The Post About The Shift

As I promised here, I’ve noticed a both intended and unintended substantial change I’ve made over the last few months. I suppose it’s been percolating for years, but because I’m often slow about absorbing or accepting ideas when they pertain to or affect me, I’m only just seeing it now.

Way back when, I was, bluntly, a mess. I was a dishonest, manipulative, arrogant, obnoxious bully of a guy. I can write that off to unchecked mental illness or addiction, but I don’t entirely want to excuse it. I saturated and perpetuated a climate where I was encouraged to stay not-nice, because it was easier to be a death metal porcupine with flaming quills than anything sensitive, empathetic, or sincere. That stuff was scary, because honesty always carries with it a pile of potential rejection or judgment.

Granted, yes, being a complete dick carries judgment and rejection, but I very artfully was able to say that was the fault of other people. How dare they not want to hang out or love or get to know the guy who treated them like shit! What was so wrong with them, because clearly John-in-his-20s was perfect.

I would love to say that this shift away from that trash-human was all due to sobriety, but I think the roots of this shift come from three elements: the sobriety, the people I put around myself after I realized how important happiness was, the material I chose to put my focus on instead of where it was before.

So let’s break this down.

The Sobriety
It’s undeniable that getting off booze, pills, and the wealth of poisons I was stuffing into my body played a huge role in how I lived. Sure, it revealed some way-less-than-great health issues that have some serious and big-time consequences, but between one thousand one hundred and thirteen days ago (at the time of this writing) and today, I am less engaged in efforts to actively kill myself because I’m angry at the world for not giving me enough love or success or attention or validation, like it’s all portion controlled and not the all-you-can-plate buffet that I’ve come to discover it is. I didn’t want to do the work of going out and asking or seeking those things I needed because I thought I wouldn’t get them, and when it became apparent to me that I had just as much right as the person next to me to be happy and cared about, this big personality and productivity and professional shift began. Sadly, I don’t remember the exact moment that switch was flipped, but I can ballpark it to a particular week and roughly say it was snowing that day, based on my recollections.

I’d be dead by now if I wasn’t sober. Period. Full stop. I am proud of my efforts, I have zero doubts that it was the right thing to do, even though the path to get me there wasn’t the easiest and along the way I had to change along the way. The clarity of mind and the appreciation for being alive matters in a way that’s greater than blog follower count, or client list, or bank account. I can grow and improve anything now that I’m not actively playing a part in my own destruction.

The People I Put Around Myself After I Realized How Important Happiness Was
Okay, let’s go back to me being a dick in my 20s and even my early 30s. I had friends. I had some good friends. I may have treated them poorly, we may have treated each other poorly, but this is where my life was. It wasn’t about being happy because I’d helped people (like now) it was about getting happiness in the misery of others to create some paradigm that I get my jollies from knocking other people down. It’s not healthy. I am zero percent proud of what I did and said back then.

Even after sobriety I didn’t know any other group of people to cluster towards, and I admit I did myself very few favors moving through the orbits of people back then. I was trying to make good and smart and healthy choices without recognizing that it’s hard to find them when you’re not seeing the red flags.

I discounted happiness as I thing I qualified for because I thought I had to atone for living poorly. I thought that these people around me would provide that happiness just because I was around, but my silence about how I felt and what I wanted didn’t clue them in that there was a thing to address. That’s on me. They’re people, so they’ve got their own issues, but I can only be responsible for myself.  I gotta put on my oxygen mask before I can help somebody else with theirs.

So, after painfully extricating myself from groups of people who I never meshed with the way I wanted, I floundered a little. I felt like that grape that sits at the bottom of the package – it’s not part of the cluster, but it’s not an inedible grape even though it gets overlooked because it’s not part of the cluster.

The best advice I can give to someone when they feel like that grape is that the only way you’re going to get different results is to take different action. And yes, you need to accept that the new action has risks to it, but that’s the cost for taking it. I took risks.

Okay wait, that makes it sound like I went skydiving into a volcano. I didn’t. I mean I started talking to new people. It only felt like skydiving into a volcano.

Here’s where I start name-checking people.

Bar none, the best improvement I made to my life was letting good people who legitimately care about me help me go forward one day and one action at a time. I would be completely and totally lost without Jessica Pruneda. She is at once my sherpa, my confidante, the kindest and best human source of compassion and caring I’ve ever met, and someone I am deeply pleased to go through life with. Also, she makes sure I do things like nap and drink water and not lose my shit. Her fondness for tacos also makes lunchtime a treat. I cannot say enough good things about her, even though she blushes super hyper easily and will totally deny most of it. She’s amazing.

Without Jeremy Morgan, Matt Jackson, and Mark Richardson, my life would be missing some of its crucial colors and scope (Cinemascope, the best of all Scopes, take that peri-!). They make me laugh and think and encourage me everyday. They make it easier. They’re awesome.

I cannot understate how crucial it is to do the tough act of looking at the people and habits you surround yourself with if you’re not getting what you want from life. Whether that means business or personally or casually or creatively, the climate you osmose affects your work and life. Tricky here is the idea that it’s not their fault if you need to change things. Nor is it a complete sign that you’re doomed to suck, it’s just a thing you need to change to do better, be better, and go forward. It’s fixable.

Happiness is vitality. It isn’t this thing you earn or work up to like trading in tickets at some prize counter, it’s a kind of lifeblood all its own, and despite what angry or loud people will holler on the internet, there’s nothing wrong with you that you don’t deserve to be happy. And other people can be happy concurrent to your happiness even and especially with the things making them happy aren’t the same as the things that make you happy.

People can contribute to your happiness, but you can’t expect them to fill the tank. It’s not all on them to be your everything-resource. Tough lesson, but worth it.

The Material I Chose To Put My Focus On
Before you can affect a change in yourself, you have to first accept that you’re a product of the environment and scaffolding you’ve built around your day-to-day life. If you’ve built an echo chamber, if you are only steeped in one particular avenue of thought or action, then what you’re doing and thinking is only going to show the hallmarks of that influence. We all do this.

Sometimes, this isn’t an issue, because the people and thoughts around us elevate and illuminate us. Sometimes though, it’s building sycophancy and perpetuating codependence.

