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The Iron Y

Yeah, that’s my lame attempt at self-deprecation.

Note to self: the next time you write a blog post stating that a writer writes every day, don’t follow it up with a year of not writing.

 

I had a couple of projects offered last summer which I passed on simply because I was at a mental point where writer’s burnout seemed a valid option, so I’ve done (very) little writing this past year and concentrated more on hanging out with my wife and kids, shuttling the latter to and from various activities, helping out more at the elementary school my daughter attends (for which I wound up being awarded Patron of the Year honors which had been completely unexpected), playing video games with the kids, and watching too much TV (still). Basically, what I’ve been doing the last few years without the headache of forcing myself to sit at the keyboard every day either writing or attempting voice-over.

What I’ve discovered is that I still want to write, but the need to do so is less aggravating. Either I write or I don’t write. I spend a lot of time writing in my head, but when I sit at the keyboard, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor, decide to hop on the ‘net for inspiration, and two hours later I’ve surfed a dozen sites, given myself a headache doing so, managed not to write anything, and it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And wasn’t the whole point to do this without the throbbing skull? What I’d really like is a means to just think about writing and have the words magically appear on screen. That way I could write in my sleep.

Which would likely get me in trouble, so scratch that idea.

Now, when I say I haven’t been writing, I’m not being completely truthful. I still carry around my notebook and keep track of ideas as they float between my ears. I have notes for a couple of novels and half a dozen short stories, ideas for possible blog posts, and scribbles here and there on a setting or two that came to mind during the past year.

The kids and I were watching The Musketeers on BBCAmerica¹ and I found myself admiring the overuse of leather in the costumes, the dusty settings, the brawling sword fights, and the crack of musket fire. A few weeks after the season ended I saw Quigley Down Under (which I still think is one of the best Westerns ever produced), and I thought Musketeers + Old West + Pirates (since everything is better with pirates), so I began jotting ideas for what I’m currently calling the Crossbones & Cattle Barons, or Swashbuckling Old West, setting.

I know I want a continent ripe for plunder, discovered sometime shortly after a protracted war between various political factions across the remainder of the world. The continent has arable land, wide open spaces, mountains filled with jewels and precious metals, and it includes creatures not encountered in other countries along with a native population that fiercely guards its homeland. Tentatively, I’d be running this with the Honor & Intrigue system² because a few members in my gaming group (including me) are interested in seeing that system being used. Not that a system should have any real bearing on the setting itself and it probably wouldn’t anyway, but I do have a tendency to make system mechanic notes as I’m brainstorming.

I’d wavered awhile on including non-humans in the setting but decided since one of the major resources found in this New World would be Dragon Stones, the fossilized remnants of long-dead dragons, that having non-humans was a small step (and allows use of those elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin swashbuckler figures from Reaper). So, yeah, the standard fantasy races are there but with minor tweaks. Many of the standard fantasy monsters will be included as well but I’m working on reasons for them to exist and not drop them in just “because they’re in the monster manual.”

I know one of the towns at the edge of settled lands in this New World is Farkeep, a mining colony, at which is stationed a regiment of King’s Musketeers to guard against monsters and those natives I’d mentioned earlier . . . halflings (or gnomes). I haven’t come up with a better name for them yet, but I wanted a race that is small and would refer to the long-dead dragons as creators or deities. Yeah, I could go the 3rd edition D&D route and have them be kobolds, but I still recall images of the dog-headed creatures from the 1st edition Monster Manual. That may all change.

One of the areas near Farkeep is a ranch called The Iron Y, run by a retired alchemist named Yeager. He has a problem with those halflings (or gnomes or kobolds) and might wind up hiring a group of adventurers to exterminate the varmints. And, of course, the alchemist will wear a shooting iron slung low on his hip and chew up the scenery, claiming he had been born on the wrong continent . . . or maybe not.

I’ll keep plugging away at the setting, jotting notes as they come to mind, and I’ll try to post ideas here once every few weeks. We’ll see how things go.

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1. The first season of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second season was less enjoyable for the kids because it was a bit darker (and methinks the third season will be even more so) and they found Rochefort less amusing as a villain than Cardinal Richelieu. And I thought Peter Capaldi was excellent in that role.
2. Which you might recall my mentioning previously as being a variant of the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

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What Makes You Think You’re a Writer?

Nathan Richmond over at Scrawlings of a Mad Man has been mulling the question “what qualities make a writer or do writers possess?” and has been wishing to Hulk-smash said writers for the various evasive non-answers he’s received along the lines of a writer being someone who writes X amount daily or sets a schedule and sticks with it or similar. I commented maybe he needed the rephrase the question, then I went back and re-read the question above that he had posted on my Facebook page and realized that A) what I suggested he rephrase the question to was really the same thing he was asking in the first place and B) I haven’t been paying much attention to posts I’ve read lately (and then replying to).

