Chatty DM, Freelancer, Part 3: RPG Blogging, The Revelation

The is next part of my autobiographical series on how I came to terms with the fact that I was I writer and how I then became a freelancer. It  also marks my 4th anniversary as a blogger! 

See part 1 here and part 2 here.

On July 24 2007, about 8 months after being hired as the Quality Manager for the Montreal Heart Institute Pharmacogenomics Centre,  I opened up a Blogger account. I had all these fields to fill before I could get to the cool writing I wanted done. I spent nary a minute and settled on “Musings of the Chatty DM” as the blog’s title.

A choice I never regretted.

My first post was telling in terms of not quite knowing  where things would go with the website (and my dubious grasp of written English):

I’ve been thinking for a long time about starting a Blog, I got an account at Live Journal (Unfinished 1st Post) and another one at Microsoft (3 Posts, hate the interface).

Since I have recently gone completely Googlely, I decided I might as well give Blogger a shot.

Anyway, I think I have always been blogging ever since I was given a email account. The only difference is that my readers (read: my D&D player’s mailboxes) were more or less captive of my musings. I think out of respect for them I should move away from that form of expression and do it on a Bona Fide blog. Of course, I can’t expect to have as many readers…. lol.

Sigh…

I’m currently reading Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek and I can’t help seeing a few similarities with his first posts, mine and those I see from talented new bloggers all over. First, we all look a bit like losers, seeking validation by using self-deprecation from the get go. Second, we all seem to struggle learning proper blogging English use. I mean, did I really say “lol” in a blog post?  That’s like Wil’s overuse of the word “Lame” in his first few articles.

What’s “proper Blogging English” you ask? I touched it in the past:

While spelling and grammar are not hyper-critical (and can be helped by online tools), writing clear sentences,  short paragraphs and ordering your thoughts in a comprehensive way is very important.

My first posts were short (yeah… pffff!) and very very numerous. I wrote about 860 posts in 4 years; each on average 1000 words each.  At that time,  I was looking for my voice yet still  growing very fond of the act of writing just for the pleasure of doing so.  What really got me going was getting comments from  friends on some posts. From that point forward, I felt a great rush whenever I received a comment-notification email.  I still love getting comments and read them all as soon as I can manage.

In August 2007, from the lofty height of my 30 days as a blogger, I cooked up my “Golden Rule of Modern Blogging“:

 Write your Blog by assuming your boss, your wife/significant other/mom and your worst enemy will read it.

At that time, I was writing most of my blog post from work (guilty!) and I realized that I needed to start playing it safer. But, as I said in part 2, I was kept nowhere near busy enough to prevent me from knocking professional balls out of the park AND blog once a day at the same time. Of course… I didn’t edit my posts at all back then… so it was easier to just write and send while drinking the morning’s first Diet Coke (I don’t drink coffee).

I attribute 2 elements to my early success as a blogger (beyond my natural, if then unrefined talent as a writer):

The Linking Game (or the Birth of a Community)

First, I stumbled on the trick of linking to other blogs. At one point, I realized that I could write blog posts instead of leaving them comments on other blogs.  When I did this, I instantly noticed how fast the blogger would come to check what the linked article said. This often started discussions and inspired blog posts between sites. In the late summer of 2007, I became close to a group of bloggers who had started at around the same time I did, namely  the cast at Stupid Ranger (Dante, Stupid Ranger herself and Vanir who eventually joined us) and Zax a Montreal-born, Hawaii-based blogger who created and used to run Dungeonmastering.com.  We exchanged links and emails a lot.

I also forged links with  the guys that made me want to blog about RPGs: Dave and Danny over at Critical-Hits.com.  They gave me advice and started dropping by the blog with witty comments and good feedback.

“Wait what?” aside: I merged with Critical-Hits in January of 2010, that’s why I refer to them as seperate here.

From this group grew  a tight-knit community of what I would later call “The Second Generation RPG bloggers” (I then considered Jeff Rients and Berin Kinsmen to be among the 1st gen).  We shared readers, links, reviews and news.  This contributed to kickstart my readership but more importantly, it forged deep friendships that last to this day. Every time we can afford it, we meet at cons,  game and organize events.

In fact, our annual Gen Con Drunken D&D, which now sports 4 DMs and 20 players, started in a hotel room in 2008 with 7 of those blogger friends sitting  around a way too small table, having way too much fun.

