Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Journey through Drangleic and Dark Souls II

Long ago, in a walled off land, far to the north, a great king built a great kingdom.
I believe they called it Drangleic.
Perhaps you're familiar.
No, how could you be.
But one day, you will stand before its decrepit gate.
Without really knowing why...
(Opening Narration to Dark Souls 2 –

            A thunderstorm unleashes its torrential fury as I trek through a deserted forest, dressed in rags befitting a beggar. I am cursed, marked with the brand of the undead curse. This is the fate of all who decide to test their mettle against the might of a Dark Souls game, and I have come to challenge Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. The difference in Dark Souls II is that in addition to being cursed with the undead brand, my memories are slipping through my fingers like sand. I have no memories of home, only the urge to find some sort of cure for my ailment.
Upon traversing a lake in a simple paddleboat, a great vortex churns before me in the middle of the water. Beckoned by fate, I step forward, and fall into the portal that sends me on my adventure to the land of Drangleic, the world of Dark Souls II. Though I am just a player sitting in my computer chair, I feel as if I’m transported as well into this beautiful, yet dangerous world.
The next thing I know, I’ve arrived in a land called Things Betwixt, a limbo land on the outskirts of Drangleic. As I wander about for shelter, there is a cottage in the distance with lights in the window. I stagger inside, hoping someone can help me gather my bearings in this unfamiliar land. I find a group of old hags sitting around a fire, knitting and rocking in their chairs. They mock me, laughing at my decrepit state.
“An undead has come to play, heh heh,” the main firekeeper chuckles.
They speak to me as though I’m not the first undead to reach their home, and I likely won’t be the last. The head crone smirks with rotten teeth and asks if I can even remember my own name. I struggle, searching deep within my addled mind for something familiar.
I search the recesses of my mostly empty mind until a name sticks out to me. I tell the firekeeper what I think my name is, and she nods in approval. The old hag then hands me a little wicker figurine, a human effigy she calls it, and asks me to tell her what it looks like. I peer at it long enough until I reach an epiphany; it’s me.
I am MacGreggor the Cleric, a warrior who can use the art of miracles to heal, and craft lightning to strike down my foes. I shed my rags and appear as a proper cleric should.
            “Run along now, hold onto your souls, for they’re all that will keep you from going hollow,” the old hag explains. She stops, and chuckles under her breath. “Oh, I’ll fool you no longer, you will lose your souls, over and over again.”
            The women laugh as I shuffle dumbly through the exit. There’s nothing else to do but move onwards. Their words echo through my mind as I fight my way through the tutorial lands of Things Betwixt. I’ll show them, I think as I swing my mace on a dagger armed hollow. I will see this quest to its end.
            As I leave Things Betwixt, I feel the warmth of the sun for the first time. I’ve reached the rocky beach of a desolate seaside town. This little village is called Majula, and it will be my home for the entirety of my long journey. As I step towards the bonfire situated next to a cliff looking out to the sea, there is a strange woman there dressed in a green cloak, staring off at the ocean. I approach her, and she addresses me with a simple question.
            “Are you the next monarch? Or merely the pawn of fate?”
            This question is the foundation of my quest, my journey through Drangleic. The woman, known as The Emerald Herald, tells me to seek a great old king, the one who shaped this land into what it is—King Vendrick. Yet I cannot do so at the moment. My soul is weak, untested, and to become a monarch, I must complete a trial worthy of a king.
            “Bearer of the curse, seek misery. For misery will lead you to greater, stronger souls. You will never meet the king with a soul so frail and pallid,” says the Emerald Herald.
            Four great souls await me, held by imposing figures of Drangleic’s past. They will test me in battle, and I must defeat them if I am to seek audience with Vendrick. I have a long journey ahead of me, and path is wrought with danger.
            There’s the Lost Sinner, imprisoned in a cell within the stronghold of Sinner’s Rise, hidden within the many jails of the Lost Bastille. She is a blind swordswoman, bound in chains. Though weighed down, she carries a sword and will sunder those who underestimate her prowess. Upon entering her prison, she blows out all the lights, trapping me with her in the darkness and evening the odds against me.

