Writing or Raiding – 5 Things World of Warcraft Raids can teach you about Writing

In my wild and misspent youth, I used to play an absurd number of video games.  I actually had aspirations of being a professional in the field, having won several tournaments in my game of choice (Starcraft).

If this is the first you’ve heard about the idea of making a living at video games, trust me.  It’s out there.

Anyways, one of the games I played extensively was World of Warcraft, and I had climbed through the content until I had achieved a moniker of “Raid Leader.”  If you aren’t familiar with World of Warcraft, or raids specifically, the rest of this article won’t make a whole lot of sense to you.  To summarize, a raid is when a group of 10-40 players get together to try and tackle some large objective, usually beating some difficult monster or “boss.”

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I was reflecting on those days and realized there’s a startling number of similarities between Raiding and Writing.  Here are the surprising commonalities:

1) Have a schedule, and stick to it

It’s inevitable when you first get into raiding.  You’ll hear that the raid starts at 8:00 PM, so you’ll buy your potions, you’ll be as giddy as it gets, and get online, prepared to see the rest of your guild in the most awesome gear imaginable, ready to take down some heavy duty bosses.

Then you’ll see there’s only 1 other person on.  No problem, you’ll think.  I’m five minutes early. So you’ll wait.  A few people will log in, wait about 15 seconds, and then log off.  Somebody may even open in chat with a “We still doing this tonight?”  That person may hang out as much as a minute before they bail.  About half an hour later, you’re the only one on, and the raid hasn’t happened.  Saddened, you’ll head back off and continue working on your vanity pets.  But you get to repeat this entire experience in a few short days when the raid leader posts to the message of the day:  “Hey, couldn’t get on tonight, we’ll do it next week!”

As you move along in the process, you’ll eventually find a group that manages to actually go, but the people don’t get there until 15-30 minutes late, and have to spam chat looking for one more tank (defensive player), another healer or two, or a very specific kind of attacker (DPS).  You’ll start an hour later, but hey… You’ll have a whole raid group… Until you wipe out on the first boss.  Then you get to repeat the process.

An interesting thing happens as you continue on this path.  The best groups start on time.  The best groups actually finish ahead of schedule.  They are serious about what they are doing, and they let nothing stand in their way.  As it is with writing.  When you are writing a novel, you can’t “work it in here and there” around your life.  You need to pick a time, and stick to it… And guard that time zealously.  Authors don’t finish books when they don’t fight to make sure they get their time in, and then use that time to write.

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2) Trash mobs really take away from the raid

Raids involve giant monsters that may take 5-10 minutes to actually kill, even with 40 people on the job.  They also can sometimes involve a 30 minute grind of killing lesser monsters along the path to the boss.  Some of these “trash pulls” can be just as likely to take down a party of heroes just as certainly as the boss…

People hate trash.  They don’t drop any useful gear.  All they do is slow down the actual reason the raid has gotten together.  Modern raids, you can even see something of a reduction of the number of trash pulls before you get to the boss.

In your novel, a trash mob is adding a scene or character that seems on the surface interesting, but realistically isn’t doing much for your overall story.  It needs to be cut.  You don’t have enough time in your novel to waste your reader’s time on something nifty, or a piece of backstory that you quite enjoy, but doesn’t move the story along in some meaningful way.  Cut it!

3) Know what you need for the raid

One of the interesting things about the bosses in these raids is that they all have a different set of mechanics that you follow in order to take them down.  Sometimes it can involve a lot of movement; sometimes you strategically stop your damage, or use different kinds of damage.  To make this work, a raid group needs to have a group of characters assembled that can help accommodate the varying needs of the raid. Ranged damage, melee damage, specific kinds of tanks to help handle group tanking or single target.  Maybe the raid encounter has a non-player that needs to be healed in addition to the normal healing.

The key thing raid leaders learn is to be prepared.  Bring people along that can serve in more than one way during the raid to ensure you don’t need to change players around.  On top of that, each player needs to have a specific purpose.

The same is true in writing.  The player needs some information in chapter two that you’ve added a kindly old sage to provide… Maybe you can use that scene to also illustrate the character’s bizarre irritation regarding the elderly.  Maybe the sage can resurface later as one of the murder victims.  Pack as much as you can into a character or scene so that you are achieving multiple goals at once.

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4) One screwball can wipe the raid

Books are about conflict, but you don’t need a meteor crash every scene.  When raiding, it doesn’t take the whole party being out of focus for the whole thing to fail.  One person missing a cue, or surfing youtube while raiding can cause a wipe.  You can do this in your book as well.  Every failure that pushes more conflict doesn’t have to be something of an EPIC scale.  It could just be the car didn’t start, or putting the wrong amount of sand in the counter-balance.  These small mistakes or screw-ups can still yield the conflict you are looking for, and keep high tension.

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5) Everybody wants loot

It is true that sometimes players go through a raid simply because they enjoy the act of raiding solely.  It is also true that readers may read to enjoy the entire story.  But I can tell you something else that is true:  Getting a piece of loot makes the raid a lot more enjoyable.  Enjoying the end of the book makes the rest of the read more enjoyable.  It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, and it doesn’t even have to be an ending that people expected… But it has to be complete the story in a meaningful way.

These are the comparisons I’ve thought of.  What about you?  Do you raid?  Do you know other ways raiding and writing are similar?

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Building Worlds, Backstories, and Outlines, oh my

I don’t think it was quite two weeks back that I made my grandiose statement about persevering.  In that post, I was trying to decide if I should work on other projects while pursuing my novel, or just focus on the novel.

Long story short, I decided to stay the course.

