RECIPES :: The Snickers Of Glory

It’s recipe time. Before I get into this recipe, I have to point out that I’m not saying these will make Snickers candy bars, because that’s like a trademarked thing. I’m saying though that if you enjoy a peanut and caramel chocolate bar that touts itself to a balm to your hunger and often has humorous commercials, you’ll enjoy this recipe.

NOTE BEFORE STARTING: This recipe is a little bit more complicated in terms of ingredients and requirements. I’ll try and keep this simplified for you. But be prepared to need a lot of stuff, so it might be a good idea to make sure you have an empty sink or dishwasher to reduce clutter.

OTHER NOTE BEFORE STARTING: Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of downtime in this recipe. Like hours. So let’s say you want to serve these to your gaming group on a Saturday. That means on THURSDAY NIGHT, you butter the lined cookie sheet and get into your fridge before you go to bed. ON FRIDAY, you build all the layers and compose the bars. ON SATURDAY, you serve.

CAN I CHEAT? Yes, you can collapse this down into a few hours if you rush, but things might not set and you’ll not get those nice strata of flavors.

THE THINGS YOU’LL NEED THAT AREN’T FOOD

2 or 3 heavy saucepans that you can melt chocolate and sugar in. Things with thick sides and bottoms a plus. (You can double boiler this too, just put a pot on top of a pot of simmering water)

Space in your fridge for a cookie sheet

A cookie sheet lined with waxed paper  that you’ve spread COLD butter on (yes, line it with wax paper because it’s going to make your life SO much easier later, and this is more like applying deodorant than buttering toast)

A spatula or spreading tool of some kind (to get the good stuff onto the sheet)

A bowl or two for mixing melted things together

Got those? Let’s take a breather for a second. This is a layering recipe, which means the food ingredients operate in groups, and then later, when we get to building the bars, we put the groups together. Now, I’m going to tell you, there’s going to be some fusion of layers if you do this in a rush or don’t let things get COLD. (like cold in fridge, not room temperature). If you’re okay with that, rock on. If you’re looking for nice even segregation of layers, follow the recipe.

GROUP 1: THE BASE

3 teaspoons butter (feel free to go up to 4) (And when I say butter, I mean BUTTER. Not margarine, not artificial spread. BUTTER. THE GOOD STUFF.)
1 cup milk chocolate chips (or whatever type of chocolate you groove with)
1/4 cup butterscotch chips (seriously, it’s worth it) (BONUS if you add in a shot of liqueur – your choice – with this)
1/4 cup Chunky Peanut Butter (Chunky is the better choice, but if you hate freedom and good food, use Creamy. I’ll mock you though. So hard.)

GROUP 2: FILLING:

1/4 cup butter (the good stuff)
1 cup sugar (Can you sub non-sugars like Stevia or whatever in here? Yes, just use 1/2 to 3/4 cup instead)
1/4 cup evaporated milk (Yes this is weird, and it’ll be in the grocery store in that aisle where you find a lot of old people. Evaporated milk is really only used in war rations and some recipes. And okay, yes, you can cut cocaine with it)
1 and 1/2 cups marshmallow creme (You may recognize this as “Fluff”. If you can’t find it, fill a large salad bowl with two bags of marshmallows, microwave them for ten seconds, then mash into a paste with a fork)
1/4 cup CHUNKY  peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts (optional) (Now, if you’re not doing this with peanuts and you’re subbing throughout, use 1 and 1/2 cups of your nut of choice, and make sure you use the creamy version of the subbed nut butter hashtag-sounds-dirty)

GROUP 3:  CARAMEL

1 package (14 ounces) caramels  (unwrap them before you cook, do not eat them while cooking)

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (yes HEAVY. Half and Half or milk DOES NOT hold up)

GROUP 4:  ICING

1 cup (6 ounces) milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup CHUNKY peanut butter

BEFORE WE START ROCKING AND ROLLING –> Line the cookie sheet, butter the waxed paper, get it in the fridge. This is totally something you do the night before or morning of, and I’m not going to tell you that this can also be put in your freezer, but hey, you can put this in your freezer. Colder is better.

WORKING WITH GROUP 1:

In a small saucepan, combine the milk chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and peanut butter; stir over low heat until melted and smooth.

Spread onto lined cookie sheet (you’re going to want to get this smooth, so use your spreader to even out any bumps. Think of this like you’re making a sidewalk, you want one uninterrupted sheet of awesome. On top of this layer will go ALL other layers, so lay good groundwork. Smooth is best. Refrigerate until set. How long? About as long as an episode of Law and Order. Ideally, 2 episodes.

WORKING WITH GROUP 2:

In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and milk; bring to a gentle boil. A gentle boil is little bubbles, no bigger than a pencil eraser, kind of like the way you make soup from a can. If this at all smells like gym shoes or morning breath or cat food or that sort of stale smell like a closet, you’ve burnt the milk. Wash the pan, start over.

Reduce heat to medium-low; let it come back up to a boil at the new temp and stir for 5 minutes. SERIOUSLY FIVE MINUTES. STIR FOR FIVE WHOLE MINUTES UNINTERRUPTED. MORE STIRRING MEANS BETTER CANDY. LESS STIRRING MEANS GROSS TASTING MESS.

Remove from the heat (I like to take this off the stove and put it on a towel on my countertop); stir in the marshmallow creme, peanut butter and vanilla. Add peanuts.