Oops.

Not a quality that an editor (nor an audience) wants in a writer.

I still contend that a major quality/trait/whathaveyou for any writer is that daily grind,[1] in addition to a need to put words on paper whether it be telling stories or having an intriguing (or humorous) way of interpreting topics. For me it was another means of getting images out of my head.

When I was younger, I carried around a sketch pad and pencils and could usually be found doodling something (if I wasn’t reading), and most of the time I would have a story surrounding the events depicted in the drawing. During junior high, a buddy of mine showed me a collection of stories he’d been writing based on some artwork of his. I’d written a couple of things for class a few years earlier but never thought about putting the back-stories for my drawings to paper. I started doing so and realized I enjoyed it. Images in mind evolved into scenes then short stories and chapters then to novels. By the time I finished high school my tendency to draw had lapsed, and I seldom put brush to canvas anymore.[2] I was bound to the written word. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the craft of writing. I took writing courses in college. And I spent at least two or three hours a day, five days a week at the keyboard (or writing in a notebook) just getting those images out of my head.

I have an on-again/off-again relationship with writing. I’ll go for months where I write nearly every day followed by months where I don’t even want to look at the keyboard or a notebook and pen.[3] If you haven’t figured out by looking at the last time I posted here, I’m currently in the latter state of mind. I’ve spent most of my free time reading, watching TV, or playing video games, and the odd thing is I have not had the nagging sensation that I need to sit at the keyboard.

Burn out/malaise creeping from my gaming into my writing (and voice-over work)?

Maybe.[4]

So what qualities make a writer?

The need to write and having a dedication to the craft.

Things like inquisitiveness and knowledge and interest in people are necessary support for the writer (because the writer has to develop ideas), but that need to write is key.[5]

So, what makes you think you’re a writer?

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1. Or weekly as the case may be. Just the act of putting words on paper (or pounding them into electronic form) with regularity does the same for writers that standing at the baseline tossing a yellow ball in the air and whacking it over a net at least once (or twice or three times) a week does for tennis players. It’s that repetition that says, “I’m taking my skill seriously.”

2. I took up painting during high school, which lasted just long enough for me to discover lead miniatures, which became the only thing I painted afterward—aside from an occasional piece of tabletop terrain. I have doodled seldom since college though of late I’ve considered drawing again.

3. Take it from experience, if you write longhand, do so with pen, and if you’re left-handed, make sure it has quick drying ink. When I moved from my parents’ house, I tossed several boxes of notebooks illegibly filled with smeared graphite. Several years’ worth of notes from various classes, ideas for stories, stories themselves were trashed.

4. Though I have met occasionally with a group at my local game store for board games, and I keep reading new roleplay game systems (or struggling through them anyway—most just bore me after two or three pages).

5. Just as the need to X (or passion, to use the term supplied by Bob Mayer) is the key for any who strive to excel in their chosen field whether it be driving really fast in an oval, smashing yellow balls over a net, twisting and tumbling across a 4-inch wide padded beam, or whathaveyou.

Writers Write, Right?

That being the case, then I have not been a writer these past couple of months.

The last time I posted, I was taking an online course to start and finish an RPG product in 30 days. Well, those thirty days came and went, and I failed to meet my goal. The product I had started on was to be a series of loosely connected encounters using the Honor + Intrigue system by Basic Action Games. What I had neglected to realize was I have never written adventures for someone else to run and what I came up with was, basically, garbage. I have run adventures for years and run several that my players talk about even today, but jotting notes for something I have in mind and trying to set things out for another person to run are two different skill sets.

The instructor looked over what I had written at that point (the middle of October and half way through the course) and suggested since I was attempting two hurdles at once—first-time adventure writing and the 30-day course—that I take a break from the class and bone up on my adventure writing skills then return when I felt ready. My slot would be still be open. I thanked him and spent the next two weeks scouring the house for “canned adventure” modules as well as picking up a few on clearance at my local game store.

I’ve read adventure modules before—I would never attempt something I had no knowledge of going into—and generally preferred coming up with my own material. Most adventures I’d read in the past have a linear, railroading, quality to them, and I wanted to avoid that in my own writing. Unfortunately, what I came up with for the RPG course was both railroading and written “fluff” first, descriptive but very limiting in what the Game Master could do. I spent a couple of weeks writing an adventure and hated the work, both the writing and the process.1

By the middle of November, I decided to take a break. I seldom do much writing during the holidays anyway and felt a need to clear my head. I helped the kids out with projects at school. We played video games. The kids decorated the house for Christmas. I avoided writing. And typically in the past whenever I stopped writing for more than a couple of weeks, my subconscious would nag me back to the keyboard or at least put pen to paper.

