Breaking In As An Editor, Part 2

It occurs to me that after Part 1, I still have more to say. Catch up here: http://writernextdoor.com/2013/08/22/breaking-in-as-an-editor/

So the first post was all about accepting the realities of the work, and if you’ve come this far, let’s go farther. Let’s talk practical.

Make a list. Here’s some things you’re going to need.

A Rate Sheet

You’re going to need to codify exactly what you do and how much it costs. It doesn’t have to be fancy or lengthy when you’re getting started. (Mine, when I started, was half a page) It just needs to detail what you do, an explanation of what that means if it’s unclear based on the name, and a rate. Rates are usually by the word, though you can also do it by the page. Just know that if you lay out a string of numbers, people are going to be confused, even if you put them in a table with headers.

Ryan Macklin, another editor whose blog (http://ryanmacklin.com) you should be reading, points out that you don’t NEED the rate sheet to start off, and for the first year I was working, I didn’t have a single sheet, but then again, I only had a flat rate ($40) for ANY job. Once I got my head out of my ass thanks to some very tough conversations with friends, I started taking things a little more seriously. The rate sheet helps, it’s a tool, and while you don’t need it if you’re going to only do one or two things, I have found it helpful to me, so I pass it onto you as something to try.

REMEMBER: This document gets handed to a potential client. Make it easy on them to say “Yes” to you. 

Note: My current “rate sheet” is 5 pages. But I’ve been doing this for a while and I offer A TON options for a client that even goes beyond traditional edits. Kickstarter consultations, workshops, query letters, tutoring … as I picked up and got comfortable with something, I added it to the rate sheets.

Note #2: To figure out your rates, pick up a Writer’s Market, there’s a chart in it. Price shop on Google (pretend you’re a client). Ask someone who used an editor what they paid. In gaming for instance, you’re going to get anywhere between .02 and .05 cents a word on average. Expect the lower when you’re getting started.

A Contract

Contracts will save your life. Need proof? Go here: http://vimeo.com/22053820

Build a blank contract that you can plug clients into. Make sure you have a section for a Kill Fee (the money you get paid if a project tanks before you’re done). Make sure you have a section that states clearly the schedule for delivery and the amount of money you’re receiving. Talk to a lawyer to help you out here. It’s not that expensive to have them sit down and walk you through this. And it will pay immediate dividends when you, uh, get paid.

Track Changes and comments in Word

Say whatever you want about Microsoft, get all smug about other software, and I’ll still be over here doing work. There’s a reason why it’s pretty pervasive. And we can either argue the merits of software, or we can focus on getting manuscripts edited and getting you paid.

The bulk of the work you’re going to do will involve comments in margins and in-line changes to text (deleting extraneous things, rewriting unclear bits). Word does this, writers also use Word, this makes sense. Again, the goal here is to create the best dynamic between you and the writer, not grouse over software and ideals. Do not over-complicate this process or relationship.

Dropbox or SpiderOak

You’re going to need a place to store the files that you work on, and be able to access them in a variety of ways. No, we’re not going to have a PRISM argument in this blogpost. Feel free to use whatever cloud storage tool you like.

Dictionaries, Grammar Resources, and Style Guides

I’m writing this post in an office where I have three bookshelves full of style guides, grammar books and dictionaries. There are four filing cabinets with copies of anything I’ve worked on, presented or referenced. I have all these tools at hand so that when I’m working with a client, I can immediately reference something that might help them.

REMEMBER: The goal is to help make the best manuscript as possible. If you have draw from a comment someone made to you in passing three years ago, if it helps, DO IT. 

(optional) Spotify

I use Spotify to keep me focused. For some people it may have the opposite effect. Be careful you don’t lose part of workday to playlist construction.

A Reward Structure

Let’s be honest. Editing thoroughly and quickly is my mutant power. Ask the people I’ve worked for, ask my colleagues, I don’t think anyone will disagree. And while I can attempt to explain how I do this (a three-dimensional, tag cloud-esque picturing of the complete and correct document in my head, memorized in chunks and reassembled on the page), this process is my own. You don’t have to go at my pace. You don’t have to work the same schedule I do. And there are times when you’re going to put in those crazy days over hellbaby projects. Reward yourself. Make sure you take time to have that bowl of ice cream, or play that video game, or go make out with your partner or something that feeds your soul. Sure it’s a job, sure it’s tough sometimes and it makes you want to bash your face into a wall of cheese graters and lemon wedges, but rewarding yourself, firing up the praise and encouragement engines, ESPECIALLY FOR YOURSELF, really helps.

Note: I suck at praising myself, and put far too much stock in the words of other people. Be better at this than I am. Pat yourself on the back, celebrate your successes across social media (if you tweet me, we’ll fistbump across the internet).

Will there be a part 3? Possibly. I still have more to say.

Breaking In As An Editor

DIsclaimer: I was incredibly tempted to put together a Breaking Bad-esque photo or title, because when I started writing this post I was half-awake and not very original. Also, “Editing Bad” is a TERRIBLE way to start a post.

At some point, every editor I know gets asked, “How did you get started?” and there are a lot of answers:

a) Network with awesome people

b) Offer to do things

c) Start editing for your friends and work your way up to larger things

etc. etc.

There isn’t one single path that we all take to become an editor. How I got to this point requires understanding more than a decade of office politics in and out of traditional publishing, followed by a lengthy explanation of my mentors and apprenticeships, and likely followed by therapy to help you process the ups and downs. Short version: The road was twisted, often unclear and sometimes with little appreciation.

