The Great Metatopia 2016 Recap Post

(originally this went up on Facebook, but it got long and I thought it deserved wider distribution)

Metatopia is the single greatest convention I attend every year. Period. There is no better professional setting I’m aware of, and this is absolutely the best place for designers new and old to congregate and flourish. That is 1000% due to the tireless work of the Double Exposure staff, and even with everyone heaping deserved praise at them, it’s not enough. This convention is the place to go if you want to create games or learn about the business of telling stories and engaging with people.

If there is a downside to convention culture, it’s that a lot of it orbits bars and a drinking culture. For the majority of people, this isn’t a problem – you have a drink or two, you laugh with your friends, you gossip and chatter, then haul off to bed. But for those of us working sober, for those of us who don’t have as easy a time in that atmosphere, the fact that each night (or frankly any time of day with downtime) brings everyone to a central alcohol dispensing locale is a challenge. The call to have a drink after a tough conversation or a shaky panel is a siren’s song, and I am so proud not only of myself, but my recently sober friends for working their programs and getting through. Good job us.

This year was honestly a departure from my usual routine of panel after panel, because this year I added co-panelists when I had the opportunity. Here’s why that’s flat-out not what I normally do – I love to hear myself talk, and I worry that sharing the stage is going to prove to people just how negligible my contributions to any discussion are.

But there I was, having conversations about everything from narrative structure to marketing strategies to the Oxford comma with other people at the table. And it didn’t suck. The panels weren’t all dumpster fires and CGI-less explosions. Sure, I had a few moments of “What the holy monkeyshit am I doing here?” but those were fleeting, and I was able to slip past those and get back to the task of informing people about things while making pop culture references and garnering laughs.

While it didn’t suck, it wasn’t easy, and I suppose that’s lesson #1 I learned – other people in your sandbox doesn’t totally prove that you shouldn’t be in the sandbox in the first place. I am supremely worried that because of other people my visibility got diluted, but if it is, then that’s due to me being all up in my head and forgetting to promote myself, it is not the fault of there being a second person on the stage with me.

That said, those other people were amazing. Like staggeringly smart, and I think our conversations and concept coverage was delivered better because there was a breadth of angles to address. From therapists to podcasters to legal editors to actors to people who tell stories about pole-dancing merfolk sex workers, they’re not stupid, and I won’t stand for anyone disparaging any of them just because you may have heard of me but not them.

There are few personal things to talk about in some detail for the remainder of this post. So yes, there’s gonna be a tonal shift, but I urge you to stick with me on this ride, please. Here we go.

I didn’t drink. I didn’t go get high. Holy sweet things was I ever tempted, but I picked up the phone and got the help I needed even if it was hard to hear and tough to bear. I needed that salvation, I needed that rescue, and without out, there wouldn’t be anything else in this post, or anything else to talk about. I had my life saved, and I am so thankful to know amazing people and count them as a true family.  Onward.

In the last year, I’ve had some serious professional setbacks. I’ll own them, I’ll point out that my lack of communication prompted many of them, and those setbacks were scorched earth to my pride, ego, and how I feel about what I do. I can’t say it’s been a tailspin, but I’ve certainly more time this year questioning what I’m doing and where I’m going forward than any other year, including two years ago when I first got clean and sober.

But there are the nagging ideas that some of these setbacks are due to factors out of my control – that the climate of where I work has changed due to people making different elements a priority. This is not to say that these social conversations shouldn’t be happening (they should and must), but I think too there needs to be an awareness of the people who aren’t “toxic” or “problematic” being swept up and affected in the purgative efforts to bring in new voices and new creatives. What I’m saying is this, I believe that as we have more conversations about inclusivity and equality, it’s worth monitoring who gets pressed to the margins by those efforts in secondary or unintentional ways. The notion that you can just invert the dynamic between superior and subordinate as though you’re going to “teach people in power what it’s like to be powerless” is a dangerous one, and suggests that people lack a certain degree of self-awareness that going from bullied to bully doesn’t do much to stop the practice. A rising tide lifts ALL the ships, not just the ones you handpick.

Politicking aside, it was good and vital and helpful to me to get a bit of closure on some the setbacks that prompted the crisis I’m still experiencing. I got a chance to apologize, to own my shit, and I got a response that comforted me. I needed that. And that’s lesson #2 – owning your shit, owning who you are, what you do, how you sound, what you want to do, what you did, owning the mistakes, owning the willingness to admit those mistakes and try again helps you, even if you think it’s not dissimilar from dry-humping a hot cheese grater while you’re doing it.

This came up in a marketing on Sunday and blew my mind when it clicked into place – I have defined myself professionally and personally as this one sort of person who isn’t actually as bad a human or professional as I feared I was. I am by zero means perfect, and I certainly not everyone’s first choice or cup of tea, but I’m also not the leper at the city walls forever looking in and lost amid the masses. That’s a big deal for a guy who thinks of himself as the small kid who was sick all the time and driven to be smart so that people would want to hang out with him.

I have many people I hold as heroes and role models, and I am lucky to be able to spend time with them at this convention. We go eat sushi together, we sit on couches and talk not of work but of families and things we’ve done. New people come around and they’re not excluded. I like that. And this was the year I found out that I hold that hero/role model role for other people. Shocking, I know, because I’m just me, and I just do this stuff, and sort of get all long-winded about it, but it felt good to hear that I said or did things to help people. Which takes me to lesson #3 – you can have a positive impact on people without intentionally masterminding it. Being yourself, and being yourself passionately is visible and that’s totally fucking cool to do because people see that and it leads them to doing it to, in this positive domino chain of people being awesome.

I’m still working on how to process that one though. It’s one of those I-know-it-intellectually-but-emotionally-it-makes-as-much-sense-as-snakes-thumbwrestling things.

Speaking of heroes, there are those I have but have never interacted with directly, just been out on the edges near. They produce content where I’m an audience member, one of the many who say, “One day I’ll work with them. One day I’ll perform the right ritual and sign the Faustian deal and I’ll be lucky enough to work with them.”

I guess that ritual was the one where you walk over to a person and say hello and then ask them if they want to do a thing together, because that’s what I did, and I did get a chance to be a part of something huge and splendid and amazing. You’ll hear more about in the coming weeks and months, but if you jump on Twitter later today I’ll be talking about it somewhat.

And that’s lesson #4 the final lesson today – If you want to go do the thing, you have to go do something about it, and it’s not going to be handed to you. Want to be a _______? Then you need to go do that _________ so that people can see it and experience it. Want to have a chance to tick an item off your bucket list? Go have the scary conversation and be nervous and puke up eggs in a hotel garbage can then go do thing where people who you are 10000000000% sure have more talent in their toenails than you could muster over a thousand lifetimes work with you then shockingly spend the time telling you it was amazing. Yeah, that happened. It was awesome.

Stick around for more sweet blog action later this week. I’ll see you then. Happy writing.

 

Metatopia 2016 Schedule

In my opinion, there’s no better gaming (and development) convention than Metatopia. It’s a fantastic confluence of industry talent, designers, and intention. Without a doubt, it’s where I tell people they must go if they’re serious about creating a game or getting into the gaming industry.