This time, nothing.

OK, I’ll admit that on December 31, 2013, I sat down at the keyboard and planned to write an end-of-year blog post but five words into it I thought, “Forget it,” and shut down the computer. Then, two nights ago, I woke up with that animal part of my back brain telling me to start writing again.

Now I just need to figure out what project to begin (again).

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1I’m unsure if the distaste came from the actual writing or my current role-play funk. One reason for jumping into the RPG course was to shake myself from that state of mind, but it persists.

Cetaceans Camping*

Bad, Darin. Bad, Bad, Darin.

The WordPress Blog Police are pounding on the door of the office, telling me I’m being charged with attempted blogicide. I’ve gone nearly two months without seeing to the care and nourishment of this blog, and its followers have likely wandered away in search of better forage elsewhere while Write-Voice-Games withers and dies.

Ah, well.

The term blogicide is rather amusing. I ran across it a year or so ago on Hella Sydney when Nezza commented that she’d committed that act on her blog by not updating it after a two month or so stint.** Oddly, even though the -cide suffix means “someone or something that kills a particular thing”*** according to urbandictionary.com, blogicide is “One who blogs without thinking. Or says something in a blog that is obviously stupid to everyone but the person posting.”

Huh? Oh, I get it. Suicide by blog. Ha ha.

Urban Dictionary. What a joke.

Nearly six months into the new year and I still have no clue where I’m going with this blog.

It began last year as a point to co-author a story, but during the holidays, I grew slack on my end, and Nathan over at Speaking Out has since split his blog in two**** and has moved on from Menagerie (though he does seem to have links still working), which is fine. My brain just hasn’t gotten back involved with those characters since I dropped that intergalactic ball. Who knows, maybe we’ll team up again on something with a predetermined beginning, middle, and end and not go the serial route.

During the past year, I added a number of “Thought for the Day” posts (OK, so they should be called “Thought for the Week” or “for the Month” as infrequently as they come) and a handful of gaming-related posts along with a few related to various voice-over projects, but no real focus on where I’m going with this or even an idea of where I want to go, which I would have chastised my composition students for a few years ago.

Oops.

Not doing what I teach? As in, “Do what I say, not what I do?” Perish the thought.

Or perish the blog?

No, the blog will remain up and running, but will likely limp along with posts only once a month or so until I’ve figured out exactly what I want to do with this thing.

What posts have you enjoyed? What posts have you disliked? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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*An odd example of my rather circuitous line of thought which started with the joke: What do you call a dolphin with someplace to go? Answer: A porpoise with a purpose, which of course, led me to the phrase “for all intents and purposes.” Yeah, I know, “Darin, you’re weird.”

**She got it back up and running then allowed it to lapse again back in September 2012. Hopefully, she picks up that blog again (or another) because her sense of humor is one that often gives me a stomach ache from laughing so hard. Something I miss.

***Longman Dictionary.

****Well, three, actually: Speaking Out on Life, Speaking Out on Nate, and he recently started the Speaking Out on Blogging sitefor a blog instruction course he’ll be teaching in the fall.

Blogging Toward Oblivion (or the end of 2012, whichever comes first)

OK. So I’m lazy, I’ll readily admit, more so than usual of late, but this rather beats most of my records for laziness.*

Nathan over at Speaking Out nominated me awhile back for a Liebster Award both here and here.

Thanks, Nathan.**

After doing a bit of rooting around on the ‘net I discover that this award is somewhat akin to the chain letter, something I tend to opt out of whenever I receive one. Years ago when I was on AOL, one of my friends would always send chain letters with a notation at the bottom that read: “Darin won’t forward this but might find it amusing anyway.” And he was right nearly 100% of the time.  Ditto Facebook these days. I’ve a few friends who post a “copy this to your timeline if” passages and I tend to ignore them but have forwarded one or two over the last couple of years.

But to avoid being labeled a complete ass, I’m going to finally get around to acknowledging the nomination in this last blog of the year 2012.

Now, along with this nomination thingy, the nominee is supposed to follow a number of “rules” which include things like “post an image of the blog award,” “answer a bunch of questions asked by the blogger who nominated you,” nominate X number other blogs, and “ask a bunch of different questions of those bloggers,” yadda ya.

