On Hobbies

It was only a year ago that I decided to get back into tabletop role playing games. I’d dabbled in college, played some Call of Cthulhu, quite a bit of Shadowrun. In the years in between, I’d played a few pickup games with friends and tried and failed to run a Dragon Age game before two of the members got into a massive fight and the group parted ways.

Raindbow Dice

Last April, I went on Meetup and joined a group about to start a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition game. Foolishly, I decided that driving an hour each way to this game every Sunday would be no big deal (I was wrong, but it’s worth it). But I was so nervous. While I’d personally never been met with any problems tabletop gaming as a woman, a lot of that had been because I played with people who I already knew well. And I’d heard some horror stories about the sexism that women faced in what still often felt like a boys’ club of a hobby.

Here I was, about to join up with a group made up of five men and myself, and essentially play pretend with some strangers from the internet. Maybe not my smartest decision. Lucky for me, the group turned out to be overwhelmingly good (the one troublemaker ended up quitting) and we’ve even replaced him with another woman, so the table’s a little more balanced.

Since starting that Sunday afternoon campaign, I’ve run my own mini campaign in a homebrew game, I’m currently GMing a Blades in the Dark campaign that meets somewhat irregularly, I’m about to start another irregular D&D game with friends, and I also play in an online D&D game that meets every other Sunday night. Is that maybe a little too much gaming? Perhaps. But this hobby brings me so much joy that it’s hard to argue with that.

Dear reader, what hobby do you have or would you like to pursue. If you’re not giving it much of your time right now, what is standing in the way of doing that? And how can you make more time to chase after something that makes you happy?

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Best Case Scenario

About a month and a half ago, I was told that after my gallbladder surgery, that I could return to a sedentary job in a week. I was elated by this news and took the first two days off of work completely and arranged to work from home until the seven day mark had been reached.

Come day seven after surgery, I was still in quite a bit of pain and was bone tired all of the time. I had trouble driving because you actually use your core a lot more to work the gas and brake than you might think. I was devastated and essentially trapped at home for the better part of two weeks, only able to drive across the street to get groceries, but then return home too tired to cook them.

When I saw my surgeon for a follow up two weeks after my surgery date, I relayed my concerns about how slow my recovery was going. He laughed and said that the one week thing was really the best case scenario and that most people take a bit longer to recover from abdominal surgery. When he’d first told me “one week,” he hadn’t explained that this was what would happen in a perfect world.

Well, we do not live in a perfect world and I am not (and never have been) a best case scenario. Nor have I done more than dabble in being a worst case scenario. Like most people, I reside in between these two polar opposites.

I am happy, but not too happy. I am healthy enough, but not very healthy. I have money, but I do not have enough to spend it frivolously. I am pretty, but not too pretty. I have a good relationship with my father, but it is not perfect. I have engaging hobbies, but I have too many, so they sometimes cause me stress.

Life so rarely exists in a state of best case or worst case scenario, and when it does, it is generally not for very long. So we must look to find joy and value not in the very best of things, but in the pragmatic, everyday good things that we experience. It is more than a little humbling to be good at many things, but never excellent at any of them – but that is the reality of life. Don’t be afraid of this middle ground, for it is a good place to put down roots and learn to thrive.

Paint and Pen

My first publication credit was the short story Bloom and Fade, printed in Trapped Tales (and later reprinted in Wizards in Space Literary Magazine vol. 1). I am, to this day, proud of that piece. It is about four years old at this point, so I can see its flaws with a sense of clarity that only comes with time and skills improved through years of practice. All the same, I think 2013/2014 Deidre took chances: moving it from third person past tense to first person present tense, and creating a strong character voice for the lead. It went through about four massive rewrites, which eliminated an entire central character and created a different scenario for Shayna to fight her way out of.

Perhaps the most exciting part about Bloom and Fade, though, is the art. The Trapped Tales book launch that was also a pop-up art show, with all of the pieces in the show having been inspired by stories from the anthology. I was lucky enough to have three artists create six pieces based on my story – and I’m luckier still that I own two of them.

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I have both of these pieces displayed in my home because they remind me what I’ve done and what I plan to do with my life going forward. They’re a pat on the back, an inspiration, a call to do better. They’re a promise to myself that I will not give up on my dreams. They’re a call to action.

