Category Archives: creative writing

pages upon pages

We begin production on Monday, and I’m in the final lap of the writing marathon this week.

Yesterday, I wrote a whole bunch of stuff, until I got to a point where I just had to walk away, because I wasn’t getting anything useful out of my brains. This was really difficult for me to do, because I feel like I need another two weeks of work time between today and Monday.

Today, I went back to the stuff I wrote yesterday, knowing that I had to make lots of cuts for both time and budget. I honestly wasn’t sure where I was going to make those cuts, until I went through and just murdered some things that I liked, but thought didn’t need to be there.

Like magic, the whole piece came together and became something I love. That stuff I cut? I don’t miss it, and I can’t imagine that it was ever there…

…except I can imagine that it was there, because it needed to be there so I could write the stuff that I ended up keeping. It’s sort of like building a scaffolding in Minecraft, to make it possible to build the thing you really want to build, then tearing it down (or burning it down, if you make it out of wood around a stone structure, which is really neat).

So this is another thing that goes into my writer’s toolbox: permission to write and write and just keep writing, and not judge or edit along the way until the draft is finished. Because I may think that something is crap and needs to go, and maybe it is and does, but it needs to be there at this moment so I can find the good stuff.

the point of view that creates the world

I imagine my creative process as a cycle of filling up a reservoir with inspirations and ideas, and then emptying it out into various creations. Sometimes that reservoir is drained in one explosive surge, but mostly it’s emptied out a little bit at a time, into different projects.

Recently, I’ve been using my creative reserves to power the writing on the Tabletop RPG show, and whatever is left is going into Radio Free Burrito.  My stupid random thoughts and links, once the exclusive property of my blog, are filling up Twitter and Tumblr, and I haven’t had much to say here, anyway.

BUT.

I have a new Tabletop for you:

Most of the things I’ve been consuming are helping me power up and work on the Tabletop RPG show (all day today I have conference calls with our writers and designers!) and I would like to share some of the ways I’ve been refilling my creative reservoir, starting with books:

And Podcasts:

Also, movies:

Some TV:

And Anime:

So my reservoir is slowly being refilled, at a rate that is just slightly faster than it is being emptied … and neat stuff is happening.

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Learning to Write

Writer and game designer Will Hindmarch is an occasional contributor to WWdN and constant mooncalf. In a good way.

When the writing is tough, I doubt a lot of my words and think hard about whether I really know what I’m doing or not. Where do I get the nerve to try to be heard or read?

As David Simon once put it, who died and made me Storyteller?

Thinking back to some of the lessons I’ve learned as a writer and narrative designer, I think about all the hours I’ve logged — through doubt and confidence, pain and passion — writing things I thought I might not be able to write. A lot of my knowledge was given to me by teachers and mentors but I think maybe none of it really made sense until I dared to fulfill or defy the lessons given unto me. I could train and train but only while I was writing did the full substance of the lessons make sense to me.

When the student is ready, the blank page shall appear.

It takes many forms. I’ve logged a gazillion hours telling collaborative stories through tabletop RPGs, which are a great way to learn adaptation, improvisation, and quick development of ideas as they happen. It’s a great medium for learning — you can imagine how excited I am by the prospect of a tabletop RPG show from my friend, games master Wil Wheaton. (So do fund the hell out of that, if you please.) We can all glean lessons from that kind of play.

Combine the experience points I’ve earned from RPGs with the  time I spent in the authorial batting cages of Ficlets (where I got to write stories in tandem with Wil) and you get my newest game design, which itself combines narrative gaming with actual writing.

That’s Storium.

Continue reading Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Learning to Write

My Fast and Furious Fan Fiction

Hank Green posted a Fast and Furious thing on his Tumblr, and wondered where the novelization tie-ins were … so, being easily amused, I answered the call:

The Fastest and the Furioustest

I know, right? Don’t be discouraged, though; with enough practice, you too can capture the essence of these magnificent films for yourself, just as I have.

How I learned to stop worrying, and love failure

I was inspired to write this post today because of Shane’s guest blog called Start:

One of the loudest voices in my head, the real dick of all the voices, likes to tell me that what I’m making won’t be perfect. It’s an impossible standard to live up to, perfection, and is therefore an effective weapon against my own creativity. I’m often tempted to give up before I begin. But I’ve tried to stop doing that. After 41 years, I’ve finally begun to realize that you have to start. You have to begin to make something before you can worry about how it’s going to end up. If you don’t start, you have nothing.