Tropes!

I found my first (of many) voices as a blogger (and hit proverbial jackpot) when I started tackling tropes as playing aids for making RPG adventures. To this day, my Rule of Cool posts remains one of my favorite, most to-the-point post I have written (warts and all):

To transpose to RPG terms: Your players will put up with almost any illogical or “wobbly” plot devices or encounter you throw at them as long as things get cool enough. Which basically makes me think that my efforts as a DM should not so much be on far-reaching World Building and tight nitpicking-proof plot lines and such.

I should go all out for encounters and role playing that will swamp my players in coolness. Think combat on ice Bridges, negotiating the release of prisoners in a flooding underground prison, hopping from floating island to pieces of flying ruins in order to catch the thieves of the Star jewel of Radnia…

I had a blast writing about tropes. It fed my inspiration and growth as a blogger from the fall of 2007 way into 2009.

The Addiction Sets In

The blog’s success turned the endavour into an obsession. I was addicted to the sheer validation I got from the readers. So much so than my job of the time. The story they shared and the discussions they sparked were astounding. I was amazed that while people were battling trolls on their websites, I was surrounded by sane, polite (if passionate) people who really cared about the hobby. Oh I got a few rowdy guests (less than a handful in 4 years actually), but they were either convinced to behave and became lively, constructive participants (one even became a successful blogger) or were ignored.

Here’s a quick comment-management tip I think I got from Shamus Young (from Twenty-Sided) which I’ll paraphrase here:

A blog is not a public forum,  it’s like your porch. People are welcome on it and everyone can discuss more or less freely according to your rules. Yet, when it’s all said and done, it is YOUR porch, and YOUR house. If people misbehave, or say things you don’t tolerate, you are free  to ask them to leave. You can even kick them out and clean their messes.

At this point in my blogger experience, I found myself stuck in a pattern where I started to write for the readers. I wanted to generate  responses, I wanted my inbox constantly flooded with comments. I was a slave to my blog and it started to show. Edition Wars posts, rants, contest posts, all these were plenty and easy to write… but I took less and less satisfaction from it I hit a few slumps and started looking for new voices on the blog. That’s when I started re-focusing on doing the blog for myself and consider its readership as a side-effect of the enthusiasm I pored into my prose.

Eureka, I’m mad!

While coming back from Gen Con 2008, in the grips of  what would later be diagnosed as hypomania, I finally came to terms with what I was. I wrote this on the plane ride home:

I’m a Writer, because I blog and write Standard Operating Procedures for a living.

I’m a Writer, because I write adventures for my friends.

At Gen Con, I met many awesome people from the RPG industry as well as others, like myself, sitting at the edge of it all; many of them are Writers.

I don’t know why they are Writers. I’m a Writer because, given the opportunity to write about the things I love, I would do it 12 hours a day.

Hell, I’d rather write than sleep!

Along with spending time with my family and gaming with my friends, writing makes me satisfied and happy. It brings me in the Flow: Time just stops existing while I spew stuff my mind makes up on the spot, my fingers flying on the keyboard at a speed that nearly matches my excited geek diatribes.

I’m a Writer, and I post my stuff on the Internet because I chose to ignore my doubts and stopped listening to my Inner Demons. I knew I had talent and I’ve managed to get a lot better since I started writing online 12 months ago.

I would love to become a published author of RPG material. I’d go absolutely geek-crazy to see my name on a Dungeon/Dragon/Kobolds Quarterly article.

If there was a way to make a decent living out of it, I’d quit my job in 5 minutes and never look back. Thing is, in the RPG industry, gamers won’t pay 400$ for a printed game system. While some would spend such a sum for getting a graphics cards just to play this “One computer Game”, you won’t see this happening in the RPG industry. Writers are paid like crap and amateur writer/fans often give out their work for free.

(I’m sure the same thing occurs in other writing fields.)

That’s not freaking fair but that’s life. I understand why it’s like that and thank God that the people in the industry are so nice. Quite often, just having a quick chat (or better yet a game) with a designer you admire makes up for all the work you poured into that adventure you wrote to run for your friends.

