spin-off

The Problem of Writers Writing About Writing to Get Readers

Oh, man, guys. Bookshelfbattle just put it perfectly.

Sometimes with all of the blogging, twittering, and social media-ing, I just wonder if all writers are doing are talking to other writers. It’s like we’re all door-to-door salesmen, knocking on a door, “Wanna buy my book?” And the person answers, “No, but do YOU wanna buy MY book?” [link]

This made me so happy! It’s exactly right, with a brilliant mental image thrown in. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially as I’m getting into blogging properly for the first time in a while. I’m already slipping into writing as a writer for writers to attract writers to my writing blog so they’ll read… my… stories? Well, that’s no good.

My real goal is to find a huge band of brilliant friends and fans who love reading what I write and talking about things I’m into and doing cool stuff to make the world a better place. So I start writing about whatever I’m currently obsessed with to draw the people that will align with it. And I’m obsessed with writing, self-publishing, generous marketing, etc. And other stuff, but it’s taking a strange degree and style of discipline to get into other headspaces in the context of blogging.

So I end up writing a blog for writers rather than readers. Which might work out, because writers are mostly thinking people who love great stories and read a ton, so that’s cool. But even so I’m engaging them as writers trying to get better at writing, not as readers looking for a good story.

So then I figure I need to be writing stuff my (potential and actual) readers would enjoy. Not content about creating content. Just…you know, content. Except I write novels, and that’s not great in blog format. So I can write supporting bonus materials and behind-the-scenes stuff.

Tricky bit there is that only a few dozen people are familiar with my work at the moment, so if I give excerpts, backstories, fun tidbits about the story world, character profiles, and that sort of thing, nobody will know what I’m talking about, and if I talk about other stuff it’s a different form of the original problem. I’m just talking to game-lovers about games or communal people about living in community or spiritual people about our invisible friends, and I can occasionally tack on a mention of my books and people might read them, but it’s still not really engaging with readers as readers.

I’m still figuring this out. The easy first steps are to be very generous and to actively be a reader, not just a writer. At minimum this opens up a dicey little quid-pro-quo with you other aspiring writers where I’ll try out your story and read/buy/love/recommend it if I like it, and maybe in a few cases you’ll try mine out too. But I don’t really enjoy that arrangement. Setting aside the fairly low readership numbers it’s likely to garner, it also just feels a little fakey and weird. I love reading peoples’ stories, but I don’t want it to be so they’ll read mine and I don’t want to feel pressure to respond a certain way because I want them to like me and I don’t want them to feel obligations and all. At best, it’s a strange and roundabout way to find one of the aforementioned brilliant friends.

More fundamentally, I want to get better at providing all kinds of cool things that I like and that my aforementioned brilliant friends would like. Sometimes writing, sometimes game design, sometimes kerning or sea monsters or metaphysics. And sometimes my actual stories, either bonus materials or just actual chunks of story. And sometimes exciting announcements that the next book is out or that I have a cool bundle of fun available. (Speaking of which…)

What’s scary about that is it means constantly re-breaking the mold. I’m theoretically all for losing readers rather than redirecting my writing to cater to a perceived audience’s perceived expectations. But already, a few posts in, I find myself hesitant to write posts that are much shorter or longer than what I have, or in a different format, or about a different kind of thing, because I’m already finding really cool people who like what I write about writing, and if I write about sea monsters maybe it will break the spell and you’ll all leave. (Which is irrational, of course, because who doesn’t love sea monsters?)

So all that to say, this blog isn’t going to just be writing tips. Might be a little while before I get it out of my system because the art and business of writing are what I think about for dozens of hours a week. But there might also be tea and mythical beasts at some point. Some of you find that exciting, not disappointing, and I’m really, really excited that you’re here.

Thank you, bookshelfbattle. Really great phrasing of an important situation. Everyone else, do you want to buy bookshelfbattle’s book? I think you should buy bookshelfbattle’s book. (Bookshelfbattle, do you have a book? Blast. Should have thought this through.)