I want to be like the people who keep pushing forward, in spite of the critics, self doubt, and uncomfortable odds. They try new things. They take risks. They eat shit sometimes. They get back up and try other new things. Their successes are widely embraced. Their misfires are lonely. Most of all, their art is inspiring.

If I’ve learned anything in my shaky life as an artist, it’s that you must stop talking and spinning and whining and start making your thing today. Pick up a camera. Pick up an easel. Open your laptop and turn off your Internet connection while you write. Find a starting point. Ignore the voices. Ignore the critics. Reward yourself for having ideas by valuing them enough to believe in them.

Failure does not exist.

A little over a year ago, I experienced a creative explosion, and wrote more short fiction in the span of a few months than ever before or since. It was a whole lot of fun, and some of the stories that I pulled out of my brain, like Hunter and The Monster In My Closet, totally did not suck.

Since then, I’ve struggled to find the time/inspiration/courage/focus/whatever to cultivate a story idea beyond just being an idea. I was about to say that I wasn’t sure why, but I know why: I was afraid of failure. I’d written a couple of short things that didn’t suck, and was paralyzed by the prospect of writing and publishing anything that could or would or did suck. Besides, it is so much easier to derp around on Reddit all day than it is to get out of the Internet and focus on telling a story, right? There’s nothing quite as safe — and ultimately boring — than not taking a risk, creative or otherwise.

While I was on the JoCo cruise, I sat down with my friend John Scalzi and talked about writing for almost two hours. I miss making things up and making them live, and I desperately want to learn how to break out of the short form narrative non-fiction storytelling that’s been most of my writing for the last decade. I wanted to know how to take an idea that I’d turn into 2000 or so words, and instead work it into something that lasts for 10000 or 30000 or even 50000 words. You know, like a novel. For kids.

We talked a lot about the practicalities of writing, like having a schedule, meeting a word count or maximum time every day (like 3000 words or 2 hours, whatever comes first). We talked about breaking up a long piece of storytelling into several short stories, and then writing the connective tissue to put them together into something longer. We talked about the business of publishing, and for whom self-publishing makes sense, and why.

But the thing that got me out of my creative doldrums was John’s advice about failure. It isn’t for me to share with you what John believes were his failures as a writer (if we’re all lucky, he’ll write about it at Whatever), but I’ll share with you what I took away from it.

Sometimes we set out to do something, like write a novel, and we fail at writing that particular novel. But in the process of failing at that novel, we can actually succeed at writing another. For example, years ago I had this idea to write a book called Do You Want Kids With That? about being a stepfather. I would take some stories about my life with Ryan and Nolan, and wrap them in practical advice for stepparents based on my experiences.

I started working on it, and quickly realized that I was experienced as a stepparent, but profoundly unqualified to talk about it to other stepparents. I concluded that it would be irresponsible to write that book without a psychologist co-author, so I abandoned it. But! I had all these great stories about things I’d done with my kids, about how we’d grown together as a family, and I needed to do something with them, so I ended up building The Happiest Days Of Our Lives around them.

So even though I failed to write a book about being a stepparent, I succeeded in writing an entirely different book, about what it means to be a Gen X geek. I’m really proud of that book; so proud, in fact, that I didn’t even think about the failure that helped birth it until I talked with John on the boat.

There are lots of other examples in my recent history: the first cut of the first episode of Tabletop wasn’t good at all, but we scraped away the failed parts and ended up with one hell of a successful show about the joy of gaming. Almost 10 years ago, my attempt to collect everything from my blog at the time and turn it into a book was a failure that produced Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot.

I could go on, but I think you get the point: failing at one thing does not mean you fail at all things and that’s the end of it. Failing at something can often be the beginning of succeeding at another thing.

