Worth doing

“Just about everything worth doing is worth doing because it’s important and because the odds are against you. If they weren’t, then anyone could do it, so don’t bother.” —Seth Godin

In our stories, we venerate the heroes who triumph in the face of great odds. But what we don’t always realize is that they’re not heroes because they won. They’re heroes because they tried.

You won’t achieve greatness if you’re the same as everyone else. It takes doing the hard work that no one else will do, because it’s difficult, and because the results are uncertain.

Good. That’s the only work worth doing.

You’re not good enough

I remember reading an article some time ago about how men and women approach new job positions. It said that while women waited until they were 100% qualified, men would jump at a new position when they were only 60% qualified. Men figured they would learn the rest once they were on the job, the article explained.

I don’t know if that’s true, and it’s a generalization regardless, but if it is I think men have it right this time. If we all waited until we were 100% qualified before jumping in, a lot of great work would never happen—because for many challenges, you’re never ready. Sometimes you just have to leap.

And the truth is, you usually rise to the occasion. That’s how it’s been for me. You jump in, and it’s sink or swim, so you pour everything you have into the challenge … and more often than not, you figure it out. You swim.

My older brother always told me to never apply to a job I’m qualified for. Aim higher. I know that’s worked for him as well. So that’s two data points, at least.

Yes, you’re probably not good enough to do what you truly want to do. Yet.

Do it anyway. Jump in. Leap. You’ll rise to the occasion, or fail attempting the remarkable. Either one is a win in my book.

Win conditions

When I was younger, I played a lot of MMOs—that’s in no small part why Log Horizon appeals to me so much. One of the central features of MMOs is that there’s no set way to win—each player decides for themselves what their goal will be. So I grew used to setting my own win conditions from early on.

For specific projects, defining what victory means to you is a valuable skill. Try being part of a large corporate project where success is ill-defined—it’s not fun. But I think it’s a valuable exercise for our overall lives as well.

How do you define success for yourself in life? What are your win conditions—the accomplishments which, if you achieve them, you will have “won” at life?

For some people, it’s job success. They take most of their self-worth from being highly skilled, respected, and successful at work. These people are always perplexed by me, because that’s not one of my win conditions. I couldn’t care less.

Family is the answer for many. If they find a good spouse, have children, and are a good parent, then they’ll be happy at the end of their days.

Personally, my win conditions are wrapped up in becoming an author. I want to be one of the lucky few who does work he enjoys for a living, I want freedom, and I relish the challenge of attempting what so many others failed. So if I’m able to do that, I will have won—though part of the challenge is keeping the plates spinning. I only win if I continue to be an author, not if I just do it for a time.

That’s my win condition, for now. Later in life I will change, and my win conditions will change with me. That’s fine. You don’t have to know what will make you win at life forever, just what will make you win for now.

What are the win conditions for your life?

Flawed genius

I’m always on the lookout for flawed genius. Rather than solid perfection, I prefer the crazy, quirky, and niche every time.

I stole this term from Paul Barnett of Mythic Entertainment, who was discussing his (late) game Warhammer Online, and its rival World of Warcraft:

“I believe WoW is a work of flawed genius. When you dismantle [these works] you can never be sure whether you get genius or flaw.”

I once evoked this in the finale post of Sakurasou na Pet no Kanojo, and though my prose is awfully unpolished, the sentiment stands.

What flawed genius is, to me, is a work with all the quirks left in. There’s a tendency—especially among business types—to sand down all the edges, in the hopes of broadening the story’s appeal and making it accessible to as many people as possible.

That’s the absolute worst thing you can do. There’s a word for something palatable to everyone, and it’s average—and average slides into mediocrity awfully fast. A work of flawed genius is one that dares to push away some so it can delight others. It’s a particular taste, even an acquired taste, but when you’ve got it, it engenders nothing but love. It’s a story all the greater for its flaws, because those are what make it feel real.

Characters are like this too. Flawed characters are more compelling than perfect characters, because we can relate to them. It makes them feel real, to know that they too have their imperfections, just like us. So it is with stories—the flawed ones are all the more compelling, because they echo our own flawed lives.

Technically perfect but artistically void KyoAni quasi-originals. Paint-by-the-numbers gunmetal gray and military brown AAA video games. Blockbuster movies focus-grouped into mediocrity. These have no soul, so even when they’re enjoyable, they dribble out of the mind and melt away. They’re pleasant pastimes at best, but they have trouble being more.

But flawed genius stays with you. They’re usually the work of one passionate individual, who channeled the unique them into a work only they could create. They are the stories that, when they strike a chord, change the way you view the world.

Striving for perfection isn’t a bad instinct. Every artist should try to produce the best work they can. But it should be their best work, not the Frankenstein’s monster of other works they’ve seen sell before.

Artists steal, but they shouldn’t steal something because it’s worked before. They should steal because they love it, because it calls out to them, and because incorporating it into their own work will improve it for the better.

