Tag: rant (page 3 of 8)

Why I’ll Never Grow Up

Courtesy Hasbro

There’s a picture of me out there, and I wish I could post it here with these words. It’s of me, at around 8 years old, proudly showing off my Transformers backpack. Optimus Prime, in all of his 80s glory, is ready to stand up and protect my books and Trapper Keepers from anybody trying to subvert my freedom, which is the right of all sentient beings. I knew Prime wasn’t real, but I believed his philosophy to be true.

As you can imagine, I got bullied as a kid.

My peers made fun of me. I actually got beat up once. I probably caused concern from my parents at more than one point. Somewhere along the way I tried to dial down the behavior that was causing such strife, in the name of fitting in. I never really did, and the behavior remains to this day. At this point, it probably isn’t going anywhere.

These days, though, I wonder why ‘fitting in’ is such a big deal.

The people who we remember, the ones we admire, aren’t people who fit in. Galileo, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Nikola Tesla, Rosa Parks, Issac Asmiov, Gary Gygax – these are people who refused to fit into the molds cast by the world around them. They sought change. They embraced their natures. And we love them for it.

Why do we demand so much less of ourselves? Are we just lazy?

Let’s face it, fitting in it easy. It requires almost no effort. Just do what everybody else around you is doing. Buzz in time with the rest of the swarm. Contribute to the overall productivity that will bluesky that turnkey solution. There is no ‘i’ in team.

Because they’re all hanging out in imagination. Innovation. Initiative. Plenty of ‘i’s there.

The problem is that imaginative, innovative people might not always channel that energy effectively. There are lots of mixed signals out there that can muck up one’s internal compass. We look for immediate payoffs. Benefits with minimum investment. Bigger bang for our bucks. To get them, we settle. We compromise. We take the safe road.

There isn’t anything wrong with this, in and of itself. It’s good to have certainty. Especially if you’re in a situation where you need to concern yourself with the wellbeing of others as well as yourself, you need to find a middle ground between dangling by your fingertips and keeping your feet on the ground. The nice thing about not being alone in this is the potential for someone to watch out for you, or you for them, as you make your way towards that goal, inch by inch, one foothold at a time.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time building LEGOs. And not always with instructions. In fact, I probably spent more time digging my fingers into the big plastic bin, fishing out blocks and assembling them by the blueprints in my head rather than going by established plans. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that sort of initiative. I started doing what other people did and were successful at, rather than seeking my own path. I followed well-trod trails around the mountain, rather than looking up and figuring out how I’m going to get all the way up that thing. I’d take a few steps up the incline but then back down when it got hard, because those trails are much easier to follow.

I forgot what it meant to be a kid while still occasionally acting like one.

I’d lament lost time but not consider how better to spend it. I’d rage against my situation and take no steps to change it. I’d experience rejection and loss without using the motivation it was handing me. Kids at their best don’t just cry over scraped knees. They let the pain out, wipe their faces and get up to try again.

At some point, if you’re on top of things and really want to hold onto that initiative, you’ll fail enough that you’ll realize why you’re failing, and instead will begin to succeed. You can’t get there without failing, though. Learning to ride a bike means falling a few times. Ditto traversing the monkey bars. The first few sandcastles you build are going to crumble before your eyes, possibly before you even finish. What matters isn’t necessarily the scrapes, the bruises, the wipeouts. What matters is what we do after they happen.

It’s okay to fail. It’s okay not to fit in. We have to find a way to make the most of those failures, to make not fitting in matter. When we do, the successes mean more, not just because of the failures that lead to it but because we can take full ownership of it. We had the crazy idea. We stuggled to make it come to life. We were aware that we’d get odd looks and skepticism. We got to the finish line anyway, and something new and exciting is the result.

That’s reason enough to abandon the set paths. It’s why we remember those luminaries I mentioned. And it’s why, at this point, I’m probably never going to ‘grow up’.

Abandon All Hope

Courtesy despair.com

Once upon a time I wrote an article for an online magazine. It went over pretty well. The relationship I described therein has blossomed, and my wife and I work together on quite a few occasions to best the challenges of a particular game. I thought that might be worth writing about.

