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!)
A lot of creatives are very engaged with the public nowadays, myself included (to the degree I can manage it). That can have lots of rewarding interactions, but it can also lead to people giving you very public feedback. That feedback may be valuable to your work, or it may miss the point entirely, or it may actually cause you problems in being seen as open, or competent, or paying attention. If you want to be a public professional creative, in my opinion you need to respond to your viewer’s feedback professionally.
And here, I am specifically talking about responding to true feedback. If someone is trying to threaten you, or your right to exist, or your livelihood in a comment disguised as feedback, you are in a much more serious situation that’s flatly outside the scope of this essay—take steps appropriate to their intent, not steps designed to respond to a normal comment that’s well within the reasonable back-and-forth of the public creative.
My most recent public feedback? So, my mother (Empress of the Geeks) called me out on twitter about my Laser Dress design. “If laser dresses are weapons. aren’t they forbidden at all important (diplomatic etc) parties? What use is that?”
First, let me say how much I love that I live a life where I can do a fairly silly, opening-of-an-80’s-animated-series-inspired, a co-worker threw the idea over a cubical wall and I ran with it, off-the-cuff design for a piece of armed formalwear for a roleplaying game… and my mother can (and will) critique it online. Most of my fellow game designers have to mourn that their families don’t really get RPGs, or what they do for a living. My mother’s connected enough to tell me if she thinks I’ve missed a bet. ❤
Regardless, that’s feedback in a public venue. Now, how to respond?
First, personally, I believe in staying polite. Don’t ever be the one to escalate, it doesn’t help anything. If you think someone isn’t worth responding to, just don’t respond to them. You can try ignoring them – most people lack the time to hunt down and pester every creative they question, so this often works. However, it’s not universally effective. If you feel you need to be clear you are disengaging, I recommend not beating around the bush but not being rude. “I appreciate the question, but that’s not something I am going to go into.” or “That’s outside the scope I of what I want to get into.” Have both worked pretty well for me. The point is to be clear to someone who doesn’t want to let something go that you don’t want to get into—just tell them you don’t want to get into it. They don’t get to decide what conversations you have unless they are paying you directly under some kind of contract. (And no, buying your stuff doesn’t count for this purpose—they are a customer, not an employer.)
In this case, I’m happy to engage and respond with my mother, so I wrote a response.
“First, that assumes that they aren’t designed for diplomatic parties among races where going unarmed would be an insult. Judge not aliens by our own cultural norms, Mom. :)”
So let’s be clear, my mother has a point. The main reason I didn’t address her point in the original write-up is that it’s as much a joke as it is a serious piece of equipment… and my mother isn’t the right audience for that joke. But I did go to all the trouble of writing it up as useable equipment so… why? Why did I bother?
My unofficial material for Starfinder is very much third-party publisher material, and in general I trust GMs to figure out what they want to use that material for. Maybe laser dresses are rare, and no one normally knows what they are. Of course if that’s the idea, the rules should have covered how to identify them, so listing that invites a further debate, which isn’t what I am looking to do here. I want to respond, in an engaging and friendly way, without leaving a huge opening for other people to jump into.
Now, in this case I have an advantage of knowing my audience. She raised me, after all, and introduced me to science fiction (and fandom, and cons, and her brother introduced me to RPGs, and she was my DM for many years when I was a kid – we’re a pretty geeky family). So I know she’s read a ton of classic science fiction, which often asks questions like, “what would it be like if an alien culture was radically different than our own?”
So, I can use that to craft a response that notes she has a point (“Yeah, laser dresses aren’t going to be legal in most high-end parties based on our culture”), while pointing out that doesn’t mean it’s not a reasonable item (“Starfinder is set in a whole galaxy of adventure—there are tons of cultures not based on ours!”).
But, I made a mistake.
It being my mother, I ripped off a response on-the-quick, and didn’t think about it again until this morning. When I re-read it, it felt… a tad patronizing. I didn’t INTEND to be patronizing, but the tone and wording are more dismissive than I meant them to be. And that’s one of the risks of communications online. All you have is the words, cold and hard on the screen, and missed tone is all too easy. I included a smiley face, which has become the punctuation of emotion in e-missives, but I don’t think that’s good enough. I should have carefully reread my repost, as I often do when talking to new folks, and made sure the tone was friendly and polite.
Sorry, mom. I’ll try to do better. 🙂
Speaking of Being a Professional: Patreon!
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I have spoken to many creatives about how they interact with the media they create for, and gotten a lot of different responses. Many novelists have told me they can’t help but dissect the story elements of all fiction they absorb, and the word structure of everything they read. They can’t help themselves, and it makes the process of enjoying fiction different. Not necessarily worse, but different. On the other hand, some have a specific type of fiction or writing they carefully keep separate from their professional analysis, such as romance novels, or pulp adventure, or biographies, so they have something they can enjoy without feeling like it’s work.