Here’s my schedule for the weekend. Note the number of “Special Guests”, because this year isn’t just me yammering, more people will be with me to drop knowledge and occasional humor at faces.

See you then.

 

D002: “How to Playtest 101” presented by Darren Watts, Jeff Tidball, John Adamus. Our panelists talk about how to be good testers. Learn how to hear the questions being asked and answer with useful feedback. We all want to give helpful criticism; learn more about how to do that. Friday, 9:00AM – 10:00AM

D007: “So You Want To Be An Editor?” presented by John Adamus and Special Guest. If you wanted to be an editor of games, where would you start? How do you “break in”? What are the first few steps and best practices? Friday, 10:00AM – 11:00AM

D029: “From Idea to Manuscript” presented by John Adamus and Special Guest. Starting from the “I think I can make a game about X” point and walking you all the way up to “Okay, I’m ready to crowdfund this game”; a look at the stages of production. Friday, 5:00PM – 6:00PM

D035: “Making Your First Game” presented by Mark Richardson, John Adamus, Shane Harsch, Jim McClure, Whitney Marie Delaglio. The wondrous journey from beginning to end of working on your first game. It’s a highlight reel of the big process parts and what to keep track of to make your first game as successful as possible. Friday, 8:00PM – 9:00PM

D040: “Confused State of Rulebooks” presented by Joshua Yearsley, John Adamus and Jessica Hammer. Writing and editing rulebooks is still a black art, not an empirical science. In this panel, professional editors John Adamus and Joshua Yearsley hash out the state of the rulebook. What works? What doesn’t? Why do so many professionals (including us!) disagree about how to write good rulebooks? Why are so many rulebooks still bad, and what can we do about it? We won’t have all the answers – maybe you’ll help us find some. It is somewhere between a panel and a roundtable. We’ll certainly have things to say and discuss with each other, but we absolutely welcome audience input to figure out what the world’s thinking about. Friday, 10:00PM – 11:00PM (If Josh brings slides, I’d like you all to applaud EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. APPLAUD LIKE YOUR BEST FRIEND JUST WON AN OSCAR.)

D053: “Developmental Editing” presented by John Adamus and Special Guests. Sometimes you’re designing a game from the bottom up. Developmental Editing is exactly the opposite. A game exists in an imperfect or dated form. Now, let’s update or refine it until it really sings. There are different constraints in this type of editing. Learn about them in this panel. Saturday, 11:00AM – 12:00PM

D057: “Writing Scenarios and Campaigns” presented by John Adamus. We all know that narrative writing is about the beginning, the middle and the end. But how do you fill the in-between with toothsome, engaging opportunities? Let’s chat about how you succeed in both short-form and long-form story crafting for your players. Saturday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM

D060: “Getting The Job As A Gamer” presented by John Adamus, Tara Clapper, Isabel de la Riva. Do you have serious gaming skills that might help you snag your dream job? We’ll discuss how we did it and how you might make it happen. Saturday, 1:00PM – 2:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D098: “Marketing For The Disinclined” presented by Avonelle Wing, John Adamus. Marketing can be tricky, especially if it doesn’t come comfortably or naturally for you. Join us to commiserate, brainstorm and compare notes. Sunday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D107: “Narrative and Mechanics” presented by John Adamus and Special Guests. How does one influence the other, how do they cooperate, where do they clash? What are the limits on each? Sunday, 3:00PM – 4:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

1,000 Days (Musings and Feelings)

A very wise woman told me “Perfectionism isn’t about pleasing yourself, it’s about pleasing others and protecting yourself from criticism.” She’s right, because I’ve been working on some variation of this post for two days, but more broadly, I’ve been working these ideas for the last several hundred days. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. Because I’m not perfect.

Let’s start at the top. Today, while also being Halloween and the last day of October, is my 1,000th day sober. No booze, no pills, no drugs. To be honest, I never thought I’d last this long, because while there have been some great moments of happiness and pleasure in these thousand days there’s also been a whole lot of really tough and intense things going on. It’s a balance, even though when you compare quantities, it seems like the scales are way tilted.

Do I need to back up? I feel like I need to back up. In early February 2014, my life was (in not very Fresh Prince style) turned upside down by the honest and necessary decision to stop trying to end my life either actively or passively by putting stuff in my body that was creating a buffer I felt was necessary between me and the outside world.

This decision didn’t have a lot to do with the fact that I made it in a hospital room, or that I argued with myself about it as I was getting driven from one place to another. It was about hitting what I describe as “the bottomest bottom.” I can describe it to you like this: Life is reduced down to just existing on such a primordial level that you start to question why you bother breathing. There aren’t colors in the world (think Wizard of Oz), and sounds don’t have fidelity. You’re experiencing someone else’s world while you’re underwater wearing an old-fashioned diving suit that’s been filled with flavorless gelatin. Disconnectedness, a loss of any sense that you matter, and a loss of all the feelings and ideals you believe to be primary (for me that’s creativity, humor, sensuality, and a sense that people can-slash-deserve to be their best). The feelings didn’t evaporate, they migrated to other people.

And it’s not like you’re angry that they’ve ditched you, you find new and exciting ways to agree with the exodus. Of course you don’t get to feel good things anymore, look at you, (INSERT NEGATIVE REASON DU JOUR HERE). Likewise it’s absolutely reasonable that everyone else should be happy and do better (than you) because they deserve it. You don’t, they do. That’s the gap under the self-esteem door under which slide all manner of broken coping mechanisms and bad decisions to float into your personal bubble.

It’s those bad decisions, made and reinforced over so many years that had to stop. I wasn’t happy, I was pseudo-happy. I was pretend-happy. I was happy for others when necessary, because that was the right thing to do, but I was as hollow as a chocolate holiday bunny. That had to stop.

So on February 4, 2014, I found myself sitting in a room, in one of a few uncomfortable chairs, telling a group of strangers how I was a mess, and how I messed up my life. There wasn’t an immediate sense of camaraderie, we weren’t all sharing stories of how we messed it all up so we could earn some kind of “woe is me” cred. I had to put all my guts and thoughts and fears and feelings out of my body in that room, and hope that someone could help me be better than how and what I was doing.

Dudes, ladies, brothers, sisters, that was HARD. It was Day 1. I wept giant tears and wiped a lot of snot off my face. I got hugs from strangers. I wiped my nose on a lady’s shoulder as I blubbered. Day 1. In the books. Come back for Day 2.

And I have consistently come back for the all the Days. Seldom is it easy, but I have the tools to stay on this path, and I know this path is a better one for me. It’s been a messy path. It’s been a lonely path. It’s been an awkward path. But it’s taught me so many things. Here’s a few of the big lessons.

1. Not only should you have dreams, you must be relentless in your pursuit of them, should you truly and honestly deem them important to you. We all have dreams, and while some are fantasy-in-waiting, not all of them are. You can’t term all your dreams to be so far out of touch that you won’t even bother taking the steps to reach them. I’ve met people who think that all life provides is a series of opportunities for disappointment and rejection, no matter the effort taken. That life is rigged against them and they’ll never meet the unknown criteria to “make it.” This, fine and good creatives, is applesauce.