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Trust Your Gut

My gut has gotten me in some trouble before, I’ll admit. I’m mostly talking about things like, “Hell yeah, we should order a medium pizza from Dominoes and eat half of it in one sitting!” But it’s been wrong before. When it comes to writing, though, it’s usually pretty on-point.

I had a revelation while scrubbing bird cages last week: what if the voice and tone for my novel-length manuscript were all wrong? What if the characters weren’t engaging enough because we were still hearing them as filtered through a third person narrator? What if there was an ongoing bit about rules for demon hunting that provided some context and dark comedy?

Binoculars POV

Would it work? Would my protagonist be the sort of woman who would speak directly to the audience and give them a piece of her mind?

I had to try it and find out.

This is the manuscript that I was going to re-write (not overmuch, but tighten up a bit) during the Novel in Six Months project this spring and summer. At this time, it is completed and has had two editing passes. It exists in a close third person POV (everyone is he/she and we get peeks into the thoughts of the character that the chapter is focusing on, but there’s still a sense of distance there). As an experiment, I rewrote the opening scene in first person (the character says I, talks about things from their perspective, and we hear their voice/thoughts/opinions), and really leaned in to her distinct voice.

And, damn it all, I like it that way. I think it’s stronger. Will this make the difference between my last unsuccessful round of queries and finding agent representation like I hope for? I’ve just signed myself up for a massive amount of work, but I have the feeling that this is just the kick in the ass that the project needs. Wish me luck as I sacrifice sleep and free time to this beast while I save up to hire a developmental editor at the end of the summer.

Putting In the Work

I don’t spend a ton of time on twitter (I used to, but lately, writing for games and short stories and novel-length manuscripts has take over my free time), but when I do, I often find nuggets of great wisdom. Take, for example, this tweet by Sam Sykes:

Sykes Tweet

My god, this is good advice! When we consume art, it is generally in the form of a finished product. A song, a painting, a book, a film. Though our culture of online sharing seems to have created more chances to see works in progress, most of us are familiar with the final version of a creative endeavor.

What we don’t see are the sleepless nights, the pages of scratched out words and hand-written notes in the margins, the tears alone in the shower, the countless versions that were trashed or upcycled, the canvases that were scraped bare after too many mistakes, the deleted vocal tracks, the unanswered text messages from friends, the missed meals, the frustration, the problems, the work. We so rarely get to see what got an artist to where they are now.

We like to glorify these success stories, to paint the artist as a genius; and maybe they are. But genius only gets you so far. It’s work and practice and effort and trial by fire and sweat that gets you your much-deserved moment of “I made it.” And it takes work to stay in that zone.

So let’s stop pretending that a novel just happens, that it comes out perfect with no real effort. It takes hard work. But it’s the work that makes the payoff so sweet.

Over the Table: House Rules for Heroes

Confession: I’m still a relatively new GM, all things considered. I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs on and off for about 15 years, but previous to last year, had only run a one shot Shadowrun game and a Dragon Age campaign that fell apart after two sessions. For each of these, I was woefully unprepared for what was needed from me. Perhaps this is why I now swing the other way and tend to go a bit overboard with preparation when possible.

Regardless of my experience level, I’ve learned a lot very quickly and I think there are some rules that every GM should aim to follow. The most important of which is this:

Allow your players to be the hero of their own story.

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“Hero” is a loose word here because there are evil campaigns that can be fun and there are plenty of anti-heroes out there that can do both good and bad in the same breath. I think a lot of this comes down to player agency and letting them feel like they have the power to make a difference in the world in which they’re playing. They should be able to make choices in their own arcs as well as change the environment/NPCs’ lives as they move through their journey. Actions should have consequences, good and bad, and these should play out in the players’ views as often as possible.

Without a sense of agency, players will quickly become frustrated. If they feel like they’re being railroaded from place to place, they won’t feel like they have the power to play on their own terms. If you trick or trap them too often, they won’t trust you as a storyteller and, once that trust is broken, it is hard to repair.

Let your players explore, let them problem solve, let them play. Be ready to have your plans ruined as they find solutions to what you give them in unpredictable ways. Create a dynamic environment for them to explore, which changes when they interact with them as well as changing around them as they focus on other things. Give their choices and actions consequences, which can aid or hinder their quests.

And please take a lesson from me: don’t let your villains monologue too much. Maybe a little, but keep that in check. Trust me.