But you, person reading this article, who may want to be an editor, don’t need to go through that. Which is good, since I don’t know if you want to go through what I did. Though now I’m at the point in the discussion where I have to ward you off this line of questioning. It’s not helpful and ultimately leads to such a place of comparison and judgment that you’re going to end up not reaching your own potential.

Here’s why – if we all have our different paths to becoming an editor, then how does know my path or his path or her path help YOU? The companies and individuals who gave us our chances aren’t going to give you the same projects to work on, and we can’t go back in time to a culture of writing and publishing. We can only go forward, and talk instead about what you CAN do, here and now, to get started as an editor.

I’m assuming, reader, that you’re looking at going freelance. If you’re not, and you want to be an editor in a traditional publishing house, your best bet is to jump on social media and apply for jobs. Also, break out some good clothes for the interview, and don’t eat anything the morning of that might spill or leave anything stuck in your teeth.

Potential freelancers, if you’re still with me, welcome to the wide world of risk. You’re about to jump out of a plane at 40,000 feet with a parachute that might not always open, with inconsistent oxygen reserves over a drop zone that may or may not be illuminated or even cleared of brush.

What do I mean? I mean you’re going to take jobs where people don’t pay, pay late, pay less than you’re worth, and treat your work like you’re harming infants and puppies. They’re going throw a ton of bad sentences, poorly developed thoughts and rambling text at you. They’re going to pin their expectations of super mega-stardom to your ability to make their shittiest draft into their best piece of work.

Still want to do it? You realize that you’re not going to get a lot of thank yous, that you’re going to be invisible when the writers, layout people, and companies get their awards, right? That while yeah, you can get your name in the first page of the book, that technically no one except you and the author are going to know precisely what you did, yes?

Still ready to do this? And you’re totally okay with the idea of hunting for work on social media, looking for prospective job opportunities anywhere and everywhere, and not being afraid to promote yourself?

Good. It’s time to start rocking and rolling.

To start, get your risk and your education on, not always in that order. I’m not saying you need to go back to academia, that you need a certain piece of paper on your wall, or that you need to suffer endless literature classes taught by bloviating people who haven’t actually written things. I’m saying you need to learn:

1) the difference between a copy, line and developmental edit

2) when each type of edit works best for a certain manuscript

3) (for game design) what a mechanical edit looks like

4) how long each of those things would take you, despite the distractions of life or any other jobs you have

5) the most efficient method for your own work – whatever your flow and pace might be

Here’s the good news: You learn all that through experience and exposure. And sure, yes, you can google the terms you don’t know, but if you go that way, prepare to find out that nobody agrees on the exact limits or scope of anything, so what one site or person calls a ‘copy edit’ someone else might call a ‘line edit’ and so on.

Here’s the other good news: Even though no one agrees on anything, there are still resources that can help you make sense of them. (Here’s where I get to brag) I teach a pretty kickass workshop on editing, and I will be holding a whole seminar on “How To Be An Editor In Game Design” at Metatopia. I’m not saying I’m the best resource for what is and isn’t editing, I’m just here to offer the tools as I understand them. And maybe that will give you a starting point to develop and improv your own tools.

Here comes the risk. You’re going to have to do your own thing at some point. Sure I can lay out a path, but it only goes so far. After a certain point, the “next step” in any process becomes “do it yourself”, and that can be discouraging and hard for people.

More risk ahoy. You’ll have to track down your own clients, which means mastering your own sense of business conversations and pitching your efforts to people. You’re going to have to make peace with the word, “No”, since you’re going to hear it a lot, either because you’re going to be new and people want someone more experienced or because when you quote someone a price, they’re going to likely have way less money available. Side note: Get used to hearing, “I’ll pay you after the Kickstarter” and “I can only afford to pay you XX cents per word, not YY.”

More risk. Make friends with contracts. Figure out your rates. Master kill fees and delivery schedules. Do this, while still getting the work done, still applying the best edits where appropriate and still marketing yourself to more people.

Want even more potential risk? Imagine doing all this while still holding down a “main” or “traditional” job. Let’s ice that cake with the idea that maybe you want to have a social life, time for any family, and maybe a chance to write your own things.

I’m not writing all this to discourage you. I don’t want you to be discouraged. I want you to be informed. Because we’re all in this together. And I love having editors in my rolodex, especially new editors, because I like being able to help people – both getting an editor a job, but also making sure an author gets a fair shake at getting their work out to the hungry public. Also, the more informed you are, the better I feel about name-dropping you when people tell me, “John, who else would you recommend?”

Let’s make sure your name gets on that list. Let’s do this. Here’s your fistbump.

What’s The Point of Editing?

Now I know I said on Twitter that I didn’t have enough gas in the tank to write anything, and then I got a few glasses of water into me and I perked up. Now this isn’t a GenCon post, that’ll come later this week, and this isn’t a Nazi cosplay post, because other people will handle that subject far more effectively than I will.

Instead, this is a post about the value of editing in the context of the production of a book. Now I’m going to focus on game design for this, because in that industry, it’s not always clear what exactly an editor does. And only recently (like in the last few months) have I really seen the majority of companies give measurable praise to their editors. Sure editors retweet writers’ links and maybe get a mention across 140 characters from time to time, but I think now is a great chance to wave our flag.

Not my flag. The rest of the blog, and my videos and my workshops all do that. I mean the overall flag for editors. Because we’re a part of the creative process. And even though the common practice is to bring us in AFTER the writing has happened, that in no way detracts from the work the writer did, or makes us anything more than a quick holding pen before layout and art get applied to a project. 