Even if the criteria is at times unknown, we do not exist simply to live out a series of fretful failures. Skip for a minute any sense of faith or spirituality and look at the math of it – eventually we have to succeed somewhere. Which is why it’s so important to continue trying. Because that success could be up ahead. And if that’s important to you, if you have a goal and want to have it happen, then go towards it with all the effort and experience possible.

2. There’s zero shame in making a plan, adapting an existing plan, or following a plan to get you to your goal(s). I used to be plan-averse, because I thought that only if I were spontaneous would people want to be near me. That was a complete disaster because in the absence of structure, I become a hedonistic vacuum cleaner sucking up whatever experience is within ten feet. So I swung the pendulum the other way, and became inflexible. The plans I made were everything, and while it took longer to get things done, because I was thinking about all the permutations and outcomes so I could tailor a plan to reduce (or eliminate, I thought) failure.

Rigidity in this way does not make the goal easier. The goal isn’t rigid, it’s your view of possessing it that’s unyielding. Don’t confuse rigid with concrete when you’re talking about goals. A concrete goal is defined and has boundaries – you want Book X published, you want to sell 20 widgets – but a rigid goal is over-defined – you want Book X published by Company Q with an advance of Amount G.

Adaptation will keep you from seeing a success (getting published) as a not-good-enough-thing (published but not by Company Q). So many people partner rigidity with legitimacy – that things have to go in a certain way else the things aren’t good or right. There are loads of ways things could go that will net you your desired end result that don’t look anything like the one specific way you had in mind. I thought the best solution for resolving addiction was not being alive. I was pretty firm on that plan, until this other chance presented itself, and I’m glad I was able to ditch the rigidity.

  1. Take failure as a moment of instruction or reflection, not as some sign that you’re supposed to give up. You’re in charge of quitting. It’s up to you and nobody else if you walk away from your dreams or goals. So when you fail, and you will fail, and you will even feel like some of the successes are failures because you’re just “not there yet” (wherever “there” is). The problems you encounter, those setbacks large and small, it’s only failure when you don’t try again. Keep going, and it’s a setback. Stop, and it’s a failure.

  2. Invest time every day in doing what you love, even if you have no idea how to make that switch flip from “I just love doing this” to “I make money doing this.” Whatever the “this” is, it’s never an instantaneous consistent success. It takes time to produce the “this”, it takes more time to get it out to the hands of people who want to trade money for a “this” of their very own. So since it takes time, make time and use your time to be productive.

“Productive” doesn’t mean be perfect, it means make progress. Remember this is firmly in marathon territory. I invest in myself everyday by working on sober living. I invest in my creativity every day by building a business and a legacy I’m proud of. Get in the habit of listing and doing the activities you invest in, and keep an eye to the goal of why you’re doing it – what’s the end result? How is what you’re doing getting you there?

  1. Rewards and milestones aren’t evidence of anything other than your progress. Along this marathon journey of creativity, you must remember that the course is not going to be, nor should it be, run all in one day. There’s a whole lot of distance between where you are and where you’re going, and it’s important you be able to look back and see how far you’ve come instead of always looking forward and feeling like you’re coming up short. Little rewards help you. They perk you up. For me, those rewards are snacks or an extra long nap or taking an hour to read a book I like. The reward for doing X doesn’t have to be X in order to help keep you motivated about X. In fact, I’ll argue that getting space between you and X from time to time will help you when you need to make headway on X.

You’re more than your projects, or your lack of progress, or your inflexible deadlines that of course you missed because anyone would miss them. You are not your perfectionism. You are not your dreams that forever exist in drafts and outlines. You are not your incomplete work.

Though you may yet be a work in progress, you are so much more than you may ever realize or appreciate. That’s my greatest takeaway from these 1,000 days. I am committed to delivering the best help I can to those who need it, and I am committed to being the best me I can be, scars on arms and all. I don’t need to be perfect to be me.

I’ll be at Metatopia the rest of the week. As you can tell, I’m in the process of getting this new blog into shape. Your continued patience is appreciated while I work out the kinks.

We’ll talk soon. Happy writing.

Patreon And Other Things I’m Doing

Hey everyone!

Hope you’re doing well.

So, I’ve been doing some stuff, and that means you get a quick little note about some of those things. Let’s go straight down my to-do list.

Patreon
Yeah, I know, I’ve had like 4 different versions of Patreon set up, I know I have decried it before. Feel free to jump into the comments and call me a hypocrite or an idiot. What I’m going to tell you is twofold: first, I didn’t “get” it and second, a lot of my screwing it up had to do with being incredibly afraid to try.

See, I’ve had a good case of the yips lately. (For those that don’t know what that means, it’s a way of saying I’ve been really gunshy and unsure about what I’m doing and whether or not I’m good at anything). And thanks to those yips this blog has been quiet. And thanks to those yips I don’t think I’ve really done well with tweeting. And because I think I didn’t do well before, I carry it forward, and it cycles over and over, cementing the yips and making it hard to throw the brakes on and change momentum.

Patreon is a way to do that. I’d love your support, I appreciate every dollar, and it’s all getting dumped right back into this blog and my passion for doing what I do. Here’s the link, thanks for checking it out.

Write More Gooder
For years, and by some estimates it’s up to a decade now, I’ve been talking about “one day.” One day when I do X. One day when I have Y happen. I’m always waiting for that one day like it’s a city bus downtown, even though I spend a lot of time telling people that if we want “one day” we have to go seize it.

One of my “one days” was this – One day, I’ll have a podcast. And I could talk about a lot of things, and I’d like to talk about a lot of things, but I’ve always resisted talking about things because I was so concerned with what other people would think or if they’d even pay attention (sound familiar to anyone?). I’ve made a lot of excuses about why this particular one day would never happen – I didn’t have a microphone, I can’t get Audacity to work, I don’t have the means to make something really polished, etc etc. While a lot of those things are true (I still can’t get Audacity to work 100% of the time and I don’t have the means or horsepower to do a lot of polish work), I do have a microphone, and I really should get off my ass and make this happen.

WRITE MORE GOODER will start in October. Here’s the lovely logo that I assume all my vastly more talented friends will tell me is garbage:

podcast2

Let’s not talk about how hard I worked on that.

The Traveling John RoadShow of Writing
Another of the “one day” issues was that I have always wanted to speak to more writers. Any writers. Usually this nets me a small local group here in Jersey, sometimes I get to Skype in with some group in PA or Delaware. But last I checked, the world is way bigger than that, and I am pretty sure there are writers out there who might like to hear some of the things I say.

So I’m going on the road. I’ve been putting together a list of conventions, groups, cities, and writers, and while there’s not a lot of money yet so that I can reach all of these people and places, I’m confident that with enough time and work, I can get some. I want to bring what I know to you. Patreon is one way we can make that happen. (Editing and Coaching are others)

Yips or not, this is me getting back up on the horse. I love you, I believe in you, I want to make awesome stuff with you. Happy writing.

