Category Archives: Musings
For more than a decade now, I have been collecting the most profound things I have written online.
Here’s a sample of more than 140 of the best examples.
“Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Goblins are the screaming, burning chaos of little minds.”
A rolling d20 gathers no moss… and delays the game until it stops %*#^ing rolling!”
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A clear, accurate, useful map is priceless.
Edition Wars were BETTER back in my day!
A fool and his money are a miniatures games company’s target audience.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. A gamer is the same, but also wants to tell your company with a decade or more of experience how you could do things soooo much cheaper.
A game worth playing, is worth playing badly, on the path to playing well.
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I now understand why player characters often burn down kingdoms…
Better the devil you know than the one you don’t. At least then you know what bypasses its DR.
A house divided against itself cannot stand… unless that’s just step one of transforming into a robot.
A closed mouth gathers no foot. But with enough force, you can JAM one in there.
A good lawyer makes a bad neighbor, especially if actually they’re a superhero and villains keep dropping buildings on the law firm but some rubble crosses onto your property.
Editing (or being edited by) your spouse leads to a much closer understanding of each other… or divorce. There’s no middle ground there.
Theory: Sailor Moon is actually a were-sailor. She was bitten by a rabid sailor which is why she transforms into a hybrid scout/sailor form.
When you have a cat in your home, you MUST delight in every precious moment. Because one day you’ll wake up to a hairball in your eye.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Google Maps search.
*Absinthe* makes the heart grow fonder. Any other claim is a typo.
Moving is like doing homework so that you can exercise too hard in painful positions with the main reward being massive inconvenience.
What if you only lose your soul if picture’s taken while sneezing and no one says “bless you”? We’re one coincidence from zombie apocalypse!
It’s beginning to look like the term “testerical” may be my longest-lasting legacy. … I’d be okay with that.
A man cannot serve two masters. Well, he can, but it eats into Netflix time.
I plan to seed the ground above my burial site with caltrops.
So just LET my enemies dance on my grave…
I think Luke Skywalker has probably upgraded his prosthesis a few times since Empire Strikes Back. I think of that as my Personal Hand Canon.
I have no option about whether the chicken or the egg came first. I’m eggnostic.
I’m sorry the release date of the new RPG/Movie/Novel you were looking forward to got delayed, but…
I’m pretty sure my patronus is a fat badger. So far it doesn’t chase off dementors, but just kinda shows up and disapproves of them.
As a security measure, I like to keep passwords on post-it notes scattered around my desk. They just aren’t passwords I use for anything.
There are many ways in which game designers are like cats. Mostly, these are not related to being adorable.
Oh Fine. Apparently mixing dragons and turtles or dragons and lions is classic, but my Dragon Lobster is “dumb” and Dragolverinne “silly.”
If someone stabs you instead of crying out “touché!,” the correct response is to yell “Ouché!”
It’s hockey mask and machete, right? No wearing a human-flesh-face-and-chainsaw until after Memorial Day, as I recall Slasher Etiquette.
A man is known by the company he keeps. At least, he is if his company’s advertising budget is big enough.
A man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. His lawyer’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, either.
A man’s home is his castle. And the heating bills on castles are outrageous. I recommend renting a small fort or keep, instead.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to attack this stronghold, but I’ve had to reconsider every plan…
“Of COURSE you have. What do you expect from a redoubt?”
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. A college-level course can be catastrophic.
Honesty is the best policy… but honestly how many companies do you know that actually follow their own policies?
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Sentencing is even more complex, and allows an appeal.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Familiars mostly breed with fairy-dragons. And a few imps. Maybe a brownie.
All good things must come to an end. An unfortunate number of terrible things just go on, and on, and on…
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Or at least wash it off first.
Too many cooks spoil the broth. And is it too much to ask for SOMEONE to make a salad for table 7 if we have so many damn cooks?!
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or… isn’t broke? What if it’s broke but kinda works? What if it’s not but it’s crappy. This proverb sucks
Cleanliness is not next to Godliness. Unless your dictionary only has 7 entries.
You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Unless you use an ostrich egg. Then it just takes the one.
Keeps your friends close, and your enemies closer. “Prayer” only has a 40-foot-radius.
Birds of a feather flock together. Dinosaurs of a feather engage in sudden but inevitable betrayal.
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Unless it’s bulletproof glass. In that case, go ahead.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The squeaky kobold gets a fireball!
Jumping to conclusions can be bad exercise. Also, it provokes attacks of opportunity.
Don’t learn safety rules on accident. I mean, that’s better than not learning them at all, but still.
The heaviest thing to carry is a grudge. Though it still doesn’t slow down dwarves at all. which explains a lot, actually.