Spread over first layer (which means you pour it out of the pan right on top of the other layer). Refrigerate until set. (Like 2 episodes of Leverage)

WORKING WITH GROUP 3:

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the caramels and cream; stir over low heat until melted and smooth. (LOW HEAT, for reals – if it starts to smell like anything other than caramel, calmly turn off the heat and while things are still hot, dump it into the trash, wash out the pan and try again).

Cook and stir 4 minutes longer. FOUR MINUTES. TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY SECONDS. ABOUT AS LONG AS THE OPENING OF A TV SHOW FROM START OF PROGRAM THROUGH THEME AND OPENING CREDITS. YOU CAN DO THIS. STIR. STIR LIKE THE WIND.

Spread over the filling. Refrigerate until set. About 1 episode of your favorite show. Or two loads of laundry. Or a run to the post office and back.

WORKING WITH GROUP 4:

In a saucepan, combine chips and peanut butter; stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Pour over the caramel layer. Refrigerate whole deal overnight.

TWENTY MINUTES BEFORE YOU WANT TO START EATING, take the tray out of the fridge, and let it sit on your counter. Don’t touch it. Just look at it. Let your guests stare at it. Talk about how hard you worked.

If you’ve done this right, you should be able to flip the tray over, and get the whole sheet of awesome out so that it’s face down on your counter and you’re looking at waxed paper. Leave the paper on (otherwise you make a HUGE mess) and with a sharp knife (I have a chocolate cutting knife, if you don’t, grab your bread knife or big super cleaver or whatever you’re comfortable with), cut the block with the paper on into strips, then cut the strips into squares.  Peel off the paper. Stuff in face.

YOU JUST MADE CANDY, ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS TO DO IN A KITCHEN.

Happy eating.

The “You Have To…” Problem

How is it still January? Are there like fifty days in this month? Whatever. It’s winter, I’m cold, let’s blog.

I got some emails over the last couple days, and fielded a few tweets from writers whose projects are in varying stages. Some are shopping for agents, some are stuck trying to write an ending, others are in the middle of chapters and still loads more people are trying to find time to even get more than a few dozen words out in a sitting. I was tempted to put trying in quotes, because I still think that if something is important to you, you will make time for it, and all the “but, I have…” sentences are just excuses because they don’t want to commit to something that means changing their schedule so that they do something for themselves, since they won’t have anyone to blame when they don’t do it. (It’s easier to blame why you’re not writing on your day job or your family or the fact that you have so many other things to do, and uncomfortable to think that the reason you’re not writing is because YOU have some fear or hesitation about it)

While their messages all had different complaints or questions or varied sounds of exasperation, whenever I asked people what they were doing, and why they were doing it, I got responses that almost all started with the same idea:

“I’m writing ___(whatever they’re doing)____, because you have to, so you can get readers/an agent/an audience/published/recognized”

And this sentence, no matter who said it, made me stop and stare at the monitor and double-check that my glasses were clean and that there wasn’t a joke somewhere in it. Ruling out sarcasm and passive aggressive complaints about the traditional publishing process, I’d follow up this statement with “Why do you think that?” and I get responses that ranged from “This is what some other (published) author(s) do in their books” to “an agent/editor/writer on social media made a comment about it” to “I read it in a book“.

So I started compiling a list of things people think they have to do or have in their writing or as part of their writing process. I’m not going to name-check people because some of these statements are a little blue and sensational, but it’s what they said.

In order to get published, YOU HAVE TO …

  • Be physically attractive and sexy
  • Have a huge blog audience
  • Have two or more manuscripts started at any time
  • Have gay characters
  • Have teenage characters
  • Make sure your female characters are strong and independent
  • Avoid writing about rape
  • Avoid using “problematic” content, and the list of “problems” grows everyday and no one can agree on it, and it isn’t written down anywhere
  • Never use social media until after you book gets published, then, when you are published, only use it to tell people about what you’ve written and where they can buy it
  • Get rejected 40+ times
  • Be a doormat for agents (whose comments change your work, even if they don’t understand what you’re trying to do)
  • Be a doormat for editors (whose comments change your work, even if they’re stupid or unnecessary)
  • Win contests and awards
  • Be young (under 50)
  • Not be disabled or handicapped
  • Only get printed in hardcover
  • Be white
  • Be gay or “different”, so there’s something the book people can promote about you
  • Write sex scenes
  • Write flashbacks
  • Write a prologue and an epilogue
  • Use “foul” language
  • Always do what your agent/editor tells you to do, without question
  • Be rich
  • “Force” characters of different races/species/groups into your work
  • Have a plan about who’s going to play the main character(s) in the movie
  • Listen to every piece of advice you read on social media or hear at a panel
  • Attend panels and seminars
  • Attend writing conferences
  • Attend writing conferences AND kiss a lot of ass
  • Be related to an agent/editor/publisher
  • Sleep with an agent/editor/publisher, or be willing to
  • Leave your story open for a sequel
  • Plan to write a series, or at least a trilogy
  • Have multiple antagonists
  • Use third-person if you’re serious about your work, first-person if you’re not
  • Write about rape
  • Give a character a history that involves a great tragedy
  • Blaspheme
  • Get an Agent
  • Lie about where you live
  • Lie about other things you’ve written
  • Post your book a half-chapter at a time on your blog
  • Not post any part of your book anywhere ever (because someone will steal it)
  • Not tell anyone about any ideas about or in your book (because someone will steal it)

That’s 45 separate things said to me by 44 people (one person did contribute those last two, back-to-back). Do ANY of those reflect ANY part of what you’re thinking about getting published or writing something or getting it into the hands of an audience?

