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.
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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.