One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time. Another is glossy magazine covers. A third is bad olives.
Your mind is like a parachute. Always pack it yourself, don’t wait too long to use it, and it’s better with a giant picture of Daffy Duck.
Dress for the adventure you want to go on, not the adventure in your zip code. As long as the adventure you want to go on is HR appropriate.
Labels are for cans, not people. Nutritional information should be universal. If you’re on a desert island you need to know who to eat first.
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Also the forge, volcanoes, the Elemental plane of Fire, and Arizona.
It isn’t whether you win or lose that counts, it’s how you play the game. Although constantly losing may suggest you suck at playing the game.
Always get your ducks in a row. Then, one lightning bolt later, fried duck!
Wake up and smell the coffee. Because apparently you have the technology or contacts to have coffee get made while you are still sleeping.
A bird may love a fish, but where would they live? I mean, sure a houseboat, but let’s be real even most humans can’t afford a houseboat.
“Flopportunity” – A chance to make something that could be extremely unsuccessful.
“Evil Stew” – A thick soup made from everything in the house that is “about to go bad.”
Early to bed and early to rise doesn’t actually mean you’re getting any more work done.
“Like a bat out of a handbasket.”
You reap what you sow. Which means there’s a skull with a scythe and robe that’s quietly going around sowing the heck out of things.
You have to take the bad with the good. The facts of life. The facts of life.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but “You’re never too old to learn.” Which tells me the old dog’s teacher sucks.
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. So you need two cakes, which explains the American obesity epidemic.
You can lead a horse to water. Actually, can you? I am sure a few of you can, but it’s not as common a skill as it used to be.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That’s just how the pyrotechnics spell works.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Play musical instruments as the place burns to the ground.
The way to a man’s is through his stomach. The way to a man’s stomach is for a facehugger to burst out of a yonic egg and mouthfuck him.
Variety is the spice of life. So it comes from worm butts on a desert planet.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless you are paid by the word, in which case for SOME reason, it doesn’t count. 😛
Two heads are better than one. Though an ettin is only CR 6 and a hill giant is CR 7, so maybe one head is actually better.
Too many chefs spoil the soup, but not enough chefs ruin the restaurant.
There’s no fool like an old fool. Well, except a young fool which, just by process of basic logic, we can determine has some similarities.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but less than three to pet their belly.
There is no honor among thieves. Which may be true, but my MAIN issue with them is that they steal things.
Strike while the iron is hot. It’s more likely to give into your union demands if it’s uncomfortable.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, but the squeaky mouse gets eaten by the cat.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And bad intentions. And anything else the devil can get his hands on, he’s a pragmatist.
Rome was not built in a day. But it sure burned down fast.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of the pie is in the radius.
Keep the home fires burning. That way your enemies have no place to sleep or change their shoes.
Practice makes perfect. I suspect that’s why so many doctors and lawyers think they’re perfect.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Which is why the Devil’s Advocate is such a good lawyer,
The pen is mightier than the sword. But not the vorpal sword.
One swallow does not a summer make. Which is either profound on a ‘winter is coming” level, or the tagline for bad porn.
One man’s gravy is another man’s poison. Especially with Vishkanya. Though “Vishkanya Gravy” sounds like a nasty euphemism
One good turn deserves another, but you’re just as likely to roll a 1 next turn.
Old habits die hard. I think they’re mostly worn by vampire nuns and you have to stuff holy wafers in their hems after you deravelcate them.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Which I think means all venturing is painful, according to that other proverb…
Nothing hurts like the truth. Especially +1 keen flaming truth.
No pain, no gain. Of course there’s plenty of pain that ALSO produced no gain, so fuck that.
No news is good news.
No, seriously, nowadays none of the news is good.
Necessity is the mother of invention. But does invention ever call? Ever write? Nooooooooo…
Money doesn’t grow on tree. Except black walnut. Those things are cash cows.
Misery loves company. But honestly most company is kinda sick of misery.
A man is known by the company he keeps. Unless they’re idiots and never noticed him.
Look before you leap. It’s nice to at least know where you are going to go splat.
Love is blind. Love makes the world go ’round. Which may explain why we seem to be headed to hell in a handbasket.
Lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Because if your enemies line up for a lightning bolt, they quickly learn to spread out.
A leopard can’t change its spots. A cuttlefish can. A cuttlepard is CR 5.
It takes two to tango. Also, to flank.
Man does not live by bread alone. Normally he’s also near some other stuff. Maybe a chair, or a tree.
Good things come in small packages. So do evil things. Package size is a terrible gauge for moral value.