I suck at following directions and sticking with rules. Especially since there are no “rules” for this award. They’re all made up anyway. The earliest posts I’ve found regarding this award were along the lines of nominate 5 fellow bloggers with fewer than 200 followers or some such. A year or so later the rules were simply “nominate 6 blogs.” Note that the nominations Nathan had forwarded to me had 5 questions in one and 11 in the next, so in the spirit of not following rules, I’ll answer a handful of questions selected from both lists (my answers in blue)and just list another handful of blogs that I find really fun to read. No questions of my own because I just don’t have any to ask, and I don’t want these bloggers to feel they have to even acknowledge my nomination of them unless they really want to do so.

  1. You get to choose your last meal, what is your last meal and why? If I know it’s going to be my last meal, I’d probably go for a large meatbuster pizza, no veggies, with a large chocolate chip shake to wash it down. No need to worry about the high cholesterol and calories so make it count.
  2. What time period would like you have like to been born and lived through? Mid-to late-1600s western Europe. I look good in puffy-sleeved shirts, silk cravats, and tight-fitting pants over colored leggings. At least I did twenty years ago and sixty pounds lighter.
  3. You have super powers, what are they and do you fight crime or become the criminal? Morphing powers, the ability to change my looks and shape, but I’d likely neither be a crime fighter nor a master criminal. I’d probably use the powers just to practical joke, which I guess in some places might classify me as  criminal.
  4. What is the one cuisine that you would love to learn how to cook? Chinese food and not the high cholesterol, high sodium floating in oil and soy sauce stuff made at most Chinese restaurants. Heck, I can’t even cook fried rice correctly. I always wind up with a burned clump of sticky goo.
  5. What is one subject that you would like to learn about? Quantum Mechanics, but I never got through physics (see laziness, above) so the math is just beyond me, and I have tried. I even had a couple of books around here at one point on the subject that I’d tried wading through.
  6. If sex sells why isn’t there more sex in political advertising? Because politicians want you to think they’re above that sort of thing, never mind the fact that a number of them get caught in scandals every year. Besides, I wouldn’t want to look at nude images of most politicians.
  7. Favorite candy or sweet treat? Toss up between cake and cookies. Homemade, of course, is best.

And a handful of blogs I find fun to read are as follows:***

Greywulf’s Lair

Get Write Down To It

Fork in My Eye

Rantings of an Amateur Chef

The Black Campbell

Eagle-Eyed Editor

*Games

Mechanics & Meeples

Again, no questions to answer, no need to nominate anyone else for an award, etc. If you do, great. If not, fine as well. I just like reading your blogs.

Keep the posts coming.

And for those (few) of you who visit this blog, thank you for reading my (semi-) weekly wordy tossed salad.

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*Not that I actually keep record, of course, that’d be silly.

**Really, thank you. Being noticed—even if for a chain letter blog award—does mean at least someone likes/pays attention to my writing, and you’re not only a damned good writer (if I could ever get you to figure out commas, quotation marks, and punctuation in general . . . I’d likely no longer have anyone in need of my editing services) but also a good friend. And I say that even though we’ve never met in person.

***A couple of these haven’t been posted to in a month or so. The writers have had periods where they go silent for a month or so then pop back up with stuff. Hmmm, sounds familiar to me. And this isn’t the complete list of blogs I find fun to read.

Failing to Get Anything Done

That pretty much sums it up, writing-wise, that is. I’ve always had this difficulty getting to the keyboard between October 31 and the second week of January. The various high holy days (nope, no football included here—sorry, Nathan), end of semester school goings on, and just stuff in general kind of gang up with the result of my lack of writing.

This year has proven no different.

I had planned to force myself to sit and write, had signed up to participate with NaNoWriMo, and wound up writing all of zero words on the current novel, which hasn’t received much attention from me in a little over two months at this point.*

Ah, well.

I always find myself remembering what Mike McQuay told me during the end-of-the-year holidays back when I took classes taught by him and later when hanging out at his house during a Wednesday night writer’s group: he never could figure out why I didn’t write during the holidays. He said that was the only time for sanity he found during the turkey orgies. But he also said that the publishing industry tended to slow to a crawl at that time anyway, so he could somewhat understand it.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up writing. Doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the blog. I’ll continue posting but will limit myself to once a week (or every other week) until I can get myself past the start of the new year. It’s only a few more weeks anyway.

Until then, have a pleasant month of December and a happy holiday, whichever one you happen celebrate this month.**

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*I’ve also gone a month at this point with no voice over work done on my part. I’ve received invites from Voice123 for several projects, but haven’t managed to clear time in the mornings to set up my recording booth.

**A friend of mine in college would always celebrate a different holiday every year in December.

Bleh!