Since I had this long talk with John on the boat, I realized that I have all the tools I need to write stories of any length, even if the longer stories are outside of my comfort zone (and there’s a whole other post coming about how scary and rewarding it was to get way out of my comfort zone — ultimately expanding it quite a bit — when I performed on the cruise). I know how to write a novella or even a novel, but I’ve been afraid to try it and fail. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that, at any moment, Carrie’s mom will spring out of the closet, covered in knives and shriek at me, “THEY’RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU!!”

But yesterday, I sat down and I plotted out a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long, long time. I sat down, thought about my big idea, and then had an incredibly fun time drilling down into that big idea to find the narrative story and character arcs that exist inside it. And the thing about doing that? It was fun. I wrote out a few mile markers to generally move the story forward, so I know what I’m driving toward, and when I got to the end, I discovered something incredibly awesome that I hadn’t even considered in the months I’ve had this idea bouncing around inside my brain. I typed it into my text document, gasped in delight, and clapped my hands like an excited child … which I guess, in that moment, I was.

Today, I start writing that story, unburdened by the fear of failure because I know that, even if I fail in some way, I’ll succeed at taking the risk, and learn something that’ll be helpful and useful for the next thing, or maybe the thing after that.

I owe John a debt of gratitude, because he helped me get most (maybe even all) of my existential dread and angst under control, so I could stop worrying and learn to love failure.

It feels good to be a capital-W Writer again. I’ve been a tourist for far too long.

Will Hindmarch and Stepto and Shane Nickerson Are The Best Ever: A Post by the Real Wil Wheaton

INTERNET I AM IN YOU.

So, you guys, I’ve decided to let Will Hindmarch and Stepto and Shane Nickerson stay on at the blog forever and ever because they are so great at blogging. I mean, I’m great at it, too, but together I figure we’re like a great rock-and-roll band like what’s that band that’s made out of robotic lions? We’re like that band. I’ll form the head!

Seriously, these guest bloggers totally blew me away. They’re phenomenal writers, each and every. I think I felt every feel just now as I went back and read all their posts from this week. What generous and wise and funny and did I mention wise fellows these once-guest, now-forever bloggers were. I’m buying them all burritos.

I’m going to go brew the beers now, like you do, and let these guys do some more blogging because, like I promised, they get to blog here with me from now on forever and no take-backs. Okay? Okay. Burritos.

Signed,

Totally the Real Wil Wheaton Totally*

*(Not at all totally or at all)

Reposted for Halloween: The Monster In My Closet

Flash Fiction: The Monster in my Closet

Originally published October, 2011.

About two hours ago, I thought to myself, “‘There’s a monster in my closet’ would be a neat way to start out one of those scary short stories I loved to read when I was in middle school.”

I wrote it down, then wrote a little more and a little more. Right around the time I realized I had no idea how it ended, the ending tapped me on the shoulder and said “boo!”

I’ve never done this before, but I thought it would be cool to publish it here without the usual editorial and rewrites I do on everything, because the idea of conceiving, writing, and releasing a short story in just a couple of hours is intriguing to me.

Added on 10/19/11: I made free-free and DRM-free ePub and Kindle versions of this story.You can get them at my virtual bookshelf if you like.

So, without any further introduction, here is my scary short story that I hope 12 year-old me would enjoy…

The Monster In My Closet

by Wil Wheaton

There is a monster in my closet. It’s standing in there behind my clothes, and it wants to come out. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know how it got in there, but I know that it’s been there for a long time, waiting.

Mum and dad don’t believe in monsters (and until yesterday, neither did I), but during dinner tonight, I had to tell them.

“A monster,” dad said, wiping mashed potatoes off his beard. “Like, with claws and fangs? That kind of monster?”

“I haven’t actually seen it,” I said, “but I know it’s there.”

“How can you know it’s there if you haven’t seen it?” Mum asked.

“It’s like…” I thought for a moment. “It’s like when it’s cloudy, and you can’t see the moon, but it sort of glows behind the clouds, so you know it’s there.”

“So your closet was glowing, eh?” Dad said.

I shook my head. I could tell that they thought I was making the whole thing up. “No, dad,” I said, “but I could feel it in there, and –”

“And what?” He said.

“And if it comes out,” I said, carefully, “It’s going to kill us.”

“Well, I should expect so,” dad said. “Monsters are usually very serious about that sort of thing.”

Mum scowled at him. “Richard! Don’t make fun.”