Don’t judge a book by its cover – there are critics that will do it for you.
Don’t cry over spilled milk. You’ll get your tears in it and make it salty.
Blood is thicker than water, and harder to get out of the carpet.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but the CR isn’t as high.
Clothes make the man. A woman probably made the clothes.
Beauty is in the eye of the generic non-IP floating eye-monster with ray attacks.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That’s what catapults are for!
Actions speak louder than words. Full-round actions, especially.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Unless it’s the heart that’s absent, which makes the body grow colder.
A watched pot will not toke.
A lion won’t eat where it sleeps, but a spider must. A spiderlion is CR 5.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Or a teleport spell. Plane shift works, too. Or just summon giant eagles.
If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. Unless what you love is working, in which case apparently you’re screwed.
The friends of our friends are our friends. Except Arlo. Fuck that guy.
A single stick is easily broken. A bundle of sticks is difficult to break. A stick golem is CR 5.
War has no eyes, and justice is blind. Leaving both vulnerable to sneak attack.
If you use your wealth, it diminishes. If you use your wits, they expand. If you use the critical hit deck, you lose a hand.
The foolish build walls. The wise build bridges. The wizard builds a staff of blasting.
The idiotic speak. The wise listen. The rogue rolls for initiative.
Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it. But you CAN tongue-kiss it.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, bring a cleric. And a summoner, preferably with one of the broken archetypes.
“If you wait long enough by the riverbank, the bodies of your enemies will float by. But writers don’t have that kind of time.
Can you imagine if dead souls had access to social media?
“Still in Limbo. Working off sins of things I did when I was, like, 8. Really??”
Hcum gnihton spelled backwards is nothing much.
The Black Pudding is not NEARLY as evil, NOR as moist, as the Ochre Bunt Cake!
People need priorities.
Arguing about a game online with people who don’t even play with you should never be at the top.
Go home spellchecker. Your drank.
Any popular game that has human interpretation of rules is inevitably going to have people bitch about how those rules are interpreted.
I am well aware that nearly everything I do could be done by a million monkeys pounding on a million typewriters.
As a result, my career is based in large part on flinging less poo than they would.
Mint absinthe. It’s the ghost of Christmas Passed Out.
“I kept thinking a shark fin was following me, but it was just a fluke.”
Never complain about anyone but yourself. And your dice. And fascists, because frak them.
A clean conscience makes a soft pillow. But so do the corpses of your enemies.
A smile is worth a thousand words. But for some people’s smiles, those are all words of warning.
Life is more than just surviving. That’s why we have refrigerators.
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After I got to play a game last night, I ended up spending some great time talking to one of the players about career planning, the game industry, and burnout. (More time than I should have on a school night, but hey).
That left me with thoughts about burnout I wanted to share, so rather than sleep I typed them up and set them to post today. (Well, today if I set up this post-at-Xam thing correctly).
I’ve talked about burnout before, and given how large it looms in my life, I have to guess I’ll talk about it again. There’s a thin line between maximizing your writing/designing potential, and doing too much to be sustainable. Crunch time is a common threat in all levels of the game industry, and while bearing down and doing more than you’re happy with for occasional, short bursts is reasonable, sustained higher-than-healthy output is a different matter entirely.
Of course that’s easy to say, in the abstract, and harder to apply to your life in any way. I genuinely can’t tell you how to avoid burnout—that’s going to depend on your situation and temperament to a degree that makes any advice I’d give even less useful than normal. On the other hand, I do find that watching for signs of potential burnout—clues in my own behavior and thoughts that indicate I may be on an unsustainable path—useful tools. Seeing there’s a problem coming doesn’t solve that problem by itself, but it does arm me with the knowledge that I need to be looking for solutions.
So, this is a list of things I consider subtle signs of impending burnout. I need to note here that not only am I not a mental health professional, I don’t even consider myself a well-educated layman. These are entirely subjective, and based only on what I have experienced and witnessed. If you have a lot of these symptoms, and they don’t feel burnout-related, I recommend at most you engage in some introspection on whether you are in denial. But seriously, trust your gut over my generic list. Also keep in mind that I have a host of other mental health issues, from clinical depression to social anxiety to childhood trauma, that may cause me to view and react to my own conditions very differently than you (or anyone else).
But if with all that waffling on potential usefulness you still want to hear my thoughts, here are some things I have come to identify as subtle signs of growing burnout in myself.
- More reliance on caffeine.
If you find your coffee/tea/cola consumption is higher than normal, especially if it’s higher than you’re happy with, and it has been for some time, look at why. If you need the energy emotionally even more than you need it physically, that’s a strong indicator of impending burnout.