The nice thing, if there is a nice thing about the list, is that I can respond to all these ideas at once: THEY ARE ALL BULLSHIT. ABSOLUTE AND UTTER BULLSHIT.

Do you want to know a great secret of getting published? You have write. And keep trying. And keep writing. And write regularly. And endure. And when you fail, you try again (if you want to).

Yes, it’s hard. It’s tough. You might write and write and write and get rejected. You might try really hard and get so discouraged you walk away. I should point out that when you walk away, give up, throw in the towel and/or make vows to never write another word, that’s not the “Industry” making you do those things – that’s you choosing to give up. The “Industry” doesn’t really care what you do, but if you’re going to get involved in it, you do have to write and write well. (Side note: Writing well is different than just writing. If you’re not sure which you’re doing, ask.)

No, not everyone gets published. People can write and write for years, and they submit to “every” (or so they say) publisher and agent and never get anywhere. They get rejection heaped upon rejection. They never “figure out the trick” or “figure out what it takes” (Hint: What it takes is perseverance and a not-shitty attitude on the writer’s part). And people give up. And not everyone is a special snowflake. And yes, some people suck at writing and they’re going to face really really tough adversity when they trot out subpar work in the hopes of getting published.

Anyone (with good habits, talent, discipline) CAN get published. Not everyone WILL. Sorry. But that’s how things are if you go some routes in publishing. Yes, there are things you can do to get published, you can slap your work up to a self-pub service, you can go through a vanity press that may or may not take your money and hose you on rights, you can post your book on your blog and charge people to download it. Loads of things to do.

But you don’t HAVE to do them. You don’t HAVE to do any of those 45 things I listed. You don’t HAVE to any of the bajillion things that didn’t make the list.

You need to write. You need to believe in yourself and keep going when things get tough or look bleak. Believe in yourself. Do what you can to improve your craft. Learn technique. Practice, practice, practice. Get your stuff edited. Get other eyes on your work. Learn to take crappy critiques from idiots. Take intense critiques from harsh critics and fans. Learn how to give feedback without patronizing. Be a goof. Learn how to listen. Read. Watch TV. Find pleasure. Pleasure yourself. Write when you’re happy. Write when you’re not. Write when the sky is blue. Write when it rains. Write to music. Be sober. Write in silence. Write late at night. Write when your spouse watches the kids. Write when you’re hungry. Write in the morning. Write before you do other things. Write after you do other things. Be serious. Take notes. Write from an outline. Write longhand. Type. Dictate. Drink a little. Get hammered. Smoke a little. Get stoned. Listen to loud music. Pet a cat. Pet a dog. Cry when it sucks. Rejoice when it doesn’t. Be straight edge. Be a tea totaller. Eat burritos. Get laid. Be alone. Write when you don’t think you can. Write when you’re inspired. Write to get inspired. Write to deal. Write to vent. Write, write, write.

Happy writing.

 

Clawing, Hacking and Slogging Through Work

Today, post-blizzard, is one of the hardest days I can remember there being in a long time. I’m reminded of days in treatment, when the highlight of my day was getting a little stubby can of ginger ale and some grapes, but we’ll get to that story shortly.

I just read Kameron Hurley’s blog post over on Chuck Wendig’s blog. It moved me, and for the first time in several weeks, I felt something kick inside my guts. I won’t bother to try and craft some fancy turn of phrase about how the last time I was this down, I had an interaction with Chuck and then tried to kill myself. Yet again, I’m down, and something from Chuck crosses my path. I wonder if he’ll read this post if I ask him nicely. I wonder if anyone will read this post. Though this time, I’m not planning on dying. It’s too cold.

Winters are unbelievably hard for me. It’s not just the lack of light in the evenings. It’s not just the weather that leaves you cold and wet and forcing you to wear bulky clothing that is both unflattering and it makes the most appalling sounds when you move in it. It’s not just that the cold winds howl against the walls of my bedroom and reminds me that while I’m shivering under three or four blankets, I do so alone. And that maybe if I was less of a fuck-up, less of a degenerate, less of a not-success, then maybe this person wouldn’t have left. Or maybe I wouldn’t have driven that person away. Maybes make winter awful. And when you add the fact that you have to shovel driveways and walkways and clear off cars, it super sucks.

Yeah, I know, turn on the sun lamps. Take the pills. I’m doing that. I’m sitting here under three different ones as I write this post, having eaten and taken my pills. I don’t know if you know this but the pills don’t throw a switch to turn a bad day into a sunshine sing-along. They take the edge off and get me into a shape where I can cope. And if this is my coping state today, imagine how bad I’d be unmedicated. Probably wouldn’t even be writing this post.

My first memories of writing something that I thought was good came in around 8th grade. I don’t remember if we were tasked with writing something creative or if I just did it, but I remember creating the story of a guy who just got out of prison and the mob (ambiguous generic NJ villains) wanted to kill him. I remember the teacher telling me that serrated wasn’t a word, that I meant serape. And I remember yelling at her, in class, oblivious to the fact that sixteen of my teenage friends were staring (and would later gossip), that there’s no earthly way I confused serrations for Mexican garb. She failed me on that assignment because I dared to disagree with her. This was also the same teacher who assigned us a paper with the topic “What would you do if you were in a concentration camp?” and then failed anyone who didn’t conclude they would die.