And then, along comes Chuck Wendig.

It was like practicing your kicks in the dojo and thinking you’ve got what it takes to achieve the next belt when this unknown guy smelling slightly of bacon and gym socks strolls in, crane-kicks you in the mouth, swipes your water bottle and walks out with your girl.

If you want to be a writer, you better get used to it.

One of the few things I carried with me from my brief stints of studying fencing & the martial arts (no, really) is that there will always be somebody better than you. Somebody will be faster, beating you to the punch. Somebody will have better, more powerful delivery. Somebody’s already hit the rhythm that’s been eluding you all the time, and once they’re in that groove they’re not getting out of it.

Because, in the case of writing, it’s going to pay them.

All writers deal with rejection, but on top of that is seeing other writers succeed. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s great for talented writers to be getting work. We know how much it sucks to go without food. Seeing people who actually know how to string words together feed their families on the power of their words is heartening.

It’s also saddening because we haven’t done it yet.

I was asked by a friend “How do you keep writing?” It’s a complex answer, and this is part of it. I’m motivated by ideas I want to put into words, by the notion of making a living with my chosen art instead of just living for it, and I want to be one of the people who actually makes it.

It might never happen. I may simply get one rejection after another until I’m laying on my deathbed still spinning ideas and outlining novels that will never get published.

But if I stop trying, I might as well ragequit now.

We can’t all be Chuck. We can’t just splatter gold onto the desks of editors and directors all over the place. And even if it looks that way, it probably isn’t. Every writer that seems to be effortlessly earning cash for words had to go through the same wringer of rejection and depression we are. And guess what? It’s persistence that got them where they are.

If we persist, if we work through those rejections and hardships until we finally get where we want to be, there will be other, lesser-known, unpublished voices looking up from their dayjobs and their pretentious little blogs wondering how the hell we make it look so damn easy.

How do I keep writing?

I see where I am, and where I want to be. There’s a gap in the middle that needs to be filled with words. They won’t always be the best words, or even particularly smart ones, but the more words that go into that, the closer I get to my goal. And yes, someone out there somewhere might have done what I’m trying to do better than I have. Then again, maybe my work will be just different enough to distinguish itself. As much as I admire George RR Martin, it’d be foolish for me to try and be GRRM. Same goes for Chuck, David Hill, Will Hindmarch and Marty Henley. They’re all great guys. And I can’t be them. I try to play in the same field they’re playing in, I’m likely to get blown clear out of the water.

I keep writing to carve my own niche. To push myself to stand out from the crowd. To become an author on my own merits, with my own ideas, distinguished in my own ways.

I keep writing because as much as the world is flush with stories, mine has yet to be told the way I can tell it.

And I keep writing because I have to. I’m compelled to. At least in choosing writing over heroin, I’m nowhere near as broke as I could be. And I’d be frothing at the mouth for reasons completely unrelated to my daily frustrations.

I’m not saying you should abandon all hope of succeeding, if you’re writing or want to be a writer. Far from it.

I’m saying you should abandon all hope if being able to praise a fellow writer without, to some degree, cussing incessantly under your breath.

Just remember: as much as your teeth might hurt today, tomorrow you might be the crane-kicker. Get up. Dust yourself up. Wipe the blood from your face. And keep hammering those words.

You won’t get anywhere laying there feeling sorry for yourself.

Opinion Is Not Fact

Straight from Tuchanka

Most individuals with a modicum of intelligence and self-awareness will tell you the truth, uncomfortable as it might be: Not everything you produce is going to be good. Even if the idea seems immaculate in your imagination, the transition between brain and mouth or fingers can dilute it somewhat. We have to clarify ourselves at times, in order to ensure we’re understood, meaning the way we initally articulated ourselves was imperfect. So too are our ideas: the perspective we have on the world around us, the stories we experience and the events of our lives is unique. We each have our own unique opinions and the Internet makes it possible for us to share, discuss and debate them. It’s this diversity that makes living with other human beings, at times, a wonderful experience.