- Increased fatigue.
I’m dealing with various medically-induced fatigue at this point in my life, so this one is tricky for me. But that also means I’ve been charting my energy levels on a daily basis, and that’s lead me to conclude that when I am in early-stage burnout, I have even less energy than normal. It’s harder to get up, it’s harder to be energized, and it’s harder to feel enthusiasm for ativity, even activities I normally enjoy.
- Reduced enthusiasm.
Subtle signs can be subtly different. Increased fatigue is relevant when it’s time to actually do something, and I can’t find the energy. Reduced enthusiasm means I’m not even looking forward to things in advance. Now this can also be a sign of a depressive episode, so I have to be careful how I rate and respond to my own lack of enthusiasm, but I have certainly mistaken generic imbalances in my brain with those with external causal links before, and I now try to examine the why as much as the what, when I realize that issue is growing.
- Increased mental health symptoms.
Whether it’s more depressive episodes, more social anxiety, more nightmares, or more sudden rage, when I am beginning to burn out, all my other mental health issues get exacerbated when I am also beginning to go down burnout road.
- Decreased self-care.
Yeah, this is probably one of the causes of #4, but it’s worth looking for on its own as well.
- Setting aside recreational projects.
In my case, in addition to writing as a job, I often write for fun. That’s a very different process for me, and normally feeling like I have done all the “work” I care to in a day (or a week) doesn’t prevent me from having the urge to do recreational writing. Similarly, modeling, painting miniatures, doing holiday-based crafts or cooking, and playing games are all recreational activities that require some effort on my part, and if I find I don’t want to put in that effort over any sustained period, it’s a strong sign of burnout.
- Reduced creativity.
Being creative takes effort. If I have been pushing the part of my mind I depend on for good ideas, clever wording, interesting twists, or even just basic good writing, one of the first things I seem to run out of is general creativity. Normally, I am flooded with ideas—more than I can use for any one project—and many leap out of the dream-soup in my brain unbidden and without pre-planning. Since that ebbs and flows it can be hard to see early stages of reduced creativity, but when it becomes hard to come up with ANY ideas, that’s a nearly sure-sign of burnout.
A lot of things frustrate me, from personal failings to world events, but normally I can compartmentalize those to have a greatly reduced impact when I am writing. If my frustrations outside of a project begin to make it difficult to focus on that project, that’s a huge warning sign. If that frustration is turning into disproportional anger towards people or events, it may be time for immediate, drastic measures.
- Lack of focus.
If I can’t keep my attention on the things it’s most important I get done, that is a subtle but dangerous sign of burnout. Earlier in my career, I often found I could get more total writing done if I could hop between three or four different kinds of projects. Being tired of doing world descriptions didn’t necessarily mean I was tired of doing monster design, or GM advice, or creating spells. So if I feel an urge to move to a new project for a bit, I often just see that as taking a break while getting something different done. But if my muses are constantly talking me away from important, especially on-deadline, work it means they are likely suffering psychic burn damage.
So I need to watch for when I spend too much time writing outlines for projects not on the schedule, or character histories for characters I’m neither playing or publishing, or imaginary histories of worlds I have no plans for.
Or blog posts.
- Warnings from other people.
One of the interesting things about being very public about my thoughts, moods, hobbies, mental health issues, and faults, is that close friends and astute colleagues sometimes see shifts in my behavior before I do. The first time a friend told me it sounded like I was getting bummed over the direction of my work, more than a decade ago, I dismissed it. After all, how would she know what was going on in my head better than I did?
I forgot that many people in my circle of trust are much smarter than me. Ignoring warnings and burning out reminded me.
Now I DO often know things my friends and mentors don’t. If I have changed medications, or a someone close to me died, or I pulled a 100-hour week and finished something so I don’t have to do that again, a lot of things may come out that look like burnout but are just dealing with the fact life is often imperfect.
But I don’t ignore comments like that anymore. I consider them, contextualize them, and add them to the evidence of my condition that I take seriously.
Speaking of My Career
I have a Patreon. It’s how I justify taking the time to write a lot of this material on my blog. I’d love your support.
A list of 26 collective nouns for various aberrations. For those of you who find such things useful.
Not specifically designed for the Aberrant Empire… but clearly related to similar ideas.
An Ambush of Chuul
A Bushwack of Mimics
A Cacoethes of Intellect Devourers
A Drape of Cloakers
An Exlex of Gugs
A Flatus of Flumphs
A Grasp of Gricks
A Hybridization of Driders
An Iatrarchy of Mi-Go
A Jargon of Gibbering Mouthers
A Kakidrosis of Catoblepae
A League of Decampi
A Macropterous of Lurkers Above
A Noisome of Byakhees
An Origin of Aboleths
A Padrone of Incutilises
A Qanat of Delvers
A Rille of Moon-Beasts
A Strangle of Choakers
A Toadtality of Froghemoths.