But that didn’t stop me from writing.

In high school, because girls, I started writing poetry. It was big and sweeping and Romantic (capital R) because I purposefully kept the emo grunge stuff to myself. I used to list the initials of the girls I desperately wished would talk to me in the margins of whatever notebook I was using. The poetry wasn’t all that great, but at least I taught myself sonnet structure. And I was pretty handy with a rhyme scheme, if I ever wanted to get into rap battles. Writing fiction took a sideline to writing RPG games for my friends, in an irregular campaign of 2nd edition AD&D. (It was Ravenloft)

After high school, while I was working in radio in the evenings, I started writing a screenplay, because everyone thought that they could be the next Kevin Smith. I wrote my first screenplay in four months, writing two pages a day, then working some really crushing jobs like delivering medical supplies to nursing homes and state hospitals, before working a job I loved until late at night. Work work work. I thought that’s what people have to do. More jobs took me all over the place. I wrote short stories and learned sales writing. And kept writing

When I got to college (after failing out once because I used to go to other people’s classes and was easily bored), I was older than the students, and thanks to a head of grey hair that had been building since I was 13, used to get mistaken for a young professor. I look back now and realize I should have used that to sleep with more girls. But older, I thought I knew things about writing. I knew technique. I read the classics. I could put together a variety of sentences. But, as professors delighted in telling me, the career of a writer is a terrible idea. That I should abandon it. That I didn’t know shit about it. That I couldn’t do it, because fiction is dead and the best fiction has already been written and all we’re doing now is desperately trying to imitate our superiors. (That’s bullshit, by the way, but it’s also the main reason I hate academics – they have an obligation and duty to inspire, not crush)

College was a fight for me. Nearly every class was an exercise in frustration because I had life experience that got overlooked or dismissed, or because they were treading water in sentence structure and I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to do the work, not spend eight weeks “mastering” verbs in some weird Zen koan. It’s a weird thing to have your fellow students ask why you’re in college when your work never needs polish and could get published, and when your teachers tell you that they can’t do anything for you because you’ve refuted their theses and done so eloquently. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who encouraged me to write and keep writing. (Three) I can count on one hand the number of professors who called me into their offices to tell me that I have no business being in their classes because my work intimidated them (Four).

I sold my first screenplay (the second I ever wrote) in early 2002. The advance was more money than I ever saw on a printed check. The budget was huge, and I got actors and a crew and was all set to film on Valentine’s Day 2003. My business partner bolted the night before, and took the finances with him. I was left holding the bag. It sucked. The fact that he went to prison (and might still be there, I don’t know) is little solace for the memories of the people’s faces when I had to tell them everything was gone.

But I kept writing, because I didn’t know what to do.

That first screenplay I adapted for the stage. It made it to off off off off off off off Broadway. It never debuted to huge crowds, and it got chased out mid-previews. But it made me some lasting friendships with people who are now rather big stars. And it got me a job writing punch-up for pilots and scripts for hire.

So I kept writing.

Then I fell into a sleazy hole of writing, sales copy for disreputable companies and scumbag people. Million dollar companies built on frauds and scammy New Age tactics, their whole marketing campaigns getting churned out by depressed me in a cold bedroom. I hate that period of my life.

I finished my first novel in 2013. Lots of people read pieces of it, but I finished it in secret and sent it out. It got about three dozen rejections, and I was going to self publish it, when it occurred to me I could just write a second – that the first novel taught me what to do (and I’ve always been my own best teacher and student), and that if I do it again, it’ll be better. I don’t know if that first novel is ever going to see the light of day again, but the second will. I’m only 35.

In between I’ve been working in game design, tabletop RPGs and card games and board games and LARPs. I’ve got nearly 200 credits to my name in the last 2 years alone. I don’t know how many things I’ve worked on uncredited.

In between I’ve been hospitalized for severe depression and a nice cornucopia of other mental illnesses. I sat in group therapy sessions next to guys who caved in their wives’ faces with irons and sex-addicted crackheads who would beg you to fuck them in closets. I looked at all I did and didn’t see the successes, just the failures. Just the wreckage. Just the people and projects behind me. The highlight of my day was snack time, like a child. They’d pass out little ziploc baggies of ice cold grapes and these tiny cans of Canada Dry and you could sit out on this porch and snack and sit in the sun and try and figure out what you were going to do.

Other people talked about getting their kids back from foster care, or serving out the rest of their jail sentence, or reconciling with their husbands. I talked about writing. Of falling in love again with someone. Of trusting the world one more time. Of putting my stamp on it. Ever the Romantic.

The point, if I’m making one, is that nothing has really stopped me from writing. Sure, things really didn’t work out with specific jobs. Sure, some people were absolute jerks. Sure, I was a huge jerk and that cost me relationships and jobs and opportunities. But I’m still writing at least once a day, for at least two hours a day.

Because take away all the relationships, take away the bank account, take away the hobbies even, and I know I can write to feed myself. Maybe it won’t be the big meals I am now used to, but I know I can afford the dollar menu with my words.

I have gained and lost more than is even detailed in this post, and still I’m writing. I still think I can produce my own games and my own stories. And maybe after a nice library of fiction and games and writing workshops and seminars I’ll retire to some place quiet and raise bees or tend an orchard and die an old madman in a warm European city. But that’s not on this week’s agenda. Though I would not be opposed to being warm right now.