Then she looked back at me and said, “you can have a night light in your room to keep the monster away.”

“And keep your closet door shut,” dad said, gravely, “everyone knows that monsters can’t open doors.”

“But –”

“But nothing. Now stop all this chattering and eat your peas before they get cold,” mum said.

I’m trying to deal with a monster, and all mum cares about is me eating my peas. Typical parents.

They walked me into my room when it was time for bed. Dad made a big production of opening the closet and looking inside. “Well, it looks like we scared it off,” he said. He didn’t notice that the lid of my toy chest was lifted up slightly, and I didn’t bother telling him. He pushed the door and it shut with a click. He shook the knob and pantomimed looping a chain around it that he secured with a pantomimed pad lock. He swallowed a pantomime key and rubbed his belly.

Mum brought in one of my old night lights, the one with the blue pony on it, and plugged it into the wall next to the bed. “There, sweetheart,” she said as she turned it on, “let’s just leave this on tonight.”

She kissed me goodnight. Then dad kissed me on my forehead.

“There’s a good girl,” he said, “sleep tight! Don’t let the monsters bite!”

“Richard!” Mum smacked him on his arm. “Sorry, sweetie, he’s just having a bit of fun.”

“Good night, mum,” I said. I tried not to frown too much at dad.

I heard them talking as they walked down the stairs.. “She just has a wonderful imagination, doesn’t she?” Mum said.

“She’s a dreamer, that’s for sure,” dad said. I heard ice clink into glasses, then, a moment later,  the creak of their armchairs as they sat down to watch television.

I was starting to fall asleep when I heard it.

“Psssst.”

I thought that maybe I was dreaming, but I pulled the covers up to my neck, as tightly as I could, and listened.

“Psssst.”

It came from the closet. “Psssst. Hey, kid. Come and open the door, hey?”

I felt my eyes widen, as a chill ran down my spine.

“Come on, kid, I won’t hurt ya, I just want to get out of here. Open the door and I’ll be on my way.”

The voice — its voice — was gruff, but not as gruff as I thought it would be.

“No,” I said in a small voice, barely a whisper. “You… you just stay in there.”

The handle shook a bit, and I screamed. Mum and dad were in the room before I knew it.

“It’s in there!” I cried, “it’s in there and it told me to open the door and let it out!”

They looked at each other. Mum walked across the room to me and sat down on the edge of my bed. “There, there, sweetie,” she said, “you just had a bad dream is all.

“Richard, open the door and show her that there’s nothing inside but clothes and toys.”

“No! Dad! Don’t open it!” I practically screamed.

“Fear not, my petal,” he said, gallantly, “Any monsters inside this closet will get the thrashing of their lives!” He walked to the closet and knocked on the door. “Anyone in there? Hmm?”

He winked at me and shadow boxed the air in front of him.

“Richard, stoppit and just open the door. She’s had an awful fright.”

“Daddy, don’t do it,” I said, suddenly feeling like I was seven years-old again. “Please.”

He smiled and said, “it’s all right, sweetheart. Daddy’s just going to show you that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and then we can all go back to sleep.”

Mum squeezed my hand. An audience laughed on the television downstairs. Dad turned the handle on the closet door and opened it. “Now, see? There’s nothing to–”

The monster was covered in dark scales, like a lizard. Its eyes were jet black, but reflected something red in their centers. It grabbed my dad by his shoulders and bit into his neck with long, sharp, white teeth.

Dad screamed and struggled against it. Clawed hands held onto him and a spray of blood shot across the back of the closet door, black and shiny in the dim light.

It slurped and gurgled and crunched, and in a few seconds, dad stopped moving. I realized that my mum hadn’t made a sound, but had let go of my hand.

She stood up, and walked toward the monster. It dropped my dad’s body to the floor and grinned at her, dad’s blood dripping off of its teeth and running down its chest. They stood over my dad’s body and embraced.

“I’ve missed you, darling,” the monster said to my mum.

“I missed you, too, my sweet,” she said, in the same gruff voice.

“Mu– mum?” I said. She ignored me.

“I would have come sooner, but you know that we can’t open them from the inside,” the monster said.