For me, I put media and content around me that was disguised as intellectual or provocative, but was really no different than the stuff I was spewing in my 20s. It had some new window dressing, it had all new jargon, but it was still … people treating each other poorly under the guise of “educating” or “correcting” them, a position that no one appointed them to, and a position that wasn’t actually doing anyone any favors.

It stopped being funny or interesting to hear the same tired opinions or outrage or jokes. The horses were dead and beaten. It was time to move on, and when these other people didn’t, that meant it was time for me to go.

I found Movies With Mikey. I found Epic Rap Battles of History. I found the WWE Network. I stopped listening to angry dudes and ladies making mountains out of molehills. I started checking out people making stuff that was fundamentally not about how awful things were and how good things could be. Not counting the shirtless guys hitting each other with chairs. That’s more nostalgia.

It was a simple thing, to prune the Youtube subscriptions, to cull the blogs I read, and find new outlets. I asked this question – Is this bringing information and giving me something I can take away, or is this something I’m watching because I find the emotional outburst attractive?

It’s a question about whether or not I want to be actively engaged in checking out material or passively checking out because I’m checking out an echo chamber different than the one I just left.

You add all these things up: the decisions and the people and the thinking, and you can track me moving towards being a different John. The tweetstorms began to add in elements of motivation, I blogged less because I was focusing on learning how to do things in new ways and more ways that reinforce the vector I’m on. I started a Patreon as one more place to put out content where I could speak when typing didn’t cover all the bases I wanted.

In the very near future, over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to start talking about and sharing interviews and experiences I’ve given and had this year where I think (and hope) you’ll see this changed me.

I can’t twist your arm and make you see it, all I can do it is be that guy and do the best I can every day.

Thanks for reading this, I really appreciate it. Happy creating.

#ProjectCardiacPhoenix

We start with a medical update: Today has so far been a good day. I’m writing this with a blanket wrapped around me. The chest pain isn’t too awful. I’ve eaten something. I’m feeling up to writing this post. I have very little to substantially complain about.

My heart is for the moment stable. I’m responding to treatment, and doctors are hopeful I’ll continue to respond as well as I am, with my immune system holding strong and my bloodwork on the upside. This all gets punctuated with oxygen tanks and assistive devices, because while I’m declining, I’m not in the period of time the doctors refer to “The Decline”, which is the economics-sounding way of saying “the last few months of life.” I’m not there, I’ve got a few years between today and there.

I’m still not out of the woods, and frankly, short of miracles and transplant, I won’t ever be out of the woods. I’ve decided that if I’m going to be in the woods, I’m going to build a cabin there.

I want to introduce you to #ProjectCardiacPhoenix. The goal of this Project is to keep me going, not just financially, but also productively. One of the elements not often talked about with long-term illness (terminal or otherwise) is that it has a lot of downtime. You wait in a lot of offices, you wait for a lot of test results. You wait for things to change. And waiting is corrosive. Waiting is a forever-hungry beast with open jaws. It is corrosive to hope, which so often feels fleeting when you stack up all the medical updates, insurance bureaucracies, and physical issues.

See, one of the frustrating things, the gnawing mental shit, is that I’m 1000000% confident that I’m doing the best work of my career, lucky enough to do what I love to do for a living, and it’s just that the rest of my body is failing to keep up with my mind as it races along to being a better coach, editor, and writer.

I know so many of you have asked how you can help, and I have always struggled with guilt over giving you more than a polite answer, because I have felt like I was a burden to at least one other person since I was a small child. Now I’m an adult, and I still feel like a burden even talking about this, but as my excellent caretakers have all pointed out, “You need to do something while you can.”

Here are some ways you can help:

  • I’m releasing FiYoShiMo 2.0 all this month on my Patreon. It takes all the material of FiYoShiMo 1.0 (available here) and expands on it. I’m so proud of the work I’m doing. It’s this sort of material that I think is among my best, and I encourage you to support it (and the tweetstorms and me) by checking it out. I know I’m a few days behind, and I’m going to push out several days of content in one blast over the next few days.

  • Later this week, I’m going to add donation buttons to the site.

  • Share my posts and tweets with your writer friends, your creative posses, and your social media tribes. There’s a lot here and on Twitter that I think can really help someone.

  • In 2017, Noir World will be Kickstarted. If you’re a fan of film noir, role-playing games, or my writing, please check that out.

  • Consider coaching if you’re a creative unsatisfied with what and how much you’re creating. It’s not just for motivation or just for writing technique, it’s all that and then some. It’s designed to help you become a better writer and creative one hour at a time. And yes, writer’s block, publishing woes, query letters, and editing are all topics that coaching covers.

Let’s end with a bit of good news. I spent the morning talking to doctors and laying out plans to get insurance off my back somewhat, as well as sorting out the changes to my Obamacare and soon-to-be-Trumpcare-question-mark medical paperwork. Everyone, myself included, is in relatively good spirits.

Please, help #ProjectCardiacPhoenix in any way you can.

The Lessons of 400 Posts

Wow, 400 posts. I’ve been on this blog longer and more seriously than some relationships I’ve been in. Do you think we should be wearing tuxedos? I’m wearing a blue t-shirt and Captain America pajamas as I write this paragraph during breakfast, is that celebratory enough?

I’ve blogged on several platforms for years about many topics, but it’s here, in this incarnation of my voice and content that I’m happiest. I take an enormous pride in these posts and building an audience, and I want today to break down some of the things I’ve learned in 400 posts. This won’t just cover blogging, I’m going all over freelancing, writing, and publishing.

Before I get into this list, THANK YOU. Thank you to every one of the thousands of readers I’ve had over this blog’s lifetime, and thank you to everyone who I don’t know about who’s read my words after they ended up on Facebook or Tumblr or tweets. It means a lot to me that anyone would even look my way, and I am grateful for every view, share, comment, and like. When this blog started, it was because I wanted to get people talking about publishing and writing, and I think that’s happening now more than ever. THANK YOU. Whether this is the first time you’re reading my stuff or the 400th, this success is as much yours as mine.

Alright, it’s lesson time. Let’s rock and roll.

i. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH not only to chase after your dreams, but you can also make them happen. I want to start with this idea, because there are days when I just can’t put two words together if you handed me velcro and a blowtorch. There are days when I just want to skip all the work and play a video game or stare at videos. There are times when I see what other people are doing, when I see how successful they’re being, and how effortless that appears, and think to myself that a bag of paperclips and rabbit poop is more talented and successful than I am.

