see you in your nightmares.
see you in your nightmares.
Our flight home from Seattle was delayed because they couldn’t find the pilot. I guess this would freak out some people, but I thought it was pretty funny and ordered another beer.
Anne and I sat at a table with Felicia and Misha Collins, and shared stories from the convention while we waited to get on our planes. Misha, Anne and I were on a flight to Burbank, and Felicia was on a flight to LAX.
“You’re a dummy for flying into LAX,” I told her.
“It’s closer to my house!” Felicia replied.
“I don’t know why anyone would fly into LAX on purpose. It’s the worst airport in the world. It’s like people got together, put all the bad ideas for airport design onto a chalkboard, and used them to design it. I bet if you looked at it from the air, it spells out HA HA YOU STUPID SUCKERS COME HERE ON PURPOSE.”
“Why would I drive all the way from Burbank to my house when LAX is closer?”
“Because Burbank isn’t LAX.”
“Well, you’re delayed, so there.”
“I bet you we get home before you do, even though our flight is delayed.”
It’s not uncommon for us to talk to each other like we’re 8 years-old.
About twenty minutes later, Felicia told us all goodbye. A minute or so later, she texted me that she was on her plane and gloated a little bit about how comfortable it was.
This year’s Emerald City wasn’t as awesome as it’s been in years gone by. They were trying out some new things, I guess, and not all of them worked. The layout of the show was really strange, and it didn’t feel cohesive to me. Felicia and I were in a gaming area instead of the usual media guest area, which just didn’t work for us. It was very small, so it got ridiculously congested when people got into lines to meet us, and it was so far away from everything else, we sort of felt like we were at the kids’ table. The photo-ops were really tough for me this year. I’m adjusting my brain meds, and though I felt back to normal by the end of the day on Sunday, Friday and Saturday weren’t that great. I know it’s not a big deal to most people to put your arm around a person, but it really freaks me out (and knowing this makes me feel totally crazy, so if you’re thinking that you’re not alone) to have hundreds of people I don’t know grab me and hold on to me. I always ask the photo-op people to ask the attendees to respect my personal space, and for whatever reason this didn’t happen this year. Without meaning to be weird or uncool, people were super grabby and hands-y and I felt super anxious more than once.
That said, there were some truly wonderful and memorable moments. Here are a few pictures I took:
When Joel and I made the Lil’ Wils, we hoped that people would get excited and make things for him to wear and play with. I have some really great clown sweaters and a cape of dicks for him, but this is the first actual fez I’ve seen.
“You have to sign this,” a young woman said to me.
“I do?” I said.
“Yes. You said ‘when someone puts a picture of Nathan Fillion in front of you and asks you to sign it, you say yes!’”
She spoke the truth, so I signed it. It’s pretty great that he had already written that he loves me because I didn’t write that myself as far as you know.
Last year, she asked me to sign her arm so it could be made into a tattoo. I was kind of freaked out by the responsibility, but then I thought about it for a second, and realized I could maybe inspire her and anyone who reads her arm to be awesome.
I have met a few derby girls who have named themselves after me in some way. I love that.
This was my view of the 3000 seat main theatre during the Wil Wheaton vs. Paul and Storm show on Saturday morning. I was very concerned about the early morning show time. I didn’t think the audience would be ready for what we do while they were still waking up, and I have never been so happy to be so wrong. We filled it up (and added some SRO at the back) and the audience was on board from the beginning. We had so much fun, I went ahead and did a little bit of stand-up jokes that I think they liked. When we asked if the audience wanted to hear a 20 minute song about pirates or do a Q&A, the ARRRRRRRRRRR! of 3000 people was all the answer we needed. This show was one of the highlights of the convention for me.
How great is this cosplay?! Last year, she was a Gameboy, and this year she was Tetris. She sewed each Tetris square onto her dress by hand. I’m not sure you can see it, but she has them on her fingernails, as well.