            Deep underneath the ground of Majula in the poison pits of the Black Gulch stands The Rotten, a beast made up of an amalgamation of decaying corpses. Surrounded by ever burning fire pits, the Rotten cleaves all who foolishly enter into his domain. Protecting the path to him stand countless poison spitting statues, as well as frightening subterranean creatures that would make Lovecraft shutter.
            Past the Shaded Woods and the caves of the Doors of Pharros lies the mining town of Brightstone Cove Tseldora. The sandy town is overrun with menacing spiders, and its mindless inhabitants are slowly turning into arachnids themselves. The spiders all share one mother, the frightening Duke’s Dear Freja. Once a pet, upon gaining a great soul, the two-headed spider grew to a monstrous size. Venturing down webs to her arena is not for the faint of heart, and she waits with her brood for the next meal to walk into her domain.
            Legends speak of a mighty iron castle known for its strength and power. Yet now the castle sits deep within a lava pit, brought down from the weight of its beloved iron. The Old Iron King was once a cruel ruler who took pleasure in killing the undead, yet his strength was his undoing. His castle unearthed a powerful demon, which killed the king and possessed his body. The king now waits at the foot of his castle, ready to incinerate those who face him.
            Reaching these great souls is not an easy task, and there are many enemies who wait to 
spill my blood and water the dirt. There are many other lands I must cross to reach my foes.

There is the Forest of Fallen Giants, once a great and mighty fortress. Once, there was a war between Vendrick’s army and the Giants from across the sea. Here my journey begins, facing hollow soldiers who continue defending their fortress long after the battle that destroyed their battlement. In the heart of this fort lies The Last Giant, the sole remaining Giant from this war who seeks an end to his suffering. There is also The Pursuer, a well-armed knight that hunts down any undead who seeks the throne. Though I am able to strike down The Pursuer, he continues to pop up in other lands to test my nerve in battle.
            The Huntsman’s Copse is a woodland, filled with trees watered from the blood of undead. The Old Iron King once hunted undead in these woods, and his minions still lurk around, ambushing wayward undead seeking passage. Close by stands the Undead Purgatory, where a fierce chariot thunders through the streets, ready to trample any who foolishly wander into its domain.
            All these lands and more circle around the final goal of the quest, Drangleic Castle. This is the residence of the man who made the land what it is today, King Vendrick, The king instilled such loyalty from his followers that they turned to stone standing guard from staying in their post for ages.  But only those who have conquered the many trials of Drangleic can seek an audience with the king and queen.