An Umbraculum of Darkmantles
A Vafrous of Naga
A Web of Ettercaps_
A Xenagogue of Elder Things
A Yawp of Destrachans
A Zazzle of Carbuncles
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I am not a lawyer. None of this is legal advice.
I recently saw a post where someone noted the 5th Edition Compatible logo they had created for a company, which is therefore copyrighted art, kept being used by other companies without permission.
That’s a copyright violation, and it’s systematic of sloppy rights-checking and weak understanding of when you can use work other people created.
I cannot tell you how often a 3pp freelancer I’m working with has grabbed a logo, or art, or rules, and either not noted where they got it, or sent it to layout with a note “I don’t know what we need to do to use this,” or “I found this on the internet, I assume it’s public domain.”
NO! Bad freelancer! (Grabs the squirt bottle.)
(This illustration created by Jefferson Jay Thacker, from materials with free rights. Used with permission.)
If you didn’t pay for it, the *assumption* must be that it’s under copyright someplace. Only if a reputable source notes that it’s public domain (or even better-you do your own research to determine that it is) should you ever assume it’s public domain.
In most cases, I don’t think these violations and stealing of other people’s work is malicious. I suspect many people quite reasonable use things like online art to illustrate characters in their home campaigns, then make the leap to professional work and don’t change their behavior and expectations to match. They then see people using other people’s work using the OGL, Creative Commons, and in some cases terrible misunderstandings of Fair Use of copyright material, and without understanding what is and isn’t allowed those things muddy the waters further.
If you are used to working with Open Licenses, know that those licenses have RULES. Learn them, understand them, and know that what you can do under an open license is NOT the same as what you can do with material not released under such a license.
Creative Commons, similarly, has rules. Check the release and see what use is allowed.
Further, “I’m not charging for something” does NOT mean you get to use any copyrighted material you want. There are “fair use” exceptions to copyright, but whether you charge for something has NO bearing on whether you are allowed to use it–only the damages you may be liable for if convicted. What may be fair use if you hand out to your players is not necessarily the same as fair use for notes you put up on a website for anyone to see. That’s still publishing something, and the rules can be very different.
DON’T be the person who steal’s a company’s work, or degrades the value of an artist who is paid to create something!
ALSO SUPPORT CREATIVES
If you want more cool stuff, you have to pay for what is created.
For example, if you want more blog posts from me, you can back my Patreon!
As soon as any part of your career involves having your name attached to the things that make you money, you need to begin to consider who you are, and who do you speak for.
It genuinely doesn’t matter if that’s as a creator, or facilitator, or because your job comes with a nametag. Once your name is linked to your career product in some way, that should be assumed to follow you wherever you go, especially online. Of course with privacy, surveillance, and social media where they are today it CAN follow you whether your name is directly linked to your work product or not, but it’s far easier if that first step—publicly linking your name to your job—is handed out for free.
I’m not saying that’s universally a bad thing. Having my name be displayed on products I have had a part in and companies I have worked for has been a tremendous boon to me in building a career. (I am my own brand.) But it also creates a level of exposure. My anonymity is reduced. If someone doesn’t like something I say, they can easily link who I am to who I work for, and decide to take action based on that knowledge.
I try to make it very clear what hat I am wearing whenever I communicate in anything but the most private venue, and even for a lot of private communication. If I am working a Paizo event, I am speaking as an employee of Paizo. If I am writing a blog for the Green Ronin website, I am clearly communicating as a Ronin. And if I speak on my own social media, be that Facebook, blog, or Twitter, I am speaking as an individual.
But I can’t pretend that individual isn’t also linked to Paizo, GR, Rite, and Rogue Genius Games. Even if I feel my private thoughts should be judged exclusively on their own merits, rather than through the lens of who pays me, it’s been pretty solidly proven that may not be the case.
Now let me note that I am pretty experienced with this, and in general I have received a great deal of trust and support from all my employers, be that those that give me a regular paycheck or the ones who hire me for freelance writing and consulting. But that’s not to say over my 20-year career I’ve never had to defend myself for things I said in public, or that I am immune to blowback if I am seen as unprofessional or a liability. Mostly, the people I work with have my back. But when I speak, I need to remember that those words aren’t separated from my career by some invisible barrier. Even on my own time, even in unofficial venues, there can be consequences.