So if I can do all this, if I can hurt and ache and lose and feel like the world is slowly asphyxiating me and that I can’t catch a break if you handed me one, and that I’m not as smart as the other geniuses I know, yet I can still write, why can’t you?

Yes you. You, right there. Reading this. Likely you’re not hurting right now the way I am. Likely you’re not staring out a window at a bleak snowscape and wondering how you’re going to have the energy to keep breathing five minutes from now. Likely you’re not wondering if you’ll ever find someone you can trust again. Are you writing? Are you producing something? Doesn’t matter what it is, but are you invested in making it? Have you thrown your will behind the development of an idea that burns within you, that charges and demands you share it? Maybe you just have dreams where you get paid for making something and selling it. Maybe you have dreams of autographing books at a signing. Maybe you want your work to hang in museum halls seventy years from now. Maybe you just want to tell your kids that you made something one time.

Are you doing it? As often as you can, when the time works out and when you have the energy and when you want to, are you working towards those dreams? They’re not going to come to fruition without you doing the work. And sometimes that work is going to feel like you’re climbing marble cliffs coated in maple syrup and you’re using plastic silverware for climbing gear. Sometimes it’s going to be a crawl through mud that smells like doubt and failure and critics, but if you want to get from Point Wherever-You-Are to Point Where-You-Want-To-Go, you’re gonna have to crawl soldier. And other times it’s going to be a thick jungle of confusion and second guessing and you’ll get well-meaning people offering advice that makes you think you’re not doing it right, but you can hack through that flora with a machete made not of confidence but of discipline. When the road seems obscured, when you don’t know where to go for best results, the answer is in the producing. Keep making your thing, you’ll find the path.

Here’s another secret. Do you want to know why I have five, six, seven versions of the same song back to back on some Spotify playlists? Because I sing along. Badly. And I only let the dog hear me, immediately going mute the minute I hear anyone within 20 feet. But I do it because it carries me forward, to the producing. So on days like this, where I’m teetering on the wrong side of being really down and it being a real problem, there’s a lot of song repetition. So I can feel something. So I can remember why I’m still clawing and hacking and slogging. So I can make things.

Make things. Don’t give up. Persevere. Fight. Keep swinging. Pour it on. One more word, then another, and another after that. It’s not time to stop yet.

I have no idea if I have an audience. People don’t leave comments, and I wouldn’t know what to do if they did. But thank you for reading. And if you share this post, thanks for sharing it.

Come find me on Twitter if you want to talk.

Four Lies We Tell Ourselves When We Sit Down To Write

Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve written something here. I’m really sorry guys, I’m going through a pretty rough and dark patch, and just haven’t had thoughts organized in any way, shape, or form to present material. And rather than write another post about how I’m feeling lonely or adrift or overlooked and worthless, I thought I should get back on the horse and talk about writing.

So, I’ve been chipping away at Noir World, a game I’m still planning to present in some form at Dreamation, and it’s been a huge exercise for me – not just in taking my own advice (I don’t really have a problem scheduling time to write, but I do totally have a problem in reining thoughts in some logical flow), but also in terms of getting my thoughts together about the act of writing. In thinking about it today, I found 4 things I keep coming back, and then found that each of these four things is utter and complete crap. It’s also worth noting that these four lies get perpetuated by blogs and advice gurus (not all of them, but quite a few), so any time I get a chance to depose a guru, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Here now are those 4 lies.

1. I need to produce this [book/story/game/art/manuscript] in this one specific way [traditional publishing/self publishing/written in the blood of our elders/in smears of paint on the side of a building/etc], because that’s how I’m going to be taken seriously as a writer/producer/creator.

This first line of bullshit often comes with a face, a sort of puckering scowl. Imagine eating grapefruit after being told you were going to eat watermelon. Or being constipated and yelling at a pet or small child. It’s something like that. And for reasons I haven’t really figured out yet, I hear this sort of rigid thinking from people who have turned their love and want to produce art into a kind of suffering. I don’t know if rejection or hardship reinforces the thinking that there’s one way to accomplish their goal, but I’m thinking more and more that the suffering partners really nicely with the second half of the lie, the part about legitimacy.

I don’t have the first clue what exactly legitimacy looks like. It’s a concept. It’s like asking me to describe success. Every situation where it would be experienced is different. A successful day of writing means I have words in a file. A successful day of watching movies means my Netflix has new suggestions for me next time. And success as a producer of content? There’s no way we’re going to agree on that.

And who exactly is going to award legitimacy? Is there a fairy or a council or a governing body? And what’s the prize for being legitimate? Are your ideas suddenly better, are your talents enhanced, do people suddenly flock to your every utterance? (Though, if legitimacy means that ladies swarm you, I might reconsider) You are the judge of your legitimacy. I have talked to published authors, agents, publishers, editors, book distributors, book bloggers and book readers. Do you know when legitimacy came up in conversation? Never. You know where it did come up? When I talked to professors and academics who wanted to rank their scholarly pursuits ahead of other peoples’ efforts so as to validate their time in ivory towers. Of course they’ll say Author X is legit, they’ve spent 20+ years studying Author X.

Legitimacy is a trap to make you think you aren’t legitimate without some kind of external tool, technique or validation. Oddly enough, a lot of the people who espouse about becoming legitimate sell tools and techniques to make you legitimate. Isn’t that convenient? Don’t buy the snake oil. No, I don’t care how many books the person has sold, “legitimate” is a bullshit trap word designed to sucker people into worrying about how their work is going to be received.