At other times it’s grueling torture because some people don’t understand their imperfection.

You’ve seen these people. You’ve read their comments on forums, YouTube channels and Twitter feeds. Barely coherent, badly misspelled, over-abbreviated and wholly inaccurate ramblings that, when challenged, incite anger and accusations rather than honest debate. I’m painting with a broad brush here, but the sad fact of the matter is that the amount of hatred spewing from the mouths and fingers of the ignorant far outweighs the pontifications of people who actually have something to say and the means with which to say it to a large audience.

And when someone does gain a large audience, the arrogant and entitled flock to the outlet in question to make their voices heard, piggyback on success, do their damndest to outshine the reason they showed up in the first place.

I’m guilty of this behavior, if I’m honest. I’ve chimed in on the videos of those sharing their reviews, opinions and news readings not just to support their efforts but in an effort to promote myself and my work. I have to. If I hope to have any success in the mass market when it comes to selling fiction, I have to get used to the idea of selling myself through any means necessary. Now, I don’t post on forums or respond to tweets for this purpose alone. I’m not a SEO bot or a web marketer. But I’d be lying if I said I do what I do simply for the enjoyment of it. Even if it is a great deal of fun to talk about ways The Dark Knight Rises could go horribly wrong with twitter peeps (tweeps), it’s getting my name out and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What bothers me is the behavior of people who post their thoughts for the sole purpose of dissention and rabble-rousing. Constructive criticism is one thing, combative, racist or incendiary commentary is quite another. It’s rude, dickish behavior that can border on harassment in certain contexts, behavior for which you can be banned from whatever venue you were using to spew your ignorant bile. And yet, it persists. These people keep right on finding ways to annoy and harrangue, under the presumption that not only is their opinion the only correct one (arrogance), they have every right to voice it any way they wish to whomever will listen (entitlement).

Critical analysis and review is everywhere on the Internet. But you will never catch any such entertainer worth their salt telling you point-blank that they are 100% right in their opinion and everybody else is wrong. Go ahead and take a look. Yahtzee, MovieBob, SFDebris, Confused Matthew, Red Letter Media, TotalBiscuit, the Extra Credits crew – none of them end a discussion with “I’m right, you’re wrong, your mom agreed with me last night” in any serious discussion. Some of them may play this sort of thing for laughs, but even the most satirical and cynical of these folks are also intelligent enough to know that anything upon which they might pontificate involves the exposition of their own subjective views.

Sorry, that was a lot of big words. Put simply: None of these people believes they are a holy authority on anything they talk about. Yes, some of them are professional critics, paid to give their opinion based on the years of experience they have weighing objective and subjective criteria of various media, but each and every one of them are human beings, and human beings are fallible, subjective creatures. Yahtzee and MovieBob might not like shooters, but that doesn’t mean shooters are bad. People like those caricatured by MovieBob’s Anti-Thinker may consider retro games to be stupid, but them saying it does not make it so. These people I’ve mentioned know this.

It’s a shame a lot of the people who chime in on their presentations can’t have the same sort of self-awareness. And when you try to point out the flaws in their arguments, their mental couch forts repel your critiques with such eloquent responses as “NO U” or “COOL STORY BRO.” Just because your point of view makes more intellectual or logical sense doesn’t mean you’re going to win over the mistaken. Ours is a culture that nurtures the arrogant and entitled, and trolls of this stripe thrive in this culture, the pundits and politicians ranting on about rights and freedoms while these dregs emerge from under their bridges to tell you why your opinion sucks and theirs is The Truth. It’s a level of impenetrability to reality that would be impressive if it weren’t so pathetic.

I don’t know what I hope to accomplish by posting this, other than to bring attention to and underscore the causes behind this prevailing sentiment among the seething and apparently idiotic masses of the Internet. Because like any disease, the more we know about the causes, the better chance we have of finding a cure.

If one even exists.

Habits & Dreams

Courtesty despair.com

Some personal stuff related to writing and my life in general follows. Maybe this stuff will be useful to somebody else, and I apologize in advance if you choose to click the spoiler link and find the following text empty, useless or pointless.

