Sunday, 20 January 2013

Getting Things Done

So I have to write to make games happen. I also have to wrangle artists, go to conventions, convince local retailers to carry the books, keep track of expenses for my taxes, keep an eye on the forums, and also, attend my day job.

The good news is that I have a team that works with me on a lot of this stuff. My wife is also my editor and fellow salesperson. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend handle a lot of the online/publicity stuff, my friend Patrick is a professional copy-editor who edits and proofs my work, and I know a bunch of gamers who are happy to play-test my games and give feedback on how to make them better.

All of that stuff is great, but it is all predicated on one thing: I. MUST. WRITE. There is no way around it. I have to sit down in front of my keyboard and slam the keys until the jumbled ideas in my head become a semi-coherent stream of 10 point helvetica characters. I must do this until tens-of-thousands of words are typed and sorted and then split up into chapters, sub-sections, sub-sub-sections, sidebars and charts.

The problem is that writing, for me, is really hard. I am not exaggerating when I say the ideas in my head are jumbled. There are a lot of them in there, and some of them are pretty damn good, but they alternate between all wanting to escape at once, and all of them refusing to leave. They fight for attention and sometimes just give me a headache. I often find myself caught in what I call "cognitive loops" where the same ideas, images, or phrases repeat over and over agin inside my head. Trying to write out a cognitive loop is pointless, as the loops are abstract and lack structure, and have almost no bearing on what I am supposed to be writing.

So let's say I manage to get the loops out of my head for a few minutes, and I want to write. Well, let's see how many ways I can distract myself first: reddit, facebook, emails, playing with my daughter, TV, movies, making dinner, wikipedia, let's look for the perfect Youtube clip, now I will stress out about life for a few minutes, ooh cats, hmmm or I could put up a blog post. During my time in University I mastered procrastination, and I have yet to unlearn the skill.

Despite all of the crap in the last two paragraphs, at some point I obviously sat down and wrote. A lot. Edge was 250 000 words, and we cut it down to 180 000 before publishing, Remnants was a lot tighter, and clocked in at around 45 000. My sequel to Remnants, despite taking forever to write, will be a little over half the length of the original book. (hmmm, at this rate my next book will be a 2 page pamphlet) So, somewhere along the line I did a whole lot of writing.

So what do I need to write? I make a lot of barriers for myself (see above), but I found that a few things can come together, and the words just flow. They are:

Solitude - I need some privacy to really get writing. That means everyone at home but me is asleep, or I go somewhere alone like a coffee shop (does that make me a hipster? I think it does... I am ashamed) or restaurant. Perfect solitude doesn't seem to work though. If I am home alone and my wife and daughter are off visiting family, the words don't come. I have to leave the house and be in a public place to find the words.

Music - I was a teenager in the mid 90's. My youth was awash with bands like Nirvana, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, The Offspring, and Pearl Jam. I still listen to "alternative rock" and consider it by far the best writing music. Rather than spending time building the perfect playlist via file sharing or itunes, I just tune into the radio. Most radio stations stream their music online, so I just pick one and go. I recommend Kingston's 98.9 The Drive, Ottawa's Live 88.5, or if you must, Toronto's 102.1 the Edge. I am hesitant to recommend the Edge, as it's commercials include those for Spence Diamonds. Their announcer is the most annoying bastard on the face of the earth, and every time I hear a Spence ad, I want find all of their stores just so I can fire-bomb them (that was hyperbole, firebombing is wrong. Still, never buy Spence diamonds. Their ads are shit clogging up the airwaves).

Stress - This one is a little hard to define. I need to be a little stressed for the writing to work. I first noticed this when I was running games back in the 90's: I did all of my best work when I was miserable. Well, that wasn't exactly right. I did all of my best work when I was using gaming to escape the things in life that upset me. It's still true. The problem is that if I get too stressed out, then I can't concentrate, but if there aren't at least a few things bugging me, then I can't get the words out either. I guess in those cases I should just think about telemarketers, or religious fundamentalists, or that damned Spence diamonds bastard. Ugh, I hate that guy.

Anyways, assuming I get everything right, I can type thousands of words a day. When things aren't coming together I can go weeks or even months without writing a damned thing. To make matters worse, I set my own deadlines, so I can always just push shit back and encourage my own procrastination.

All of that being said, I swear: New Game. This August. It will be done on time and it will be awesome. There internet, hold me to it.


  1. I feel the same way about writing. It's almost as if you and I are connected somehow...

  2. Perhaps we are long lost relatives with, dare I say it, the same parents! Gasp.

  3. God, you hit the nail on the head. Spence Diamonds kills 102.1 the Edge. When the commercial comes on, I change the station. There is no helping it.

    I like KILO 94.3 ( from Colorado. They have a good mix and often play some Canadian bands. That's what I tend to play when I work on the computer.

    1. It' good to know I'm not the only one. Sometimes I am worried that I am alone in my hatred, and I am the only sane one left in an insane world that thinks that Spence Diamonds is somehow a good thing.