            I have seen all of these places through the eyes of MacGreggor, my avatar. Yet every step he took, I felt as though I made the journey myself. Through the seventy plus hours I spent in the land of Drangleic, I climbed the tallest heights of the Dragon Sanctuary and plunged into the deepest depths of Black Gulch. I’ve clashed blades with hollows and invading human players alike. I’ve suffered the pain of losing countless souls, and the glorious elation of defeating the most intimidating of bosses. Every minute spent playing Dark Souls II were some of the greatest moments I’ve ever had playing a video game.
            I did not make this journey alone, either. Throughout the game, I ran into the invisible phantoms of fellow players who were on an incredible journey of their own. Many times I called upon the help of another sojourner who had placed their summon sign in front of a difficult boss. Once I’d defeat a boss, I would place my own sign down, and accompany someone who I’ll never meet in real life and aid them in overcoming their own trial. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in a video game came from helping a struggling soul finally put down the foe that had given them so much trouble. These moments celebrating with my host filled me with more joy than defeating the boss on my own.
            However, not every interaction with another player came under such enjoyable circumstances. I had to be on guard, as at any moment another person could invade my game and hunt me down for souls. Player dueling offers a tense and stressful experience for any adventurer. While I learned the patterns and fighting styles of normal enemies, a human player is unpredictable, never offering the same experience twice. Many times I fell to their blade or magic, but banishing an invader gave me a bigger sense of accomplishment than finishing off a boss.
            These moments working cooperatively with another player or fighting an imposing invader gave me an experience unlike any other game I’ve ever played. I never play online multiplayer games, as I lack the confidence in my abilities as a gamer. The Dark Souls series, especially DSII, forced me to face these fears, and I’m glad it did. Instead of looking for ways to avoid other players, I’ll place my sign down for PVP duels, something I never thought I’d ever do. When another player invades me, I’ll give them a friendly wave, and more often than not they’ll wave back. Sure, they’re trying to kill me, but it’s all in good fun.
            While I enjoy all the entries in the Souls series, Dark Souls II holds a special place in my heart. One of the reasons comes from the story. While Dark Souls II eschews most of the lore and characters from Dark Souls I, this allows the game to tell its own tale rather than rely solely on callbacks from previous entries. Dark Souls II’s story is reminiscent of a fairy tale told around a bonfire. Each area acts as a chapter in a storybook, centering on characters that have become corrupted and fallen from grace.
            Take for instance Mytha, queen of Harvest Valley and Earthen Peak. Queen Mytha pined for the attention of a nearby king, so she sought to enhance her beauty by drinking a potion crafted from her lands. The king paid her no mind, and soon Mytha earned the title of the Baneful Queen. The queen’s jealousy became so potent that it ruined her kingdom, filling it with noxious poison. The poison transformed the once beautiful queen into a hideous serpentine monstrosity, and the toxic poison that is lethal to the player heals her.
            Another fairy tale motif can be found in the two bell towers in Drangleic, Belfry Luna and Belfry Sol. These two hidden areas were built to commemorate the undying love of a princess and prince from long ago. The two royals had a doomed romance, and these bell towers were erected to symbolize their undying love and a hope that one day they could reunite and wed. The princess and prince crafted living marionette soldiers who stand guard in the towers to protect the bells. These marionettes stand guard to this day, though the lovers have most certainly perished long ago.
            Another reason Dark Souls II sticks in my mind is the quest of the game. Dark Souls II is a lengthy game, longer than any Souls game in the series. DSII didn’t feel like just a game, but rather a grand adventure that I experienced firsthand. Every time I cleared a boss, I’d rush to the next area with anticipation of what was next in store, and what new lands I’d get to explore. As a lover of ruins and abandoned places, Dark Souls II is brimming with castles and keeps to investigate. I explored every inch of Drangleic, soaking in the atmosphere wherever I went.
            While the Souls series has a reputation for its fierce difficulty, the game provides the player with countless builds, weapons, and spells to overcome adversity. With my character, I fought with strength weapons and used miracles for healing and buffs. While my build saw me through the game, I can start over and try countless other builds and weapons to accomplish the same goal. I never ran into another player who played exactly like me. Some players were spellcasters, others used flashy rapiers with a focus on dexterity. Any play style can carry a player through the game, with spikes of difficulty here and there to balance the experience.
            The often-touted difficulty of the Souls games like Dark Souls II is honestly a detriment to the series, as it’s a false barrier of entry for many prospective players. Many times when I’ve told people that I’m playing Dark Souls II, they’ll look at me in amazement and say they’d never try a Souls game based on the difficulty alone. I avoided the Souls series for years from their reputation alone, as I hate trudging through difficult games, only to give up in frustration.
Once I gave Dark Souls and Dark Souls II a shot, I learned the challenging Souls games aren’t something to fear, but relish and enjoy. Every time I finished an area like Huntsman’s Copse, I felt like I mastered a new section of the game. There’s a true sense of accomplishment with every victory won. As harsh as death is in the Souls series, it only makes victory all the sweeter.
            Yet don’t let the difficulty keep you from trying a Souls game, as there’s so much more to Dark Souls II than just constant death. The lush world design, the hidden lore, the vast amount of weapons and abilities, and unique multiplayer encounters keep me playing long after I finished the main quest of Dark Souls II. I’m still playing my original character, as well as several new builds to try for fun. I’d suggest that any fan of RPGs or adventure games give Dark Souls II a try. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t know unless you try. You might find, like I did, that it’s one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had since picking up my NES controller so many years ago.
            I climb the long steps outside Drangleic Castle, weary to end my long quest. I’ve died countless times, only to resurrect and try again and again. Yet my journey is almost at an end. I can feel it in my bones. There are two massive guardians wielding deadly halberds, ready to cleave my body in two. Yet there is a friendly face standing at the foot of the stairs—the Emerald Herald. She greets me at the foot of my last great task.
            “This castle is isolated. But nonetheless, you must forge on. To bring an end to your journey…and mine,” she tells me.
            I hoist my blade and begin my ascent towards my enemies. The words of the Emerald Herald continue on as my foes begin their charge.
            “End your journey…and mine.”
            I charge ahead with my blade, throwing caution to the wind. I will not be denied my victory, no matter how many times it takes me.