That isn’t all nefarious, either. If I make statements that make some perspective or current employer decide I’m an asshole, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to not want to work with me. That persona, of who I am online or who I am in business, is a fair consideration for people to judge me by. Indeed, I often boldly state that there are statements I make that if those cost me work, then I didn’t want to work with those people anyway.
But, being human, I also sometimes frak up and say things I regret. It’s worth remembering that more and more, I can’t depend on those things to go away because I erase them. And, just because I haven’t yet suffered from being targeted unfairly by bad actors for things I have said doesn’t mean I could never have that happen.
Of course as a cis white hetero male with an established career, I have a fair amount of built-in slack about these issues. Many people have the same privileges. I can’t really advise anyone on the “right” way to decide to handle these realities. I just acknowledge them, and decide what that means for me.
Because who I speak for means more than one thing. Yes, sometimes I speak for employers, and coworkers, and friends, and colleagues, and what I say or do can reflect on them. But I also have a pulpit, however small, and who I am is also defined in part by who I speak in defense of. When I am willing to take a risk. How I support my claim to be an ally.
I sadly fall short of where I think I should be on those points, but I do not forget them. A shortage of spoons, a risk-averse nature, a dislike of interpersonal confrontation, and even a concern that I am not the right voice to be raised on a topic often keep me silent. More often than they should, in fact, though I accept there are times where I am my best self by listening and learning, rather than opining and asserting.
I don’t expect I’ll ever be satisfied I have the answers on any of these issues. But I know know I need to keep asking the questions.
Who am I? Who do I speak for?
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I once heard one of the most talented people I know say, unironically and in all seriousness, “I don’t think I’m qualified to be on a panel abut imposter syndrome.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
Some of the smartest, most talented, hardest-working people I know often express to me (usually in private, so no one knows) how doubtful they are that they are really good at what they do. I’d say this is mind-boggling… except that I totally get it. My mental issues aren’t a secret, but they absolutely include being afraid that everyone who is impressed with me or my work has just been fooled, and at some point the “truth” is going to come out and I’ll never be able to sell game material or my writing ever again.
When I had just a few magazine articles to my credit, maybe that made sense. But now, after 20 years of this being my career? It just doesn’t jive with the facts in evidence. But even knowing that, I struggle with it on a regular basis.
That struggle has forced me to build coping mechanisms, many based on my pop-psych opinions on why imposter syndrome is an issue for me, and maybe why it is for other folks as well. In case any of that is useful to someone else (and, you know, why would it be given that I clearly have no idea what I am talking about), this article outlines some of those mechanisms.
Fake It Even After You Make It
A little humility can help you be likable and relatable. Too much humility gets you less work, less money, and less respect.
So, even when you have your own doubts, you may need to move forward on the premise that you actually can do the work, well, and are worth being paid for it. And paid well.
Sadly, no one else is likely to come along and be a great advocate for you. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. So when someone asks you your rate, or your qualifications, or your value, you tell them what you think an actual expert with all your achievements and credits would say, rather than equivocate and undercut yourself.
In my case, I often lean on the idea that I owe it to *other* people to have a good career, and to be compensated for the work I do. I can think about the impact of my being underpaid on my family, friends, and even society as a whole more easily than I can think in terms of what I am worth.
Luckily as a roleplayer, I can often think about how someone is confident in their value might act, even when I completely lack that confidence.
Trust the Mentors in Your Life
As I mentioned, I know a lot of amazingly smart, fantastically talented people. Some of them are mentors to me, varying from those who are better and more experienced in everything I do to those who are willing to give me guidance in one specific area where I’m lacking. While those people are often underwhelmed with their own accomplishments, they generally reinforce the public perception of my skills.
Even when I tell them all the reasons that perception is an illusion.
So, if I know these people are smart and wise and great, and they are telling me I’m not an imposter… there’s a logical conclusion there. Now, often my brain tells me the conclusion is “I have them all fooled, and when they figure it out they’ll never talk to me again.” But, since these really ARE people smarter than me, that just doesn’t make sense.
No, if I value their opinions, and I do, that has to include their opinions of me. Intellectually at least, even if I still reject the idea emotionally.
Good mentors can also be a great resource when trying to decide if you are terrified to take on something slightly different because you are your own worst critic, or if it’s a legitimate concern about something that needs skills and/or experience you lack.
Be A Mentor to Others
Obviously mentoring others is a good act for the industry as a whole, and if you have mentors, it’s only fair to pay it forward by providing the same service for other.
And that’s the best reason to become a mentor. But it’s not why this is a good coping mechanism for imposter syndrome.