Tell your own story. Leave the eccentricities in. Remember that true geniuses are always flawed. But most of all, don’t sand down all the corners. To some people, those corners will be the most interesting part.

Steal like an artist

Among certain circles, I think there’s too much focus on the unique. It’s nearly a fetish. “I’ve seen it all before” or “This is just like ______” are not the dirty words some imagine them to be. They’re the result of a creative truth you may not be aware of.

Artists steal. Artists steal all the time. Any artist who tells you she doesn’t is lying. There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new combinations of what’s been seen before. And often, what you think is original isn’t; nine times out of ten, you just don’t know the references involved.

If you’re an artist, or would like to be an artist, or would like to understand artists, read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. Check it out at your local library—hopefully it’s there.

Real artists steal. We take ideas from anyone who has ideas worth stealing, and we weave them together into something totally our own. Go watch any Quentin Tarantino movie; you may notice that all the elements he uses have been used before. But what he does is combine them in a way that only Quentin Tarantino can. That’s what makes something unique—it’s not the ideas, but the execution. It’s in the combination that something new is born.

This isn’t an excuse to phone it in. The obvious aping of something successful in order to cash in on what’s worked before is poison to good storytelling. But you don’t have to be utterly unique to tell a good story, nor should you look for it in the works you enjoy. To do so is to reject the wealth of ideas lying around us, and the wonderful stories that can be woven from their cloth.

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” -T.S. Eliot

Unique is overrated. Look for good instead. Not everyone can make that distinction, but it’s an important one.

Between novels

“What now? Are you working on a second book?” –cshin9

The cardinal rule of writing fiction is to never stop. When one book is finished, you can’t rest on your laurels. While you’re editing that one, get started on the next one so there’s more story coming down the line.

That doesn’t mean the next story needs to be a novel, though.

It always struck me as odd how all the major events in characters’ lives happen at the same time. While the book is going on, major changes happens, and in between the characters are pretty much the same.

But that’s not how life works. I like to write adventures, but sometimes the best adventures don’t take place during major, life-changing events. Sometimes the smaller adventures are just as fun. So I’m taking a page from Full Metal Panic! author Gatoh Shoji, and doing some Fumoffu of my own.

In between novels, I plan to release short stories set in the same world and with the same characters as my novels. These will be the smaller adventures, exploring the world, fleshing out the characters, and moving the plot along incrementally. They won’t be fluff, they’ll just be the fun stories that happen to take less time to tell, but are worth telling even so.

The best thing for you? Some of these will be free! My plan is to write a few in between the first and second full-length novels, some of which I’ll release for free on my site, and some of which will only be found in a compilation volume I’ll put together later on. So if you enjoy my first book, there will be the occasional free story to tide you over into the next one drops.

That’s what I’m working on now. I think the first book is great, but the stories that come after it will be a lot of fun as well. I’m excited to show you both.

From me to you

It’s coming down the final stretch in preparing my book, Wage Slave Rebellion, for publication. Since the actual work of creating the story is nearly finished, I’m turning my attention to everything else that needs to be done before launch. Which is sooo much guys, you don’t even.

One of my to-dos is finding the people who are actually interested in reading the damn thing. To the effect, I set up something I probably should have made a long time ago: a mailing list.

Please sign up below for email updates on my upcoming book and future stories. I promise not to spam; emergencies aside, I’ll only send one email per month, and I’ll make sure every one is worth your time.

You can also find the sign up form on the left side of the site where it says Mailing list, or on the widget that says Book Updates further down.

I’m shooting for a December release for Wage Slave Rebellion, so aside from the confirmation email, you won’t receive anything from me until then. I’ll send you an update when the book is released (it will also be announced here and on Random Curiosity), and once a month after that. Though if I don’t have anything to say, I won’t bother you. You can always bother me at my email address or on twitter @StiltsOutLoud.

For those who missed it, here’s a quick blurb about my upcoming book:

It’s called Wage Slave Rebellion, and it’s an urban fantasy-adventure set in a sword & sorcery world. It’s about three friends who hate their crappy jobs, so they decide to become monster-slaying adventurers instead. It’s kind of like Terry Pratchett spliced with a badass action anime.

Thank you for giving me a chance to bug you in new ways. I promise not to make myself a bother.

The glorious unburdening of less

Editing can be a painful process. You must kill your darlings, taking funny point of dialogue, cool action moves, and even entire scenes and cutting them. It hurts to leave behind something that could have been great, were it not holding your story back.

But that’s for the larger edits. For the smaller edits, the copy edits—those are actually sort of fun. Really! Taking a sentence and cutting it down to its essence, carving out an extra “then” or an errant “the”, paring down the descriptive text and streamlining the dialogue until it sparkles is actually sort of fun.