It’s wrong. Plain and simple. I might not have an agent. I might not have 300+ clients yet. I might not be at the forefront of coaching writers, I might not be the editor everyone goes to for all the things, but that’s no indicator that I should retreat and go back to folding towels and getting yelled at by entitled mall customers.

Opportunities are the byproduct of effort, and by that I mean, when you work and hustle, when you put all your energy into being your best self, doing your best work, you’re going to find yourself is situations where doors open up to you. It might not be the door you expect (to date none of my screenwriter friends have tweeted to say, “Hey John I’m writing the new Nero Wolfe or the new Macgyver, do you want to jump in?”) but I’ve been lucky enough to get interviewed by talented people, guest spot on blogs, give presentations and do Q&As all over the place.

My dream is simple: I’m going to help as many people as possible get their stories, games, scripts, comics, and ideas made.  I’m going to give writers and creatives the best tools they need to make that stuff happen, and I’m going to do it in a way where I’m happy with the efforts and outcomes.

Therefore, I need to do stuff that helps make that happen. I need to blog. I need to tweet. I need to snapchat (yes snapchat, you can find me at johnwritesstuff). I need to give more seminars, presentations, and workshops. I need to play my game and help people tell their stories.

This isn’t to say I’m not doing other stuff while that happens. I’m playing with a lot of Lego, I’m playing video games, I’m hanging out with friends and family. You can say that those things don’t make me an entrepreneur or as successful as possible, but those things fulfill me. They keep me going.

You can make your dream happen. Whatever it is. There are actions to take, some big and some small, but you can succeed.

ii. Life throws plenty of curveballs, and they don’t all get knocked out of the park, but you have to keep swinging at them. My medical history is packed with bad diagnoses, hospital visits, illnesses and big scary concepts like “terminal” this and “depression” that. I could, and it’s been suggested to me, that I pull all the way back on what I do and spend the next few years just “being happy” while I can. That advice is probably among the worst I ever received, because it comes from the premise that doing what I do doesn’t make me happy.

Yeah, my health sucks. Yeah, it’s going to suck harder in the future. But that doesn’t mean that right now, I still can’t do the best I can to get to my goal (see above). Having said that, I gotta talk about the obstacles poor health puts in my way: things like not being hired or contracted because people don’t want to stress me out, or because fear that I’ll get sick for a week or month will throw their project schedule off, or that my quality of work will suffer. And I get that. And yes, I think for a few weeks there, my work did suffer, I can own that. But to totally cross me off the list in the present because I have a rocky medical future ahead is frankly cowardly, short-sighted, and discriminatory.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m doing my best work ever. Talk to my coaching clients and they’ll tell you and show you the effects of an hour meeting with me. Talk to my editing clients and they’ll point to finished books on the shelf. Talk to my marketing clients and they’ll point to high sales. Good work is good work, and while the future isn’t the super field of daisies and rainbows, that’s no reason to give up, run away, or not keep going after the dream.

Is it hard? Oh hell yes. There are days my chest capital-H HURTS. There are days where I get so tired the fifteen minute nap turns into a two hour nap. There are days I have to dictate from bed or the couch. But hard doesn’t mean “nothing gets accomplished”, hard just means I have to adapt and keep going forward.

You’re going to face all kinds of problems and obstacles. Some you’ll have zero control over, some you’ll manufacture without always realizing it. But you have this goal right, you want to be a published author, a professional painter, a screenwriter, a whatever, and you can go do that. You should go do that. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

iii. It’s a drama culture. Outrage is popular. You don’t have to buy a ticket to that circus. The number of people I know who use social media as a soapbox to espouse criticism, complaint, and hostility instead of support, success, and compassion is staggering. Two minutes scanning down the tweetdeck stream, and I really start to wonder if some people are only ever happy when they’re complaining or pointing out other people’s faults.

One of my least favorite parts of social media is the idea that if you don’t agree with a particular point, you’re wholly a member of the opposition. If you don’t think this one person is right and should be automatically supported, you’re just as bad as the person who aggrieved them, and in fact you’re re-aggrieving them by having your own opinion.

That, friends, is friggin’ stupid. We need everyone to have their own opinion, to make up their own minds. Social media has given us all the ability to share that opinion, but the loudness of your projected voice is not the same as the quality of your projection. Spending your day screaming over the problems rather than putting your head down and doing something about how the problem specifically affects you is not getting your work done. It does however, give you the convenient excuse of “Well I can’t do what I want, because of X problem!” Remind me again: Was your goal to live behind the excuse wall, or was your goal to make your creative stuff happen?

If it’s better for you, if it’s helpful for you getting to your goal, to complain and spew venom, and be a black hole where nothing’s right because of A B C factors, great. Do that. Do the best you can at it. Some of us, and I’d argue many of us, won’t be doing that. That doesn’t mean we don’t care, or that we’ve sided with the “enemy” in your us versus them model, it’s just that our individual path doesn’t look like yours, and that’s the cool part about living and taking steps towards goals.

iv. Rejection means quit if you either want it to, or wanted to secretly have a reason to quit. Rejection letters are thing that happen. You write a thing, you query it, it gets rejected. The specific reason doesn’t matter at this second. It hurts. I know. It sucks to hear that your work didn’t meet the criteria or expectation (yours or theirs). It can really mess with your head. But a rejection letter is not a mandatory eviction of your creativity, and it’s not a permission slip to stop being creative, unless that’s what you want. No one is in charge of you giving up, except you.

I know a lot of people who queried, got rejected, and stopped writing. They point to the letter as evidence of them not being good enough, and that other people pushed them in this creative direction against their will, and this letter is proof they weren’t then, and never will be, good enough.

Except a rejection letter doesn’t say that. Believe me, I write rejection letters and rejection letter templates. It’s never [YOUR NAME HERE], We don’t want your work so stop writing, stop making that thing, in fact, just stick to breathing air, but like, go way away and do it, because your cooties are really a problem. Signed [PROFESSIONAL PERSON].