This guy, Paul, couldn’t make it, so his friend asked me to hold his picture up for a photo-op. I asked her to hold it so I could pretend to put my arm around him. Then when she brought it to my table to be autographed, I filled in the rest of him. I am easily amused.
I mean, honestly. How great is this?
I have no idea how this happened. #Vandaleyes
I forget what this is called. Bead Art, maybe? A young woman built this from my avatar, using little plastic beads. The windows on that TARDIS glow in the dark.
My space mom has pretty awesome business cards.
Cutest 11th Doctor EVER.
Hipster Slenderman. I KNOW RIGHT.
Some other great things happened during the con, but they’re going to get their own posts because I have to get to my real work now.
I fell asleep in my seat before the plane took off. I woke up somewhere over Northern California and reached over to hold my wife’s hand.
“I just love you the most,” I said.
“I love you too.”
“Did you have fun this weekend?” I asked her.
“I did,” she said. “It was great to see friends. And your show was great.”
“Thanks, dude,” I said. I leaned back in my chair and dozed for most of the remaining flight. When we landed, I turned my phone on and got a text from Felicia:
DAMMIT! We landed early so we've been sitting on the tarmac for fifteen minutes!
I laughed out loud and sent back:
We're at our gate. I'll be home before you get your bags.
I hate you and your stupid airport.
Boy, it sure is peaceful and quiet at the Burbank Airport tonight.
A few minutes later, I sent her this picture:
Walking to my car!
Ugh. At baggage claim.
A little while later, the best text I’ve ever sent:
MY HOUSE I AM IN YOU.
The reply was so very very sweet:
In car but not halfway home. You win ... THIS TIME.
I took a victory lap, and my dogs joined me.
Our show at the Alberta Rose Theatre last night was a whole lot of fun for me, and as far as I can tell, the audience enjoyed it as well (even the 28-minute Captain’s Wife’s Lament). John Roderick was amazing as always, and even let me write his setlist (Blue Diamonds, Honest, and Seven) to which he added the song he debuted on JoCo Cruise Crazy. The Doubleclicks sang a lullaby for Mister Bear, encouraged a Velociraptor, and reminded us about the benefits of classic literature. Paul and Storm added Opening Band at my request, because Anne had bought some outrageously obnoxious boxers to throw at them … and then forgot them at the hotel, so there was a break in the song when I came out, all excited to see a wall of panties thrown at them … only to give an extended Grumpy Cat thumbs down to the audience. There’s probably pictures somewhere.
I stepped out of my comfort zone again, and did about ten or so minutes of stand-up jokes before the usual storytelling. I thought it went well, considering it’s only the second time I’ve done that sort of thing and I’m still leveling that particular skill. It felt really good when the audience exploded into laughter at a joke I wrote, and I understood the appeal of standing in front of people on a stage, making them laugh. I owe Hardwick a case of Fresca for helping me work out my set, and making it easier for me to give myself permission to attempt something I’ve always loved watching, but always been afraid to do. I haven’t decided if I’m doing jokes at ECCC, because my show with Paul and Storm is so early on Saturday morning, and the audience may not be awake enough for it to work. I guess I’ll make a game-time decision.
I’m looking forward to sleeping for most of today, to save up energy for the con this weekend, and then getting my geek on until Sunday. Geek and Sundry has our own space this year, and I plan to spend a fair amount of time there, playing games when I’m not signing stuff.
In other news:
As promised, the Very Big Tabletop Announcement is here. Take it away, Felicia!
We have wanted to do International Tabletop Day since we premiered a year ago, and we’ve been working on making it happen for almost as long.
At tabletopday.com, you can find and join events in your town, or create your own! You can play wherever you want, but if you go to your friendly local gameshop, you may just get one of the Tabletop Day exclusive bonuses for games like Gloom, Dixit, 7 Wonders, Castle Panic, Smash Up, and more. It’s so so so awesome, you guys, and I can’t wait for you to see the amazing things our friends in the games industry have created for you.