But even then, they confess, it’s always a little bit work.
I’ve had the privilege to talk to more than one movie and television screenwriter. Most of them seem to have a different process—they try to be in the moment the first time they watch anything, with just a running checklist of the moments that get a big reaction from them. It’s later that they break things down for analysis. The second viewing. The fourth. The twentieth.
I found myself thinking about that a lot when I was going frame-by-frame through Star Wars space battle scenes, looking to see if there was any starship that had never received game stats before, in any video game, board game, RPG, card game, or miniatures game. I was not, at that moment, enjoying Star Wars. I was far from my hobby, while staring elements of it in the face.
Some game designers I know can’t play the games they work on. It’s always workfor them, even if they are surrounded by friends and laughing and bouncing dice. The rules and layout and themes have come to be associated with their career and employment to a degree they can’t let go, relax, and enjoy themselves. Other game designers (myself included) have a hard time imagining working on a game they don’t play. I certainly have written for games I didn’t particularly enjoy, but even then having a real-world feel for how the elements all came together was crucial to my understanding of how to expand, adjust, or develop the game.
Ideally, I DO like the games I’m working on. And thankfully, that’s usually the case. And yes, I have a constant background awareness that the things I am learning have a relevance beyond me having a good time. They are a form of professional development, and that changes how I respond to them, and sometimes even how I interact with the players around me. Especially just after a game, I sometimes want to know why people did what they did, because I want to understand how THEY are interacting with the game.
But for me, it’s when I am playing a game I’m NOT working on I find myself the most in my job-headspace rather than my hobby-headspace. That lessens significantly once I am familiar with a game, but whenever it has a new twist or interaction, I’m right back to analyzing it for it’s engine, rather than enjoying the ride.
That fine, honestly. I was analyzing game mechanics long before it was my job. Indeed, it largely became my job because it was such an all-consuming hobby for me. While my friends and class mates were learning life skills, I was learning when a die pool could accidentally make massive failure more likely for highly skilled characters that got more dice.
In the end they had saleable talents and experiences, and I had Dragon magazine articles.
I DO think it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t make your whole life your job. And over twenty years of having a professional game design career, I have tried to distinguish between leisure writing and creative writing. On the other hand since I support myself and my family with the work of creating games, I am well aware it’s never just a game when it’s your career.
Since I am generally creating entire fictional universes for people to play in, my job touches on all the geek media I can get my hands on. Popular tropes, characters and ideas people may want to model, and things I might accidentally duplicate in parallel development are all things I need to be aware of, and that touches on everything I consume in all aspects of my leisure time.
Sometimes it’s a hobby. But it’s always a job.
And Patreon is part of My Job
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Generally speaking as a writer, if you get a cold, or get the flu, you write as you are able while sick, and depend on being able to catch up in a crunch when you;re better to still hit deadlines.
If you’re going to be sick for longer than a few days or a week, things change.
I have a medical issue causing severe fatigue. We know at least part of what is going on, but don’t know yet if we have identified the root cause, or just found a symptom of something more serious. And, it may be months before the testing finds a conclusive answer to that question.
And that means, I have to consider how I am going to manage if my energy levels crashed for weeks, or months to come.
I have, for the past month or so, been more exhausted every day than the day before. Since the issue causing my fatigue is at least potentially progressive, I began to despair that I was on a downward arc that might actually incapacitate me sometime before it gets addressed up to 3-4 months from now.
Of course I *also* had two conventions nearly back-to-back in the past month, and am under pressure from a number of major deadlines. That can be exhausting under the best of circumstances.
So I have maintain the best self-care I could, and attempted to employ new coping techniques suggested by some research.
Today, for the first time in 4 or 5 weeks, I’m not immediately more fatigued than I was yesterday. Indeed, I haven’t been this functional for a week or more.
Any medical condition is likely to have ups and downs so I don’t plan to read too much into this, but it’s nice that I might not exclusively be looking at a downward spiral for personal energy.
That said, as I know out short- and mid-term projects, I’m not replacing them with anything. Hopefully that’ll leave me with time and energy to tackle my long-term things (especially those that are months behind schedule) even if my energy level doesn’t recover any more than this in the foreseeable future.
That’s the only way I can see to keep my career on-track, and not let down anyone who is depending on me.
And I’ll monitor my progress, both medical and wordcount-wise, and see if the steps I’m taking are good enough. If not, I may begin to consider backing out of some long-term commitments, as much as I hate doing that.
