20 December 2010

D&D Cheats It's Way To The Top (Well, Nearly To The Top)*

Today the halls of geekdom have rung with gleeful joy at the news that D&D hit the number 3 spot in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Toys list show. The ranking has been seen as an official endorsement of the popularity and quality of the entire field of Role Playing, a gold star in the annals of pen and paper role playing history.

Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but this news, to me, seems to be an indication of only one thing: D&D players can rig an online vote.

I mean for the sake of fuck D&D beat the Wii! If that doesn't tell you everything then it bloody well should. The Wii is a stupidly named piece of technology that just about every adult and child in Japan, North America and Europe is at least aware of. In my work office I think every one of my colleagues has held a Wii controller in their hand. The number of people in my office who have ever even seen a d20? Oh, that would be me then.

Here's my prediction for the future glory of this ranking. It will serve only as a pyrrhic victory. What's even more damning than the fact that several people have expressed surprise at the ranking is that 100s more simply don't give a toss. The fact is, most people see RPGs as a creatively bankrupt haven for socially maladjusted geeks and this blatant vote rigging does nothing to change anyone's mind.

Here's my summary of the societal conversation going on here:

D&D Players: I think that we have empirically proven that D&D is the 3rd greatest toy in the world.
Everyone else: No, you haven't. (Goes back to playing with their Wii and talking about how Lego deserved the top spot.)

This isn't any kind of moral victory. It's a gigantic surge of all that is worst about meta/power gaming that demonstrates precisely the reason why most sensible human beings regard the hobby of role playing as something they would never get involved with.

D&D Players have just done the wider world of role playing a huge disservice and for once I am slightly ashamed to be a role player.

The problem is that D&D is where it all began and the entire hobby has got stuck in this D&D based cul-de-sac. D&D shouldn't be the core of an activity called Role Playing... I'm not sure the activity should have a core. In fact I'd go so far as to say that while D&D maintains it's stranglehold on the hobby it will never grow significantly. D&D should be an option of many equal options. Not the only game in town.

As usual I'm not saying there's anything wrong with D&D in and of itself. I personally find the whole thing stupefying and wouldn't play in a game unless you payed me a hefty sum of money. If you love it, though, you love it and that's mostly cool.

All I've noticed is that all the people who have written off my hobby as a refuge for weirdoes are now doing so just a little bit harder. The almost complete lack of acknowledgement of the weirdness of this result just tells me that people's brains are refusing to accept that role playing is a valid hobby at all.

D&D players have just made No Dice's mission a tiny bit harder. Thanks for nothing all those who voted.

* In my opinion. If your opinion differs you are both naive and wrong.**
** In my opinion.

2 December 2010

The Happy Writer

Way back in the mists of time (2006 actually) I wrote a pithy series of writing tutorials aimed at getting a chunk of writing just... you know... done. Hang the quality, hang the need for editing, hang everything, just get it done.

The series was, of course, occasioned by the advent of that year's Nanowrimo. People seemed, continue to seem, to view the production of 50k words of novel something of a burden and a trial. For myself it's only a burden and a trial if my other life commitments physically prevent me from partaking. The actual production of 50k words is a matter of sitting down and opening the floodgates until they're all finished. This year I had a bit of a sudden sprint to the finish slapping down 15k last Sunday to fall panting and exhausted at the finish line with something like a reasonable rough draft. I had another book to proof and put the final touches on, events to host and a regular life to live around this. Probably why I found it quite such a trial.

The point is that I at no point found the actual writing difficult. As I get older getting through the writing is the least difficult part in the production of work. I see questions from aspiring writers on Q&A sites like this asking which bell and whistle laden "writer's word processor" to use to keep track of what's going on. I use notepad. Just me and the words, baby, locked in a continual stream.

The use of notepad to draft a novel is, in some ways, the most hardcore possible way to write with a keyboard, or indeed in any way. You see a sheet of paper can only be so large, a dedicated word processor document quickly becomes unwieldy, with a text editor you just keep on writing, until you're done. No muss, no fuss. If you never find yourself in a position where you're not "in the groove" then any faffing around with notes and formatting and saving chapter files and so on and so forth is just time wasted.