There are some habits that are good to get rid of. Excessive drinking, smoking a pack of cigarettes that are more chemicals than tobacco a day, picking your nose or other body parts in public… You catch my drift.

There are other habits that one should hold on to. Keeping up on household chores, paying bills on time (if one’s economic situation allows), things of that nature. It can be a lot easier to fall out of these habits than it is to lose the habits that are bad for us, mostly because the more effort something requires, the less inclined we are to do them, especially if there’s a dayjob and other responsibilities involved. Firing up a game or watching a movie requires a lot less effort than washing the dishes or changing the car’s oil, after all.

But the more we put those things aside, the longer we stay out of the good habits, the worse things get. Detritus piles up, be it dirty silverware or engine deposits or recyclable waste. Then more effort than what should have been necessary is required to deal with that detritus, leaving us even more drained and less inclined to do the task on the following day. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, and it takes conscious effort to put a stop to it.

The habit of pursuing art is no differnet. Gone are the days when the artist could seek a patron as a source of income that kept them fed and clothed while they pursued their vision. Nowadays, to appease the exorbidant rates of utility companies and maintain even the most meager of households, one has to submit themselves to the will of a corporate or small business master. And while the cost of living goes up with shocking regularity, the salary of the day worker often remains the same. Make a single mistake, indulge in a single distraction, and you can expect nothing but disappointment if not scorn from those above you.

Thus it falls to the artist to engage in the habit of pursuing art in one’s spare time. The reduction of a life-long passion to the status of a hobby can be a crippling one. Your dreams limp along, gasping for air and vying for one’s attention admist distractions that require much less effort, input and time. After a long day of disappointment and doubt, a film or game or night out holds a great deal more appeal than even more disappointment and doubt, even if it’s in the form of something you love.

As my big sister was in the habit of saying, “Suck it up and deal with it.”

Without our passions, we’re nothing. We’re empty husks trudging from day to day banging away at insignificant tasks and spewing preprogrammed corp-speak jargon. Living that way isn’t really living. It’s existing. Amoebas exist. We should live.

I know it may seem like a lot of whining or grousing on my part but it’s been made crystal clear to me that I have once again gotten out of the good habit of seizing appropriate opportunities to write. It’s a habit I need to return to and this is my way of expressing that. Maybe somebody reading this will come to a similar realization and re-engage in a discarded good habit that leads them to freedom from a vicious cycle of depression and a dimishing self-image.

We, as individuals and especially as artists, are so much more than cogs in a machine, regardless of what anybody with a higher pay grade might say. It’s necessary for most of us to become a part of that machine just to afford a warm place to live and clean food to eat. But the machine need not be our lives. It doesn’t have to be our reason for being. There’s a reason people put faith in things that cannot be proven by science, other than ignorance or stupidity – there’s hope in the notion that there’s something more than what we see every day, because most of what we see every day can be pretty damn depressing.

I know I may never really succeed at writing. I know I may be doomed to working thankless, underpaid jobs for which I have little passion until my body begins to fail, my mind starts to unravel and all of the fire in my heart goes out.

That’s not going to stop me from trying, dammit.

I just have to try when I’m not getting paid to do something else.

Don’t Write So Close To Me

Courtesy whomever made Dune.
Feyd-Rautha will cut a bitch.

This was an image I originally hunted down for use in the potential video project of turning the IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! review of Emperor’s New Groove into an entry in the Escapist’s contest. However, it’s feeling more and more like I won’t have time to even think about seriously working on such a project. More to the point, to work on that project would take time away from the frustratingly gradual process of refining a novel to its publishable form. It’s been bothering me for days, sometime to the point that I can’t even stand to look in that folder’s general direction.

The query for Citizen in the Wilds has been the major struggling point for me. A lot of the sentiments and experiences I’m about to convey are going to feel like a pale echo of stuff that’s been said before and in a much better and more useful way here. And, at the expense of tooting my own writer’s war-horn, I’m making progress. I’m confident enough in my skills to say that what I’ve written (in the novel, mind, not the query, that’s still kind of meandering around) is good. I just worry that it isn’t good enough.