Sources, dialogue, and fact checking:
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

All Photos come from my playthrough of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Steam.
All dialogue comes from Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin belongs to From Software and Bandai Namco

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Starting Over from Scratch

Alas poor PS3, I knew him well.

            This past weekend I suffered a terrible first world tragedy. My Playstation 3, after almost six years of faithful servitude, ascended into video game system heaven. Having owned consoles since the NES days, this is the first console to die on me ever. Now, if my NES, Super Nintendo, or GBA died, I’d be annoyed, but all I’d need to do is purchase a new console and I’d be fine. However, with the newfangled consoles of the last generation, these systems included such revolutionary technology such as hard drives. A hard drive saves the progression of your video games so that you can come back to your game later and not lose your place. This is a potentially huge issue: if your system dies, you die in the real world your game saves die as well.
Honestly, I didn’t lose much when my system died. I can just buy a new system and redownload all the games I had on my original system without having to pay for them again. I don’t play my PS3 all that much, so most of my game saves can be made up easily. Yeah, I lost my pinball high scores, but that’s just annoying. Not so with two of my other games.
See, in 2014, I purchased Dark Souls, an action RPG lauded for its punishing difficulty. I bought the game because my best friend Marcus was a huge fan of the series and talked about it a lot with me during our game chats. The world of Lordran intrigued me, so I picked up my own copy on a lark to see how far I could get. Turns out I wasn’t half bad at the game – not a master, mind you, but I could survive the punishing difficulty.
Early on, I had Marcus jump into my game, and he gave me equipment he had built for me, which gave me a leg up from most starting players. Together we would stroll through new areas, and he’d take care of tough enemies and bosses while I ran around and made sure I didn’t die a painful death. Occasionally, I’d strike out on my own and make some progress myself, like defeating the Belfry Gargoyles and ringing the first bell, an important quest in the first third of Dark Souls. Eventually, I was able to handle the game mostly on my own and only summoned Marcus for bosses I knew would give me problems.
I traversed the Depths and escaped without getting petrified by the game ending basilisks, I navigated Pootown Blighttown and took out the hated blowdart snipers, and with Marcus I rang the second bell, entering the second phase of Dark Souls.
But then I had to put Dark Souls aside and focus on writing my first novel. As much as I wanted to play my game, I had a responsibility to fulfill. This meant I didn’t play Dark Souls again until three weeks ago.
I was ecstatic to get back into my game and get closer to finishing it. I escaped the deadly traps of Sens Fortress and defeated the Iron Golem with Iron Tarkus. I ascended the heights of Anor Londo and managed to get past the famed snipers, who have ended many a Dark Souls player’s run. Together with Marcus, we cleaned out Anor Londo and defeated Ornstein and Smough, considered by many to be one of the toughest bosses in Dark Souls. The Lordvessel was mine, and I entered into the endgame of Dark Souls.
Then Friday happened. I had finished running some errands in the game to make my character stronger before turning the system off to have lunch. When I came back and turned my system on, all I saw was a glitched screen. My heart sank – something was terribly wrong. After searching online for answers and trying a few different tips, I came to the horrible realization that my system was dead. Kaput. And with the death of my system went my 60+ hour game save. Everything I had worked for in the past two years was gone in a flash.
For a moment I considered never picking Dark Souls up again. After all that time I invested, I didn’t want to go and start all over again, defeating the same difficult bosses again. What’s worse is that I had started a new file just a week prior to play around. That meant I’d be doing the beginning of the game for a third time!
Yet, I learned something from that second playthrough. As this other character, I went through the same old areas with something I didn’t have the first time around: knowledge and experience. I tackled the first few bosses in the game on my own, when I needed my friend’s help beforehand. My skills had grown, and I was no longer the newbie running from danger. I could run to areas I wasn’t supposed to go as a new character and grab equipment that I didn’t have in the game until much later. I might’ve lost my progress in my old game, but with my previous experience I could advance through the game at a much faster pace.
My wife replaced my system as a surprise to me the other day, so today I restarted Dark Souls for the second time. As frustrating as it is, I know I’ll be back to where I was in a few weeks. I just need to rebuild and move forward.
Something similar happened to me with my writing a few years ago. I had been stuck on my final project for grad school, my movie length script for my portfolio. After dealing with the worst case of writers block I’ve ever had, I wrote my script over the period of two months during weekends. What was once a huge mountain was now manageable, as I conquered it page by page. By mid-October, I had finished my first draft at a whopping 350 pages. Satisfied with my work, I emailed my script to my professor as I celebrated my victory with my wife. This celebration was short lived.
Two days later, I received an email from my professor. The news was grim. He told me that I had gone way over the page limit for my script, and he refused to read a page of it! I had to cut the script down to 120 pages before he’d open the file and read it to give me feedback.
I went numb. After months of grueling work, my professor wouldn’t even read a sentence of my project. I remember sitting with my wife, flabbergasted as I lamented my situation. As I sat in my chair, distraught, my wife looked at me and told me, “You’ve got this. You’ve written it once, you can write it again.”
            And that’s exactly what I did. I took the rest of the week off of work and spent the next five days locked in my garage as I pored over the notes on my laptop and scriptwriting program. Characters were cut, plots disregarded and changed, and I reassembled the toppled jenga tower that was my story. By 3 am on the final evening before returning to work, I had written ‘The End’ on my story. In the end, I had rewritten 80% of the story, and only reused a miniscule of content from my original story.
            I sent my revised script to my professor the following day. He congratulated me on getting the revised script to him so quickly, which I’m sure surprised him based on my past work. That night I went to bed early, exhausted, but a stronger writer from my ordeal.
            Starting over on something you’ve been working on can feel absolutely crushing, all of that hard work gone in a blink of an eye. But even when technology or rules fail you, you haven’t lost absolutely everything. You still retain the experience of your ordeal, and that makes you all the stronger for it. You can approach that blank slate that was once so intimidating and know exactly how you need to change. Don’t lose heart, as this new beginning might make for a better story.