Nothing proves to your subconscious that you actually have value like helping others find their own value. You may well end up convinced the people you are mentoring are smarter, more talented, and better-liked than you are (that often happens to me), but being part of that process is still helpful to fighti8ng off feelings you are somehow getting by with less skill than people think you have.
Analyze Failure Fairly
This one is particularly tough, and I’m bad at it. But it’s also crucial, so I feel I have to mention it, at least as something to work on.
When you fail, and everyone fails sometimes, you have to analyze that failure in a fair, even, and balanced manner. Otherwise, it just becomes one more reason to not trust or believe in yourself.
For me personally, that means waiting a bit from point of failure to analysis, because until I get some space from the frustration, anger, and embarrassment of failing, I can’t possibly do a balanced analysis. This doesn’t have to mean letting yourself off the hook if you made bad decisions, but it does mean giving yourself some benefit of the doubt on how circumstances played into things going wrong. Since I am bad at giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I try to focus on identifying what I want to do differently in the future to prevent a similar failure, and what signs I should look out for to try to identify potential failures before they happen. By framing my mental efforts in ways that seem useful in the future, I am more likely to be fair to myself.
That DOES mean that when I am done analyzing a failure if the answer I come up with is “I was stupid, this was entirely my fault,” it stings. But that pain can also help me prevent being stupid in the same way ever again, and that knowledge—that I have learned from the experience—can help fight feelings of total incompetence.
Don’t Compare Your Secret Apples to Other People’s Public Oranges
I am personally convinced one major cause of imposter syndrome is the tendency to take all the things you know about yourself—your struggles, your doubts, your dissatisfaction with what you produce—and compare it to only the public, successful face of other people. After all, if you know you could have done better on a project, and no one else ever talks about how they could have done better on any of their efforts, that means you’re worse than them, right?
But it doesn’t.
Especially as social media has become ubiquitous and especially in creative endeavors where having a reputation as a smart, well-liked, talented, successful creator can mean better opportunity and more pay, most people you are comparing yourself to have no incentive to air their doubts, problems, or failings. So if you take the sum whole of all the problems you know you have, and compare that only to the public face of other people, you’re not making a fair comparison.
Everyone has problems now and then. Most people have doubts, and the ones who don’t are honestly often assholes and/or people suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect. But since such things are often taken as weakness, not a lot of people discuss their problems in depth. And even those who do often frame their doubts and struggles in a positive way, or hold back the truly painful or embarrassing things they’d rather not be well-known.
That means that when you look around at your peers, you are certain to see their achievements much more clearly than their letdowns. If you try to compare that to everything you know about yourself, including all the things that aren’t obvious from the outside, you’re grading on a negative curve. Of course all of your reality doesn’t compare to the curated public appearance of other people. Especially since you are most likely to [ick people with the highest visibility to compare yourself to, and those are the people who do the best job making themselves look good.
This is another place where having a mentor, or even just a trusted peer, can be extremely helpful in maintaining perspective.
Celebrate Every Achievement
Ultimately, I think imposter syndrome is more about fear and gut feelings than rationality and logic, and as a result all the well-reasoned efforts to talk yourself out of it in the world can only go so far. For the emotional component, you also have to make sure you celebrate your own achievements.
Every publication. Every interview. Every review—even bad reviews mean you impacted someone enough for them to take time to write about it. Abso-damn-lutely every award or honor, even the ones you think are dumb or should have gone to someone more deserving. You celebrate all of it.
I recommend celebrating it publicly, because private celebrations often seem less impactful, but you do you. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but you DESERVE to be proud of everything you make. The very voice telling you right now that no one wants to hear about your new book, or the blog post you wrote, or your review of an obscure fantasy movie from 1973, is the same one that tells you that you aren’t a “real” creative, and that you don’t measure up to other people.
The fight to take the credit you have earned IS the fight against imposter syndrome.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Yes, or course, that’s the entire point of rejecting imposter syndrome. But here I literally mean don’t assume you aren’t monetarily worth the best rate you can get. I have seen people actually undercut the price agreed upon for a project before anyone else mentions money.
Don’t do that.
On very, very rare occasions offering to do a job for less might be appropriate. If it doesn’t meet some aspect of a contract and it’s entirely your fault is the main one… and even then it’s rarely something you should bring up without the other party at least suggesting things need to be adjusted.
Instead, as for raises. See if your per-word rate can be increased. Suggest you deserve perks, like more free copies, bigger credit, more advertising for the project, or opportunities to cherry-pick assignments.
I can’t tell you if you need to fight imposter syndrome. There are people who are legitimately trying to punch above their weight, and for those people this advice could do more harm than good.
But if a lot of your fans, or a few of your peers, or even one of your mentors keeps telling you that you’re more awesome than you can possibly accept?