“Everyone knows that!” Mum said, and they laughed together. She turned to face me. Her skin was starting to crack on her face, revealing dark grey scales beneath it. Her eyes were turning black, reflecting something red in their centers.

“Come on over here and give us a hug,” she said, as sharp white fangs pushed her teeth out of her mouth and onto the floor where they bounced around like marbles. “Come and be mommy’s little monster!”

“WHAT IS HAPPENING? I screamed.

“Stop that horrid racket and say hello to your dad — your real dad,” she said.

I reached around for something, anything, to use as a weapon to protect myself. When I stretched out for the lamp on my night stand, the skin on my arm cracked and split open. There were grey scales underneath it.

“Oh no. No no no no no,” I said.

I reached up to touch my face, and pulled the soft pink flesh away. I felt the rough scales underneath.

“What’s happening to me?!”

I looked at my mum.

I looked at my dad.

I looked at the body on the floor.

I realized that I was ever so hungry, and my food was getting cold.

I got out of bed and joined my family for dinner.

Copyright 2011 Wil Wheaton.

Creative Commons License
The Monster In My Closet by Wil Wheaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Perchance to dream.

All week, I have woken up about 2 hours after I fall asleep. I end up staring at the ceiling for what seems like an eternity, before sinking into a restless slumber, waking about once every 90 minutes. I have had terrible nightmares, from which I awake with a scream somewhere between my stomach and my lips, depending on the severity of the terror.
The dreams are always the same: I’m running from someone, or someone I love has been taken from me, or there is some Big Terrifying Thing just outside my field of view. Two nights ago, I had two separate nightmares; in both of them Anne was kidnapped and I knew that I’d never see her again.
When my head touches my pillow each night, it is with a sense of grim resignation. Many mornings, I am exhausted when I get out of bed. I feel like I’m not getting any rest at all. I look and feel like hell.

Continue reading Perchance to dream.

The Fires of Mordor

We are under partly cloudy skies today here in Pasadena. All day long, the blue sky has been brilliant and beautiful. The few clouds that dot the sky are small and fluffy, blown at incredible speeds by the high altitude winds, and illuminated to a magnificently bright white by the sun.
About 20 minutes ago, the sun began to set, and I watched as it put silver linings behind cloud after cloud as it sank into the west. Shortly after the horizon took it away for another day, the sun did an amazing thing: it illuminated the only cloud in the sky, a monstrous one — several thousand feet cross, at least — which hung over my house. The cloud acted as a giant reflector, bouncing yellow, than orange, then red light down upon my neighborhood.
At first, the yellow light was beautiful, bringing out a brilliance in the lawns and leaves seldom seen in winter. Then, the orange light became a little creepy, casting the same muted color as sunlight filtered through the smoke of a brushfire.
When the light turned red, though, it was positively scary. The red glow that it washed over the Earth was straight out of the fires of Mount Doom.
As the light turned from orange to red, my mom called me, and asked me if it looked like the world was coming to an end over my house, too. I laughed, and told her that it did.
Then a Ring Wraith knocked on my door, and I politely hung up the phone.

Hey

Hey, I’ve got a commentary without much to say…
It’s finally autumn here in Pasadena. After weeks of relentlessly hot, stifling weather, it’s has been cool and raining on and off since Saturday.
When I was a kid, I was a total California Sun Worshipper. I lived for the summer, took it as a personal affront when we went to the beach and it was foggy. I would intentionally scorch the soles of my feet, toughening them up so I could walk slowly, cooly, across the blistering sand at Zuma beach, impressing (in my own mind, at least) all those bikini-clad hotties who I was too geeky to talk to.
These days, however, I absolutely love Autumn and Winter. I love the flannel sheets, evenings building and enjoying fires in the fireplace and on my neighbor’s lawn, the way the smell of fireplaces hangs in the air all day long, running through piles of leaves while gardeners chase us with rakes.
I love stepping out of the shower into an obscuring mist, and writing “A&W” on the bathroom mirror. I love hot apple cider while we watch The Simpsons together on the couch, wrapped in a woolen blanket.
I love walking out into a clear but crisp day, shivering in the shade but basking in the few spots of warmth the sun delivers through the trees on my street.
Though I feel sad for Demeter when she has to return Persephone to Hades, I am grateful each year for pomegranates in the Underworld.