A rejection letter just says that the query didn’t make someone want to read the manuscript or that the manuscript wasn’t what the reader was looking for at the time they read it. That’s it. If you get rejected, change the query, work on the manuscript, and keep trying. Remember too, that the query-and-publish model is just one way to get your story out into the world. Don’t you dare give up.

v. Answering your email promptly and fully moves you towards your goal. You can also say “making phone calls, answering phone calls, replying to tweets and messages, being more than a one-way distributor of awesome” moves you towards your goal.

I’ll put on my Parvus Press hat for second. Let’s say you send in your manuscript. Let’s say I dig it, and email you on Monday saying I want to talk. If you don’t answer that email until six Mondays from now or eleven Thursdays from now, do you know what that tells me? That you’re not serious about going forward. And I wanted you to be serious. I hoped you would be, because getting your book out into the world helps every one of us.

Prompt email response, even the “Hey, I got your email, but I’m picking the kids up from school, so a lengthy reply will happen in like 3 hours after dinner” matters (I want to point out that writing that sentence took me 38.78 seconds, yes I timed it, are you saying you don’t have 40 seconds while the kids clamber into the car to write a response?) because the people involved in that correspondence know they didn’t just scream out into the void. No one likes void-screaming, so please answer your emails. Reply to those tweets. I know, it takes time, but it’s nowhere as long as you think.

vi. If you’re creative, you’re going to have to do things that support that creativity, even when those things aren’t creative, or you think they suck, or that you suck at them. The era of the giant advance is dead. The era where all you have to do is sit back and write while other people handle everything else (ever notice how that makes the writing part sound so easy?) is dead. I’m sorry. I’m sorry because it means now you, the creative, are going to have to be responsible for some of the business-y stuff that other people used to do for you.

I’m talking about marketing. I’m talking about talking about what you’re doing and that you’re proud of it. I’m talking about getting the word out that you’ve got this stuff available and you’re willing to accept cash in exchange for your stuff.

You might not like doing that. You might resent that you have to do it. You might feel like you’re no good at it, and that you’re not-goodness at it is actively hurting you. You might feel stupid doing it. It might be hard. It might be awkward.

You still have to do it. Look, I wasn’t always great at Twitter. I used to use it like glorified text messaging, and it wasn’t until someone pointed out that reading my Twitter feed was like hearing half of really interesting conversations that I got my shit together. I’m not great at Twitter, but I do well enough. I just started really getting into Snapchat, because it’s going to be the next big thing. I’m super not good at Snapchat. It is a little embarrassing, and I have to remind myself to do it. But that won’t always be the case. I’ll get into the habit, and it will get easier.

And it’ll do that, not because I’ve got a superhuman aptitude for social media, but because I’m going to do it more often and learn from my mistakes. I’ll get better at doing it. So, it might be weird now, but I have the confidence that it won’t be later. And that’s where I’m aiming – this place in the future where I am all over social media delivering knowledge and encouragement. See the goal, work towards the goal, even if the work is hard or scary or frustrating.

vii. Write everyday. Even if that’s one word. It’s this point where some of my friends say it’s impractical or impossible. They’re so busy with work and kids and bills and whatever else that there’s just “no time.” I don’t buy it. I roll d20 and disbelieve. I think it’s a crock and it’s just an excuse. There IS time. Remember earlier when it took me 38 seconds to write an email reply? I refuse to believe that you can’t muster at least a minute to write something.

What I really think is going on here is that people have an expectation of what writing should be. They think it should take a big block of time, and involve a big block of words. If that’s possible, do it. But it doesn’t have to be this dedicated chunk of the day in order to prove that you’re really a writer. Besides, who are you trying to prove that to?

I so passionately believe you will either make time for the stuff that interests you, or you’ll make excuses why you’ll never be able to make that happen. I see it in my own life. It’s way easier to sit and talk about how it would be nice to have X happen, or I could go take the time to do X, but X sounds like it’ll take time, be hard, maybe I’ll get tired, and like, it means I’d have to get off the couch and I’m just in the middle of a good episode of the West Wing. Excuses are avalanches. Excuses are momentum-eaters.

Even one word a day, one more word than you started with, is progress. It might not be progress in big huge giant strides, but the size of progress doesn’t legitimize it.

Write everyday. Write or have your idea starve to death.

ix. Writing is power dynamics, risk, gain, and arc. If I had to boil down writing a manuscript, not counting genre, a story is about power and change. Who has it, who wants it, who’s losing it, how are they losing it, how are the people getting it, what benefits are there to getting it, what’s everyone risking, how do those risks change or challenge the characters?

Most manuscripts stall because power is either challenged by too many or the dynamic isn’t suitably challenged enough. Let’s say we’re writing high fantasy and there are twelve factions vying for the crown. That’s TWELVE groups to follow and develop in a story. TWELVE! How different can number 4 be from number 11? Why so many? Does it show that the writer is trying to get praise for complexity? Complexity isn’t always the best storytelling element to hang a hat on.

Or let’s say we’re a group of mercenaries infiltrating a corporation in a cyberpunk world. We’ve breached security somewhat, because we need to get the weapon plans from the vault, but the writer really wants to show just how  gritty they are by stacking the odds against the protagonists. It’s not that the heroes always have to succeed, but how is there any room for growth against steep odds?

Don’t neglect character arc. A character starts somewhere and has to be somewhere else, for better or worse, at the end of the story. No arc despite plot invalidates the plot. No one’s going to save all of time and space then go flop back down on the bed and read comics. If it’s big deal, show it.

x. Write for yourself, not the market. Unless some company called “The Market” contracts you to write a thing, you’re not writing for the market. Never ever write for the market. It’s faceless, it’s ephemeral, it’s vague, and hard to please. Just because futurist stories are hot right now does not mean you have to write one in order to get published. Write what you want, seriously, someone out there will want it. It might not be the someone you expect, but there’s a home out there for good work.

And while I’m at it, don’t just write to appease the audience. Audiences are way too fickle and can feel too entitled. You can write the exact topic they ask for and still get one-star reviews, because of how you wrote the topic. You’re not going to please everyone, and you shouldn’t spend your time trying to.

Give the audience what they need, and that’s most often your story in the best shape of its life. Know the market it’s going to, so that the story can find the hungriest consumers. A well told story in its best shape will always have an audience, so long as the writer gets the story to that audience. At least until we have instantaneous brain downloads, teleporters and that Star Trek food machine so I can have a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich right this second.

