Tracer Rounds – Writing Sucks

frontier wars 728x90 KS

This is hard because…

Why is this so hard?  Seriously – why is it so hard to coordinate the ideas, thoughts, and inspirations I’ve got in my head, and why can it be so hard to herd the cats of our staff into something resembling a similar direction?  Hell, I’d settle for them heading within 180° of each other, just to keep from having to pivot to find them all!

fountain pen

This is hard because, well…  it’s hard.  And the first rule of Tautology club is the first rule of Tautology club.  As a writing column I give my students once noted, “every time you sit down to write you get another chance to demonstrate how perceptive you aren’t.”  Even with a bank of perfect ideas (and my bank is imperfect, I assure you) it still takes a lot of effort to block out everything else and just write.  I don’t know how guys like Matt Forbeck and Jonathan Pembroke do it.  It astounds me how productive they can be given everything that pulls at them.  There are few people in the world I admire more than the professional writer, even if a good many of the ones I know actually have day jobs, or pensions.  And given that I’m (a) older than Pembroke, and (b) he’s pulling in a pension, I’m pretty sure he’s got a sweeter deal than I do.  The bastard.1

Part of the problem, of course, comes from the need to set aside dedicated time to work.  In just the opening paragraphs of this column, for instance, I’ve restarted a video for my daughter twice, helped plunge a shower (long story) and fixed 2 lunches, not to mention the sideways glares I get from the family for “goofing off” when there’s more to be done around the house (like the Christmas tree I mentioned last week that’s still not down).  Finding an hour is easy when you’re stuck at the car dealership getting the brakes worked on.  Finding an hour when everyone’s home and iced in from school is not.

Writing, designing, creating, is hard because it requires a constant critical assessment of just how much you’re missing the mark of what you originally envisioned in your mind’s eye, which always seems to somehow be hazier the more you recall it, rather than the razor-sharp clarity you had while driving, with no way to record it and not simultaneously turn your commute into pinball game of one-ton death machines.  I’ve written, and re-written, the same chapters of a book multiple times over 15 years, and never been 100% satisfied with them.  And it can honestly feel paralyzing to make such meager edits to the entire thing and still not see where the big changes should come to get to the vision you know you once had, but can’t ever figure out.

In the game design world, it’s the constant pushmepullyou that Mike Markowitz has described as the endless cycle of “proliferation of complexity versus ruthless simplification” that has designers in a spin cycle of effort trying to balance a level of complexity they feel is necessary to capture what they’re after with something simple enough to make a good game.  It’s cute to repeat the Sid Meier quip of “How do you make a good game? Get a game and remove all the parts that aren’t fun” but that hardly provides any practical guidance toward how one actually goes about creating the parts before being able to assess their fun-ness.  It’s probably one reason why designs start to get derivative and why really ground-breaking new games like Magic: The Gathering or the GMT ops/event card games spawn generations of imitators.

GHLogoTextIn the world of wargaming web content, there’s a constant tension between “hey, who’s got a good idea for an article” and “uh, can you please send it to me even though you’re two months late at this point?” (not that I’m counting at this point cough*Mirth*cough).  There’s a balance between “hey this looks cool” and “it’d be nice to be consistent so that we can present a professional face to the world”.  And somewhere in there, you’ve got the constant maw of the Content Monster (as defined by our own Yoda Zabek) that’s never satisfied no matter how far ahead of it you try to get.  You want something the audience is going to enjoy, without stooping to Cthuluian levels of madness to provide it.

And while ideally, you’re writing long-form articles that are designed to stand the test of time – go back and re-read any of a number of Grantland articles to see how well they hold up – you have to remain topical and current and relevant, and that just gets downright weird when you’re writing about games that were designed 30 years ago, about conflicts that took place 210 years ago.  And writing about the current ‘news’ of the wargaming world just seems to come across as gossip-mongering.  To be fair, some of it can be downright entertaining for those of us in this niche hobby, even if it appears (legitimately) to be pretty small potatoes to anyone not part of our wargaming world.  We’re not talking about GamerGate levels of doxing, death threats, and economic warfare here, folks.

It’s easy to aspire and much harder to accomplish.  And I’ve just started writing motivational poster captions, so someone please shoot me.  It’s one thing to say “I’m going to make sure I do this every week” and another to actually pull it off without looking like a narcissistic twit, even when you’re talking about how much you suck at it.  I didn’t promise non-stop wargaming material, of course, so file your complaints carefully!

So a few weeks in and my ideas are plentiful, but my execution remains woefully underwhelming.  I’m trying; I promise, I’m trying.  But then my daughter wants to start making her own YouTube toy-review videos (she’s five – FIVE!) and now I have to play camera-dude and that darned Christmas tree is still up, and this would be so much easier if I could point to any incoming funds in the bank account from all this effort and tell the Spousal Control Unit “See! I can get paid for this!”

Maybe one day.


This week’s soundtrack:

De-Phazz are one of those cooooooool artists that just brings to mind a late-night mellow groove is some post-modern London bar at about 3am, with basic gin-and-tonics in 4-inch tall hipster shot glasses that look like post-modern test tubes, with ambient glows surrounding white injection-molded plastic booths with Jetsons-inspired space age cushions, and absolutely no one dancing despite everyone agreeing that the groove is the groove.


Game that caught my eye:
More like my ear.  We just finished recording a podcast episode with Steve “Mad Russian” Overton, the scenario guy from OTS, about his forthcoming Kontact Now re-implementation of the old Fire Team game from West End Games.  I’m dying to see how the orders process works, based on how he described things during the podcast.  Stay tuned for another week or so while we get it edited together.


What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:
I did mention that Christmas tree is still up, didn’t I?  Oh, and that Snowzilla that attacked the East Coast?  It dumped an inch-and-a-half of solid ice on us.  There was about an inch of snow on top of the ice that got us 2 days of decent sledding, but now that the snow is starting to melt, we’ve still got a few parking lots around town – mostly schools! – that are masquerading as skating rinks.


Wouldn’t it be cool if…
I got paid for doing this?!


This week’s quote:
“Blank paper is God’s way of telling you it’s not so easy to be God.” – Craig Vetter.

I think I’ve addressed this sufficiently above 🙂

See you after surviving another 7 days to die.   Bayonet 06, out!

Chat about it below, or in our forums, or hit our FaceBook page >>

1 (And yes, JP, I’m fully aware that it’s all my own fault… a tale for another time.  maybe.  with lots of alcohol.  and maybe not even then)

One Response to Tracer Rounds – Writing Sucks

  1. Dan says:

    Very entertaining and well-written! Good stuff.

    Don’t you have a driveway to shovel or something? 🙂

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