But seriously, at least check out the blog. I’m enjoying it a ton. Finally someone who’s putting out engaging ideas for discussion, not just writing writing tips for writers writing for writers.

Cheers!
—Ben

Advertisements

“A game of incredible speed and periodic violence”

I have a puzzle for you.

Or rather, I have a puzzle for myself, and I’m hoping to find the sort of people that can help me. You might be one of them. Ideally you’re smart, silly, and into card games. (If you’re just here for the writing tips, I respectfully direct you to this recent gem.)

So here’s the thing. In The Dream World Collective, I got a glimpse of the characters playing a game called Ickleback. It’s just a fleeting glimpse, but the game looks really fun and I want to play it, which means I need to invent it, and I want your ideas. For starters, here’s the entire canonical reference to Ickleback:

“I’m feeling like a breakfast contest,” said Zen suddenly, looking up from his book. “Anyone interested in a breakfast contest? A breakfast-off, if you will.”

The five housemates were gathered in the sitting room, ensconced in a variety of blankets, quilts, and fleeces. Summer was absorbed in a battered paperback and Alex was making his way though the newspaper, occasionally giving it a shake as he turned the page. Otto and Sushi were fiercely engaged in a card game that seemed to require incredible speed and periodic violence.

“I already had breakfast,” Alex checked the time. “Three hours ago.”

“A brunch-off, then,” Zen corrected himself.

“No,” Sushi shook her head briskly and slapped a card onto a pile. “That doesn’t have the same ring. It’s a breakfast-off.” In a blur of motion, Otto rapidly slapped a series of cards onto different piles and then poked Sushi.

“Ickleback!” he cried. “That makes three gambits. I win by means of ickle.”

“Hey!” Sushi poked him back.

“That’s a false ickle,” gloated Otto. He rummaged through the deck for the queen of clubs. “I choose the Termite Queen.”

“Game’s over, dork. Come on, we’re Team Dachshund in the breakfast-off. What’s your team name?” She looked pointedly at Summer and Alex.

“Who said we’re on a team together?” asked Summer, a touch of panic in her eyes.

I’m picturing a game that requires very quick thinking, quick reflexes, and precision of language, in the vein of Egyptian Ratscrew or Dutch Blitz, with a bit of Silent Football thrown in.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Four suits: Termites (Clubs), Onions (Spades), Speckles (Diamonds), and Pecks (Hearts)
  • Jacks are called Pickpockets, threes are called Pickles, aces are called Pips. Cards are named by suit then rank, e.g. the Peck Eight, the Termite Queen, the Speckle Pickle, the Onion Pip.
    • Advanced players may require any/all of the following names (Ace to King): Pip, Pair, Pickle, Court, Cross, Hex, Prickle, Cot, Mews, Deckle, Pickpocket, Quintessence, Pendragon

There’s more, but I’ve realized this is one of those things that gets really boring really fast in text format. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as sitting and reading the detailed rules of a game that’s hilarious and action-packed in real life.

Let’s just say my prototype has thrones, gambles, quarks, and gambits; you can ickle (poke) or spackle (slap) your opponents; you have to declare what you’re doing and if you say it wrong there are penalties; and there are multiple paths to victory but you can’t take them all. And it’s looking like there’s room for some pretty sneaky treacheries.

It’s Friday, and Fridays should be fun, so I’ll leave you with silly mental images instead of rules. Imagine a living room where friends, amid a flurry of card slaps, are shouting things like:

“Speckle Pickle Quint Quark!”

<slap> “Spackleback!”

“False spackleback – I choose the Peck Pickpocket.”

“Onion Odd Flush Quark!”

“The Throne of Four reigns! Long live the Onion King!”

If you have ideas about dynamics that could make a game like this fun, let me know in the comments. And if you really want more of the (as yet untested and unconfirmed) rules, just say the word.

If you’d like to read more of the story, here’s a free download to get you started.

Happy Friday, everyone!

—Ben