An editor should be invisible within the work. It’s not OUR work, it’s the writer’s, and all the Track Changes, in-line edits and margin comments should reflect our mission of clarifying, amplifying and creating a better vehicle for the author’s efforts. But invisibility on the page DOES NOT translate to invisibility in the industry. 

So many people, websites and companies think of the editorial process as “making things readable” which is about as accurate as saying painting is slapping colored goo on fabric or that website creation is just about using blinky text and mouse trails on Geocities. 

Is part of my job making things readable? Absolutely. Is that the entirety of my job? Not at all. Just like teaching isn’t just assigning homework. Just like cooking isn’t only turning on the stove. There are so many parts, so many different aspects and talents at play, that to broad stroke the editor is to denigrate, ignore and belittle their abilities. 

Writers: Editors are not your enemy. They are not there to screw you over, ruin your pretty book or make your life difficult. They’re there to make sure your words say what you mean them to say, so that not only can anyone read them, but also so that your ideas are shareable with others. They’re the antennae that broadcast your signal, boosting it out beyond just whatever’s in your head. 

Publishers: Editors are not some necessary annoyance. They’re not just some expense and roadblock en route to awards submission or production, and they’re not just a sinkhole for monies raised on Kickstarter or out of pocket. Just like art and layout, a book lives and dies by the edits, since without the words put into shape, no amount of fancy pictures or pretty font can rescue an idea that doesn’t make sense. 

Layout People: Editors are not there to ruin your great InDesign ideas. There is no cabal that meets regularly to complicate your talents, editors instead HELP you but making sure the whole overall book comes together. We trust you to do the visual aspects, we want to make sure all the pieces tie together. When words marry well with visuals, everyone wins. 

Project Managers: Editors are not ‘that annoying email you have to send before your workday ends’. We’re the caretakers of the words after they leave the writer’s fingers, and the speed with which we can move a project along only makes your job easier. 

But, you say, what exactly do you do? You go further and say: But you’ve said you just open Word and track changes and delete things, how is it anything more than just making things readable?

Let’s suppose you have an idea for a game. Let’s suppose this game has to do with corn. Maybe it’s a game about farmers growing the most of it. Maybe you have a dice pool or dice gathering mechanic. Maybe you have a trick-taking card game. Maybe it’s a free-form LARP experience (I’d so call it, “Sweat of Your Brow“). How quickly and efficiently can you tell me about it? How fast can you hook me? How well are you going to engage me so that I pick up your game when it’s put next to other games that maybe I know more about? 

If I pick up your game and thumb through the pages, or read the back of the box, am I going to get the same sense of passion that you have when you talk about it at a booth? Or am I going to be excited as you were on those nights you had brainstorm after brainstorm to develop it? 

If you want me to be, get an editor. Get someone who will take your ideas, take your wild field of thoughts and prune them down. Get someone who will hone them to a sharpness that only increases your excitement. 

You can be as chaotic and unrestrained and unsure as you want. You can be scared and vague and wordy and stumbly and all ninety shades of confused about what the process from idea to item is. You can be barely scraping by or armed with a thick bank account. You can be a total novice or an experienced hand at this. 

But get an editor. 

And once you do, treat them well. I don’t mean treat them like they’re a fragile snowflake in a world of fire, I mean don’t overburden them. Trust them to do their job. Let them talk to your layout person. Let them talk to the writer. Let them apply their talents at word-craft, organization, and yes, readability, to make your creation the best it can be. 

Pay them what they’re worth. Pay them their rate, pay them on time and pay them without complaint or preamble. If you like their work, bring them back for future projects. If you don’t, thank them for their efforts and look elsewhere. No, you don’t have to tell them they’re bad at their job, or that you could do better for cheaper, because frankly they’re not bad at their job, and no, you couldn’t do better for cheaper, because unless you’ve got the same background and experience that we do, unless you’ve worked in as many situations as we have and on the variety of different books we have, you have ZERO leverage in this case to say you can do a better job. If after all this, you still think you can do a better job, I look forward to you telling me you can perform better organ transplant than a surgeon or make a better dinner than a French chef. 

We provide a service. You, as a creator or publisher, may not approve of every part of the service, or like and agree with every comment and suggestion, but there’s no denying that without us, even if you capture lightning in a bottle and wow a lot of people with a brilliant idea, no one wants to endure a poorly developed and poorly laid out explanation of that idea. 

We deserve recognition. We deserve, frankly, an award, (which means an editor should be judging things) and we deserve as many thanks as the writers we help. 

That’s what editing does. It teaches. It helps. It informs. It clarifies. It enlightens. It makes things better. 

How is that not worthy of recognition? How is that secondary to anything else? Aren’t we all working TOGETHER to make great and awesome things? 

The Other Pre-Convention Checklist

GenCon approaches, and so many of us are counting the hours until we squeeze into crowded hotels (let’s all take a moment to mourn the fact that I’m not in a penthouse this year), see friends we’ve not seen since last year and spend days indulging our gaming desires and for some, our professional pleasures. 

This is also a great time for blogging, since you can easily put together a post or two about not being a jerk, or being respectful to others, or (my actual favorite) reminders to bring good toilet paper. Those sorts of posts are by this point obvious and that isn’t what I’m writing today, although you should totally use good toilet paper every chance you get. 

Today I want to come at this from another angle – the anxious, mood-swingy realm where you don’t measure a convention by the number of hours you stayed awake or the number of dice thrown, or even the number of cocktails ingested, but rather by the number of triggers avoided, situations managed and care taken. 