I feel I may be too close to it.

Hence the Police-flavored title. See what I did there?

Anyway, my big fear along with the usual little ones of not being good enough, smart enough, charismatic enough or prompt enough to grab and hold the attention of an agent is that I’m too close to the work. I’ll be looking for grammatical errors, hunting down darlings and re-examining passages with such myopic focus that I’ll miss some big glaring issue that will keep this from getting published. I think it’s part and parcel of being the sort of person who fixates on games along with being a general media sink: I’ll zone in on something of a particular interest to me, at times to the exclusion of all else. In other words, expect my blog posts to be a bit less substantial in content when Cataclysm actually releases, in other words, provided I haven’t decided to play through the Mass Effect games for the seventeenbazillionth time instead.

I’m wandering off my point again, but this is less of a coherent advice-focused blog post and more of a stream-of-consciousness infodump. I’m sure you’ve picked up on that already, and if you didn’t you’re either on some other, better-written site or looking up an old ICFN to hear me rant about how badly something sucks because we just don’t have enough Internet critics yet.

You do know you should avoid the fuck out of writers, right? Okay. Moving on.

My point is that I am aware of the fact that this myopia is a problem inherent with geeks in general, gamers in particular and me most of all. Compounding the problem is the fact that I don’t know what the Achilles heel of my own work is, because in the act of creating it I have inextricably put myself in very close proximity to it. I’m not about to run to the mountaintop declaring that the salvation of fans of high fantasy is at hand with this tome, fuck no, but I’m also not operating under the impression that it’s absolute shit. What I will say is that my goal is mostly to have it not be mediocre, the sort of easy-to-crank-out guaranteed-to-sell-to-morons schlock I’ve decried on many an occasion here. But my dilemma is while I strive to avoid those things that piss me off about said schlock, I may be writing a different kind of schlock entirely and not even really know it.

I can say “this doesn’t work and needs a rewrite” or “this is unnecessary and I need to bypass it before I take it out back and put a bullet in its brainpan.” What I’m struggling with is saying “Overall, this book is really about X in the context of Y but element Z undermines or detracts from that central theme or narrative throughline.” This is probably why the query is such a tremendous hurdle for me to clear. Ultimately I am unsure if the proper course of action is to hand it to someone I trust to read critically from start to finish or to put myself through the editorial process as many times as it takes, but the fact I can’t shake is that I might just be too close to it.

It’s a “forest for the trees thing.” I can tell this tree is an oak and that over there’s a pine, but I have no idea how big the forest actually is, how close the nearest river or roadkill-strewn freeway might be or how much (if any) of it is on fire because I forgot to stamp out my stogy properly and now HOLY SHIT IT’S SMOKEY THE BEAR AND HE’S PISSED OFF AT ME RUN JUST GODDAMN RUN. I wouldn’t see it coming. I’m nose-deep in bark and needles trying to get the sticky sap out of my beard and the sharp plantlife out of my eyeballs. I’m too obsessed with details to realize that the kind and gentle guardian reminding me that only I can prevent forest fires is only wearing that park ranger hat because he ate the last park ranger that trashed his woods.

I really don’t know how else to express this impasse I seem to have reached. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m writing this properly. I’m uncertain if I should be pestering those brave souls who’ve volunteered to test-read the thing to give me more feedback, or if I need to keep to the writer tradition of the bitter isolationist hermitage into the editorial chambers. And I remind myself that no matter what I do I’m likely to still receive a shitload of rejections long before I even remotely grab the attention of someone in a position to help me turn a hundred thousand words of fantasy fiction arranged in a particular order into something that actually pays my fucking bills.

I do this because I’m crazy. I do this because I hate myself. I do this because I’m sick of working dayjobs.

And, deep down, I do this because, frustration and depression and bad metaphors and all, I love it.

I just need to not be so close to it. Otherwise, I may lose sight of how good it actually is.

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