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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. I wasn't like those guys in their parents' basements. I was a high class addict, you see. Avoiding ten page papers that were due in less than 12 hours...absolutely, but I didn't really have a PROBLEM.

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

No. Really.

Hear me out.

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......one that is going supernova).

You will amaze and astound yourself with how much time you have available for writing when an afternoon's session isn't interrupted with: "Shit, I haven't done my daily fishing quests yet." (Because nothing says "fun game" like treating not-actually-fishing as a chore.)

Yeah, me neither. So keep it down to a few hours a week and keep writing, kay?

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. Furthermore, let's pretend I haven't started back up in the last few months.

Okay? Are you pretending? Splendid.

Anyway, this post isn't about getting rid of WOW. You can face that demon on your own....or better yet with a group...or a raid......of demon hunters.

Uh, sorry.  Where was I? Oh yeah. 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 like WOW you either take damage, deal damage, or heal. (There are games with a fourth role called "support" where characters sort of swiss army knife what's needed in a given group and drop some sick buffs, but WOW isn't one of those games.) If you take damage, you have to be a big bad tough to kill guy with lots of ways to taunt the monsters into attacking 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 incompetent 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 even though they totally deserved it. Everyone always blames the healer when 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....into a fire...and pulled out their weapons so they would impale themselves when they hit the ground. It was still the healer's fault for letting them die.

Did I mention that I usually heal (if there's no bard class).

But really, "I can't heal through walls" needs to be about three times as big.

Off topic much?

I'm pacing myself.

In WOW, and most similar games, each time you gain a few levels, you get a point to spend on a "talent" that gives your character a little bit of customized power. Used to be there were whole trees where you had to buy somewhere between one and five talents to unlock something more powerful. (These days it's all streamlined and a little cookie cutter.) 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. 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. And no one will cyber them.

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 or "Journalist" or "Web Content Freelancer." And sometimes it can be dangerous to think all writing is created equal and all avenues will serve you equally well.

Yes, freelance work might be useful. Sure, a journalism degree isn't a waste of time. 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.

Just to be your-mom's-good-china-when-company's-coming clear. It is not that these things are not useful. It's not that they can't help you be a better writer. They just might be like that armor talent–that is to say they might be helpful but not necessarily helping you be the best kind of writer of the type you want to be. 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! Freeze frame Flash Gordon fist-in-the-air-jump!

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 pass up opportunities, 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! Too many people lose sleep over some unfulfilled desire just because that was their childhood dream, but they've long since found other aspects of life more fulfilling. 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–even good paying ones. 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.

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 that you can easily lose years because you went for that "armor."

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