For me, any convention where I have to travel more than fifteen minutes from my bedroom (which to date means Gencon, and this year, WyrdCon so far), is a huge test and obstacle course I have to navigate. Everything about the convention, starting from today when I’ll pack a suitcase to next Monday when I board a plane to come home, pushes, abrades or challenges me. I’m going to break down my whole mental checklist and thought process, speculating where I can, and give you a little insight into what sort of things may roll through the mind of someone else. Be aware that my process on this isn’t your process, and that I’m not speaking for anyone other than myself. 

Tuesday

Packing. Do I have enough clothes? Maybe I should get a bigger suitcase, but then I’ll definitely have to check it. And there’s still a chance my suitcase would get lost. Are my pills counted out? Do I have all the chargers I need for everything? I know I just checked for the fifth time, but check again, I’m not sure. 

The Carry On. Do I have all the paperwork I need? Do I have the badges and lanyards? What about the tickets? Am I going to be able to fit the keyboard in the bag? I put my pills in here, right? (This often leads to packing and repacking the bag right up until I go to sleep)

Wednesday

Pre-Flight. Am I going to be late? Have I printed multiple copies of every bit of paper I need? Do I have everything? Do I have enough time to check? How much should I eat? Should I tell the dog I’m going? What’s the easiest clothing to wear to expedite airport security? Do I have a pack of gum? 

Flight. I hope I’m on the right plane. What’s that sound? Are planes supposed to make that sound? I wish I had someone with me. Yeah, I need a companion. I know, I know, even the Doctor travels alone sometime, but companions make this sort of thing a lot easier. Is the stewardess giving me dirty looks? It’s because I’m wearing a t-shirt, right? Maybe I’ll just read my book.

Airport. Okay, did they lose my luggage? What would I do if they lost my luggage? Last year I took that bus thing. Where the hell did I get on it? Did I pay the guy? Am I on the right bus? 

The Hotel. I hope they have my reservation. I cannot wait to put all this shit down and catch my breath. I wonder if I can upgrade to the penthouse? Should I ask? Will the lady behind the desk laugh at me? 

Food & Friends. I should eat something. I wonder if anyone wants to eat with me. Where would we go? Why am I over-thinking this? I wonder if the other people can sense how alien all of this is to me? Should I say something? Where can I get some comfort food to calm down? 

Sleeping Arrangements. There are other people in this room. This is weirding me out. I mean, I know they’re my friends and all, but like, they’re right on top of me. It’s okay, just be cool, Think about goldfish or flowers or … okay, don’t think about how lonely you are, yes, even in a room full of your friends, late at night, in the dark … go back to flowers.

Convention, Day 1

Morning. Okay, did I take my pills? How can I adapt my morning routine to account for other people? Should I get up and out of the room earlier? Should I just sit-slash-lay here and wait for everyone else to get moving first? Maybe I shouldn’t adapt my habits. 

The first panel I’m attending, but not leading. Have to remember that the spotlight isn’t on me, and I’m going more to support my friends than hog attention. What if they give me a shout-out, does that count as a chance to say hello? Maybe I should duck out? Holy shit, how many people are they going to put in this room? These chairs could be more comfortable. Can anyone tell I’m rehearsing my own panel while I sit here?

My first panel. Okay, this is it. First panel I’m doing at GenCon. I feel like there should be photographs. Alright, don’t go down that mental road … stay focused, but yeah, that thing that happened did suck. Okay, back on point. You’re going to swear, often, is that going to weird people out? Why the fuck do you care? I mean shit, I have an hour, do they really need the whole saga of John? is this about me or about the conversation. Be proactive, find the solutions. If this panel leaves me mopey, what’s my plan? 

The rest of Day 1. Self-care, stat. Fire up the encouragement engines. Engage the supportive statements. Celebrate the fact that I just spoke in front of people on a much more visible stage. No, do not go to a bar to celebrate this fact. Have some water. And walk. Walk off the energy. 

Convention, Day 2

The big panel. Having already done this once, this one should be easier. No it doesn’t matter how detailed I get, the goal here is to convey information. Be the lens, show the material, answer questions. Rock and roll. 

That hour break between panels. EAT SOMETHING. Make smart choices. Breathe.

Panel #2. Okay, this one is easier. Just talk. Just share my experiences. No, don’t worry about anyone digging it, I’m here in this moment, for me. Rock and roll.

The rest of Day 2. More self-care, yo. Bonus points if I can spend time with friends who make me extra happy.

Convention, Day 3

One more panel. Alright, by this point, seriously, if I can’t manage my favorite kind of panel with my eyes closed, I totally need to rethink things. Go kick this panel’s ass. 

The rest of Day 3. What the hell else am I supposed to do? How about some self-care and generally bohemian and vagabond ways? I wonder what my friends are up to? 

Convention, Day 4

Awesome, a whole day without responsibilities. I can just lounge. 

At some point. I should start organizing my return home. 

Monday

Check out. Oh, god I hate check out. And my flight isn’t until later. What the hell am I going to do? Where am I going to go? Should I just wait at the airport? Do I have everything out of the room? 

Flight. See above flight.

And for some reason, even after all this, I still want to do it again, and soon. 

Some Notes

[1] The best way to find me, assuming you don’t have my number to text me, is via Twitter

[2] If you do have my number and you’re at the convention – No, don’t call me. Well, try not to call me, since the likelihood of me being able to hear you on the phone in a crowded of people is limited. But if it’s after hours, call me. 