The very best thing about Tabletop, for me, isn’t that I get to play games for my job or that I get to hang out with awesome people while I do it. I know that seems like it would be the most awesome thing about Tabletop, but it isn’t. The most awesome thing about Tabletop is the community of people who have rediscovered their love of gaming, or started a game night, or have somehow been inspired by our show to play more games. International Tabletop Day is all about you, and it is designed to celebrate the community that inspires me to work as hard as I can to make the best show I can.
I hope you’ll join us on #Tabletopday, and play more games!
Tomorrow morning, Anne and I are heading up to Portland to vist some family, eat some donuts, play some classic video games, buy some books, drink some beer, and do a show with Paul and Storm at the Alberta Rose Theatre. I got confirmation last night that our friends The Doubleclicks and John Roderick will be joining us for some happy funtimes, and I’m looking forward to the show.
When I was on JoCo Cruise Crazy 3, I forced myself to step way out of my comfort zone, and I did about 10 minutes of stand up comedy as part of my set. I haven’t seen video of it, so I don’t know if the audience liked it, but I recall feeling like it went pretty well, and besides, it was a lot of fun to write it and take the chance performing it. I think one of the best reasons for stepping outside of your comfort zone is to expand it, and by that measurement, it was a successful experiment.
So last night, my friend Chris Hardwick came over and helped me develop some material I’d been putting into my notebook in advance of the show, and we ended up putting together some stuff that I think is pretty goddamn funny. I’m terrified, but excited, to try it out in the show.
I know it’s cart before the horse (in the sense that there is no horse and the cart hasn’t been built, yet) but we even talked about maybe shooting a special with me doing jokes and telling stories and selling it on the Internets some day in the mysterious future. I think that could be really cool.
After Portland, I’m on my way to Seattle for the Emerald City Comicon. This is one of my favourite conventions of the whole year, and is the gold standard (with Phoenix Comicon) for how a con should be run, how fans should be treated, and what kind of value you should get for your money. Paul and Storm and I are doing a show (disguised as a panel) on Saturday morning, and I have a Tabletop panel on Sunday afternoon. The rest of the weekend, I’ll be signing pictures and books and boobs and action figures. Saturday night, the Kings are playing the Canucks, so Aaron Douglas and I are planning to find someplace where we can watch the game and talk all kinds of shit at each other. It should be fun.
I’ll have a limited number of books with me at the convention, as well as some pictures, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I am still accepting dice for project How Many Dice Is Too Many Dice.
Now, as always, the thing I have to say before I go to a con:
I got the Swine Flu at PAX Prime, and it was the worst two weeks of my life. When we went to PAX East, all of us (Jerry, Mike, Kurtz, Straub, Paul and Storm, The Professor and Mary Ann) all agreed that we wouldn’t shake hands, give hugs, or engage in human contact with people, to limit the introduction of infection vectors. Most people understood, and we gave each other the old Iron Guard Salute (not the fascist thing, the gaming thing that looks like like “love” in ASL). The result: a few people were cheesed off, but none of us were too upset about that, because none of us got sick. It was the first con I’ve gone to in my whole life where I didn’t get some form of Con Crud, and I’d like to repeat that until we turn out the lights on Planet Earth. So, tl;dr: I’m not going to touch people at the con. I know it seems weird, but I hope you understand why. I’m not trying to be a dick, I’m trying not to get sick.
A non-zero number of readers seem to have a real problem with this, and people on the rest of the Internets are already giving me a hard time about it in very unkind terms. This makes me really sad; I hoped for a little more empathy and understanding. Not that it should matter, but I have Epstein-Barr, so my immune system isn’t as robust as a normal person’s; it is very easy for me to catch viruses and other nasty things. I’m not going to apologize for not wanting to get sick, especially after two weeks of Swine Flu. If you can’t understand that, it’s your problem, not mine.
People don’t like to hear this, and I hate that I have to say it. I’m not sorry, because I don’t particularly like getting sick.
Sorry that the big Tabletop announcement didn’t happen today. Something related to it wasn’t ready, so we have to delay it until tomorrow. Feel free to continue speculating.