Yet, curiously, in all the world I seem to be alone in this. I do not know of one other writer in the world who can just turn it on and write. Possibly my father, he always kept impeccable office hours and wrote everything in LocoScript which is quite a lot like a text editor. He never discussed how he wrote with us, he just did.

Now, unless I'm some kind of superhuman mutant I can't see why it would be that I can discipline myself to write "on tap" and no one else could. If  I were going to look for obvious differences between me and almost every other living person who considers themselves to be some kind of writer I can see a few that may contribute:
  • Absence of illusions. I'm not doing what I'm doing to woo big publishers or to make the Times Bestseller List. I'm doing it because it's what I do.
  • Sense of fun. Because I have no illusions the business of writing stories and story games has become a fun hobby, I know of no other hobbyist writers, all writers I have ever encountered are limbering up for an encounter with the big leagues that likely will never come.
  • Lack of social pressure or cultural targets. Because I am purely in this to have a bit of fun I am not constrained to squash novels into a commercially viable length, or to worry about whether the thing I'm writing fits under a generic banner in a massive bookstore. I don't need to think about whether there's too much emotional content in an action story, or too much action in a love story. I tell the story the way I think it should be told and hang everyone else's opinion.
To summarise, I just don't actually care about the concerns others may have about whether my stuff "works". Hell if I could, should I put my mind to it, breeze through over half a million words in a year and still live a completely other life that has nothing to do with writing then it's not really much of a loss if something doesn't come off the way I planned. This year alone I've written two role playing systems and a novel.

One of the role playing systems is typeset and ready to roll Monday of next week in time for Christmas. The potential number of productions I could roll out next year is mind-boggling. I am creatively fecund, prolific and master of my own destiny thanks to POD services.

From a typesetting point of view, production of the role playing systems has proven so challenging that the idea of publishing a novel now seems like something I would undertake in a weekend. For me personally, the act of writing and producing works of fiction this way has been so immensely rewarding and personally satisfying I can't imagine having done things any other way.

If I have one complaint it is the common one that the world has not, thus far, seen fit to shower me with sufficient personal largesse for my efforts to dedicate my life to these projects full time. On the other hand, how many people discover the same things through the bitterly frustrating and unfair process of the traditional publishing markets? How many people are left twisted and broken in the ruins of their dreams and ambitions because they can't just let it go? Hey I haven't gained a bank balance that could buy me my own personal island, but I don't hate the thought of warming up the word processor (or notepad) and bashing out a couple of thousand words either.

If you are a writer, look at what you do and ask. Am I having fun? Is this really what I wanted? Am I pleasing myself or some impossible commercial dream state? What do I really want to get out of writing? How many people need to engage with my work before I am happy?

You may find that the answers to those questions lead you down a different path to the one you imagined. One with far fewer riches and launch parties but one with a great deal of personal achievement and a pleasant feeling of stability unattainable by many other methods.

Blogging On The Run... No Surprise There

If you do happen to follow this blog then there's really no point in me telling you where I've been since the end of September as that should be blatantly obvious. Shadow Cities is out on Monday (and as it is, for the most part, a digital entity, the snow will find it hard to stop this) Nano is complete and the brain is therefore in a little pre-Christmas free fall. No bad thing there.

Over this past couple of years I've had ample opportunity to learn some things about the business of writing in the modern world. I'd already learned all the depressing stuff like how sending your manuscript to agents and hoping that it progressed from there to a publishing house to a book store to a career of bestselling blockbusterdom was a recipe for bitterness, anguish and disappointment. Yes, I'd learned all that stuff pretty well.

What I've learned in the following months that is now nearly two years is that becoming a happy self-publisher is maybe not as lucrative as stepping into the world of bestselling blockbuster authors but it a) can be more fun and b) is a hell of a lot more satisfying.

I look back over three years of Nano where I've got some good solid work done, most of a Levercastle novel, all of a Shadow Cities novel and, outside Nano three RP books contributed to and more than that besides and I realise that as a commercial writer these days there's no chance. No possibility in hell that you could produce that much. Even if you wrote it no big house would be in a position to publish it the way they want.

Anyway, I would like to promise more on this topic soon but who knows when I will next have an opportunity to sit at the keyboard like this? Hopefully soon. But that's always the case.