Thanks for 400 posts. Here’s to 400 more. I’ll see you wonderful creatives back here next week for more awesome words. In the interim, find me on twitter and come check out snapchat.

Happy writing.

What Finishing Noir World Taught Me About Life, Writing, and Everything

I finished Noir World on July 4th, and today while I celebrate my independence from putting new words or pages into it, I’m looking back at what writing 37k and making a game has taught me. It’s taught me a lot.

1. As a guy who doesn’t like when things end, I can actually finish things. I’m not a fan of endings or finales. I’ve never had a relationship end well (as in without some form of fallout). I’ve never seen a lot of last seasons or series finales, because if I don’t watch the ending, the characters and show can still go on. Yes, sure, I can finish things for other people, but that’s because it’s not my thing. I never thought I’d finish Noir World, I thought I’d be forever tinkering with it, since finishing a thing must mean that I must be good enough to do a job from start to finish, and I seldom comfortably think of myself as being “good enough”.

Finishing didn’t mean the ideas stopped, it just means the words stop. I still have plenty of mechanics I could write in. I still have loads of alternate ways to accomplish the same things. But putting them in there doesn’t do anything. It bloats the manuscript. It could confuse the reader, making it unclear which method they’re supposed to use to do something. It takes this idea I’ve worked hard to build and turns into an exercise of “Look how smart I am, see all these words I’ve written? Therefore you must accept me as one your cool kids!” and that’s exactly the feeling I’ve been trying to get out from under.

I’m proud of myself for finishing.

2. A project goes through so many twists and turns before it gets where it needs to be. This game started as a paean to Sherlock Holmes, involving far too many dice and far too many mechanics. It evolved into a competitive gambling game. For a few hours it was almost a card game. It wasn’t until I found a set of mechanics (that weren’t mine) that I liked and understood, that I could see the pieces coming together.

Once I gained the momentum of writing section after section, once I made the decision to go forward, I never came back to Sherlock Holmes. I’m sure I will at some point, but this game isn’t it. I don’t feel particularly broken up over letting the starting concept go, because the end result and its creative process have really produced good work that I absolutely stand behind. I thought I’d be more angry with myself, that I had somehow “failed” as a creator because the finished manuscript doesn’t really anything to do with the idea I first had fifty-something drafts ago. I thought that if I didn’t stay “true” to the genesis, that I could never finish the thing.

It was that rigidity that was keeping me from finishing. I was trying to force the idea into the text, trying so hard to show I was good enough (see below), that I forgot what was really important more than a few times – that I wanted to make a game people enjoyed playing, in an atmosphere and genre I’m incredibly passionate about.

I learned to trust myself creatively, but more on that later.

3. I’m a public guy with a private life. If you follow me on Twitter, and you compare different posts in my history, you’ll see a very changed guy. And not just because I’m not on drugs or drunk anymore, but because my life has had some ups and downs. I used to talk a lot about my personal life, who I was dating, what we were doing. I put a lot of that out there for reasons ranging from bragging to celebrating to pride. But it took this manuscript to teach me what real investment of time and energy is. I didn’t talk about all the nights I came home from dates and wrote a section to help me work through my feelings or my frustrations. I didn’t talk about the number of times I wrote and re-wrote a paragraph because I was distracted by some fight I’d had, or some rough night where my sobriety was tested by toxic people or some social politicking circus.

If you look at my Twitter feed now, I tweet less about my personal life. My health isn’t so great, and there’s only so many times you can mention a heart condition before it gets dull. It’s not that my personal life is all applesauce and buckets of awful, it’s just that I made a very conscious decision to avoid the pain that comes with sharing the vast and sundry details of one’s personal life in an occasionally hostile media climate. Wrestling with that transparency and the decisions of what to tell versus what not to have been difficult for me, but in erring on the side of privacy, I’ve found that I’m happier now. I can work on stuff without worrying about some fragile relationship erupting into stress, and I am altogether far healthier mentally than I thought possible. I like to think that because I spent more time dating (and being intimate with) this manuscript, I really found myself, and dating myself has been a good experience.

4. When you trust yourself creatively, you’re good enough. There are a lot of times I struggle with the idea that I’m good enough: good enough to be loved, to be hired, to be paid, to be cared about, to be listened to, et cetera et cetera. I’m coming around on the idea, thanks to some amazing people in my life and thanks to some tough decisions about cutting out unhealthy relationships.

Working on a game, and working pretty regularly on it, I found a real power in making sure every word and idea on the page were mine. And that they’re written in a way I like. And that they’re easy to understand. In making sure I was happy with everything on the page, and not rushing to “just get it done” or “just get it out there”, I had to learn to trust myself. That I was making smart choices. That I was capable of making smart choices. That my work didn’t suck. Sometimes that meant I had to think about the people who played my game, 99.9% of whom all had a great time. Sometimes that meant I had to think about the comments other people left on the draft, ranging from “Fuck yeah!” to “This is a really cool part.” Sometimes I just had to do that to myself, taking a second to applaud a really sexy paragraph or concept.

The end result is a sense that I do trust myself creatively, and that when i make a thing, it’s a good thing. In that way, I’ve finally found that “good enough” permission slip and access code I’ve always thought I was missing due to some irrational or low self-esteem issue. I can say that Noir World is a really good piece of work, and I have a lot of good proof to back that up.

5. My writing voice is clearer now. I know I can write snark. I know I can write profanity. I know I can write all kinds of stories or characters or plots. I know I can edit. I know I can help other people take their ideas and turn them into stellar projects that win awards and praise. I have been doing all that for a while now, and never really thought about how I sounded.

I can sound how you need or want me to sound when I’m editing. Often that means I’m sounding like the author when I’m patching up grammar and sentences. Sometimes that means I’m sounding clinical or dry. Sometimes that means I’m lobbing jokes in margins and sidebars.

Bits and pieces of that form my actual voice. When I speak, for instance, you get a little bit of everything. I curse. I make jokes. I make good points. I sound friendly. I sound authoritative. I wanted to make sure that all ends up in whatever project has my name on the cover. I choose every word and every sentence deliberately, crafting exactly the ideas I wanted. I know that some people will take my book and dissect it into components they’ll steal or discard, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you read Noir World, you’re reading me. My love for the genre. My sense of what’s important. My enthusiasm. I wasn’t always clear about my voice. But thirty-seven thousand words has a way of polishing a voice.