            Now excuse me, I have some souls to collect.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Catching Up

            For the first time in a long while, I find myself at a sort of crossroads. See, since 2009, I’ve had pre-established goals set for myself by others. For many years, that was earning my Masters degree in Screenwriting, in addition to a massive portfolio project. As I was nearing the end of that journey, my friends at Children of the Wells offered me a chance at writing a novella novel for them.
I took the offer and ran with it whole-heartedly, and in the process gave them something bigger than they expected. Having never written a novel before, it was a valuable learning experience, and I’ve grown so much because of it. Just last week, I finished the last story edit of the novel, which is a huge accomplishment.
But now I’m back at square one. While I plan on doing some other things with Children of the Wells (blogs and short stories), it’s now time to embark on my own journey. CotW had a set world that I wrote in, with it’s own history and mythology. Anything I write now will have to come from scratch, which is something I haven’t had to deal with since 2010. It’s time now to once again world build and start fresh. I admit I’m a bit intimidated at the prospect, but I can do this, as I have before.
So what does that mean for this blog? Well, I hope to write more entries in the future, and on a regular basis. As I world build, I plan on writing a few more short stories of original content. Two of the stories I’ve had ideas for since way back with working on my thesis. I’m excited to work on them, and hope you enjoy them.
These next few months are going to be a growing period, but growth is important. Challenges are a good thing. I want to grow as a writer and create stories for people to enjoy. So stay tuned, and I hope you like what comes next!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Greetings! I have not been intentionally ignoring my blog, just working hard to get my first novel edited for Children of the Wells, where you can find some of my more recent articles.

Anyhow, last month I entered a Christmas short story contest, and managed to place third! Given that this is the first writing competition I've ever been involved in, I'm honored and excited that my story was showcased. If you would like to read the story and get into the Christmas spirit, check out the link below:

The Tale of the Ivory Tinderbox

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and look forward to much more blogging (and stories!) in 2016!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

All Work And No Play

Maybe you should take a break...

Last week I talked about the importance of putting aside distractions to follow your dreams. After posting the article, however, I had a discussion with one of my friends about the topic and realized that I left something important out. See, it’s important to understand your priorities and to put your work first over distraction. What I left out is that the writer needs to know when to put the digital pen down and take a break.

I have this nagging mentality where I need to feel like I’m working, or I believe I’m lazy. It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager. I keep thinking back to when I was a kid and didn’t do much housework like picking up my room, and my parents would scold me for it. The same goes for my first job, where my first boss screamed at me many times for apparently slacking on the job. I hated the lectures so I started getting tough on myself. As I’d get older, I’d constantly have to do things around the house or at my job, or I’d tell myself that I didn’t take my tasks seriously enough. This harmful mentality seeped into my work mentality; nothing I’d do would cease these thoughts from haunting me.