Sometimes in the Really Wild West, you need to express your displeasure through violence, but you’re not wanting anyone to get killed over the issue. Maybe someone spilled your drink. Maybe someone hasn’t gotten the message to get out of town. Maybe they didn’t smile when they called out something vile. You don’t want blood on your hands, but you’re ready to bust a lip and blacken an eye.
You’re ready for a Brawl.
Though specifically designed for the Really Wild West setting hack, these rules can be used in any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign.
A Brawl is specifically a fight where no one is trying to kill anyone else. Common examples of this are bar fights, campside tussles, and pugilist exhibitions. A brawl stops being a brawl as soon as anyone involved switches to lethal intent, generally by drawing a true weapon (as opposed to an improvised weapon). Even if you draw a weapon with the intent of using it in a nonlethal fashion, such as pulling a pistol to use in pistol-whipping foes, the very fact it is being brandished changes the tenor of the conflict, and it goes from a brawl to a normal fight.
In a Brawl, no one has escalated he fight to lethal levels. As a result, the fight goes a little differently. First, everyone is more focused on hitting than avoiding hits, so everyone gets +2 to attacks, and takes a -2 penalty to KAC. Second, unarmed damage increases to 1d6 + Strength bonus + a special Weapon Specialization bonus equal to level. (A character with Improved Unarmed Strike may skip these bonuses and penalties and add their normal dice of damage on top of this, and a character with special unarmed Weapon Specialization, such as a vesk, may use it instead).
A character can attempt to use an improvised weapon, such as a bottle to crack over someone’s head, or a chair to smash over their back. An improvised weapon takes a move action to ready, it adds +1d6 brawl damage, you lose the +2 bonus to brawl attack rolls, and if you ever miss a foe’s KAC by 5 or more, or do maximum damage, the improvised weapon breaks.
As long as the Brawl is still in effect, no attack can do more than 1 Hit Point of damage, even if a target is out of Stamina Points. Instead, whenever a character takes even a single Hit Point, the character must make a Fortitude save (DC 15 + total damage of the attack that deal Hit Point damage) or be stunned. If the target misses this save by 5 or more, they are instead Knocked Out for 1d4 rounds.
You can use 0-level spells as part of a Brawl, but anything higher level counts as drawing a weapon. And once someone draws a weapon, the Brawl switches immediately to normal fight rules.
A character trained in Bluff or Diplomacy can try to Hold Off a Brawl for a round, preventing anyone from attacking them. This is a standard action and requires a check with one of those two skills to be made against each potential attacker, with a EDC equal to 15 + target’s CR. With a successful check, the attacker must either escalate to a lethal attack, or pick a new target.
Getting into a Brawl is generally overlooked by local authorities in frontier regions. The difference between punching and kicking and hair-pulling vs shooting with guns and stabbing with knives is well understood. It’s a public annoyance, rather than a potential murder. However, anyone who escalates a Brawl to a lethal conflict is seen as a thug at best, and a criminal guilty of attempted murder at worst.
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No convention owes me anything unless I pay them cash for it.
I am not owed any specific person be selected to be a speaker until they are announced as such. I am not owed any specific theme or topic or program track, unless they’ve already been announced (AND I’ve bought a membership on that basis).
I am not owed a guest spot. Not the platform, not the increased awareness, and absolutely not a free membership, or room, or transport.
Many conventions *have* offered me such things, but the only one to ever do so *twice* was SoonerCon, and even they have never offered to fly me out or put my up in a hotel.
And if some convention that has limited slots selects someone I consider less qualified than me to speak on their theme or topic (or less qualified than my close circle of friends, colleagues, and pro-crushes)… then they still don’t owe me anything.
A convention is never going to be an absolute arbiter of who is “best” at anything. Their main goal is to have interesting guests who will encourage people to come and listen, and talk about their choice (to reach others who will come and listen, even if the original commentator won’t).
And if they only picked the “most qualified” every year… then we’d hear the same voices over and over and over.
That’s boring. Screw that.
Further, if a convention makes a selection I think is under-qualified… I would consider it the height of unprofessionalism to bitch about it. I am, by definition, biased if I think anyone I like better is a better choice; and likely not qualified to have an opinion if there *isn’t* anyone I like I think is more qualified.
That’s just shitty gatekeeping, and it helps nothing.
If you feel someone is dangerous, including the kinds of dangerous that being racist or bigoted or someone who makes threats qualifies as, that’s a totally unrelated issue to this.
Beyond that, celebrate those who have gotten one of the tiny motes of recognition this industry offers. Tearing them down (and suggesting they don’t *deserve* their guest spot is both tearing them down and insulting them) is shitty.
Besides, they are obviously more qualified than you in at least one way.
They lead their career in such a way as to get the invitation.