The Intersection of Knowledge and Skill

The bag of onions was only $1.99. Which doesn’t make sense to me, because there are like 19 onions in it, each about the size of a tennis ball. But it’s 9:15 on a Sunday morning, and there’s a three pound chuck roast needing onions and au jus, so I go to the store.

It’s empty, the sort of empty that should only exist in movies and video games where there’s going to be something terrible happening once I get just a bit more inside the building. Maybe evil cannibals, maybe zombies, maybe ravenous nomadic clowns. But there’s nothing bad that happens. I come away from the store with a single bag of goods – the onions fumbling around the bottom of the bag.

It’s 9:38 when I started writing this post. With luck, it’ll go up later today, before I go to bed. I really don’t want to delay it to Tuesday, I’m worried that the freshness of the ideas will have faded, and it’ll be some stale sludge of ideas, like old coffee you’ve forgotten to purge from the machine.

On mornings like this, I am aware of just how much of life can be described as a series of intersections. There’s an irony here apparent to anyone who’s ever been in a car with me — I get lost incredibly easily, even on streets I drive regularly — so for me to talk about the meeting of two asphalt ribbons it’s amusing.

Intersections like the lives of two people meeting. Or a job in a field you’ve got a degree in. Or the moment where you realize you actually put together a piece of furniture and didn’t have any pieces left over. Two concepts, two items, two people, crossing paths. There’s a reason why we consider crossroads to be an important part of life, because at crossroads (intersections) we become aware of a choice to make – do I do this, and possibly change course, or do I skip the change, skip the potential good or bad that might happen, and keep doing as before? (Let’s skip the quantum discussion that interacting with the potential opportunity for change is in itself a change that will have effects on action, it’s a rabbit hole for another time.)

The intersection we’re going to cover today is where Knowledge meets Skill. Today, we’re going to get self-assessy, and we’re going to use me as the example, but I want you to do this for yourself on yourself. As a creative, being able to figure out what you’re doing, where you going, and whether you’re getting there or not (and I don’t mean in that plagued-by-self-doubt-so-assume-you’re-not-and-won’t-ever way)

We need to start with definitions. Can we agree that Knowledge is the sum total of information about a subject through study and observation? We know how to pour a drink into a glass, we know the capital city of where we live, we know that no one likes getting bad news in a text message.

Knowledge is a consequence of being alive. We learn as babies that our actions cause reactions (cry and get fed), and we continue add to our knowledge pools until we cease living (eight packs of cigarettes a day and a bad case of syphilis will do you in). Despite many people’s efforts and protests, there’s no way to skip gaining knowledge. I make a distinction here between knowledge and “learning”, because learning is the method by which we gain knowledge, and “learning” becomes synonymous with “school.” For some people (myself included) the structured education of K-12 and university was not the best way for me to increase what I knew, but since I was still alive, I was still gaining information. I worked jobs, I wrote, I was an unpaid intern, I put myself in situations (smart and otherwise) where I’d come out with more knowledge than when I went in.

So that’s one half of our intersection. We have knowledge. If we were to make a list of what we’re knowledgeable about, it would be pretty sizable, once we got past the worry that other people may judge us for how we perceive ourselves or what goes on our list. Here’s my list:

Knowledge I Have

————-

Writing

Speaking

Cooking

Motivate people

Internet piracy

Video games

RPGs

Publishing

Marketing

Film noir

Rex Stout

Movie critique

Screenplays

Tv writing

Detective stories

Sobriety and addiction

Writing critique

Editing

Social Media

Cartoons

Pop culture

That’s a whole lot of stuff, in no particular order, and in no way is that list complete. But I stand by what I’ve written there. No, it wasn’t easy. I had to really wrestle with some of the ideas there – were they worth mentioning? are people going to think I’m a jerk for saying I know that stuff?

The hard part was getting to a place where I was okay writing it down (which is why I’m writing this part of the past at 12:10pm having started almost 3 hours ago). It took work, I had to talk it over with people. I had to pace around the kitchen and talk myself into and out of writing it. But I got to a point where I was okay going forward, so there it is.

Make your own list. It does not have to be complete, it does not have to be ranked or prioritized. Just list stuff. There are no wrong answers.

Skill is the other half here. We can define skill as knowledge used properly. That “properly” isn’t a subjective opinion, it’s more about relevant purpose. You wouldn’t use your knowledge of cooking when you’re raking leaves. There’s a time and a place to apply a particular knowledge to a particular situation. It’s that kind of properly.

Unapplied knowledge isn’t wasted, there is no wasted knowledge. No one other than you can compel or encourage you to do something with the stuff you know. Not your spouse, your friend, your boss, not some guy on the Internet. It’s my hope that everyone will find a way to apply what they know in a tactical and practical way to make themselves better happier productive creatives. What that application looks like, ideally, is completely individual. No two people are going to demonstrate skill the same, even with knowledge and skill (somehow) being 100% equal. And that’s the important part here – how you show off your skill(s) doesn’t have to and shouldn’t have to look like someone else’s. Yes, multiple can do the same thing (write books, make food, etc) but their individual compositions aren’t the same. That’s to be celebrated and encouraged. More authors. More creatives. More ideas. Different ideas. Ideas that conflict with each other. Ideas that provoke. Ideas that prompt actions. Bring all the distinct people to this party, bring all the skills and their demonstrations to bear. We’re all made better when we can contribute to our best abilities.

Listing the skills I feel most passionate about, I get this:

Skills

——–

Writing

Editing

Public speaking

Developing and encouraging writers

Writing critique

Watching TV

Using Social Media

 

What does your list look like? Yes, the list of knowledges should be longer than the list of skills, because you’re always going to know way more than you can act on.

Making these two paths intersect is where we find creativity at its most fertile. It’s where what you know meets what you can do about what you know. And it’s at that intersection you’ll find things like this blog, or a person’s YouTube channel, or a series of one-person plays about inventing random items or whatever a person is fired up enough about to share with other people.

Now, yes, I’m sure some of you reading this are saying, “But John, I’m not really excited about anything I’m knowledgeable about.” And to that I say, what’s something that you’d love to know more about it, and can you dedicate some part of your time to learning about that thing? Maybe you’re secretly into Taylor Swift songs, so you spend some time watching the videos and singing along. Maybe you’re fascinated by soap making, so you start talking to soap people. And even if that immersion doesn’t inspire you to at least try and apply the knowledge, I’m going to ask you one more question – what are you afraid of? If your attempt fails, then you’re right back to this spot, the same spot you’re in before you started. Fine, you want to grouse about time and money, okay, but if you’re letting money be the arbiter of whether or not you pursue a thing I’ll point out that email newsletters and YouTube videos are free. I can’t stop you from making excuses. I can’t stop you from finding ways not to do anything. Speaking personally, I’m great at finding ways to avoid doing stuff. But since I didn’t want that to be a thing I share with other people, it didn’t go on the above lists.

There’s such ability to discover and grow at this intersection, and you have to do it when you’re there. Trying to capitalize on Knowledge A by using Skill Q is like trying to learn how to swim while sitting in an airplane at 35,000 feet. You need to be in the place, you need to be in that intersection, in order to make use of it.