[3] I will absolutely and categorically be transparent about my moods, my feelings and my current state whenever you find me. Do not be afraid to ask.

[4] I love you guys, you’re beautiful, you’re awesome, and I cannot wait to see my friends. 

Talking To/At/With Professionals

Good morning everyone. Are you enjoying your Friday? Want to talk some business? Like real talk, I don’t mean that sort of schmaltz that people pass around at cocktail parties about the weather or whatever generic news event has most recently happen. 

I mean the sort of conversation you have with a few friends when you’re too embarrassed or ashamed to ask because you don’t want to appear stupid or like you’re not in the know. Yeah, let’s have that kind of conversation. 

No, I’m not going to judge you if you don’t know about this stuff. And if you do already know this, how about a refresher? Everybody help each other out, because there’s ZERO reason we can’t all benefit, right? I mean, unless you’re a dick or something, at which point you’re going to blow off what I say and likely not be someone I’d have a conversation with anyway.

Today, let’s look at the different ways you can encounter professionals in the wild. GenCon is fast approaching, and that means if you’re a fan of gaming and nerdery, or if you’re in the industry, you get a chance to converge on a convention center for a few days and interact. I’m going to split this into two sections, first for Professionals and then for Not-Yet-Professionals. And yeah, that’s how I divide everyone up in my head. 

Professionals

Talking TO Other Professionals – Be respectful. I cannot stress this enough. They work just as hard (maybe harder, you don’t really know, no matter what you can glean from social media) as you do, and even if you don’t like their products, you’d want them to be nice about your work, right? Respect the efforts of others, even if they’re divergent or in some kind of competition with yours. There’s plenty of room at the table of awesome. 

Talking AT Other Professionals – When we talk “at” someone, it’s a very one-way event. The speaker is giving the recipient an earful of words, either knowledge or opinion, vitriol or compassion, but either way, it’s not a two-way street. This infodump may even be well-intentioned, but ultimately this is a lecture. 99% of the Professionals I know in this (and other industries) are adults, and I don’t know if you know this, you don’t have to lecture adults. Like ever. You can be stern if a few work for you and they screw around, but you do not talk to an adult like they’re a child who just spilled nail polish on the carpet to spite you. 

Talking WITH Other Professionals – Here’s the equal footing. You can share your ideas, your words, your thoughts. Then you receive other peoples’ words, ideas, and thoughts. I don’t mean you just wait impatiently for another moment where you can talk, I mean actually LISTEN to what they’re talking about, empathize, sympathize and understand where appropriate and (gasp!) maybe you’ll make a new friend or contact out of this meeting. 

Some points to remember:

1. Professionals are busy. They might not have the same schedule you do (if you’re going to assume anything, assume they don’t), and just because you have ten minutes to stop and chat, they likely don’t. But you CAN make plans to meet later, when you both have time. Just don’t be a bully about it. Work it out. Remember, you’re a Professional, and you can totally act like it. 

2. Business cards and a pen will save you from being lost in the shuffle. Especially true at conventions, people swap business cards with alacrity and ease that can make your head spin. Make sure that if you do set up a time to meet (and you don’t straight up put it in your phone – see #3) you scribble the note on the back of your business card when you hand it to them. 

Note: Even if someone swears up and down they’re going to meet you somewhere, especially during a busy convention, understand that plans change. They might get pulled away at the last minute, they might forget entirely, they might, for whatever reason, not be able to make it. This does not make them assholes, douchebags or fuckwits. Conventions are as much a social excursion as a networking one, and you should not begrudge someone for being on their grind. (Or hustle, if you’re more familiar with that one)

3. Have a phone? Use it. If your conversation goes well, and you want to make more-than-flimsy plans with someone, put their contact info in your phone. I’m not saying text this person at 3am when you want to talk about something or ask them if they know any people who can loan you some firearms before the zombie apocalypse, but there’s an extra bit of “hey, take me seriously” if you can drop them a thank you note hours after you meet them. And if you’re going to make those plans, USE A CALENDAR AND/OR SET A REMINDER. This way, you have a reminder of what to do later so you can avoid confusion. 

NOTE: What does a thank you note look like? Here’s what I used at Metatopia years ago: 

[FIRST NAME OF PERSON I MET], I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet me today at [LOCATION WHERE WE MET], and wanted you to know that I hope the rest of your convention is a fruitful and enjoyable one. [REFERENCE TO SOME PART OF THE CONVERSATION WE HAD], Thank you so much for the pleasure of a conversation, I look forward to the opportunity to have another with you in the future. 

All my best,
[YOUR NAME HERE]

TEXT MESSAGE VERSION: [NAME OF PERSON YOU MET]. It’s [YOUR FIRST NAME], and Just wanted to tell you that you’re awesome and it was great speaking to you today. Hope we get a chance to talk again soon. [YOUR FULL NAME, UNLESS THEY HAVE IT IN THEIR PHONE]

Naturally edit those as you need to, but I can attest to the fact that thank you notes in some form or another play a HUGE part in making good first impressions. 

4. Not everyone is going to like you. Not that they’re going to be jerks to you, but not everyone needs to be your dear friend in order for you to have a good experience somewhere. Some encounters will go better than others, and by all means celebrate the good ones, and DO NOT (under ANY circumstances) publicly and vocally gossip or vent about the bad ones. Do not jump on social media to trash someone else, especially during a convention unless absolutely thermo-nuclearly necessary to call out the absolute worst behavior, practices or events. Like if Company X was murdering children or Company Y was picking fights with every woman or something. You know, the really extreme stuff. The 1% of the 1% of the 1% of things that can happen during an interaction. 