When writing came into the picture, I got even tougher on myself. I’d spend nights working on drafts for school, as well as my own personal projects. I’d go out to my writing space, stare at my screen, and try to write. Some nights, the creative juices would flow and I’d be productive. Other nights I’d stare at the screen and wish I had a spell from Harry Potter to make my work magically appear.

I spent months working on my final project, agonizing over every detail of it. I’d write for a page, become dissatisfied with my work, delete it, and start all over. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing and what to do with my story. Deadlines would come and go, yet I had nothing to show for my effort. Even at work my thoughts would be consumed with the writing I had to do once I got home.

I mentally beat myself up for my lack of progress, calling myself lazy and a failure for not having my story past even the first act. I couldn’t think straight, and I doubted anything I put my hands on. Without knowing it, I had worked myself to a mental exhaustion. There was even a point where the deadlines seeped into my dreams, and I’d have nightmares of my professors demanding to see my work. It absolutely broke me, and I began to think I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. I had reached one of the deepest and darkest points in my career as an author, and I hadn’t even published a single story.

One evening in October 2012 while driving home from my job with my wife, I had an honest heart to heart talk with her. I bore my soul to her, revealing all of the doubt and frustration I had about writing hidden in my head. I told her about how little progress I had made and how I didn’t know if I’d even earn the degree I spent so much money striving towards. She knew I was exhausted mentally and emotionally, and completely had my back.  We decided the best course of action would be for me to take a semester off and take a sabbatical from doing anything creative so I could refocus my mind and restart my creative engine.

That’s exactly what I did. I shut my laptop off, turned the creative switch off in my brain, and allowed myself to be lazy. I did all the things I scolded myself earlier for doing. I watched the TV shows that I had missed, played my neglected video games, and began reading the fictional books I’d been eying for years. I let myself just relax and unwind for those months without any external pressures to accomplish something. It was liberating not having any sort of pressure on myself and giving my mind a chance to just take a break and not be creative. I wouldn’t let myself feel guilty for unwinding and having fun.

See, video games and TV watching are perfectly fine in moderation. We writers and creatives can guilt ourselves for not practicing our craft, but we also need to remember to give our brain a break. Mental fatigue can creep in, and we can completely miss it. Much like our physical muscles, our minds need time to unwind, be entertained, and not focus on that one scene we can’t seem to figure out. Sometimes, the answer for these problems is to get up, walk away, and do something else. When we let our minds rest and recharge, we can come back later and look at our problem and come up with a solution that wouldn’t have occurred to us if we tried working through our fatigue. Now, there are times we have deadlines we can’t avoid, but that’s why it’s essential to purposely schedule break times in to make sure we don’t run into these issues.

After taking my extended break, I jumped right back into my final project in the summer of 2013. By then I was mentally ready to take on my last great school challenge. I began running into the same issue I had before with my story – I couldn’t figure out how to rewrite my outline. But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized my original outline actually worked and only needed minor adjustments; I could change direction when I felt it was necessary. It freed me to get started on my script, and over the next several months I managed to not only initially write it, but to completely rewrite it in less than a week when my professor told me it was too long (but that’s another story…).

I credit my success in this attempt because I chose to look after my mental health and take a long break from my story. I wasn’t able to see this solution until I took the time to relax, recharge, and let myself have fun. Remember writers: you need to take care of your mind, so turn the creative side off from time to time and recharge.

So don’t throw away your TV or all of your video games; play them every once and awhile. You’re allowed to have fun and it’ll do you good. That story isn’t going anywhere while you’re gone, I promise. Once you’ve had your fun, be disciplined to put them aside and get back to your passion. Your writing will benefit from it.

Do you have a workaholic problem like I do? Tell me about it in the comments section and we’ll talk about it. You’re not alone. Keep writing friends, and remember, you can do it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Unexpected Cost

Choose wisely...