* * *

It makes me happy to think about the fact that not only are those my words in that document, but that they work when you give them to people, they can have the experience I intended. I didn’t sort of make a thing that kind of works, sometimes, when stars align and it’s a particular day of the week. I made a thing that people in THREE countries have tested, and loved. That’s a huge deal for me – proving that this thing I made works when I’m not even on the same continent.

It’s good to do things. It’s good to find yourself as you do them. It’s good to be true to yourself.

Happy writing, creating, relaxing, and partying.

Here, Have A John Health & Life Update

I’m writing this while bundled up in a thick bathrobe. Yes, I know, it was in the upper 80s yesterday, and it’s in the mid-60s now, but post-treatment, I get incredibly cold … but we’ll talk about that in a few paragraphs. I wanted to write a lengthy, honest, and detailed update, because it’s easier for me to be transparent than panicked and quiet. And because I’m tired of worrying today, I’ve been doing it for nearly 5 hours, and I’d like to be doing something else with my day. Like napping, or depending on what the construction crew finishes up today, cooking.

So let’s start at the beginning. I continue to be dying. It sucks. It sucks a lot. It’s hard to stay positive all the time, and I often feel the need to put on a brave face to save people the effort of trying to say the same six things about what I should believe in, or how they don’t really know what to say or how they heard on the internet that the exact solution to my problem is some potion or unguent made from things I’d never believe. I’m dying from a heart that doesn’t want to be a heart anymore, and yes, it is physically painful at times. I ache and wheeze and cough, usually at night, or when people really get me laughing, so that’s a mixed blessing. The original timeline had me dead within 5 years. News like that has a way of galvanizing a person into prioritizing actions, and immediately forgiving the people who break your heart and act like you didn’t/don’t matter. It allows you peace, different from that peace that comes from being suicidal, because you learn that some of the stuff we talk about just isn’t really that big a deal. You learn who can stand with you, and who wants to stand with you, and who wants to run away, and probably my least favorite, the people who just want to appear to others that they’re standing with you, but it’s all for appearances. I have a huge problem with people who are overly conscious of appearances now. They leech energy from me I don’t have.

Once you get past the initial scare, the shock of “my dog is going to outlive me”, you start to try and continue to live. It’s tough, because you start asking yourself, “Is this the last time I’m going to be ______ ?” where the blank could be anything from buying this brand of shampoo to wearing a particular shirt to thinking about buying holiday gifts for your mom. It took me a good two weeks to realize that even in 5 years, I’d be doing a lot of showering and pooping and eating french fries, so I wasn’t exactly on a farewell tour yet.

I also started to realize that a lot of people didn’t know how to interact with me. They didn’t call so much. They didn’t want to make jokes about completely funny things. They didn’t return emails. The offers they made about work dried up. When I would pursue these things, I’d get one answer: “You should focus on your health.” or “Your health is more important than anything else.” I’d like to talk about that a little.

No one is disputing how important health is. But there’s a difference between “focusing on your health” and “sitting in a chair staring out a the world, constantly afraid that if you get excited or turned on or even eager about something, your heart will give out.” In the absence of work, you do a lot more of the second than the first. I can focus on my health by going to the many doctors’ appointments and seeing the many specialists, but work also provides me two things: an income and a chance to feel not like a cardiac leper. I want to work, I can still work. I do a lot of sitting, and that means I can do a lot of editing, developing, brainstorming, whatever-ing. I’m still good at it. I still love to do it. I am not giving up.

Let’s get real about the finances. I’m practically broke. I have money in bond funds and retirement accounts, but the thick stacks of virtual cash in checking accounts has dwindled down to double digits. Because the bills I receive and have to pay have at least two zeroes before the decimal point, and that’s even with a payment plan. Getting sick, really sick, in this country is terrifying, and money vanishes so quickly when eleven bills come rolling in at once. The medical bills have been paid off, but the utilities are past due, and I’m already getting phone calls from people asking if I can do more than give them five dollars here and there. To combat this, I’ve got two things you can do:

Hire me (more on that below)
Buy things I’ve written

Now, if you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ve been seeing photos of my kitchen getting remodeled. If you’re about to say, “John if you were going broke, you shouldn’t have remodeled the kitchen.” let me point out that I set the kitchen remodel up LAST YEAR, when I wasn’t even aware I was as sick as I am. Also, the kitchen’s paid for, this is just a matter of installing it. I won’t even bring up how badly the kitchen needed both updating and repair. The fact that the stairs have a railing (great for me with the cane), makes it so much easier to traverse my house.

I am incredibly disgusted with the state of health care and health insurance. I have health insurance. I pay for it myself, and it’s several hundred dollars a month, and that number seems to be climbing. Even with insurance, I’m still paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for medications and tests and appointments, and that’s just a fraction of the actual cost. As I told a doctor this morning, if I had no insurance, I would have killed myself the day after my diagnosis, since no one can afford to live while this sick. And that saddens me. It frustrates me. I’m not sure who’s taking my money when everything is all said and done, but i have a sneaking suspicion that there’s a dude in a suit somewhere just pocketing a corporate salary while I’m trying to figure out how not put more money on a credit card.

But there’s hope. I have hope. I’m receiving an experimental treatment that has so far improved my heart 31%, and I can happily say that this morning I was removed off two lists for emergency transplant and extreme medical care. I’ve lost weight and am wearing clothes in sizes I haven’t worn since high school. I’ve put on muscle. I’ve learned to take the intense waves of pain and shove them to the back of my mind, allowing me a chance to do things like write blogposts or read or have conversations at speaking volumes above a whisper.

The newest lifespan projections for me have me at 20 years or more, meaning I’ll be well into my upper 50s or early 60s before I slide back into the state I’m in. Those are estimates, they’re guesses based on equations no one can explain to me, but I’m buoyed by the idea of being able to live long enough to complete a few goals of mine. Now’s a good time to talk about those goals.

I want to see my name on more products, which means I want to work. I want to help people get their stuff out there. To readers, to players, to whatever audience. I want to see people excited about their futures and their opportunities. I want people to have that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, and I want to be able to say that I helped.