Be that as it may, I do not currently have the courage to leave my current job and jeopardize my family’s security to pursue the dream of writing full time. I do it in my free time and I make plans…Writers deserve better. That’s why I buy copies of new Role Playing Games I like. I want to support the creators like I hope others will support me some day…

Madness had finally struck me head on …

But with it finally came the Truth…

I was a Writer, I always have been and god willing, I always will be.

Comments

  1. I enjoyed this post a lot. It brought something into stark relief for me, something that should have already struck me. Perhaps I’ll blog about it.

    This series has been fun to read, so keep up the good work.

  2. I see what you did there Jeremy. 😉

    Now I’m mystified… care to elaborate more or will I have to wait for it to show on your own site?

  3. Great post Phil, it’s fascinating for me to see that stuff you wrote that I haven’t read in two years or so. I still remember the “About the Readers” inquisition of the week I posted that I believe was the first time you commenting here on CH. While I greatly enjoy writing, especially for a blog, every post you write like this with the “I’m a writer” declaration and justifications reminds me (again and again) that I’m not really a writer. Most of the time there are other things I’d rather do. However, it’s been incredibly fun to see you go from realizations, setting goals, and then achieve those goals and more!

    Also, I’d love to see some updated and present-day Chatty DM written Trope posts. 🙂

  4. Excellent post! The last paragraph of what you wrote on the plane really strikes home to not only myself but a couple of my friends (moreso them than me probably). I’ve always wanted to write more but don’t have near the courage to try it full time at this point. Or even really part time truth be told. So many other activities out there to occupy my free time (not the least of which is family). That being said though, I think it can be said (no offense Bartoneous) that most, if not all of us, who either blog, DM, or even comment frequently are writer’s to an extent. It may not define us, but it certainly is a part of who we are. Reading posts like this make me want to try all the harder to write more regularly, so thank you for that!

    @Bartoneus I definitely consider you a writer. You better not stop your series on here! 🙂

  5. @Bartoneus: I remember a time where I could not even spell you Alias right. 🙂 In regards to being a writer or not, you may not be one like I’m not an architect, but you have great talent and a good pen. I’m really proud of seeing you building a RPG blogging legacy with that series of yours and hope to see it to its conclusion.

    @Gargs: Thank you kindly. As you’ll see in the next part, life gave me an opportunity to do it part time until I could breakout my 9-5 job and work for myself as a freelancer and consultant. If you (or your friends) really want to do it, you need to take baby steps toward a goal you set yourself.

  6. Dixon Trimline says:

    I’m a writer. I can’t imagine a more beautiful assembly of words. It has the weight of a thousand worlds, and the fragility of one thin-skinned ego. The sledgehammer realization that I would just go on doing this, go on warring with words to figure out exactly the right order, go on driving myself mad with my sentence construction because I’m unable to stop myself… this is a powerful realization.

    I’ve never gone looking for pay or for reward, and it’s partly because I’m scared of the inherent responsibility there–if you’re paid, you have to produce–and it’s partly because it somehow cheapens the activity–for love, not money. But mostly, it’s because I couldn’t stop myself. And trust me, I’ve tried.

    I can’t properly communicate how much I appreciate your voice on this internet, how much you inspire me with every one of your posts, how terrifying and amazing it is to watch people I know succeed and thrive, and how gratifying it is to realize they deserve it. Thank you.

    • @Dixon: I know you have your own issues to work at but please believe me when I say (and I mean absolutely no disrespect to the others here at CH), you are one of the best online writers I have ever met. I could read your words day in day out and never grow tired.

      You have a gift, a talent and I know, as a fellow “crazy”, you have the fire within to create awesome from the ashes of your mistakes, to rebuild castles of gold from the mouldering ruins of your past lives.

      You do what must be done, you do it like you want it done, but in you I see a kindred spirit, you have my support. Now and whenever you need it.

      High five man.

  7. Gargs: Thanks! I don’t plan on stopping the series anytime soon, so don’t worry.

    Chatty: My main consideration when I say that I’m “not a writer”, especially in light of many of the people we know getting paid RPG writing work now, is that it isn’t really one of my goals to get paid for my writing. I’m MUCH more interested in designing mechanics than I am in the writing of it, and I’m even more interested in getting paid to do artwork which is reflected in some of my more recent personal goals. 🙂

    I am greatly looking forward to some casual talks about the Architect DM series with you at GenCon.

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