I’m writing a new story. I’m aiming for 30,000 words, but it will be the length that it wants to be. I’ve been doing a little bit every day, and I’m up to about 4,000 words. I’m having a lot of fun writing it, and if it’s worth publishing when it’s done, that will happen.
…and it’s not what you think.
But feel free to speculate, if you like, (I can’t confirm or deny anything) and until tomorrow…
Play more games!
In the last 18 hours, I’ve been overwhelmed with supportive messages from friends, people I’ve never met, and total strangers. Thank you. It means a lot to me to be embraced by so many when I feel like I took one on the chin, even though it was, in a lot of ways, delivered by my own fist.
Having a crisis of confidence really sucks, even though I know it’s temporary and will pass. Having depression and anxiety also makes things that really shouldn’t be a very big deal into Very Big Deals. I’ve felt like my meds aren’t working as well as they used to for about two weeks, and after feeling so profoundly awful yesterday, I made an appointment to see my brain doctor to figure out if I need something different or a higher dose, or whatever will help me.
So I guess the success I’m making out of this failure is a kick in the ass to get my brain back into shape, which is really much more important than any job will ever be.
I used to write a lot about Balance, how it was important to not take the peaks and valleys of life too seriously, how life was (for me) much better when I made an effort to take a long view of things, striving all the while to live as close to the midpoint of the waveform as I could. (Or is it the baseline? It’s been a long time since I did real science instead of the awesome imaginary kind I did on the spaceship or at Global Dynamics).
So today? A little Balance from yesterday: I had a voice over audition that I recorded in my house and sent to my agent, who sent it along to casting. The producers of that show liked my take on the character enough to bring me in for a reading in person. I also had a meeting today with some producers who pitched me a show that [REDACTED] and could be really awesome.
I think that, mostly, I felt like an idiot yesterday. I felt like an idiot for being so excited and confident that I’d done a great job that I talked about it in public before I knew if I got the job or not. I think it’s just my brain fucking with me, but that felt embarrassing and awkward to me.
But I’m going to make my brain better as soon as I can, and remember that Depression Lies until I can metaphorically stab it with a Q-Tip.
An all-too familiar coda:
My friend, who I saw yesterday, called me this afternoon. I missed the call, so I heard her message on my voicemail. She was so happy and positive. “I just tested for that show! I wanted to find out if you tested too, because it would be so much fun to work together again!”
Of course, I did not test and I will not test. The only feedback I got from the audition was: “Wil isn’t the guy.”
Thanks. That’s very helpful, and lets me know if I sucked and didn’t realize it, or if I was fine, but not pretty/tall/thin/what-the-fuck-ever enough for the role.
Oh, wait. I mean it’s the platonic ideal of not that. The not knowing is awful and maddening. In the absence of any meaningful and useful feedback, all I can do is tread water in an ocean of self-doubt and try really fucking hard not to drown in pretty heavy seas.
I work so hard to not have a single fuck to give about auditions once they’re done, but the truth is: I wanted this one. I wanted it even more when there was the prospect of working on a series with my friend who will likely book this job because she is amazing.
I’ve tried to remain positive, tried to accept that this is just how it goes … but I have to face a terrible and undeniable reality: I never book jobs when I audition. When I’m offered a job, I do great work on the set, and I haven’t done a single project in the last ten years that I’m not proud of, but something clearly is not working when I audition. Something isn’t clicking between my perception of my work and the actual work, and I can’t see it. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong, no idea how I’m not getting it done, and I genuinely don’t know what to do. I know I’m a decent actor, but I think maybe I’m just horrible at auditions.
I haven’t felt this awful after not getting a job since … Jesus, I don’t know how long. But I know that I feel like it’s just a giant fucking waste of everyone’s time for me to audition for anything, because my batting average is so far below the Mendoza Line, I would be cut from a T-ball team.
After 33 years this should be easy. I shouldn’t feel this way, ever, because math just says I’m going to go on 20 auditions for every job I book, if I’m beating the average.