Here’s the genius of this intersection – even if you don’t have that much skill, if you stick around and keep gaining knowledge and then applying that knowledge, you’ll get more skill. And if you think you have a good amount of skill but want more knowledge, stick around and you’ll gain more knowledge. That’s the point of the intersection – you’ll get plenty of access to both things.

So make your lists. Make yourself a little roadmap of where you are and where you want to be. Get encouraged, and get active. Don’t let the doubt and the possible responses be the gatekeepers on what you want to do, it’s not up to other people to determine how you feel satisfied.

I’ll see you later this week when we’ll expand on this idea.

 

Happy writing.

On Anxiety, Trying, Failing, and More Trying

So here’s the thing. I’m writing this from the comfort of a recliner. I’m not saying this to sound spoiled or entitled, I’m just telling you that I’m writing this post while reclining because I want you to imagine the following discussion happening in your living room. Yes, I brought my recliner to your living room, and no that’s not weird. You’re weird. Why don’t you have a guest recliner? Get it together.

I’ve been pretty well laid up the last several days, and that makes it difficult and embarrassing to do anything – there’s this inertia that only working consistently or resting consistently can provide and I seem to only want to do one or the other. From the medical side of things, this is great. My chest doesn’t feel like a legion of elephants is learning to tap dance the Morse Code lyrics to Hamilton, and I’m finally getting a chance to work on my Kurt Cobain hair style.

That’s the good part. The bad part is that without work, I get the pleasure of watching my bank balance recede with tidal urgency, and I get a substantial spoonful of guilt that I’m not doing more. I mean, there have been days where showering took all the energy I had, and we’re not talking depression, this is straight can-I-get-up-these-stairs-and-get-my-arms-over-my-head-energy. I’m not really sure I can explain that more clearly, and I want to. I feel like if I can find a better metaphor you’ll understand why I needed to spend more days where the most exciting thing I did was try and cut my toenails. Also, I feel like if you understand how I’m feeling, you’ll forgive me for feeling that way. Because I feel bad for being ill. I feel guilty for not doing more, and not doing more faster. Like how I used to. Granted, that way was imperfect, but I at least felt grounded in that identity – I knew who I was. Now, today, I might not know who I am, but I know what I can do. I’m not sure that’s a great trade-off yet, I’m still wrestling with the concept.

I say all that to say this: I know on some level I cannot control how you react to this. Maybe you’ll be sympathetic, maybe you’ll be disappointed, maybe you’ll pity me. Maybe you’ll call me a cuck because apparently that’s the new buzzword for a guy who isn’t much a guy (even though cuckery and hotwifing are two sexual lifestyles requiring an emotional maturity and communication skills, and are not “wrong”). Maybe you’ll cross me off a list of people who can help you turn your ideas into a book because you don’t expect me to live long enough (which I totally get, but if that’s your thinking, take the extra ten seconds to tell me that). Whatever. I can’t control how you’ll react, and no matter how you react, that doesn’t make me inhuman or wrong. It’ll be what it is, and I’ll do my best.

So I try my best to get up and work when I can. Not always easy, but I do what I can when I can the best I can.

 

And I appreciate your patience. And your support.

 

Thank you.

Writers and Envy

We start this week with a post that I’ve been toying with for a while – you’ll find I do that, my Drafts folder has 30+ posts in some state of ideas or partiality – today we’re going to talk about jealousy, and not as a story concept.

Let’s start today with a trip to any convention, awards show, or bookstore. Doesn’t matter which one. Here’s the scene:

So we’re standing (or sitting) there, and we’re watching other people’s success. Maybe they’re going up on a stage to get an award. Maybe they’ve got a whole room full of people lined up at a signing, maybe the bookstore can’t keep their books on the shelf. We’re right there, watching this, and no matter if we’re clapping or not, no matter if we’re in the line or not, no matter if we’re holding a book to buy it or not, we feel this yank somewhere down around the stomach, and it coils its way back through the spinal cord and its malevolent fingers snarl and hiss their way into our brains, and we start getting this feeling, maybe yours comes with a voice (mine sounds a little like Stewie Griffin if he hissed on his s’s)

That other author, that other creative, it hisses, you could be doing that. That could be you, hell that should be you. Why aren’t you the one doing the winning? Don’t people like your work. I guess not. I wonder who does like your work. Probably no one. I mean, the good work is what gets rewarded, and it looks like you don’t have any rewards right now.

That voice is a real bastard.

You know what? Let’s go one more. We’re in your house, and we’re in your favorite reading spot. You just picked a book that a friend recommended. Doesn’t matter who wrote it or what genre it is. You sit down to read it. Everything’s great until you hit that one sentence. That one damned sentence that expresses an idea so beautifully it hurts. The sentence might be long or short (it doesn’t matter), it’s just exactly what needs to be on that page, and back comes that voice.

You’re never going to write anything as good as that. Don’t you wish you could? Don’t you wish your author-voice looked like that? You know what? Let’s get the Pussycat Dolls stuck in a loop in your head too. You deserve that too.

Total. Dick. Move.

I don’t have a fancy term for it, but it’s envy. We get envious of what other people can do, what they win, what they have, and then as a bounce-back from that jealousy, we start measuring ourselves against it and always find a new way to make ourselves woefully inadequate. Some of us could even go professional in our lack-of-measuring-up-ness. If we could make a living doing it, we’d own mansions and yachts.

Envy is when we look at what other people are doing or what they have and believing that we should have it instead or the other person shouldn’t have it at all. It’s a feeling that in a comparison between us and them, because our brains love to separate along us/them divides, we’re getting the short end of not just one stick, but a whole forest full of sticks.

There’s a few things at work here, so let’s unpack them.

A) It suggests that you think you’re work, incomplete or not, is shit when compared to other people’s work. Fun fact: You can’t measure your unfinished work against someone else’s finished work. They’re not comparable on the same terms. Of course the house still being built isn’t as nice as the fully furnished one. Of course the pencil sketch you just started a second ago where you drew one line isn’t the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Even if it is done, here’s another way to look at it – can you compare a garter snake to a king cobra? They’re both snakes, they’re both found on the planet, they’re both things you can google or run away from, so why can’t I get really specific about weighing them against one another? Because one’s going to kill you and the other is a nuisance in a cornfield.

Authors: your crime thriller and that lady’s epic fantasy novel are both books the same way the garter and the cobra are both snakes.  But aside from being printed on paper, and having ink on that paper, and a few other bits that we use to define them as “books”, the similarities stop. I’ll even give you a pass on them being in the same language and using the same font size. They’re still very different things. A different thing is not automatically a bad thing. Just like how you’re different from me, and that doesn’t make either of us wrong or bad. Unless you’re a clown, because then I doubt you’re human at all.

What we do is different from each other, and that’s one of the best parts of being a creative. We can all take the same writing prompt and tell completely different stories. No one’s wrong that way, just different.