I want to produce my own stuff. The tough part about being a guy who helps is that you don’t always get credit, and sometimes, a little ego stroke isn’t a bad thing – recognition for hard work builds esteem and confidence after all – so it’s something I want to do. Of course, the money I was going to use to put art on Noir World has gone to pay medical bills. I spend a few quiet moments regularly wondering if it will ever be more than a Word document or an artless, layoutless PDF that I made.

I want a family. One of the weird things that no one talks about when you’re young and your heart sucks is that doctors really want to know if the rest of you works. You put a lot of different fluids in a lot of different jars and I don’t know whether it’s so i can get cloned later or just stored like the Ark of the Covenant by top men, but nearly every doctor’s visit makes mention of how the rest of my body is in good shape for everything from sex to exercise to yoga. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but I’m not going to argue when the doctor says one of the things that reduces my symptoms and helps me feel better is “a lot of hugging and cuddling”. I might be sick, but I’m not oblivious. I want to know I’ve left a legacy, and if I’m lucky, that I’ll have a direct hand in raising a small human to be far better than I could ever dream of being myself. That really means a lot to me, and while it’s been a dealbreaker in past relationships, I’m excited to think of the future when it won’t be.

I like living. I have joked that when I was suicidal and unmedicated and un-therapy-ed, I kept trying to die. Now that I want to live, everything’s trying to kill me. Which isn’t true. Not everything. Not everyone. There are a lot of great people who support me and love me and have offered to have meals with me and spend time with me. There are great people who have listened to me cry or complain or even just wheeze and try to laugh. I love these people, and although we do not share a surname or blood, I call them family. They make my life better. I want to keep living. I’ve finally made that distinction (thanks to heartbreak) that you can’t do things in your life for other people, because sometimes even when you do, the people don’t appreciate it or because it doesn’t bring you the satisfaction you thought it would. No, you’ve got to do things for yourself, to help yourself, to take care of yourself, and support yourself. So, I’m worth it. I’m worth the effort of staying not dead.

The plumber has informed me that the water’s shut off for two hours while he and his plumber goon set up the appliances. He warned me not to shower or use the bathroom, and of course, that’s exactly what I want to do now. I’ll settle for sitting here and trying to stay warm.

For the people reading this who don’t know how bad it’s been, I am sorry I haven’t been more forthcoming. There’s a lot of shame involved with admitting you’re doing to $75 dollars and whatever’s in your fridge. There’s a lot of combatting a sense of personal failure that you just haven’t been alluring enough or have said enough to make someone want to hire you for a job. (sorry, I dozed off for a few minutes while writing, I do that, it’s a thing. I used to laugh when it happened to my grandfather, now I don’t find it anything other than sad)

Please, please take a moment and spare a good thought and then some for me. If you can, lend a good thought and a chance to help you do something. I can work, I want to work. Let me show you how good I am at what I do. Let me show you how even with IVs and coughing and rough pain moments, I can still help you make your dreams come true, because when it all comes down to it, you guys help me make mine come true all the time.

After two thousand words, I think it’s time to lay down for a while. I think it’s time to rest and rekindle that sense of hope and confidence that I’m going to be in the small percentage of people who beat the odds and who overcome obstacles and whatever other cliches you can put in here … I’d even take a Rocky montage.

You’re such good people, you’re amazing and you’re talented and you’re good enough and you’re capable and you deserve success. I hope you continue to keep creating and being awesome. Don’t you dare give up, because I want to be there celebrating with you.

The ‘Welcome To Writer Fight Club’ Sale

The road to publication is a tough one. Putting aside for the moment the fact that you actually have to write a book, the expense of getting it looked at, edited, and published can be far more than a simple “this is just something I wrote on the weekends” budget can bear. It’s not uncommon for edits to cost hundreds of dollars or more. And those might be hundreds of dollars you don’t have.

So what can I do to help you, writer?

How about a deal for the next 30 days?

The Welcome To Writer Fight Club Sale

If you’re writing and come to me for editing or developmental advice**, your first 9000 words WILL COST YOU A PENNY EACH.

(** “editing and developmental advice” is defined as ANY kind of edit, from copyediting to developmental)

What Happens After 9000 words?

Starting with word 9001, the rate returns to its variable amount, based on whatever kind of editing you need (so anywhere from .02 to .11 on average) – but that’s something we work out. You’ll know well in advance.

How Do I Know What Kind of Edit I Need?

Here’s a quick guideline:

  1. If you need the sort of grammar/punctuation/continuity edit that you’d receive from an English teacher (commas, periods, quotations, sentence fragments, vague sentences, etc), that’s a copy edit.
  2. If you need a deeper edit that looks at dialogue, pacing, and just a little plot and all of the above, that’s a line edit.
  3. If you need a deeper edit than that, one that looks at character development, plot development, actions, genre appropriate material, mood, tone, POV, and all of the above, that’s a developmental edit.

To give you a frame of reference, without this sale, these edits would normally cost you:

  1. Copy Edit of 9000 words = $180
  2. Line Edit of 9000 words = $360
  3. Developmental Edit of 9000 words = $540
  4. 9000 words edited during this sale = $90

BUT FOR THE NEXT 30 DAYS (until May 22, 2014) YOU CAN GET ANY OF THESE EDITS FOR $90.

$90 to get your novel off the ground isn’t a bad deal.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re interested, send me an email (thewriternextdoor@gmail.com) and let’s talk. Don’t let budget be the obstacle keeping you from telling your story and making art.

Welcome to Writer Fight Club.

The Writer’s Toughest Post Ever: About Responsibilities, Maturity and Living

This is an incredibly hard post to write, and I’m putting it here, because this is where I can speak my mind, and not on Facebook where my family can read it, and not on Twitter because I’m already over 140 characters. I’m going to speak honestly, and my intention is not to point fingers at people, upset people or be a bother. This is just something difficult I have to say.

Looking at my finances, looking at what I want to do, looking ahead, I think I am reaching a crossroads where I either have to discover a new niche and a miracle, or accept the fact that I’m going to need a day job or quit editing and game design altogether and find other work.

There’s no part of that sentence that doesn’t fill me with shame, guilt and embarrassment.