It should be easy, or at least easier … but it isn’t. It never is.
It was cold and dark and the wind was whipping up, pushing the cold through my body like I was naked in the snow.
But I was neither naked, nor in the snow. I was dressed normally and in the Valley, walking from my car to the front gate of CBS Radford for an audition at the end of the day, long after the sun had begun its journey to char the other side of the world and come back to us, and I was listening to Los Angeles so intently, I walked right through the gate and past security.
Wow, that’s a loud and obnoxious alarm, I thought, not realizing until I was stopped by a guy with a gun that I was the one who had triggered it.
“Can I help you?” He said.
“Oh, yes,” I said, “I’m, uh, here for an audition.”
“Okay, just give me your ID, please.”
I fished my ID out of my pocket and handed it to him. A gust of wind tried to tear my audition scenes out of my hands but only succeeded in blowing a bunch of dust into my eyes. While I wiped it out, he handed my ID back to me. “Okay, Mister Wheaton. Do you know where you’re going?”
“No, I haven’t been here in almost ten years,” I said. Because, you know, he really needed to know and cared about that extra information.
“No problem,” he said, and then gave me directions to the building where the auditions were being held.
I thanked him and walked into the lot. It was empty, the windows of the offices mostly dark, and the stages all closed up and locked for the night. I walked about fifty feet down one street before I remembered working on a movie here when I was around 20, called December. It was a tough shoot — I had nothing in common with the other actors, who were all incredibly difficult for me to work with for reasons best left to history — and I’m not thrilled with my performance as a result. I suppose that’s why I haven’t thought about it in twenty-ish years.
I pushed those unpleasant memories away and instead looked around at all the buildings as I passed them. This studio was built in 1928, and it still retains some of the adobe charm of that era around the glass buildings and modern production trailers everywhere. It’s one of the very few studio lots in this town where it’s easy to not just see but feel what it was like to make movies at the beginning.
Being an actor isn’t the easiest thing in the world. For one thing, lots of people think it isn’t a real job, and it’s very difficult to get enough work to support yourself and your family without doing what lots of people would think of as a real job. I’m incredibly lucky to make my living the way I do, and as I looked around at buildings that were almost one hundred years old, I marveled at the tradition I’m part of, and was grateful for it.
I walked down a street called “Gilligan’s Island Ave.”, named for the classic series Charlie’s Angels.
Just kidding. Gilligan’s Island was filmed on this lot, and I remembered that during a particularly frustrating day during production so many years ago, I took a walk down this street (which was then called something different) to see what was left of the exterior sets. It wasn’t much; all I recall is some sand and a murky swamp, but if you squinted and used your imagination, you could see Skipper whacking Gilligan with his hat before Gilligan ran into that water as the credits rolled.
It looked like Gilligan’s Island Ave. was all that remained from the show, though. A huge, modern, television production facility was where I remembered it being. The local CBS evening news was being broadcast inside it. I hope nobody recognizes me and puts together that I make a lot of jokes about CBS and KCAL on Twitter, I thought, because I know what happens when local news anchors have a vicious cock fight, and I don’t think I can keep my head on a swivel like that. I saw the building I was looking for, thought wow, that escalated quickly, then giggled a little bit.
It was a three story glass building, completely dark except for the bright white light spilling out of the ground floor. Inside, I could see a half dozen actors in chairs, pacing the room with sides in their hands, or talking to the glass, which I imagined must look like a mirror from their side.
I walked in, found the sign-in sheet, and wrote my name on the first empty line beneath a mostly-full page of other actors’ names, each one of us hoping that this is The Time and this is The Role and this is The Show. I noticed that a name of a very good friend of mine was written just above me, and when I looked up, I saw her smiling at me from across the room.
We both stood up, crossed the room, and embraced. I adore this woman, and she’s such an incredibly talented actor, I couldn’t believe she was auditioning instead of just saying “yes” or “no” to offers.
