The Game Developers Conference Online is being held this week at the Austin Convention Center in the heart of Texas. Oddly, I didn’t consider attending until a bunch of folks I know started posting on Facebook and elsewhere that they were going to be there and wanting to know who might be joining them. Upon seeing the long (and growing longer) list of friends, I decided I’d better get my act together. I registered yesterday morning and headed downtown to pick up my badge and start the schmoozing.
One of the first people I bumped into was my former coworker from back in the day at TSR, Inc., Zeb Cook. Zeb made a comment about already having con fatigue and I was about to crack a joke about how it wasn’t as easy as it used to be all those years ago at Gen Con every summer, when it hit me. It was the 20th anniversary of my first day of work at TSR. (Update: Not sure why I had a brain cramp, but it’s actually the 14th, not the 11th; but the point remains.) I had thought about it several times as the month approached, but it still sneaked up on me. As hard as it is to imagine, what’s even more amazing (and a little sad) is that I’ve actually now been gone from TSR/Wizards for longer than my tenure there. Where did the time go?
In any event, I spent a while reflecting on my time in the game industry and all the great people I’ve come to know as a result. Of all the terrific things I’ve worked on, whether writing, editing, designing, or just managing the process, none of that compares to the joy of calling so many of my colleagues friends. Despite the love/hate relationship that exists within the industry — with all of the cancelled projects, late payments, hiring and firing, and so on — it truly is a great big family, and it has shaped my life in untold ways.
Over the next few weeks, in honor of my 20th anniversary, I will share a few stories from my early days at TSR, something of a walk down memory lane for me that will (hopefully) amuse and delight you. But in the meantime, I just want to tell all my friends — old and new — I’ve met in the crazy mixed-up world we call the game industry, “Thanks. Your friendship means the world to me.”
Raymond Chandler once wrote, “In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.” Lester Dent, in his Master Fiction Plot Formula, wrote that, in the second 1500 words, the author should “shovel more grief onto the hero.”
In one of my writing groups, I have a friend who had been, until recently, struggling to stick with a particular project. She loved her story ideas and dove into them with gusto every time, but sooner or later, she’d get bogged down and become frustrated. As we analyzed the possible reasons behind this one night, hoping to shake her loose from her writer’s block, it became apparent that she was fighting her characters. Since she works in the computer-game industry designing games, she is very good at world-building, she told us, but it was something of a curse for her with regards to fiction, because she needed to know everything about all of it — the world, her characters, the plot — before she started writing. She was, she told us later, strangling her characters.
The rest of us in the group suggested various approaches to help her break free of this, but all of them had one thing in common: she needed to just “let go” and write that first draft, not worrying about how it all fit together, and then make it make sense later, during revisions. She tried very hard to adhere to this advice, but it was still a struggle.
Then, two things happened. My friend started attending a series of author gatherings called Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write (SDSU&W for short), and I made mention of Chandler’s quote (though at the time, I miss-attributed it to Dent). For whatever reason, the dam finally broke for my friend. She was able to shake herself out of her rut and begin performing what she calls “brain barf.” The environment encouraged her, because at these SDSU&W meetings, everyone visits for 15 minutes and then gets to work — no exceptions. It helped that she had others around her doing the very same thing she wanted to do — writing — but, she said, it also helped that I had given her the freedom to let the story tell itself to her, rather than the other way around.
By imagining two guys coming through the door in her story, my friend suddenly had liberated herself from the need to know how everything was going to work; she could just “take dictation” from the world and characters, letting them do their thing without her choke hold on them stifling the process. It was a glorious victory for her (she averages about 1k words on those nights and weekends when she attends an SDSU&W session now).
Every chunk of writing advice out there at some point or another boils it all down to, “just write.” But hearing it and understanding it, living it, are two different things. Beginning writers get caught up in the need to be good from the get-go, but writing is like any skill; you have to be bad at it initially and practice until you get better. No one picks up a guitar for the first time and plays beautiful songs; no one hits a baseball well the first time they hoist a bat, either. Why do we think that we should write beautiful and moving prose the first time we try? The first ten books you write are going to be crap; let them be, understanding that they’re equivalent to hours of guitar or baseball practice. You’re not wasting your time with them, just like you’re not wasting your time going to lessons or the ball field. But in order to practice writing, you have to be able to let go and have the story tell itself.
Even seasoned authors need to remember that the first draft is solely for the purpose of getting the ideas down and doesn’t even need to make complete sense. Just write it and fix it later. But if you’re still struggling to get past the need for it all to “work,” try moving yourself to unfamiliar territory (a coffeeshop or library), surround yourself with other people who are also writing, and best of all, when in doubt about what should happen next in your story, maybe two guys with guns should come through the door.
Things have been a bit crazy over the last year and a half, which was the last time I updated this blog. The best of intentions and all that. This is a fresh start. I have made a promise to myself to do a better job balancing the desire to post more regularly and the need to make sure it’s something worth posting. We’ll see how it goes. . . .
I’m still on the hunt for a job, and certain things have come to a head recently that make it all the more urgent that I find one. As a result, I recently completely revamped my resume. In doing so, I discovered a couple of things about both myself and the job-search dance that I hadn’t been fully aware of before.
First, while it’s hard for me to brag on myself — I’ve never been good at tooting my own horn; I’ve always lived with an attitude of, “stay humble, and if what you’re doing is noteworthy, the right people will notice” — I discovered during the course of reworking that document about my professional career that I’ve actually done some pretty cool stuff over the last 20 years. Yes, two decades’ worth of work does tend to make an impressive collection. Clarifying that collection was oh, so important to my sense of self-worth. I definitely needed that shot in the arm to get me enthused about hunting for work again.
The second thing I discovered was that my previous resume was woefully out of touch with the modern workforce. I was using a book that claimed to be all hip and caught up to today’s modern internet-savvy job market, but it was a deceitful lie. All of its suggestions were directly contradicted by good advice from a handful of friends who looked it over. Everything from the font to the use of bullet points needed to be changed. My resume was polished, thorough, and completely unsuitable. Everything was too long, too blocky, to rigid. It looked like an ill-fitting, middle-management suit. I realized in the middle of this overhaul that we now live in a society where everything is parsed down to the barest minimum of words. If you can’t say it in 140 characters or a hundred abbreviations, you’ve already lost your reader. So everything I had — everything — got pared down. I rearranged it, added a bunch of highlights and notable achievements at the top, and it looks a million times better.
So now I’m shopping it again, and already the change is notable. I’m getting more attention with it, more interviews set up. It’s night and day from before. And before was wearing me down, making me feel unbelievably unmarketable. Hopefully this one simple step will change everything. I sure hope so. Lots of things are riding on it.