and plush Companion Cubes and giant squishy dice under the tree for The Kid, and new games and hardware for The Wife and I. There was a lot of eating and drinking between Christmas and New Years, including a White Elephant party we threw wherein I got a bacon scented car air freshener that smells like bac-os that were stored in an old boot for a year. Now it’s the first day of the first week of the new year and, well, it’s time to get a fresh eye on things.
On the other hand, it gets wearing after a while. Every GM who has ever sat behind the screen knows the feeling Gabe is talking about there in the first comic. The sinking feeling that comes to every GM at some point where it’s like pulling teeth to get up the energy to run the game and you feel like everything that was good and bright and hopeful at the beginning of the campaign is gone and there’s nothing left but aggravation and the feeling that not only are you bad at this, but you were never any good at it. I’ve never actually quit in a huff, or sent a hilariously damning letter to my players, but I’ve put more campaigns on “indefinite hiatus” than I care to think about. Sometimes I even pretend like I’ll go back to them some day, but we all know that I never will.
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.