Not-Yet-Professionals

Hi. If you’re not already a Professional in this industry (I’m framing these examples as pertains to GenCon, so I’m talking about gaming, but this stuff applies for other industries too), then I’m assuming you’re at the convention because you’re a fan of the Professionals you’re meeting, or that you’d like to BE a Professional one day or both. 

Things aren’t that much different for you than above, but there are some changes you can make.

Talking TO A Professional – Absolutely, positively, without fail, be respectful, polite and courteous. No, it makes ZERO difference who the Professional is, what gender, race or persuasion they are, if you want to make a good impression, treat everyone like they’re the parent of the person you’d like to spend the rest of your life with. Give a damn about your manners. 

NOTE: While yes, so many meetings are essentially interviews for future opportunities, please don’t freak yourself out by thinking you’re not allowed to say “Um …” or “Uhh …” if you’re nervous. Be your best soon-to-be Professional self. Nerves are okay, if you own them,

NOTE #2: That initial first meeting, the one that will likely occur in a hallway or at a booth in a loud and crowded Convention Hall? THAT ISN’T THE PLACE TO PITCH THEM YOUR SUPER AWESOME IDEA FOR A NEW PRODUCT. (see below)

Talking AT a Professional – Avoid this at all costs. Particularly true when in a crowded Convention Hall, when there’s a group of people clustered and bottle-necked possibly waiting for signatures or purchases, that’s not the moment you need to tell the person in the booth about your character or campaign. Yes, even if it’s their game. Even if you like, totally love it. Do not monopolize their time. Do not be a black hole of self-absorption. Know when you’ve said all you’re going to, and know when to move on. 

NOTE: Pro-Tip – If they walk away or say, “I’ve got to go handle something else …” or something like that, it’s your cue to leave.

Talking WITH a Professional – Okay, I know you’re about to tell me that you’re not a Professional yourself, so how can you possibly be on their level? And I see what you’re saying, but hear me out. If you want to get on that level, start acting like you’ve been there before. Mind those manners, put together a good appearance (yes, put on the nice outfit if you’re purposefully intending to make that good impression), and be respectful and organized in your actions. You can do this. It’s not hard to “break in”, and there’s a lot you can do (like thank you notes) to rock peoples’ socks off. 

Things to remember:

1. You are not a special snowflake. Yes, you might totally want to be the person who says, “Industry Person X is going to have a drink with me!” and let me tell you, it is pretty cool to have a drink with Person X, but that’s because I’ve known X for years. A lot of Professionals just aren’t going to have a drink with you. There’s a few reasons for this:

a) They don’t know you. You might actually be planning to wear their skin as a bathrobe. Or you might drug them. Neither of these things are cool. 

b) They are busy. See them in a booth? See how hard they’re working? Now multiply that by everyday and by at least six hours. Then remember that they have other things to do when they’re not in the booth and they likely have people they want to meet. Where are they going to carve out ten minutes to share a cocktail with you? 

Also, you’re not the only person they’re meeting today. After five-plus hours of glad-handing, people all sort of blend together. 

NOTE: Not all of us glad-hand. If you’re going to meet me, I’m not shaking your hand. I can count on a hand and a half, the number of hands I will shake at GenCon, and likely follow these actions with sanitizer, likely even during the conversation post-shake. Because seriously, I love my friends dearly, but germs and anxiety and paranoia. 

2. Do you have a business card or something with your contact info written down? Good. IF things in your interaction go well, then proffer this information. DO NOT FORCE IT. Also, do not expect a response. (Unless you break out the thank you note from above, then maybe you’re helping your odds)

3. Ask questions. Seriously. Ask not so much about their individual stories, especially if they’ve been told before, but ask pro-active questions. Questions like:

[1] How would you recommend I start doing [WHATEVER IT IS YOU WANT TO DO] and who are one or two people I could speak with, ideally at this Convention, who could help me? 

[2] Has working on [WHATEVER THEIR MOST RECENT PROJECT IS CALLED] taught you anything new that might prove helpful or interesting going forward to your next efforts?

[3] What mistake(s) should I effort to avoid making, what’s the number one red flag big, giant pitfall I need to not step in?

And when all the questions are done, make you thank the person for their time, wish them appropriate luck if their products are up for any awards and hope they have a good convention. Then wait a little while, and write a thank you note. 

Closing Remarks

Look, if you’re in the industry and want to get further in, proactivity is your friend. Healthy conversations, good application of boundaries and questions, open compassion and discussion … all these things are going to serve you well, and make your already awesome experience even better. 

If you’re on the outside looking in, all those things are going to help you leverage yourself, if not catapult yourself past the barrier you really think is there (but isn’t). 

You got this. You’re awesome. 

Assuming I’ve got some energy, there will be video later this afternoon.

And there will be a blogpost on Monday before I leave for Indianapolis. 

Have a great weekend. 

“Still here.”

So the title of today’s post is a reference to a line in my soon-to-be-released book The Kestrel Soars, said by one character to another as a way of expressing solidarity after a particularly gruesome scene. I remember writing a draft of that scene instead of figuring out a way to kill myself about two years ago. It seemed less taxing to write than to die. Also, I was pretty sure I couldn’t screw up writing.

Today’s my birthday. I don’t know if you’re supposed to blog or really do any work on your birthday, but I wanted to express myself. 