B) It suggests that there’s a reason someone shouldn’t be having the experience (that you’re aware of) them having. This two parts to this one – first let’s all take a moment to recognize that you’re not the one who dispenses permission slips for people to do what they do. There isn’t a person who does that. That’s not a thing. Our individual attempts to control are often efforts to manage a sense of powerlessness. (Johnfession: I had that yelled at me once during a breakup fight, and I’ve kept it rattling in my head since)

You’re not in charge of other people’s experience, so you don’t get to determine if they’re allowed to have it. Now I know there’s a great deal of social controversy in that statement, and I don’t care. Everyone, yes even the people you don’t like, gets to have their experience, because you know, they’re like alive and stuff. Likewise, they’re allowed to create whatever they like, even if you don’t like it.

Second, you’re not them, so you don’t know the whole picture of their experience. You see the end result that got them to that convention or awards stage or bookstore, but you don’t know if the effort to get them there cost them a marriage or they had to do it while dealing with kids and a mortgage or a dying parakeet or a drug problem or coming to terms with the fact they like Ke$ha and Taylor Swift music.

Only they know how hard they worked, because they did the work. Everything and everyone else with a thing to say (positive or negative) is reacting to their own opinion of that work. Opinions aren’t the arbiters of experience, facts are. We don’t have all the facts about how someone worked, so our concept of it is limited. And with a limited picture, we can’t accurately say that they do or don’t deserve the results they’re having.

C) What they’re doing is no indication of whether or not you can do it too. How we create is unique to us. We might all be making books, or phat beats, but how we go about it, even with the same tools in hand, is specific to us. Just because we can all write a sentence using the word “callipygian” doesn’t make my sentence or your sentence better than everyone else’s. We might like certain sentences better for a variety of reasons specific to us, but we’re still talking opinions. About things external to us.

Could you have strung together the same words and done the same as some other author? Not necessarily. Remember that when we’re looking at that convention or stage or store shelf, we’re seeing factors beyond the words – there’s the audience, the marketing, the cover. That success they’re having that you wish you were having is a confluence of a lot of factors. You have your own factors, and that’s where I suggest we take this post so we can wrap it up.

It’s so tempting to look at how well someone is doing and knock ourselves down a few pegs because of it.But we’re not capable of having their experience, at best, we can have a version of that, provided we do the work to get us there.

Want an audience like that other creative? Go build an audience.
Want a book cover like that? Find an artist, make it happen.
Want to do a signing? Finish the damned book and arrange one.

Yes, of course it always come back to the work. As in doing the work. Not using other people to chart and justify and reference your position. Positions are too motile and fleeting. The minute you put down another word, make another blogpost, meet another person, you’re in a different place than you were. They’re ever changing. Learn to roll with that, and take advantage of it – today’s hard day is often the catalyst for tomorrow being a better one.

And of course, I believe in your ability to do the work, no matter how well someone else is doing.

 

See you later this week. Happy writing.

Social Media for the New & Anxious, Part 3

Good morning. Here we are on Friday, the day that for some will end with margaritas, pantslessness, and a few “Woo”s. If you’re among that number, I wish you and your liver all the very best. If you’re not going to Señorita Yolanda’s for their 9 shots for $2 happiest of happy hours, I’ve got some potato skins we can share.

Before we rim our glasses with salt and get ready to shout over Tex-Mex techno (this imaginary bar is of course infamous for Selena remixes), let’s continue our series on social media. I mean, we’re here, we might as well talk about something while we sit in offices and wait for the end of the day.

We’ve talked so far about being new, we’ve talked about what goes into a message, so let’s look at another thing that happens with social media – mistakes.

We all make them. And when we do, we’re all sure that death by immediate asteroid impact to the face would be preferable.

See, I don’t mean the mistakes where you accidentally send an email to Tom A when you meant Tom B, and they’re just too close together in your Gmail. And I don’t even mean the time you spelled a person’s name wrong, because those are trivial mistakes in the grand scheme of things, and they’re easy accidents. Any apology would be quick and simple.

No, I’m talking about the times you really step in it. Like when you write that email in anger and in that automatic way you click ‘send’ rather than delete. Or when you suggest that the someone enjoys sexual relations with their mother. Or when you pointedly tell someone to savor the flavor of your genitals to the point of orgasm in their mouth. You know, good proper gut-wrenching mistakes that can dog you.

Did you know I used to use Twitter as a fancy text messaging service?

Did you know that I once told a room full of actors they could all go have violent sex with themselves using broken objects because I didn’t like what they were doing to the genius I had spewed onto the page?

Did you know I once sent all the angry emails I used to store in my Drafts folder to all their respective addressees?

I bring these things up because I own doing them. Even if I don’t remember writing the tweets, and only have a hazy recollection of telling actors what to do (interesting – one of them went on to do several years on a hit TV show), I did these things. There’s no doubt. I wasn’t hacked by Russians or Republicans. I didn’t leave my computer on so my wacky roommate could take over. I straight up did really stupid shit that affected me personally and professionally for months and years after.

I say this because you’re going to make mistakes. Own them. You don’t have to flail and objurgate afterward, you don’t need to withdraw for a 60-day isolation period. No, you’ve got to one harder – admit you were wrong and sincerely make an effort not to do it again.

And no, it’s not easy. Responsibility is not always easy. But it’s the better path to take if you want to move forward and onward in a better way towards your goals and towards repairing relationships. Hashtag realtalk. Hashtag adultmoment. Hashtag burritoface.

See, here’s the thing about mistakes. Saying, “Yes I did this, and I’m sorry I did” (or the like) is actually a good thing. Yeah, there are consequences, and even after you handle them, some people might not be so willing to change their minds about you, but then again, you’re not in charge of how they think and you can’t control how they think. So, politely, tell that bit of anxiety it too can go have sex with itself on this Friday morning.

One of the problems with mistakes I’ve seen people make and am guilty of myself is that we sometimes inflate them to Macy’s Thanksgiving proportions. We enlarge and engorge what we did wrong, the assumptions we make about how the fallout will be, and what the appropriate punishment and restitution might be. It’s really hard to put a mistake into  perspective, because there’s an emotional component (“I can’t believe I did that!”) we need to first contend with – yeah, you did do that – before you can work the problem into a solution.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are going to be people out there who will spend a great deal of time, energy, and emotion giving you a lecture about what you did wrong, so that you understand the depth of your wrongness presumably so that you feel informed/guilty as to never do that sort of thing again. Rather than take a tolerant position that if you know it’s wrong you won’t do it again because you’re a human capable of understanding error, they break out a soapbox or pulpit to tell you what’s wrong while implying their fecal matter is without odor, or that they’re a better brand of person who could never make the same mistake as lowly you. This, to me, is applesauce and horsefeathers. We all make mistakes. The lectures can be spared and people can trust each other to do what’s right.

There’s a side note here that sometimes those corrective lectures come from an opinion, and we might not all agree with all opinions, but there’s a difference between recognizing that two people have differing views, and one person telling the other person that they’re subjectively wrong because reasons great and small. There’s nothing wrong with correcting an error, provided there are grounds and substantiated ideas to prove it was an error. (Again, we’re talking bigger problems not typos.)

