Orthodoxy in a New Art Form

worldbuilding

There is no place for orthodoxy in a creative field. Once you have erected barriers as to what is or isn’t allowable, or decreed that things must be done in a certain way, you have begun to stifle the imagination. Orthodoxy in a new art form is beyond tragic. It’s practically blasphemous. That’s why I have such a love/hate relationship with the tabletop roleplaying games industry.

Let me pause for a moment to recognize that yes, there are market forces and practical business considerations. Customers want what they want, so creators have to make things to suit the market. The types of products that people buy drives what gets created, how it gets packaged and promoted, and the ways that it gets sold. Absolutely. All of that is true.

That’s also an expletive deleted cop out.

Roleplaying is less than 50 years old. Less than five decades ago, this industry did not exist. Someone — you all know his name — created something that no one had ever seen before. There was no market. While there was a customer base for wargames, there was no specific base for roleplaying. Since then there have been numerous firsts. The first game in this genre, the first game with these sorts of mechanics, and so on. All expressions of someone’s unfettered creative imagination.

The business side of things makes me nuts. Like most creative fields, it’s driven largely by people who have artistic skills but no business sense. They know how to write, to design task resolution systems, to craft engaging worldbuilding. They have no clue about production, supply chains, costs, any of it. A lot of what people seem to know comes from trial and error. Most of it seems to come from creative people sharing their successes and failures with one another. Which is great, it’s camaraderie, it’s the sort of thing I want to see more of. But it’s no way to run a railroad.

Orthodoxy in a New Art Form

This is where the orthodoxy fails them. I see people going all in on doing things the way they have always been done. You have to have a big, full-color hardcover book, because that’s what people want. Everyone is running a Kickstarter, so you’ve got to run a campaign there. Nothing sells other than fantasy, so if you want a big hit you need to tap that genre.

All of that stuff is expensive. After raising a ton of money, or diving into their personal savings, or both, people then complain that there’s no profits. Either they go into a financial hole, or they barely break even. If they’re lucky, they make a little money, and can make some more off of the long tail if their game is popular enough.

In any other business, your project wouldn’t get greenlit if you couldn’t show it had the potential to be profitable. What people in any other business will do, what I do with my own publishing efforts, is figure out how to control costs. This leads to people clutching their pearls and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. There’s some expectation that you should do it for the love of the hobby, not for personal gain. It’s the same “starving artist” nonsense that all creatives have to listen to.

The reality is that publishers who have been the most successful are the ones that have ignored the orthodoxy. They may only have broken a small taboo, but in finding another way they’ve managed to make their business viable while creating something unique, interesting, and fulfilling. In the business world, entrepreneurs are encouraged to be disruptors. If you want to succeed, you need to shake things up. I wish there were more knowledgeable creative people in the roleplaying hobby that were willing to be disruptors, rather than clinging to an orthodoxy that only works for the corporations at the top of the industry.

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What is Useful Critique?

writing

One thing Katie and I have in common is that we both went to art school. Not the same place, or the same time; she went to the Herron School of Art and Design, I went to The Kubert School. There are some experiences that are universal, though. One of those is learning how to give and receive useful critique.

A lot of what bothers me about internet-driven modern culture is that people don’t know what critique is. They think it’s a license to be as rude as they feel like. It’s somehow become synonymous with shoot-from-the-hip opinion, rather than thoughtful and considered analysis. I could do a deep dive into why I think this is, but “instant gratification culture” and “a debauched definition of the freedom of speech” sums it up.

While a certain amount of opinion will always slip in, critique ought to be objective. That means that the person providing the feedback has to understand the standards for the thing they’re commenting on. If there are technical specification, they need to know what those are. When a creator is attempting to mimic a style, they need to be familiar with that style. This is why in art school, artists critique each other. It’s how writer’s groups work. It’s how we learn not only how to give and receive critique, but to look at our own work objectively.

What is Useful Critique?

The creator’s intention factors into it, so they can be critiqued on how well as message did or didn’t land. This will be a little more subjective, but it does require you to understand a lot about communication. You have to be able to explain why something worked for you, and why it didn’t.

Which leads to the next point: a useful critique has to give people information they can use. This brings us to the immature comments on the internet. Saying something is crap, or pointing out the creator’s ideological intentions, is meaningless. You need to state, objectively, why something is crap. Being dismissive because you disagree with the point the creator is trying to make isn’t useful; it doesn’t express why their message doesn’t land with you, or how they could have better expressed that idea.

The main reason that internet comments will never be useful critique, however, is that commenters almost never have any skin in the game. If someone leaves a snarky remark, nasty comment, or even a bad review, they’re rarely in a position where you can turn around and slam something they’ve created. When you learn how to give critique, you know you can only give as much as you’re willing to get. If you’re gentle and kind in your delivery, most people will treat you in kind. When you’re harsh and nasty, you’ll get that turned back at you. The feedback still needs to be objective and useful, but when it’s packaged in a form that’s palatable it’s more likely to be heard.

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Procrastination and Hyperproductivity

bullet journal

Early on in my life, I recognized that avoidance and procrastination were a downward spiral. Putting things off only leads to stress, which impacts the ability to do things that aren’t the thing you’re trying to dodge. Not doing a thing doesn’t make it miraculously go away. Doing it does. It wasn’t until someone made me think about how I managed to be so prolific in terms of how much I was able to get done that I made the conscious connection between procrastination and hyperproductivity.