“Who are you reading for?” She asked me. I told her and she said, quietly, “Oh my God! You’re totally him! You’re perfect for that role!”
I looked around self consciously and quietly agreed with her. “Yeah, I feel like I really know this guy, and feel like I’m kind of perfect for this part … which is why I also feel like I’m not going to get cast.” I laughed a little bit. “Who are you reading for?” She told me, and we repeated the previous exchange, pretty much only changing the pronouns.
“Okay, I have to focus,” she said. I took her advice and also focused.
After a few minutes, the casting associate came out into the lobby and walked over to me. “Wil,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”
There’s been a mistake and you’re just giving me the job? Wait, no. There’s been a mistake and I need to leave? Is the Frogurt cursed? It’s cursed, isn’t it. GodDAMN cursed Frogurt is always cursed!
I looked at her expectantly. “Okay?”
“We worked together,” she began.
Fuck. I have no recollection and now I’m the asshole.
“…when you were nine years-old, on A Long Way Home.”
Yes! I’m not the asshole!
“Holy shit!” I said, “that was one of my first real dramatic acting jobs!”
We reminisced about it a little bit, and then she took the next actor into the room to read. I looked back down at my audition scenes and went over them again. I reminded myself who this guy was, why he wanted what he wanted, and how he felt about it. Then I did my best to let go of all of that so he wasn’t an idea in my head but a person in my body.
I understood why so many actors are nuts.
My friend was called in. The woman who went in before her sat down next to me to change her shoes (this happens all the time: you wear heels in the room, but change into normal shoes after) and she said to me, “it’s a great room. They’re super friendly in there.”
It’s unfortunate, but that isn’t as common as you’d expect, and I was grateful to know that I was about to walk into a room where I could expect to feel like I was playing for the home team.
“That’s good to know,” I said, “thank you!”
“Break a leg,” she said, as she slipped her flats onto her feet, and put her heels in a soft red bag. What a weird life we live, where this is completely normal.
I stood up when she left, and, alone in the lobby, ran the scenes with my reflection in the window, not caring that I probably looked crazy to anyone who was on the other side.
My friend came out, we planned to get together for dinner soon, and then it was my turn to go in and do my thing.
That other actor was right: it was a warm, friendly, and welcoming room. It was the kind of room where the people inside it want actors to be able to do their best work, so that’s what I did. I let go of all the preparation, and just let this guy take over me. I did something similar when I auditioned for Criminal Minds, and that worked out pretty well, if I recall correctly.
I was reading with an actual human actor who gave me a lot to work with, and I did my best to work with it. I had fun, and I felt relaxed and fulfilled when I was done.
“Thanks for seeing me, guys,” I said on my way out of the room. Then, to the casting associate, “Oh, and I hope it isn’t 31 years before we see each other again.”
One of the producers (who will remain nameless, but you’d be all “WOW” if you knew) then said to me, “You made a great choice in that last scene. I could tell that you were struggling to keep your affection for her in check, but letting it bleed through just a little bit.”
I was floored. That was exactly what happened, and it was exactly the choice I’d made (or, rather, what the character told me he needed to do in the scene), and I couldn’t believe that he’d actually seen me do it. It’s so rare for someone in the room to praise an actor like that, and it’s even more rare when it’s holy crap this guy. I was so proud, and I thanked him for telling me that.
I walked out of the room, tossed my sides in the recycling bin (it’s how I physically and emotionally let go of an audition) and began the long walk back to my car. The wind was gusting like crazy, and I had to lean into and away from it as it swirled around the buildings and sound stages. I pulled my cellphone out and told Twitter, “Statistics say I probably won’t book the audition I just left, but godDAMN do I feel good about the choices I made and the reading I gave.”
And that’s all I can hope for. There is so much out of my hands and beyond my control when I have an audition for something, all I can do is my best and then forget about it.
…but I’d be the biggest liar in the ‘verse if I said that I wasn’t thinking about this role, and how much I’d love to be this guy for as long as they’d let me.
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.