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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Consider Your Writer Talent Build Carefully


No no no. That's WOW.
My blog is WAW.
Totally different.
Wow...they DO sound alike when you just say them.
That never even occurred to me.
I used to be addicted to World of Warcraft.

Well, not addicted addicted. I could quit any time, of course. I wasn't like my friends putting in the hours of a full time job to be in a raiding guild. But it was my procrastination of choice when I was not writing papers for college that were due the next day.

One thing I noticed about W.O.W.'s talent point mechanic was how strangely like being a writer it was.

No. Really.

I should probably start with the USDA approved message to writerly folk that if you are serious about being a writer, one of the best things you could possibly do would be to take any Massively Multiplayer Online Games you happen to be subscribed to, place them into small box, and then place that box inside a bigger box filled with enriched uranium, and then take that box, put it into a rocket that is filled with explosives, and launch that rocket into the sun (or preferably another sun that is going supernova). Shortly after launch, you will discover you have the kind of time you always regretted not having before--time to read, time to write, and time to relax and just let your creative juices flow instead of saying, "Shit, I haven't done my daily fishing quests." (Because nothing says "fun game" like treating not-actually-fishing as a chore.)

Of course I stopped playing because Cataclysm sucked ass (and not in the way that makes someone go "Oh my god. I've never felt anything that intense!"). But let's pretend it was because I'm a disciplined writer who knew it was just going to be part of the price I had to pay, that I totally have epic mad levels of discipline, and I want to be a writer just that fucking bad.

Okay?

Are you pretending?

Splendid.

Anyway, this isn't about getting rid of WOW.  This is about how writing is often like WOW.

You mean you spend thirty hours a week doing it with nothing to show for it except some shiny pixels that make you think you're cool? 

Shut up evil italics voice!  No one invited you to this article.  No what I mean is that you have to decide carefully what kind of writer you're going to be.

If you've played WOW, or really any MMO, you know that your character fulfills a sort of "role" whenever you group up with others to accomplish goals.  (If you're an MMO vet, just bear with me through the crash course.) In most games you either take damage, deal damage, or heal. If you take damage, you have to be a big bad tough to kill guy with lots of ways to get monsters to attack you instead of the people doing the damage or healing--this person is called the "tank."  If you deal damage you have to be able to crank out attacks that can hurt but without doing it in a way that takes the monster's attention away from the tank. If you heal...well, you heal, but again, you don't want to heal TOO well, or the monster will perceive you as the bigger threat. You keep the tank from getting killed, and everybody else if you can.

Unless everyone else is too stupid to reign in their DPS and they end up with the monster's aggro. Then you let those fools die to teach them a lesson. Except that you'll get blamed for them dying if you're the healer. Everyone always blames the healer if they die.  Always.  Even if they literally jumped off a cliff into a room full of snake men like in that movie Dreamscape...on purpose. It was still the healer's fault for letting them die.

Off topic much?

I'm pacing myself.

In WOW, and most similar games, each time you gain a level, you get a point to spend on a "talent" that gives your character a little bit of customized power. If you spend enough talents (usually five) at one level of power, you gain access to more powerful talents.  These are called talent trees--because they look like trees....that are growing upside down.....with three or four long spindly branches....and....okay, they don't look anything like trees.

Are you going to tell us this metaphor, or just tell us a bunch of things that aren't this metaphor.

Shut up.

Anyway, when you buy these talents, you don't just buy some from here and some from there in a mishmash of grocery-shopping-esque "I'd-probably-use-that-eventually" kinds of choices.  You are shopping with a list that has the ingredients from the recipe, and no Ben and Jerry's--not even Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough goddamn it!--is going to deter you. You consider how to get the best talents for that "role" you're playing. You want to unlock the more powerful talents because they will make you better at your role, but you also want to make sure everything fits together with what you're trying to accomplish. And sometimes there are really great, awesome, powerful talents that you don't take. Not because they aren't great, awesome, and powerful, but because they just don't fit with what you are trying to accomplish.

Like if you're a damage-dealing character, and you need to crank out damage, you might ignore a talent that gives you more armor every time you get hit by a monster. It's not that armor isn't awesome. Armor is the enthusiastic oral sex of the MMO world: you can never get enough.  It's just that every talent point you spend getting better armor is a talent point you can't spend to do more damage.

If you pick the armor talent, you might have to skip the "Rip Their Face......OFF" talent.

Now here's the problem: people who want to hedge their bets take that armor talent anyway.  Then they become less awesome at their "role" of doing damage.  Sure, they can take a few more hits, but what they really WANT to be doing is more damage. They sacrificed their niche for something more jack-of-all-tradesish and now they can't do as well at their niche. The good guilds don't let them join. They get called noob. And none of the sexy characters who are just-like-a-hot-human-except-blue will go back to their starting village to take a look at their etchings.