Birthdays are notoriously hard for me. I have to endure really boring phone conversations from distant relatives I never see and pretend like I’m not even mad that they find a way to mutate a conversation about my birthday into some lengthy diatribe about their own gossip or social lives. I spend a lot of time looking back, reflecting on where I’ve been and what went on before, and not nearly enough time looking forward. I find myself looking at what I don’t have, at who or what isn’t around me, and it used to send me into such spirals that every year from about age 17 until even two years ago, I spent a couple hours debating quite seriously whether or not I was going to kill myself.

Let’s talk about last year. Last year at this time (8:23am at the time I type this sentence), I was carefully and nervously cutting a sandwich in half to pack in a little tupperware, since I was still in treatment, and I remember my biggest hope of the day being whether or not the cute blonde woman would sit next to me, so that I wouldn’t feel alone. I don’t remember if she did or not.  I spent seven-plus hours on my birthday last year talking about my feelings, talking about how lost I felt in the world, and talking about how I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I got out, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. 

And so began a streak. One birthday in a row where I didn’t plot my own demise. One birthday in a row where I didn’t think I was too terribly worthless. Only mostly, but on my way to at least being average and acceptable.

That streak continues. This is my second birthday in a row where I don’t have any plans or thoughts to die. If you’re going to throw a party for anything, let’s celebrate that. 

Sure, it can be tempting to look at my life right now and see what I don’t have – I’m single and without kids, I’m not living in either a New York brownstone or a farmhouse on the southern coast of Spain. I’m not internationally known (despite any ability to rock a microphone). I don’t have thousands of dollars of the most high-tech equipment and software to create a media empire. I don’t speak in front of thousands on a regular basis and my name isn’t out there on everyone’s tongue.

But look instead to what I have done in a year.

1. Spent a whole year stable. And while there were some moments where I was down, I didn’t stay down. And while there were some moments I was up, I didn’t stay up. This last year was the first year I can ever remember so clearly being even-keeled, and that means so very much to me. 

2. I learned how to trust myself. It’s a funny thing about being so incapacitated by your own mind – you don’t know what’s always real and what isn’t. Whether a delusion, a hallucination, an obsessive thought or whatever, you do a lot of second guessing. Did that person just look at me funny? Are they going to yell at me? Is there someone hiding in my closet? Is the reason why that person isn’t calling because they know I’m ugly? With the cobwebs and fog cleared away, I have a much firmer and more accurate sense of what’s going on. I can’t say it’s a perfectly tuned sense, but it’s way better now that I’m not living in constant fear. 

3. I learned to be okay by myself. Look, I loved and lost. It hurt then, it still hurts now. But at the same time, it put a thermonuclear fire under my ass to run towards the scary things, and take those steps that I have been all talk and no action about. For years I dreaded being alone, either because I was afraid I’d give into the thoughts and voices in my head and kill myself or because once I became alone, I’d stay alone. That hasn’t been the case, as I’m really enjoying the combination of times when I stay in with the times I do go out, even to things as benign as weekly game group or trips to find new places to eat. 

4. I learned that I’m not an awful guy. With all the looking back I did, there’s immense loads of shame, guilt and embarrassment. Recounting stories to friends, even though I can laugh about some parts, still leads me to cringe at others. Yeah, I did say that to a person. Yep, I did totally flake on that. And yes, I was a total asshole sometimes. The fact that these events were three-plus years ago was irrelevant, because I hadn’t forgiven myself, and felt that saying “I was sick.” was more a cop-out than a reason. It has lead me to not really knowing or liking myself as a result. So I’ve spent time finding myself out. Figuring out what I like and what I don’t has been a marvelous experience, and I can absolutely say that I’m not even the guy I was at the beginning of the summer. I haven’t yet reached the point of saying I love myself, but I am at least into liking myself. And I never thought I’d be there. 

5. I’m pretty sure I’m not at the top of my game. Professionally, I have busted my ass this year. The list of books, games, projects and scripts I’ve worked on this year is star-studded and the longest it’s ever been. I’m at a point where I’m no longer afraid to check my balance at the ATM, and I’m no longer worried about paying a bill on time. I might not yet be a master of the budget spreadsheet, but I have certainly taught myself more business in the last year than I ever absorbed before. No longer passive, I got to push myself, and I’m pleased with the results. 

But I can see where I still have room to grow. And which scary things I can still run towards. And that I can make the big moves on the chessboard and really do some amazing, wonderful things. I’m a relentless self-improver and even though I did a lot this year, I can say with zero doubt that I haven’t even begun to kick the kinds of ass I know can. 

So, it’s been a big year. I leave for Indianapolis in a week (in fact, a week from right now I’ll be at the airport), and a month after that I’ll be in California for another convention. There are HUGE announcements to make in the next few weeks, things I didn’t even know were possibilities last year. 

I’m proud of myself. I don’t pat myself enough on the back. I don’t celebrate myself enough. I’m not wired to accept credit for things directly, though I’m pretty quick to say I helped someone else. 

But this is my day for patting myself on the back. For being okay with doing great things and having greater things on the horizon. Does it feel weird? Damn skippy it does. But I’m doing it anyway. I have no idea if I’m doing it “right”, and I don’t really care. 

Because I’m still here. 

The Sounds of Writing

One of the websites I regularly check out has this allegedly retro habit of queuing up music that auto-starts the minute you open the page. Sometimes it’s subtle nature sounds that you don’t really notice until a bird squawks, other times it’s a raging sitar solo that sounds more like someone being beaten to death with a vacuum cleaner full of bagpipes. I’ve gotten better at catching it before it gets past the first note or two, but it’s a nuisance when I’m trying to read about whatever the topics of the day are. 