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to become a writer. It’s been a powerful dream that stuck with me over the years. Being the young, naïve lad I was, I thought it simply meant that you sat in front of a computer and wrote. Yes, that’s part of it, but as I began down this path I learned there’s much more to it than that. If you’re going to write, it’s going to cost you something. Writing takes lots of hard work and dedication. The more you focus on honing your skills, the less time you have for other things in life. There is a cost in pursuing your dreams, and there are things you will have to sacrifice in order to reach it.

First let’s get this out of the way: you can’t sacrifice your personal relationships. Being a husband is the most important job I have, and if I have to choose between being a writer or a good husband, I’m picking being a good husband. Likewise, family and friends are vital to your emotional wellbeing and shouldn’t be forgotten in the pursuit of writing. You might not be able to go to every event with your friends and family, but you can’t disregard them.

Also, you can’t sacrifice reading books and articles. Reading is how you develop your vocabulary, as well as cultivate your imagination. By reading the works of others, you’re exposed to different writing techniques and storytelling that will help shape your voice on the page. Reading gives your brain a workout and prepares you for structuring your own story and helps you through mental blocks.

Everything else is totally fair game for cutting down in your life. This includes television and video games, two things that are near and dear to my heart. The more I pursue writing, the more I’ve come to terms in eliminating these out of my life. Let me be the first to tell you, this is painful. Television and video games aren’t evil; in fact, I think they’re enjoyable and useful to wind down with after a long and frustrating day. But if you’re not careful, they have a habit of controlling your free time.

Back when I was a kid, I thought being an adult meant I could play video games as much as I wanted without being weighed down by schoolwork. As soon as I finished college, I dived headlong into my childhood passion and became a hardcore gamer. I collected all the retro games I wanted as a child, and played the newest releases that caught my fancy. I joined gaming forums, subscribed to gaming podcasts, and read up on all the upcoming releases. It was a joyous time, beating games I wanted to play to their completion.

Yet I never forgot about my dream to become a writer. As I worked my janitorial job, not doing anything worthwhile in my life, a small voice called out to me. “You were meant for more than this,” it said, as I dusted shelves and took out trash. “There’s more to life than this, you just have to pursue it.” As the voice nagged at me, I realized I couldn’t ignore the call forever so I enrolled for a masters degree program for scriptwriting. I worked on writing, but I still played games on a daily basis.

A year into the program, I had a conversation with Nick Hayden of Children of the Wells. I didn’t know him too well, but he cohosted a monthly storytelling podcast called Derailed Trains of Thought with my good friend Timothy Deal, which is still going strong to this day. We were talking about video games one day, as I figured he was a fellow gamer based on subjects he’d talk about on the podcast. He went on to tell me that he stopped playing video games almost entirely, so he could concentrate on writing. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Uh oh, is this what I’ll have to do one day in order to be a writer?”

As I wrestled with the final project for my Masters, I reached a crossroads of sorts. I could either keep playing my games every day and make writing a minor part of my life, or I could pursue writing with all of my heart and passion. I knew if I continued wavering in this decision, I’d never get anywhere as a writer and never accomplish my dream of publishing novels. Yet I still loved video games and the pleasure they gave me to explore these fantastic imaginary worlds. I weighed both options on a mental scale, pondering the merits of both. I had a lot of friends who were into gaming, and by sacrificing it I wouldn’t be as well versed in gaming news and opinions when we would chat.

After a long and agonizing struggle, I knew I had to follow my calling and set video games aside. I wouldn’t abandon them completely, but a life change was necessary. It’s like eating, I love junk food and the comfort it gives me, but a diet of junk food isn’t healthy. So just like junk food, video games needed to become an occasional activity.

I still play games with my friends, and I love showing my nephew Liam new games every time I visit him in Kentucky. Those moments mean a lot to me, especially with Liam, because I remember the wonder games gave me at that age. I had a conversation with Nick a few weeks ago about this subject, and discovered that he’s been introducing his children to the games he loved as a teenager. There’s something special and bonding about showing the next generation of children the magic of video games. But we both learned from experience that there has to be a balance between gaming and writing, and writing needs to come first.

So if you want to become a writer or artist, you’re going to have to sacrifice some activities that you love. That means you might not be able to join in the conversations about the latest hit TV show or video game with your friends and coworkers. It’s a small price to pay, but playing games and watching TV don’t write novels. Novels are written by sitting down, pushing the world away, and doing. So go write, you can do it! I have faith in you.  What activities in your life might you need to sacrifice to make writing a priority?