So too is the rigid thinking that legitimacy is the result of following only one route to completion. Usually that comes up when people are talking about traditional publishing models, where there’s submissions and rejections and agents and all that. I don’t know how to put this – but you’re reading these words while visiting a blog. A blog where I have no agent, where I serve as writer and editor, and where I’m also in charge of the submission and rejection process. Does that make what I’m saying less legitimate? Does that somehow negate years of publishing experience, years of writing experience, a resume with lots of published works in a variety of fields and a lot of experiences gained while writing and creating? I’m leaving that one up to you.

I would encourage anyone who holds dearly to the idea that one model of publishing is legit and others aren’t to consider that loads of authors produce a variety of work without following the traditional routes. Movies get Kickstarters. Books get released on websites. Games get sold out of the back of a car.  If the goal is to receive money in exchange for handing someone something they can read, do all the other trappings really matter? And if you say they do, can you explain why?

2. There’s a certain way to produce my thing. I need to use certain materials, often suggested to me by finding out what other people use, and need to do what they do so that I can get success the way they got it. 

Some months back, there was a website making the rounds that had scanned images of writers’ notes. At first I thought it was quite cool to see how other people did things, and interesting to try and decipher their handwriting, as if I’d find some rare note about a published book that I’ve likely read or have on my shelf. And it was an important website for me to some degree, since it got me to change my mind about outlining (somewhat, I still think that outlines get over-trusted and become crutches), but it lingered around some of the circles of writers I know. That they were going to start doing what Famous author X did for their book. That they were going to even give up however much work they already did in favor of starting over in this new way.

And then some time after that, people starting saying that certain programs were better for writing than others, that they were more functional, that they were superior to others, and that if you weren’t using this specific program, you were making a huge mistake and retarding your progress. But when I would talk to other writers, writers who didn’t seem to chime in on the debate, they mentioned they used this whole other program, sometimes because it was easier, or cheaper, or because it worked for their particular hardware, or whatever.

First of all, use whatever means necessary to accomplish your goals. (Within reason, don’t be a dick and hurt people or anything. And don’t commit crimes, but you know what I mean.) If you need to dictate all your stuff, go for it. If you need to write it longhand then type, do it. If you need to use screenwriting software, or notepad or I don’t know, MS Paint, use it. HOW you accomplished your goal does not change the fact that you will have produced something.

Second, and here’s the downside, no method guarantees matching success. Just because Author X did something a certain way does not mean that if you ape them, then you too can experience that exact equivalent success. Yes, there’s a chance you might not see any success at all, but there’s also a chance you’ll do better. You won’t know until you try.

3. Writing is going to be easy, especially about topic ABC, since I know a lot about it and am a big fan of other peoples’ work with ABC.

I have known I wanted to make a game, my own game, for a long time. I’ve done it once before, though for zero credit and with zero prior experience, and the result was a pretty thorough backlash, so it’s for the best that my name appears only as a player. Now that I have some experience and contacts within the gaming community, it’s a lot easier to set myself up to be a successful game designer. I have people I can talk to about distribution. I have people I can talk to about rules or mechanics. I have people I can talk about art and layout questions.

And even the subject matter, crime and film noir and detective stories, I have people I can consult. Looking at my rolodex, my Gchat window, my Twitter feed, I should have problem knocking this game out of the park. The fact that I’m a huge fan of noir and detective stories, and by many estimates am considered an authority in some areas is just icing on this tremendous success cake, right? So why isn’t it easier?

Let’s, for a second, put my mental health aside. Yes, it’s a significant factor in my production, but that’s not the direction I’m taking here. Let’s also put aside my other work commitments and obligations: the articles to write and the games to edit and the clients to consult. They’re a production factor too, but also not what I’m talking about. I mean in those hours when I don’t have other distractions and when my head is clear to write, why aren’t the words pouring out of me like a fire hose?

Because writing isn’t easy. The technical act of my fingers striking keys is easy, because hitting keys is pretty straightforward, but hitting those keys in the right patterns, coordinating the thoughts and actions of the brain to match the strikes and their patterns with thoughts, and then blending all of that with whatever’s being imagined, in such a way as to deliver that to an audience, particularly in a non-oral medium, is tough.

Tough, but doable, and by all means, should be done. Yeah, like so many other things in life, this skill is going to require time and discipline and it’s going to weed out the capable from the incapable when you reach higher levels. Anyone can play a game of basketball in a driveway with some friends (seriously, the other day, before the blizzard, I watched a guy with those curved blade prostheses slam dunk over two tall dudes, it blew my mind), but far fewer people could play basketball well enough to make the roster of a school team, and even fewer could play well enough to play professionally. So too with writing. Yes, anyone can write. But it takes discipline and consistent effort and practice to get better at it, and by repeating this process over and over, anyone can improve. But like basketball in our previous example, not everyone’s going to go pro. Or if they do, they won’t stay long. I’m not saying this to scare people off, I’m saying this because I’ve seen a lot of people say “I’m going to be a writer” or “I’m going to write a book”, then they talk to me, and maybe even get a chapter or two written, but then they find something else that has more gratification than writing. (Yes, the lack of immediate external gratification is, I think, a significant reason why people throw in the towel on writing).