It’s strange. Editing isn’t supposed to be the fun part, and compared to writing, it’s not. But taking this thing you’ve created and uncovering its hidden potential amid the extra words is wonderful. It’s like a burden is lifted off the text, and you as well.

It’s not that editing is fun. It’s tedious and draining. But the result is something else. It may be hard, but the result is worth it. Cut away the dross, and the story below can shine. That’s when you find out how good your story really is.

Rape fiction

If I were male, I would be real hesitant about including a rape plot in any story I write. It’s an extremely complex and delicate issue, and it should be treated as such. Without understanding it completely, trying to tackle it is probably going to anger a lot of people, because men have trouble understanding how horrible rape truly is.

Since I am a guy, you can consider that my official policy on the issue.

The problem is that men don’t understand rape like women do. I remember when I first stumbled across the article titled Schrödinger’s Rapist, and reading it was a revelation. Any moderately moral man knows that rape is bad, but we don’t understand how much even the possibility of rape warps women’s lives. Learning about it more has only impressed upon me my thorough ignorance on the subject.

Which is not to say that a man can’t write about rape, even from a woman’s perspective, and do it respectfully and well. I’m saying it’s difficult. Extremely difficult. It’s not a challenge I would undertake without doing a lot of research, and given the subject, I don’t want to. It’s not my desire to delve that far into the darkness of the human condition. I’ll stick with beer and explosions, thank you.

Rape is horrifying, but if you haven’t lived your entire life actively guarding against it, you don’t understand how horrifying it really is. I know I don’t. So I will leave it alone when I go to write my little stories. There’s enough to write about without pissing everybody off with a tone-deaf controversy I don’t fully understand.

Five movies on a plane

I don’t often get to watch movies, especially English-language ones. Between trying to keep up with 20+ anime a season and the 15,532 other things I do, I rarely get two connected hours to sit down and watch a flick.

On my plane ride back from Europe this past weekend, I got to watch four in a row, plus one on the trip over. I thought I’d branch out into movie reviews a bit, because I found watching so many all in a row to be revealing.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

What an utter waste of time. They stretched thirty minutes of content into over two hours, and I was bored to tears throughout. The Hobbit was a good book, and it should have been done in one movie, rather than being stretched out into three. The first movie was all right, but this one was utter tripe. Pointless Legolas cameos cannot save it.

2. Godzilla (2014)

The new Godzilla was nearly great. I was impressed with its admirable fidelity to Japanese culture, and the fact that it didn’t try to copy Jurassic Park. It also stayed true to the ethos of Godzilla by simultaneously making the titular beast a good guy and a rampaging monster. If only the main human character wasn’t a boring, emotionally-inert pile of acting failure poured into a cut military body, something which was made all the more clear by Bryan Cranston’s reliably stunning performance. I was legitimately confused when I realized Cranston’s character wasn’t the main character, but the monster fights were cool.

3. Thor (and also 0. X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Thor was a good little Marvel flick. It suffered somewhat from my having seen The Avengers before it—though even a cursory knowledge of Norse mythology plus an awareness of the role of most trickster characters in fiction would have made Loki’s turn obvious—but it was still a fun watch. A standard Marvel movie, it was well executed and enjoyable, if not terribly memorable on its own, and there’s no shame in that.

As for X-men: Days of Future Past, which I actually watched on the plane ride to Europe, it tried some interesting things, and they mostly worked. I can’t help but wonder whether combining the two timelines was smart or not, but it worked more than it didn’t, and that’s impressive. It was also no The Last Stand, so consider me ecstatic.

4. Now You See Me

All the other movies were ones I wanted to see previously (except for Godzilla, which I watched because of Cranston). Now You See Me was the last movie I watched, and the only one I watched for the hell of it. And I really enjoyed it! The cast was great, which was why I picked it at all—Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Cain? Fzck yeah!—but the plot, while occasionally insubstantial or a bit wonky, was engaging enough to keep me thinking about it the next day. And that’s something none of the other movies were able to do.

I’ve been wondering why Now You See Me is the one I enjoyed, and kept thinking about, the most. Partially it probably because it was the only one I just wanted to watch, as opposed to feeling like I should watch eventually. The Hobbit especially suffered from this, since I went in expecting it to suck, though the others were only slightly tinged with obligation.

A lack of preconceived notions probably contributed as well. I knew what Thor was about, but I had no idea if a story about a ragtag gang of magician robbers was going to work. That it did made it all the better.

If I had to pick a lesson, it’s that the unexpected gems are the ones that stick with you, and minimizing expectations is the key to enjoying fiction. Which runs counter to the basic goals of marketing, which is to get people in the door and buying whatever it is you have to sell.

I’ll have to think about it more. For now, I’ll just say that Now You See Me was a pretty good flick, and that you should check it out if the premise sounds fun. It was better than I expected, though maybe it won’t be for you now that I told you it. Son of a bitch!