Now, I know most of the people reading this have day jobs, so they may be saying, “So what?” but to me, it’s so much bigger than “So what?” To me, the taking of a job that isn’t editing games or novels feels like some measure of defeat, that my great hope to only do this has proved false, and that somehow this is a karmic rebound for all those times I scoffed at people and their jobs. Maybe it is.

Here’s the link to my GoFundMe. The numbers look so large and scary and astronomical as I write this, but that’s my fear, my illness and my pessimism talking. But if we’re being totally honest, this isn’t only about flights and hotels and meals. This is my life, and just as I did last year, I’m asking for help, even though this is a different context.

I don’t have the first idea if how people actually do this thing we call “mature healthy living”. I have been sick so long that I always had people looking out for me, which proved helpful at the time, but now stands as a detriment because I struggle to learn the “best” ways to manage money, time, expectations and responsibilities.

I’ve been making a big push for work, because after May 23rd, my calendar isn’t just Swiss cheese with projects, it’s barren until I get to conventions, but conventions aren’t for-pay experiences. So what I’m saying is, I’m down to my last dollars and I have a summer of not-working ahead. I want to work, I want to work so badly, I want to be busy helping people do what they want to do. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to stop doing this, but it’s frustrating, it’s scary.

Take for a moment the times I have tried to organize “Pay What You Want Workshops”. On paper, the idea is amazing. But logistically a nightmare. The best software to manage a webinar or workshop is seriously expensive, and drawing only two people after technical failures and a lot of cancellations is both a blow to my pride and my wallet. I try to schedule something, and rather than get commitments, I get “That night doesn’t work for me” I have tried them in person, and even with a $10-a-seat pricetag, I can just about afford the gas it would cost me to travel to and from a location. What does someone do when they have a great idea, but it can’t seem to get off the ground? Does that make the idea less good?

What I can do is generate a burst of buzz. I say something about anxiety or depression or mistreatment of people, and lots of people check it out. Which is good, and I appreciate and love that. But I talk about work, and sometimes it’s crickets or a few people, then silence.

I get it, editing is expensive and maybe misunderstood or undervalued, and I’m not Ryan or Amanda or Jess. I haven’t been doing this very long. But dammit, I’m good at this. If this is all about the fact that neither you, possible client, nor I, possible editor, have money then I’m going to feel extra stupid for writing this.

And I know people tell me all the time, “You’ll get paid from my Kickstarter”, and that’s great, I look forward to that, but then when I ask you “When’s the Kickstarter?” there’s sort of a pause, then an answer that seems more “later” or “um” than a firm date.

I have done a lot of free work, handshake deals and I’ll-pay-later arrangements, and while that’s been a great source of pride for me (work very much is), I cannot begin to describe to you the gut-chewing feeling that I experience as I work on what could be some of the best things I’ve ever done, knowing that I’m basically going to get a “Thank you” for it. I can’t trade “Thank you” for pills, therapy, gas or a working Internet connection.

This leads me to think that maybe I’m too expensive, that I could lower my rates, offer coupon deals or something. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing that keeps the money out of my wallet. If you have suggestions, please please tell me.

I made the decision not to talk about my personal social life on the blog since treatment, and for the most part I really haven’t. I’m going to do my best to continue that, but this is the personal section of the message.

My relationship makes me happy. Happier than how work makes me feel, and if you know me, work makes me pretty damned happy. And some of you have been lucky enough to see it directly, it’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. It is an unbelievable source of strength for me.

That relationship is about to get a wrench in the works. A 355-mile sized wrench. And before I also chalk this up on the tally board of “Things John Needs Support and Help On”, there is a financial aspect here too, because I am determined to get down there and be happy once or twice a month. And that’s not cheap, either in transit (train) or car (gas, tolls). If there’s anything I’m not giving up, it’s that relationship. Even if I have to walk or hitch or mail myself to her, I’m getting down there.

So what am I writing for? For support. For encouragement. For work. For help. For strength. Last year was so amazing, and while we all joked “Oh John, the bar is set pretty high for you.”, the bar was set really ridiculously high, and now I’m looking at a bar that seems miles above me and I’ve got no momentum to jump it.

Please help me. I write this with tears in my eyes, because I struggle so mightily with the ideas that money is tight for everyone, and I’m just one guy who wants to be able to see his girlfriend, travel the country and get better at what he does, and afford the therapy and pills that keep him alive.

To those who donate, I cannot thank you enough. I cannot begin to describe the depth of my gratitude and how humbled I am by your kindness. Here’s the link again.

Post #120 – The Pay What You Want Workshop(s)

Okay, so this is a big announcement.

As I talked about on my recent Jennisodes interview, I hear two major reasons why people can’t attend a workshop or class I teach:

a) It’s too expensive
b) The workshops are held in places that people in other states can’t get to.

Today, I’m announcing that both of those reasons are invalid. Today I announce the Pay What You Want / Pay What It’s Worth series of workshops.

Here’s How This Works
In a week or so, there’s going to be a list of dates and a Paypal button next to each of them on this blog. If there’s a date that works for you, and you want to take whatever class is offered that evening (they’ll be evenings), you click the Paypal button and pay some amount of money that works for you.

That’s right. You pay what you can. Sure, the sky’s the limit and you can go hog wild breaking the bank, and yes, you can be a jerk and pay a dollar. But I want you to pay what you’re comfortable paying. What your budget allows for. What you feel it’s worth.

Once you pay, you’ll need to be online that particular night, and available for a Google+ Hangout.

That’s it.

The Truth
I don’t want anyone to have to choose between paying for groceries or taking a workshop. I don’t want my work to be a “luxury” item for people. Believe me, I’m flattered when people save their cash and splurge on coming to panels or workshops, but what I do shouldn’t be limited to rare occasions. Part of the reason I do it is to give back to the community of people that helped me get to this point in the first place.

The reason why the Paypal button and the calendar isn’t up already is because I’m still working on the details. But here’s what I’ve got so far:

1. The workshops will cover (in no particular order): Game Design Writing, Simple Edits You Can Do Yourself, Character Building, and Working With An Editor. If those four do well, I’ll do four more
2. I need your help to make this work! Tell your friends, share the news. I want this to be a big deal, not just some small attempt at what could be something greater. Help me make this a big damned deal.

There will be more details to come. And more conversations to be had.

We’ll talk soon.