It’s not easy, but you should do it as far as it will take you for as long as you want to go there.

4. I’m in competition with all these other people and their products. I have to do better than they do.

So many people are writing. In fact, I don’t have an accurate number to quote. Some of those people are writing their second or their tenth or their fifteenth book. Some of those people have won awards, made television shows, filmed movies, own boats, drive cars that cost more than your house and sneeze their way onto a bestseller list.

For me, I count some of my closest friends among the people who routinely get heralded as “innovative” or “legendary” or “infamous” or “wildly successful” designers and writers. I’ve worked with them to produce games that are popular, award-winning and fantastically creative.

This does not reduce the sense of pressure. It actually elevates it. That I can’t just do what they do, that I have to be better. That in order to win their approval, my creation(s) must reach some great height of talent or elegance, otherwise I’m somehow unfit to work with them, have meals with them or enjoy their company.

Which is total crap. To date, I’ve received only support from my peers and colleagues, even from people who I didn’t think were paying attention to my efforts. There’s nothing to prove, it’s not some test of my talent, it’s not membership in some exclusive club. I’m just making a thing. Just like they do. Not in competition either. I’ve seen the tables and websites where their material is sold. There’s plenty of space for something of mine. (Though, yes, you can argue that since my name is their books, my stuff is already selling, but you know what I mean, there’s a difference between your name IN the book and your name ON the book.)

You’re a creator. They’re creators. You write books. Other people write books. Anyone who perpetuates the idea that since you’re both doing it, you’re now both competing, as though audience and consumers are finite, scarce resources. Audience and consumers are not endangered species. Sure, they can say the money is, which means they can’t buy your stuff AND someone else’s stuff simultaneously, but the advantage of producing something means that it can be purchased any time. Like when the consumer does have the money.

These lies perpetuate disordered thinking and rampant self-doubt. They wreck processes and erode faith in your abilities. They chew up the mental real estate you designate for your creations. They suck.

What stops them? Writing. Writing without concern for anything other than putting words down, getting them out of your head, even if you want to say later that they’re not any good or that you’ll change them all later.

When you write, the lies can’t be proven true. When you write, they don’t matter. Not who you are, not how you write, not what you write, not what you want to do with the writing once it’s written. The act of writing is the act of sharing imagination and talent.

So write, and share. And produce. And kick these lies to the curb. And when you encounter the liars and charlatans who broadcast them, go back to your writing. Give them no fuel for their fires, give them no purchase in your mind and certainly don’t fight them. Just go back to the writing. Go back to making things. Go back to doing what you love.

Happy writing

Writing, Time and Guilt

Happy 2014. I hope you’re all enjoying your local weather, or at least surviving it without stuffing your friends and family into Tauntauns.

An interesting conversation cropped up on Twitter today, involving the ideas of writing everyday, how that may or may not be practical, and how there are other things (jobs, families, whatevers) that take precedence over writing in other peoples’ lives.

Let’s be clear: I am a full-time writer and editor, without a family to support (unless you count my dog). This is my job. This is how I pay my bills, and this is the only thing I do to pay those bills. Writing is a priority and big part of my day for me, because this is what I do, just like an 8+ hour workday is what other people do. When I talk about how many words I’ve written, or what I’ve accomplished, I’m not doing this to lord it over others. I’m doing it so that I can have an equal footing in the “here’s what I did today at work” conversation. I have to make time to write because I don’t have anything else to fall back on, and despite my not having children or a spouse or an outstanding mortgage, this does not mean I am exempt from the feeling of work-related pressures and the expectations of getting your work done before you can go do what you want.

Buried in there somewhere is that writing is a pleasure, contrary to a job, which is more of a burden. I can see that yes, if you spend 8+ hours working for “the man”, any chance you can slip away and do your own thing is much appreciated. But even when writing is your job, and you spend hours working for multiple “the man”s, it’s still nice to slip away and do your own thing.

Equally tucked away in this conversation comes a sense of priorities, and that time spent writing (for yourself) is some how in opposition to your other priorities or a misuse of precious and scarce time, that you always have to be in some kind of “provider mode” and only working on your priorities, which invariably are things that don’t involve you directly: take care of your spouse and children, pay for a house and home, pay taxes, etc. This has always left me scratching my head, because this is a discussion of “your” priorities, but somehow “you” didn’t really factor into that list very much. Sure, you get to live in the house you paid for, but there’s an awful lot of taking care of others, sometimes to the exclusion of yourself. This seems very dehumanizing to me, and logically, if you’re part of a family, don’t you think they want you to be taken care of too?

It’s not wrong, sinful, shameful or a waste of time to write while you have a day job. It’s no more wrong than stopping to have lunch, take someone out for an evening or go to a movie, as though are all things that consume time that is generally not spent at a job. So where does this guilt come from?

I think it comes out of a sense that what you’re doing, for yourself, pales in comparison to some expectation of what you’re supposed to do, something you’re indoctrinated with socially. That these other things (job, family, faith, etc) come first and way way way down some list of things to do, if you’re ever lucky, you get to do stuff for yourself. Taken to an extreme, this is a course for martyrs, forever sacrificing and denying themselves things they give others.