Lastly, and often accompanying the lecture is someone saying publicly that they’re unsubsctibing, blocking, unfollowing or otherwise not engaging with a person who’s made a mistake. The publicity of their statement is often the telling element – why do they have to make a show of their action? What’s to be gained other than adding potential fear and shame to the mix? You, as the creative on social media who made the mistake in the first place, cannot control what other people do. You cannot and should not sweat the loss of one person because for all you know, people come and go without saying a word. Social media is a river with a current, and sometimes people float away. You’re not responsible for their actions or decisions, and you’re under zero obligations to keep them around. They want to go, let them go. Others will come. (Also, if these people are leaving over a mistake that other people have forgiven, and the majority of people have moved on, are you really concerned?)

This post ran a little long, so let me break out a TL;DR – you’re going to make mistakes. Own up when you do. Make the apologies and amends where possible, and move forward making every effort to be better. You can do this. I believe in you.

See you guys next week. Happy writing.

A quick flurry of ideas about a thing

Note: This post originally went up on Google+, but since I can no longer set it (or rather can’t figure out how) to public. I reprint it here.

Pardon me while I get some tap dancing out of the way. I have spent quite a few hours trying to find words to express these thoughts without specific citations of companies and people, out of maybe a naive or anxious fear that in straight calling them out, I lose some opportunity in the future.

I suppose the benefit to occasionally feeling like I’m often on the outside looking in is that I don’t know opportunities at a distance, so I’m less shocked when I don’t have them.

Having said all that, here are some thoughts.

1. There is a model of industry development that I frankly find abhorrent – it’s the model where price points are absurdly elevated to create an atmosphere of rarity or exclusivity, so that a feeling of missing out can be exploited – you don’t want to miss your one/only chance to have this thing, so do please fork over more than a few dollars. If there’s a flaw in the crowdfunding model becoming more of an accepted practice, it’s that FOMO is the fuel rather than a passionate excitement for production (not to say people aren’t thrilled to be making a thing, but the number of happy makers is smaller than the number of consumers who want to feel included).

2. Continuing from that point, as price elevates, it seems reasonable then to question – where does this money go? As someone who often gets paid out of crowd-raised monies, I know that money goes to production and shipping costs, with the remainder usually becoming a birthing pool for future material. However, that deals with the money going out. Let’s question the money coming in – in a crowdfunding model, how are tiers determined?

While I’m sure there is a formula, as well as I’m sure that sometimes it also comes down to “making it up”, I think it’s important to look what the price point suggests to the potential customer. Let’s step out of gaming.

Cars. Car manufacturers have long had certain prices associated with even their most basic models for years – it’s why we can mock Kia and Bentley as ends of a spectrum – and we can with some manner of comfort ballpark a range of dollars for a certain type or size of car. This expectation is prevalent and not really questioned. We can apply this same idea to gaming – we can roughly ballpark the cost of a book based on its size, cover, art content, binding, etc. This expectation can help us as consumers when we stand in stores or look at digital shopping carts.

So what happens when our expectations collide with elevated prices and a fear of missing out? Dissonance. Static. A variety of emotions. We look at a higher price and assume higher quality, when quality is tied to production, not sales point – you can score a sweet deal on an expensive item and the item doesn’t suddenly degrade. So why pay more?

3. Here’s where we start dealing with the human element. There’s a level of vanity involved. We’re often told to value ourselves highly and not to settle for lower income. But there comes that tipping point where the perceived value is unattainable – I believe my work to be worth a thousand dollars an hour, and it reduces the number of people able to afford that, which can send a message to the people who can’t afford it that I’m something of a jerk with an inflated sense of myself, or that there’s something wrong with them because they don’t value themselves like that or can’t afford it.

In this way, we create barriers, not bridges. Going beyond the social element of inclusivity, there’s an economic consideration to be made. If few people have access to a thing, how is that supposed to help expand the population of people with access to it? The assumption they’ll share is based on the assumption that the people are connected to each other somehow (all part of the same group in addition to the group of owners).

Economics too often becomes a barrier for consumers – they can’t afford things like conventions or products so they don’t spend that money, which can lead to fewer available sales, because the people who can afford things already have them.

With fewer sales, people can either reduce prices to hopefully draw in people, or raise them, thinking that higher prices will make up for the population decline – but that’s the barrier. Raising prices just expands and cements that gap between those that have and those that don’t.

4. From another side, that barrier of expense can create scarcity among creators and producers, since only a finite number of people can work on expensive products. Sure, yes, there’s a nice boost from being known as a “company person”, but there too comes a point when this barrier creates an echo chamber – the haves against the have nots can so easily turn into the people who “get it” (whether that’s product or the concept of what people are trying to do) versus those that don’t. The more you cement that barrier, the more distant you appear. And distance from audience is seldom reparable through a few chummy tweets or a smiling selfie.

The echo chamber is a dangerous place. It is the influx of new people that drives creativity but adding not just criticism but motivation. And I’m saying this as a guy who at times is part of a small echo chamber himself. Think of how the barriers established by price and production and FOMO can exclude people from thinking they can even reach a similar level. The great giant named companies didn’t start out as the behemoth but at some point there’s a conversion, a metamorphosis into something that is not, and cannot be what it was before. Gone are the shoestring budgets and gone is that hunger when high prices were the dream. A new reality comes in as one of the haves, not the have nots. And quick is the erosion of the idea that they’ll “remember how they got there.” It’s smoke. It leaves on a good breeze too quickly.

5. Combine these things together: the expense, the discouragement, the FOMO, the barriers, the distance, and it’s easy to see the jagged edges where very few people finish what many people start.

The upsetting part for me is that this challengingly simple to fix. Not easy, but a series of simple steps:

Shift the focus of production to consumer growth, not income – offer a greater number of reasonably priced products more frequently than single high ticket items. Either that, or change the production schedule to take longer with fewer products. Let time be the arbiter of quality, not expense.

Pay people fairly – Receiving better wages does wonders on this whole system, making them able to afford more things, as well as be encouraged to do more work.

Shed some ego (remember: this is me saying this) – This includes all the things from name reliance to virtue signaling to micro-managed solitication of feedback that discounts criticism. The only way that barrier between consumer and producer recedes is through resolute focus on WHY people do what they do, and HOW they can do it better, not what they gain from doing it.

Jettison some fractious thinking – To think that the more successful do not in some way have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to be more active beyond being up on a pedestal as “things to be like”, is to discredit the potential people have to genuinely affect change and growth through creativity. A rising tide does lift all boats, and if someone has the ability to shift ocean currents, then how self-absorbed must they be to see people wanting to improve yet hold back potential aid?

I just don’t get it. I love this industry. I love making things. I love helping people make things. I don’t know when so many other elements like politicking, popularity contests, and division came around, I guess I was out that day.

If we can’t go back to how it was, then let us go forward to where it could be if we make some bridges and raise some tides.

Social Media for the Anxious & New, part 2

Welcome back to Monday. I keep trying to develop portal technology so that we live in a reality where it’s only ever Thursday and then there’s always a 3-day weekend, but all my efforts get thwarted somewhere around the moment I realize I only know about advanced math from Futurama and Rick and Morty.