We were promised some kind of metaphor or connective tissue with writing.  Did you forget about that?

Shut up evil italics voice.  I'm getting to it.

As a writer, you have to chose your focus wisely. You have a finite amount of time, and you probably have a finite amount of creative energy before you don't want to write anymore in a given day. You also probably have certain physical limitations like joint stiffness or eye strain. So it's important to think about the kind of writing you want to be doing and consider the "talents" you pursue.

You probably have a "role" you want to be writing in: "Fiction Author," for example. And sometimes it can be dangerous to think all writing is created equal and all avenues will serve you equally well.

They won't.

Sure, freelance work might be useful. Sure, a journalism degree might be useful. Sure offering yourself up for no-pay gigs that get you some recognition might be useful. Fanfic might be useful. Writing web content might be useful. Blogging for free for a big blog might be useful. Any of these things would develop skill sets you don't already have and teach you a thing or two about writing. There are lots of "valuable lessons" to be learned. Experience is valuable. But they are like that awesome talent point that doesn't fit with what you're trying to do.

Let me make this clear. It is not that these things are not useful. It's not that they can't help you be a better writer. It's that they take time and effort away from the one kind of writing you really may want to be doing.

While you're doing somebody else's Shakespeare homework or writing web copy for roughly 1 cent a word, are you missing other opportunities that involve the kind of writing you would rather be doing?

It's easy--all too easy--to take a job as a writer because....hey I'm a fucking WRITER! And then you look up one day, and it's twenty years later, and you're still on chapter six of your book because you come home at the end of every day from your "Fucking Writer!" job and the last thing in the world you want to do is write some more. You're probably a really good writer--twenty years of practice will do that--but eight hours a day is really about all you can handle. To make matters worse you might have a really specific style of writing at your "fucking writer" job that isn't helping you with the sort of writing you always dreamed of.

Oh and you're married with kids, so good luck trying to quit your "fucking writer" job to go make 8 cents an hour because you want to chase your dreams full time.

The same can be said of teaching writing. Just about every teacher I had at SFSU would rather have been writing full time. The same can be said for editing. The same can be said for publishing. Feelance. Techwriting. Whatever. A lot of writers get stuck in jobs where they thought they would learn something useful in a job that was close to writing, or "kind of creative," and they just ended up regretting how sidetracked they got.

I can't tell you how many writers I know who've told me they wished they'd just been a patent clerk or gone into construction so that they could come and not be revolted by the idea of writing for another few hours.

No one is suggesting you don't progress and develop, but the goal is to do so in a way that works you UP your skill tree, not to take every random opportunity because you might develop as a writer.  If you want to write about the robot wars on Khyron Beta Prime, joining a writers group for sci-fi writers two towns over (even though the drive is an hour each way) might be a better use of your time and effort than a paid internship at your local paper.

Disclaimer: If the kind of writing you're doing makes you happy, then you're not really stuck.  If you can make a lot of money writing, and come home and write some more, then rock, rock on! I know a tech writer who can demand some fucking serious money, and then does their fiction writing at night without missing a beat.

And guys....seriously...I can't stress this next part enough: if you got into something but then you found that it gave you a fulfillment in life that you ever could have expected, you've won the jackpot.

Really.

That's all we're really trying for in this life anyway, right?  If it turns out that raising a family brings you more happiness than writing eight hours a day in a boiler room apartment, then do that.

Do that!

Once you find something that gives you meaning, chase that motherfucker down and worry the shit out of it! A lot of people "want to be a writer" long after they actually want to be a writer just because that was their childhood dream, but they've long since found other aspects of life more fulfilling. I have found teaching more important to me than I could have imagined and I wouldn't want it to ever be completely gone from my life. My mother dreamed of being a published author when she was young, but ended up writing internal policy for a bank when she discovered what really brought her joy in life was her family.

Of course now she lives vicariously through you by telling me to write BDSM erotica, and not noticing that you take a shower with steel wool every time she does so.

Please shut up, evil italics voice.  Please...

This is why I often turn down certain kinds of freelance work or advice about where to find writing gigs. It's not that I'm too good for them. I certainly don't think they would be pointless or that I wouldn't grow as a writer from the experience.  It's just that once I've done web content for twenty or so articles, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have much trouble imagining how the 21st will go.  I want to write novels and mediocre blogs about the thing I love in this world.  I want that even more than Ben and Jerry's--even more than a scoop each of Peanut Butter Cup and Chunky Monkey.

Everyone has to balance their ambitions and hopes and dreams against the reality of their lives. If you're the breadwinner for a family of six, I'm not suggesting you quit your job to chase rainbows. But what I can tell you is if you want to be a writer of some specific kind, don't hedge your bets. Don't play it safe. Make every choice count and design your talents to be the best writer of that type that you can be.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting way of looking at it.

    ReplyDelete