My father worked for most of his adult life in one very high pressure, high stress job. It ruined his health and consumed all his time. He has few living friends, and now in retirement, he is a shell of himself. He only knew how to work, so even retired, he took another job. He’ll tell you it’s so that he can afford living with my mother, or so that he can have savings for later, or so that he can compensate for all those years when I was sick and my treatment cost him money. I don’t think my father has many hobbies, outside of gardening and maybe reading. I find that incredibly sad, and it makes my heart ache to think that he acquired from his parents, the ideas that you have to provide for others and that means you don’t get anything reasonable for yourself. The fact that he wields it passive aggressively sometimes, that his guilt becomes other people’s guilt, only compounds it.

He frequently asks me what I’m writing, where I might be speaking or going professionally and what my next steps are. He has tried (and continues to try) to give me that sense of sacrifice, of guilt about doing things for yourself, and I just can’t take it. I can’t take it, because it’s not the right thing to do.

Putting aside the “full-time/part-time” facet of writing, you, yes you there with the day job and the family and the bills and the aging parents and the whatever else, you are a person, just like those people around you. And just like them, you have every right to do something you for yourself. In this case, we’re talking writing, but we could just as easily be talking about gardening, cooking, yachting or basket weaving. Yes, okay, fine, you do have a job, and that means you can’t spend all these hours a day doing that thing, but do you think you really would? Sure, if your job sucked, maybe yes, you would do anything else for hours a day. But realistically, I’m not trying to set up an all-or-nothing, one-or-the-other decision tree where you’re either working your job and paying your bills OR writing. Because that’s not fair to either side.

(Let’s call them the “job” side and the “writing” side, just for this discussion). It’s not fair to the job side because you’ve got a family, and social expectation or no, you’re entwined with them and you all provide for each other, even if your contribution is financial and theirs might be constructive love or intimacy or food preparation. So, while you could change your job, give it up or find something new, you couldn’t do it easily.

It’s not fair to the writing side, because writing isn’t some frivolous other activity, the province of nymphs and satyrs, forever cavorting free of responsibility or care.  It might look that way on the outside, but that’s just because it’s different than your side, and this can very easily slip into a case of grass always been greener elsewhere.

But consider for a moment the idea that writing is as much an activity as anything else you devote time to. It can be as restorative as faith, it can be as soothing as meditation, it can be as stressful as your job. So where’s the guilt? Where does that get manufactured if writing is just one more thing you can do?

I think it comes from a shifting perspective, a sense that affording (or not affording) what you really want versus what you can (at the moment, we always chop that part off when we talk like this) is always going to leave you in deficit, and because you’ll always be needing to work, that’s what you can primarily define yourself as. As a cubicle guy. As a science lady. As a teacher. As a whatever-you-do-at-wherever-you-work.

You are not only that one thing. If we zoom out, you might be a spouse, a parent, a devoted fan of a television show, a member of a group. Or a writer. Or a singer. Or a guy who knows how to build a potato cannon.

I don’t buy into the guilt. I don’t let it get traction. I don’t think you should either.

Because it comes down to scheduling. It comes down to see that all priorities are variable, and while some are always the top of the list, it’s not like half the list is set in stone and then you sort of squeeze other things in around the edges. If you’re about to tell me, “But John, you don’t know what it’s like.”, then let me ask you if you have vacation days or sick leave, and if your boss or HR department tells you that you need to take it before the end of some period of time or else lose it. If yes, then recognize those are days you’re supposed to be working, they’re days you could be working, but you’re not. How do you feel on those days? You’re still getting that paycheck, you’re still supporting your family, only this time, for this one day, you can be there to play with your kids, or have a leisurely evening with your spouse and not have to feel like you’re letting them down because they only see you AFTER the job has chewed you up for the day.

Suppose that for a little sliver of time on a regular basis, you could feel that way. Maybe that translates to the hours you spend listening to an audiobook on your commute home. Maybe that translates into the three trips per week to the gym. Maybe that’s the thirty minutes a day you spend writing. Maybe that’s every other Saturday afternoon where you can close the bedroom door and get an hour to yourself to scribble words.

See, I think there are priorities you accept and those you create. You get a job to pay the bills, you get into a relationship for the emotional connection, you accept that these things are going to be important to you, so you slice up your time so that they get some of it. Sometimes, this doesn’t balance out, and you get spouses that resent how often you’re working, or jobs that complain you’re more focused on your kids. But you take these things on, you sign up for it, and you let the rewards (the pay, but also things like insurance and respect) manipulate your expectations. A job you take so that you can spoil your kids at holidays also turns into the thing you do for thirty years because, that’s just what you do. The significant other you stay with because you were who you were when you met might not be the person you know years later when you’ve both changed.

But there are also priorities you create. You make time to go to the gym. You make time to have a spiritual practice. You make time to hang out with your kids or your bowling league. You accept these things too, but because they don’t tweak your expectations, you don’t see them as equal priorities. Maybe there’s no paycheck, but it’s a pretty good feeling to see your kids grow up I imagine. Maybe there’s no health insurance, but it sure is nice to laugh with your friends every Tuesday night.

Let’s amend that old saying, “Write everyday.” Turn it into “___________ everyday”, where you fill in the blank with something that HELPS YOU BE YOU.

Let’s amend, “Write everyday” to “Find time to write, whenever that might be.” (thanks to Jeremy). Though I think “make time” works better, since it’s a pr0-active decision.

There’s no reason to be guilt about being who you are and doing what you want to do. No one is saying do it to the exclusion of other responsibilities or agreements. I’m saying do those things AND don’t forget yourself along the way.

Okay, back to the blizzard.

Happy writing.