Tag Archives: advice

My Advice? Stop Listening To Advice

stopsignYou.

Yes, you. The prospective writer or game designer. The one with over 500 unread blog posts in your RSS reader. You.

We need to talk. Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? No? Okay.

Look, this isn’t easy for me to talk about, but I think you need to hear it. I’m not sure how to break this to you gently, so I’ll just be honest.

You need to stop spending all your time reading advice on writing and game design.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally get it. It’s hard not to find joy in Rob Donoghue’s mellow vibe. You get caught up in the frank nature of Gareth Skarka’s blogs. You laugh at the dick jokes and poop references that Chuck Wendig sprinkles into mad ramblings about writing. You have Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball and dozens of others pumping into Google Reader or Twitter, and you love every word of their sparkling, wonderful advice.

But… well, let me tell you a story.

Back before Al Gore invented the Internet, I would collect books on writing advice. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I had written a couple of things that got some attention, so I decided that I needed to prepare to be a Real Writer. I was poor, so I couldn’t buy many books off the shelf, but I would scour library sales and used book stores, and over several years I ended up owning dozens of them. I would read and re-read each one, knowing that if I inhaled their advice often enough, I would eventually reach a point where I would be ready. I could accumulate the lore of Those Who Had Come Before, and be able to stride among them, a giant among artists.

And yet, during the entire time I was collecting books, I wasn’t writing.

Now that we have blog and microblogs and Facebook and podcasts and whatever, it’s easy to get fresh advice every hour of every day. You could spend hours reading and listening to advice, also learning from Those Who Have Come Before.

But I’ve been skimming those sites too. A few months ago, I saw you post that the blog on characterization was perfect for the first chapter of the story you were working on. A couple of months ago, the Facebook thread on setting was also perfect for that first chapter. Just last week, you were thrilled to learn how world-building would be just the thing for… your first chapter.

When are you going to work on that first chapter?

If you want to write a book, do it. If you want to design a game, make it happen. If you want to just read advice and appreciate what others have to say, that’s cool, but stop deluding yourself that you’re just waiting for that one last piece of advice to make your story or your game perfect before you start.

Because that perfect advice doesn’t exist. It won’t happen. The only thing that will get you writing and designing is to close the browser and open the word processor.

Now, see, don’t look at me like that. I know you’re mad, but it’s for the best. Let me explain.

If you never start, all of this advice might be Important, with a capital I. You might need that piece on dialogue cues, or there might be a place for that thought on resource management. So you become paralyzed, trying to hold it all in your head, trying to absorb it all.

But really, advice is best used when you’ve already done something. You reread chapter four and find that the romance subplot feels tacked on. Your character creation chapter reads like stereo instructions. You’ve called one character Robert and a different one Bob. You have a specific problem, and you need advice on it. That is when you go to the Twitternets and the Faceblogs. You’ll find the right piece of inspiration, the right piece of advice for your problem at the moment. Or maybe you won’t, but you’ll figure it out. That’s when the collective wisdom of Those Who Have Come Before will propel you, instead of inhibiting you.

For now, though, I think you need a break. Cut all your advice-lurking cold turkey, and focus on creating. Rob and Gareth and Chuck and Will and Jeff (and I) will still be there, ready to help you. We like helping and sharing knowledge, but we can’t help you write your book or make your game. Only you can do that. And it’ll be brilliant and terrible and inspiring and hateful and innovative and derivative. But it’s yours.

And then, you can give us some advice.

Inspiration Tank

InspirationI could have sworn I had written more blog posts this week than I appear to have done. I searched everywhere until I realized that I dreamed about writing some blog posts. I suppose it’s better then dreaming about vampires and video games over and over and over again (which has been a lot of June).

A lot of the time, though, I can’t wait until I have a great dream or a sudden insight when I’m working on something. Often I’ll be sitting there, looking at a document on my computer or laptop, thinking. I can almost hear the document asking “Well? Are you going to do something, or just sit there all day and act like you know what the fuck you’re doing?”

Yes, I have an antagonistic relationship with word processing software. It’s a writer thing. You don’t want to know how I deal with some of the other pieces of software in our office.

Ultimately, I have to call the document’s bluff and actually write, which means that I can’t wait for inspiration – I have to yank that motherfucker right from the air and shove it into the page, squealing and squirming. But it’s not that simple, either. You can’t just sit there and go “Okay, I’ll be inspired to do this now.” You have to prepare for that.

Let me switch gears for a moment. I’ve officially been on vacation since July 2nd. During that time I’ve played a lot of video games, watched a lot of television, read a number of articles and short stories I’ve been meaning to read, and also done some email and some writing. A number of people have all been like “But you’re on vacation. Relax a bit!” But the truth is that I suck at vacationing – both Michelle and I do. It’s not quite that we’re workaholics – that implication is that we’re addicted to work. Rather, the stuff we like to do to relax ends up turning into a project of some kind. Neither of us is ever really not working – we’re just working in different ways.

So, when a writer says “I need a vacation,” often what he means is “I need to refill my inspiration tank.”

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