For me, there are two specific pain points. These are the reasons I’m tempted to procrastinate. The first is not knowing what to do. This is why I outline everything. If I look at what I need to do and I’m still locked up, I break the tasks down even further until the chunks seem clear and manageable. Yes, this can take time, but it’s worth the investment. It beats sitting around, staring at the walls, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Procrastination and Hyperproductivity

This is also why I never outline a project on the same day I’m writing it. It’s why I set up my bullet journal for the coming week on Sunday. There’s no pressure that I’m supposed to be doing any of those things at that moment. Planning is the only task I need to accomplish, and I love planning. Outlining and making lists gives me time to process what has to be done. I have a chance to think before I dive into it, even if it’s just cycling through my subconscious. It’s also rewarding to check off the sections of the outline later as I complete them. In my mind that future satisfaction starts to build up enthusiasm.

The second is worrying about the outcome. What if I do this, and it fails? If you never start, you’ll never finish, and it you never finish you can’t fail. For me, this gets worse the more important the outcome is, and the less confident I am about my ability to succeed. That’s normal, but when you have an anxiety disorder, it’s sheer hell. If I’m being honest, one of the reasons I push myself to be hyperproductive is so if one thing doesn’t work out, there’s something else going. I mitigate my risk and hedge my bets.

Productivity as Anxiety Management

What I’ve learned to do is lean into my fear of anxiety. I am more afraid of having a panic attack than of failing at any given thing. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, it literally feels like you’re dying. The first time I had one, I thought it was a heart attack. I can remind myself of all of the thing I failed at, survived, and recovered from. That is less scary than the effects of anxiety. Doing things, even odious and frightening things, makes them go away. Getting things done gives me a sense of control and accomplishment.

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This post is brought to you courtesy of my patrons on Patreon. Their encouragement keeps me blogging, and lets me know that this is worthwhile. For as little as $1 a month, you can get early access to posts and be part of the community. Check it out.

Escape the Night

Arts and Culture

Okay, a lot of people continue to slam YouTubers. Go ahead, be dismissive. Shane Dawson has more subscribers than the Big Bang Theory finale had viewers. Miranda Sings got a Netflix series, a comedy special, and is constantly touring. Lilly Singh has a late night talk show on NBC this fall. Joey Graceffa is, among other things, a New York Times best selling YA author. They all built these careers through YouTube, but sure, roll your eyes. Now that I’ve got that rant out of my system, we can talk a about the YouTube original series Escape the Night.

My scolding above is because the show stars a bunch of YouTubers you probably never heard of. It doesn’t matter. The show is brilliant. It’s part How to Host a Murder, part LARP, part reality show, part haunted house, and part escape room. Joey Graceffa gathers together a group of people to solve a supernatural mystery. Every season is a period piece. Season 1 had them magically transported to the 1920s. Season 2 was the Victorian Era, Season 3 the 1970s, and Season 4 the 1940s. There’s an overarching story, some evil they need to defeat, and to do so they need to overcome a series of challenges. In just about every episode, one or more of the participants “dies” some gruesome death. Those left standing ultimately solve the mystery, defeat the villain, and save the world.

Escape the Night

It’s just silly fun. The participants aren’t really trying to play anything other than themselves, but they play along. Their frustrations at not solving puzzles and seeing friends eliminated are real. The jump scares are definitely not faked. They’re surrounded by talented actors who will not break character for anything. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to roll your eyes when young people are being dumb. It’s also fun to watch people think of clever things on the fly.

Give it a try. The first episode of each series is free, but the rest are on YouTube Premium. There’s a free trial, and you can binge them all in the allotted time. There are worse ways to kill some time.

My Relationship with Coffee

self-care

Writers being addicted to coffee is as much of a stereotype as the alcoholic author. It keeps you awake, sharpens the mind, and helps you get things done. I want to talk about my own relationship with coffee, because my situation is slightly different from the norm.

While I am still awaiting an official diagnosis, it appears that I have executive function disorder (EFD). It’s related to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but not the same. It affects working memory, reasoning, and the ability to plan. I’ve struggled with it for a while, but also chalked it up as a side effect of my anxiety disorders. While it is connected, it has its own pathology.

The reason I figured this out, and made the decision to have myself tested, is because I drink massive amounts of coffee.

My Relationship with Coffee

Everyone that self-medicates with caffeine experiences brain fog at some point in the day. They use it to keep themselves alert. Most people get some form of the jitters if they’ve had too much. If they drink coffee too late in the day, they have difficulty getting to sleep. I’ve never had these problems. To feel jumpy I have to really consume a lot in a short period of time. I can drink a large cup of coffee right before bed, and be out like a light as soon as my head hits the pillow.

This is apparently a telltale sign of EFD. It’s why they treat it with stimulants. Caffeine makes me right. It corrects, rather than over-corrects. It’s why giving ritalin to kids with ADHD mellow them up, but giving it to adults who don’t have ADHD amps them up.

I’m now the same age that my grandmother was when she first start exhibiting symptoms of dementia. Since I was in my twenties, I’ve been concerned about that being my fate. So far I’m okay. My memory loss and bouts of confusion, even the executive dysfunction itself, can be attributed to stress and my variety pack of anxiety disorders.

At the very least, I know what’s going on. I know what I can do about it, and how to manage it. Part of that is continuing to drink copious amounts of coffee. With luck, I now have this under control, and have done so before it became as serious issue.