Let’s get back to work then, okay?

The series on social media use continues today. On Friday, we talked about how mistakes are gonna happen, and how I really believe you can do this, and today we’re going to get detailed about what exactly goes into a tweet, a blog post, and a status update.

Before we get into this, I want to point out that if you’re thinking someone else (from a publisher let’s say) is going to handle all this for you so that you don’t have to, even if you pursue the most traditional route of publishing possible, you’re going to be in for a huge shock – the publisher’s marketing department does not solely exist to relieve you of the burden of being an author, and yes, in (insert current year here), part of being an author is being able to interact with an audience in an actionable way. Let me further burst that bubble by saying that writing is a part of what an author does, and reaching out and informing/building an audience is another part of the author-effort.

Sure, yes, you can farm this out via some services where you pay a person half a world away to tweet for you or update your blog for you (a lot of “work few hours make bank” systems operate this way), but when you farm off part of what can help you connect with an audience, how is that going to help your audience see you as more than a book dispensary?

Audiences want and have come to expect more than just the author-machine who cranks out somewhat formulaic books and slaps a name on it without breaking new and interesting mental ground, treading forever on their name and established reputation rather than doing what got them their name and reputation, the writing interesting stuff part of author-effort.

I think by breaking down good composition of social media elements, it can demystify them, and it can make it easier to do and more relevant to an author, even one who is still working on book one or someone who’s stuck a few books in when their publisher folded up their tent.

This doesn’t have to be scary. This doesn’t have to be burdensome. Also, assume in every one of these cases that communication is a two-way street. You do your part by bringing information and personality, the audience can do their part by responding. You can encourage that response, but you can’t force it. And when you’re just starting out, yes I know, it’ll feel like you’re talking to nobody, but keep at it. Like a corn field and Ray Liotta, people will show up.

We’ll go one step at a time through this:

A Tweet

I’m a huge fan of Twitter for getting out morsels of information at a good pace. I think it’s great warm-up for writing the longer things I do throughout the day, and I like the gratification of seeing people respond in near-realtime.

Because a tweet is capped at 140 characters, concision becomes the chief constructive element – and that 140 count includes spaces and punctuation and links to things, so first and foremost any tweet that builds around a link (whether that’s to a blog post or an Amazon page or whatever) has to more substantial than just the naked link dangling out there.

Before the link, include some words so that your audience knows this isn’t spam from a Nigerian who’s happy to part with gold he can’t show you in exchange for all the banking information you can manage. The act of being personable in a concise way, ahead of the link, renders the overall effect of the tweet to not be blatant in its salesmanship. Look, selling and linking are part of getting eyes on product, we all know it, but we don’t need to do it in some cold and dry way.

Putting your personality into even a few words, and making sure that you don’t repeat that every few hours once you figure out what that string of words is, will go a long way to conveying to the audience that yes, in fact, you are a real person, really trying to do a real task while appearing really vulnerable.

What words, you might ask? The ones that sound like you. The ones that you say, the ones you think. And while there do exist plenty of books of words about selling things, and some of them are even worth reading, any word that sounds like you and is an honest expression of who and what you’re doing is going to beat out any magic sales-word. In fact, it’s the melding of the sales stuff and your own stuff that’s going to help you establish your non-authorial author voice, which is the voice you’ll use when you’re talking about what you’ve done or what you’re doing.

And here we get to the part of the text where I tell you to tweet often. And not just the sales opportunities, I mean the life stuff too. About your dog, about your dinner, about your feelings on dystopic pudding. The caution here is that while dispensing what I imagine  are your numerous opinions and 140-character rants, be mindful of who’s seeing that stuff. Just because you only have 4 followers, don’t think that the word can’t travel to those people you’re cattily talking about. This is not a schoolyard, you do not need to assert dominance with virtual urine so that someone will take you seriously.

A Status Update

In other forms of social media, you’ve got much more space to operate in, and depending on your relationship with that medium, you can easily use it to blog. I’m not a huge fan of the practice, because I have this blog, but things like Facebook and Googe+ are other tools in the toolbox that can make social media a bit less ornery and a bit more mainstream for your creative life.

It’s important to remember here that you’re working with a signal-to-noise ratio that’s different than what you see in Twitter. The pace of Twitter turns its messages into burst transmissions and you can easily blink and miss things. In other media, there’s a volume of information happening simultaneously and it’s easy to get lost in the tide. When the world is a awash in Pokemon, political memes, and those photos from last week’s party, it’s hard to stand out.

Stand out by having something to say that’s more interesting and communicative than provocative. Anyone can write a few hundred words of hypersensitive invective, anyone can erect a soapbox in the center of a three-ring circus. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of attention-grabbing like it’s some rare and finite thing we’re all competing for. When you put your guts on the page, when you say what you need to and don’t churn up people just to churn them up “because even bad attention is attention”, you’ll build that audience out of sterner stuff than people who check you out to see what the latest outrage, tragedy, arrogance, whining, or problem-you-have-with-the-world-that-demands-it-change-not-you is.

Again, this is authorial voice on display. Talk about your work. Talk about the work-in-progress. Talk about the strides and stumbles. Don’t think the audience will run at the first sign of things getting tough for you, people love a good success story as much as they love to be supportive.

A Blog Post

We conclude today with the largest of the three pieces of social media – the blog post. Loads of people write them. You’re reading one right now, if you hadn’t noticed. (Or maybe you got this emailed to you thanks to the signup box over on the right)

Here’s an entire blank canvas, available for free, to do with as you like (okay, I’m paying for this site so I can get the dot-com I want, and so I can get some bells and whistles that help me, and there are some restrictions on content if you use a host like WordPress or Blogspot).

So what do you write about? My answer to this when it gets asked on panels is, “Yes,” because you can write about anything. Look at  this blog – I talk about mental health, addiction, semicolons, recipes and kitchen stuff in between all the posts on queries and publishing and motivation.

There’s no wrong answer here, so long as you’re sharing your worldview and your creativity in an active way. Yes, you can use a blog to track the dates on a book tour, or as a respository for your guest posts and snapchat takeovers. But if you want to do more than just archive your efforts, an audience is built out of the breadth of content partnered with a voice and perspective broadcasting it.

You’ll develop that voice, that perspective, and ultimately that audience through consistency. Post often, post authentically. Practice, just like the tweets and status updates above. It does get easier.

And to answer the question of “How long should a post be?” I have no good answer for you. I’ve written posts that are a few hundred words and had a huge reception. I’ve written super long posts and had an equal reception. I’m starting to think that even though a shorter post is easier to knock out, like so many other things in life, it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it.

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I encourage all of you, and I believe in all of you. You can do this. Keep at it, even when it’s tough. Even when you’re sure that no one is reading. (Small note: one of the ways you can have people reading is by telling them that you have something they can read – they won’t know you’ve done a thing otherwise.)

You can always find me on social media (on Twitter, on Google+), and I’ll be your audience.

Let’s meet back up here on Wednesday when we’ll do part 3 of this series – what to do when you make a mistake.

 

See you then. Happy writing.