Then you probably are.
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One of my soft spots is when something I loved as a child is presented as being important.
This is, of course, mostly the case with fictionally important.
The new Godzilla trailer takes something I loved (and am still quiet fond of), and presents it in a way that tells my subconscious “This matters. This is important. Your faith in this is about to be rewarded.”
It’s nostalgia as a form of wish-fulfillment validation. I’m not just reacting to the idea that I get new stories about thing I like, I am enjoying the sense of being *right* to have enjoyed those things before. My personal preferences are (fictionally) affirmed as worthwhile and (within the fictional context) world-changing.
I’m not claiming this is a good thing. Indeed, i suspect it is strongly related to the feelings that can become toxic fandom, which is one reason why in entertainment, I try to focus on things I like, rather than things I don’t.
But to me, it’s an interesting reaction worth analyzing and considering. ESPECIALLY if it is related to the kinds of feelings that can lead to toxic reactions.
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So, we took a capiekie to the 4th of July gathering we went to.
That’s a cake, stuffed with a pie, stuffed with cookies.
It seems complicated, but making one isn’t that difficult.
The first step is always to pick complementary flavors. In this case, it’s a rum-glazed yellow cake, stuffed with a cherry pie, that is itself stuffed with chocolate cookies. Cream pies don’t work well for this. Sometimes, to see if it’s a good three-way match, I ask myself if there’s one flavor of ice cream or sauce that would go with all three dessert elements.
So, construction is in steps.
First, bake your cookies. It’s okay if they are only lightly done. Then bake the pie crust by itself, without filling, in a pie pan. Then make the cake batter, and pour about 1/3 of it into a springform pan. Then lift the crust out of its pie pan, and settle it into the batter. Then a layer of pie filling goes into the pie crust, then a layer of the cookies (just one layer—you can set the rest aside for a second capiekie if you want), then the rest of the pie filling. Then the top crust of the pie (just set it on, no need to crimp it or anything), and then the rest of the cake batter, which should cover the pie crust.
Then, cook as directed for a square cake, though realistically you’ll need to check doneness with a toothpick at the edge (since the center is gooey pie when the cake is solid).
In this case we went with a rum glaze, but you could frost it. Just… only frost the top. A capiekie’s sides don’t have a lot of structural support.
Then cool in the fridge overnight, and remove from springform pan after a good 12 hours of cooling.
Make sure you are taking this thing to a party. It’s not a leave-it-on-the-house-to-snack-on kind of dessert.
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I have often described my freelancing career as being a “Content Provider.” Because for some of the things I have written for 1 to 29 cents/word, “writer” sounds too pretentious. My job is to give the people paying the bill the content they want/need, not to create my vision of high art and argue with the client that they should appreciate it.
Now, that doesn’t mean I keep my opinion on what is good a secret. When someone is paying me a contract rate to give my best effort, that includes letting them know when I think they are wrong on something. And I do–once per wrongness. After that, I give them their money’s worth with my best efforts applied to the way they want it done.
Writing exclusively the way I think it should be done is reserved for when I am in charge of the project, and even then I keep an eagle eye on whether I’m the one out of step with the target audience. Generally speaking I am working with smart, experienced people. I don’t want to dismiss their opinions even if the ultimate call is mine. And, to be clear, that is very much the exception in this business.
Obviously there’s an exception if I feel the content I am being asked for violates my ethics or is damaging for me to work on. That’s happened maybe once over 20 years, but I certainly have decline jobs for fear one of those two things would be true. And in that case, it’s time to refund any monies paid, apologize, and move on.
And as I noted this is for freelance contract work. If I am a staff writer or the publisher, my relationship, and responsibilities to my employer, changes.
So I don’t think anyone should be burning bridges or tearing their hair out over disagreeing with what the best game mechanic or writing style is with freelance writing. I DO think a polite note on when you think your idea is better (along with acknowledgement you are happy to do it there way if they don’t agree) is worthwhile.
But at least in my case after that? You provide the desired content.
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Gridiron football grew out of older games, and became a hobby sport. At that point, the money in the game was in producing the materials (equipment) for it, and to a lesser extent selling books with the rules.
Now, far more people watch football than play it, and the money is made by forming professional-level exhibitions and controlling the viewing of such, and related licensing. Making generic football equipment and rulebooks for it is a far, far less lucrative business.
This may just be the natural progression for all games.
In which case, adventure game companies are looking at the hobby they largely created giving someone else most of the money generated by the game.
(And hey, speaking of making money elsewise, please sign up to my Patreon so I can afford to keep making posts like this!)