Ever had one of those days (weeks? months? years?) where everything you write seems like nothing but last week’s garbage? Where everything you do just seems to fall flat? Where everything you touch just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to? (Yeah, I’m looking at you, computer, and you, too, printer.*)

That’s kind of how my whole month has felt.

Way Back in the Saddle, I’d just returned from vacation and, despite dealing with the hassle of airports and driving around a gridlocked east-coast city, felt reasonably relaxed and ready to get back into writing regularly again.

Ha! Silly me, thinking things would work out that way.

I allowed the remainder of the summer to pass, spending time with my kids before they had to go back to school and figured that once they did, my days would be devoted to nothing but writing and voiceover projects. I’d get back to my semi-regular schedule of posting the odd comment on Tuesdays and Menagerie on Thursdays with occasional posts throughout the week.

The kids went back to school a little over two weeks ago and aside from a couple of hitches, the space opera has run steadily on both my site and Nathan’s over at Speaking Out. The Tuesday posts, though, haven’t made it past their offscreen beginnings. I have three or four posts (maybe five, I’d have to check the files but don’t want to right now) that I’d begun, written between 300 – 500 words, looked them over and thought, well, “Bleh.” And “Gotta get the Pepto.” Ditto the feelings toward every other piece of writing I’ve done, whether novel, short story, game rules during that same period.**

I know, I know. As a writer, one who strives for professionalism in everything I do, I should sit back down and keep writing anyway.

But Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning or Batman: Arkham City  or Dungeon Siege III*** calls to me. Or a book (one of many I have half-finished sitting around the house) wants to be read. Or I just have to track down a recipe that makes use of a handful of ingredients that I have in the fridge and/or freezer. Or some show on TV looks too interesting to pass up.**** Or some blog I stumble across has caught my attention and—where’d the time go?

Menagerie has been clicking fairly well, but even the last few weeks have been a strain to put together for some reason. I find myself staring at the screen on Thursday afternoon, forcing droplets of blood from my temples, trying to get Liishi and company into/out of their next predicament. Having a co-writer on the project helps. Nathan dumps something on them, I figure out how to get them out and vice-versa. If neither of us has an idea, introduce a new character (expect more of that anyway over the next few weeks—I feel the need for more players in the game).

But even my gaming has been rather bleh lately.

I’ve run a few one-shot games over the last handful of months, including a playtest of D&DNext, Icons (a superhero RPG), SUPERS! (another superhero RPG), and I’ve downloaded and/or purchased several other role-playing rules all with the idea of finding something to run semi-regularly. While I found SUPERS! to be a very good, easy-to-run superhero system, nothing has really grabbed my attention to run every week (or every other week, as the case may be). I’d actually planned to run a playtest of the second packet of rules for D&DNext this last weekend then decided against it and opted for board/card games. No one showed up anyway. Ah, well. My son and I wound up playing video games instead while my daughter sat by and pointed out where the bad guys were at the edge of the screen. We had fun for a few hours that evening before they headed off to bed.

Maybe bleh isn’t so bad.

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*The computer for awhile now (since about two updates back) on both Firefox and Opera browsers has had significant memory problems. Run the browser for more than two minutes, it’s likely to suck up so much memory that everything grinds to a halt while FreeRAM tries to release enough memory for the computer to run again. And lately, I’ve had the odd day where the computer freezes for no apparent reason and requires a forced shutdown by turning off the power. All my antivirus programs tell me things are OK. Checkdisk tells me the hard drive is fine. Ehh, the motherboard might be a culprit—the computer is almost twelve years old (see Dino-Computer Smash!)—thus I’ve been trying to pull everything important off the hard drive, well, looking at it and deciding if it’s important enough to save or just go ahead and delete it. But I keep adding to the stack to go through by surfing the ‘net, finding rules for print-and-play games that look really cool, and downloading them. Sheesh, give myself more work, why don’t I?

Then, over the weekend my printer started acting up. Won’t print black. I replace the ink. It prints fine for two jobs, then starts streaking, acting like it’s running low on ink. The blasted thing is only a year old and already acting at least thrice its age.

I hate technology.

**Well, the only exception (aside from Menagerie) is a quasi-Nordic-inspired piece of poetry I wrote for a game company a month ago.

***Kingdom of Amalur I’ve enjoyed for about six months now and logged some ninety hours on. I’ve had Dungeon Siege III for a year and love the game. It’s been awhile since I played it, but my son wanted to tackle it two-player the other night and it’s a heck of a lot more fun with a second person controlling the other character in the party. I just recently purchased Batman: Arkham City but think it’ll be another amusing game.

****Too many shows, really. The USA network is my enemy during summer. Most of their shows I’ve become addicted to.

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