It did get me thinking about my process. I’ve talked about it before (http://writernextdoor.com/2013/07/25/my-work-process/) , but there’s one part I sort of glossed over. 

I listen to a LOT of music. Often it’s the same song over and over, which I can’t imagine is a shock to people who know I’m a huge fan of structure and can be mercilessly stubborn to the point of grumpy inflexibility. 

Spotify rocks my world. It provides soundtracks to my moods, an undercurrent to my creations and respite when the snarling shithead anxieties, panics and fears come calling. 

Let me share a few playlists with you. They’re constantly in flux, but maybe some element will get you rocking out at your desk or in your cube or across your office. 

Prepapalooza – The Playlist when I need to organize, rehearse or lay something out. These songs get cranked out when I’m figuring out anything from videos to workshops to phone conference calls. Prepapalooza

John-Tasia #2 – The Playlist when I’m not working on anything, but will be shortly. In those down hours between projects, when I’m debating between squeezing in some extra hours on a draft or if that time would be better spent on Civilization V, this playlist is on in the background. John-Tasia #2

Work #2 – I really debated hard with posting this playlist. It started as a mixtape, a little sliver of romantic expression for a relationship. It kind of hurts to even look at it, but there’s some good music there. Would I make another mixtape for someone else? Absolutely. Work – #2

Work #1 – Another former mixtape. I don’t play this one so much. See reason above. Work #1

The Editing Playlist – This is what I listen to while working. This is blaring in the office while the Orbital Platform of Awesome is firing on all cylinders. The Editing Playlist

The Writing Playlist – This is what I listen to while writing. I’ve written short stories, novels, monographs, games, scripts and love letters with this on in the background. Writing

Do you listen to anything? Does it help? 

Indigestion of the Mind

I slept pretty well last night. The windows were open, it wasn’t humid. The house was quiet and I hit the pillow pretty hard. Everything added up to a really great sleep after a really great night. 

And then, somewhere around I guess six this morning, my brain decided to fire up this awful dream. I mean awful like capital-A AWFUL. 

The short version? No one had eyebrows. Or eyelashes. And everyone was mad or disinterested in me. 

To say it rattled me is an understatement, since I tried my best to fall back asleep, even after telling people about it, and couldn’t. I stared out the bedroom window for about ten minutes until I just couldn’t stand it. In that sort of awake state, my brain did one of these:

Image

 

meaning every thought I wanted to purge out of my head came rushing forward like lemmings eager to check out the edge of a cliff. 

And I couldn’t arrest the flow. My mind bottle-necked, and I was juggling thoughts of “Does that person like me? I like them, they’re really awesome.” with “What the hell was that font in that autobiography? And where is that autobiography?” and “Totally need to clean up before the next video.” and “What the hell is the next video going to be about?

In the logjam, I couldn’t navigate or prioritize things too easily, so I stomped around grumpily for ten minutes before decided to kick today’s ass and get things done. 

So let’s talk today about those moments when we’re creating things and your process isn’t a silky smooth one. I don’t mean those moments where you don’t know what to write because you’ve got nothing, I mean those moments where you don’t know what to write because everything-you’ve-ever-thought-since-the-4th-grade-has-decided-to-be-thought-all-at-once

What can be done? Here are some strategies. 

1. Find the lighthouse. So you’re awash in all these thoughts. If you’re like me, most of them suck and bring you down and remind you of failures large and small, and poke at developing situations to remind you they could be failures too, if something does or doesn’t go a certain way.  All this turbulence, and where can you go? 

Find the lighthouse, the one solid thought that you can aim for. It’s not always going to be the same thought. For me this morning, it was figuring out I could sit down and write. Maybe tomorrow it will be something else. Whatever it might be, I’ll find it when I need it. 

How did I find it? Repetition. Going through that huge knot of thoughts until I found one that didn’t suck to repeat. And once I found it, locking onto it with every available neuron I could muster. 

I can write. I can start the day with writing. I can put some words down on something.

And then I got up, eager to write. And here I am.

2. Physically change something. When my brain clogs up, either out of anxiety or excitement or whatever, and I can’t easily put a lid on it, I get moving. I get a glass of water, I pet the dog, I wash my glasses. If I’m sitting when it happens, I make sure to do something standing. If it happens while I’m at the desk, I make sure I leave the room. Even if I have to argue with myself as I change locations, I remind myself that I’m the boss of me, so I’m taking a minute or two to be somewhere else. It’s a time-out. 

3. Vent. Here’s the nuclear option. I, out loud, bitch, curse and mutter about whatever’s jamming up my head. There’s no one in bed with me, there’s no one awake even near by, and it’s far too many words to compose a tweet, so I usually lay my gripes out to my alarm clock or pillow or some inanimate object I have handy. I can complain about what pisses me off, share the ideas that scare the hell out of me, and say whatever I need to get into a better head space. It’s not aimed at anyone, I’m not blaming anyone, I’m just forming sentences to express my feelings, however rambling or chaotic. 

This works, but it leaves me a little empty and sometimes more acutely aware of the spaces, gaps, holes and empty parts of my thinking and my life. Complaining that you feel lonely, or that you want someone to call is a great way to prod your brain into being aware that you are alone, and that the one person you want to hear from hasn’t made contact. Like I said, nuclear option. Don’t go breaking this out without a safety net. 

Mental indigestion, mental congestion and mental logjams happen. It’s folly to think they don’t. But you are in charge of your mind. Really, I swear. And you can do something about them. Even when they start with dreams about angry people without eyebrows and lashes. 

Happy writing.