The day before yesterday, I decided not to.  I’m closing the files on that one and pausing the project.  I’m shelving it.  I like my characters, and I like the general theme of the story… But the events in the first half of the book are boring.  It was built to provide back-story for a board/card game that I’m co-creating.

1) It’s about 70,000 words along, and will take a major re-write just to make it passable… Not counting the rewrites I’ll do just because it’s a first draft.
2) There’s holes in the story that a small legion of trucks can drive through.

I’ll come back to it, but I think it needs to go dormant for now.

In the meantime, I’m onto my new story.  This is a story that’s been floating around in my head for the better part of the year, and best of all, it’s actually already a few steps past “my head.”  I originally used Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method to flesh out an outline, and had about 10 pages of notes already put together.  That makes me feel somewhat better.  I also don’t intend to change any of my deadlines previously set.  (Complete by end of September).

Which brings us to now.  So, to speed the draft writing process along, I’ve been doing some outlining.  I’ll throw a post later about Plotting vs Pantsing, but we’ll just go with I’m a plotter for now.

I’ve decided to dust off a few of the outline tools that I thought might be helpful:
Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – A little dated, but great reminders about key elements of world-building.
K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel – Very fast read, and full of great techniques, although she’s a little too pen&paper for me to truly dive in.

These books are really focused on making sure you take time to think of the world you are writing in, think of the plot you are trying to create, and think of the characters you are fleshing out.

In concept, I should be able to make time back, but I won’t lie… I’ve written 5,000 words over the last 48 hours solely on the outline, and it can be demoralizing knowing that those aren’t going into my final word count.  In the meantime, I’ll push forward with some character interviews, some detailed setting/backdrop framework, and then drop my plot on top.

We’ll see how it goes!  Do you use outlines?  Do you know any good material on building them?

A Month of Blogging – Three Truths I’ve Learned

It’s been a month since I started this blog, and I think it’s time to level with you, my readers.  If you had asked me about blogging a year ago, I’d have laughed you off the stage.  I barely use social media (Face-twits and Insta-pins).  And people who blog always struck me as trying to call attention to lives that frankly just aren’t that interesting.  I’m an old-school novelist sitting in a dark cave monstrously hammering out manuscripts… Not a hipster blogger enjoying a caramel mocha latte at my local coffee shop (I don’t drink coffee, so feel free to correct me if those three descriptors don’t go together).

I started this for selfish motives.  To help build a community so that when my book is done, I’ll have an army of loyal, rabid fans eagerly awaiting the opportunity to pour a river of money into my dreams.  Not worried about what they were going for.  This is all about me.  (I’ll pause and take a minute to count the number of people who cease following my blog at this point).

At the one month mark though, I’ve come to a pretty heavy realization.

I was wrong.

Wow, that’s a hard pill to swallow.  By writing and catching glimpses into other people sharing on similar journeys at different stages, I realize that I’ve found people I can relate to.  It may be hard to believe, but I’m not surrounded locally by a team of people all trying to write their first book. I don’t have a Wednesday night book club meeting in the secret room of the library nobody knows about where we gather and talk about how we’re doing on our Writer’s Walk.  I have to keep generating my own enthusiasm, and while my imagination may at times feel bottomless, a lack of obvious progress beyond “Yep, another 3000 words” starts to get old.

Blogging and sharing in the blogs of others fuels me.

Firstly, I get to see some really creative things people are doing (and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that first?!”).  Secondly, there is so much to learn from people who’ve been down this road before.  I can see the successes they have, and the failures, and make sure I’m doing the best I can do.  Thirdly (wow, I could have written the post as 3 things that are great about blogging!), tangential blogs are awesome.  I can read blogs about inspiration and find inspiration for my work.  I can read blogs that have dialogue lines and imagine how that can be fed to my own story.

So, with that preamble, I’d like to share 3 tips for the newly initiated blogger, coming from a newly initiated blogger.

1) Show your appreciation to your followers, likes, and comments.  I love every one of my followers, and you should to.  More than that though, think about what can you do for them?  The easiest way to answer that question is to ask yourself:  What do you appreciate on your blog?  Followers, Likes, and Comments.  What do you think they appreciate?  Visit their blog.  Do a little following, liking, and commenting of your own.  You don’t need to repay tit for tat, and you’re certainly under no obligation to leave a mark while you’re there… But at least take a minute and give them the chance.

2) Draft, Edit, Revise, and Publish your posts.  DERP! (Nice)  I promise you that people can tell when you write a post that is literally an off-the-cuff rambling.  I notice them.  Worse, I can go back and read mine and notice which ones are guilty.  After you type your post, go back and read it.  Check spacing, add links, whatever.  Give it more care than you’d give a forum post… Because the people who read it are investing time in you.  Show appreciation by not making them have to work for it.

3) Write ahead and schedule your publishing.  I had read this in a book written by a blogger, and took his advice when I started… Right up until I didn’t.  When things are scheduled, you really don’t feel like the blogging is taking away from your ability to write your novel.  As soon as an idea comes to you, script it out.  Take your planned blogging time to read it over and DERP it.  Then schedule the publish date.  Keep this nicely fed queue of writings.  That way when life gets busy and you miss a day, your blog doesn’t suffer.  Because once you are behind, you feel pressured to churn out something; anything.  And that’s not a good place to be.  (I am pleased to announce I’m back on a schedule and this blog post was scheduled).

Thank you blogging community for opening my eyes to the value that is out there.  Thank you for walking on your journey even as I walk on mine.  Thank you for the pearls of wisdom, the dashes of inspiration, and the insights that show me how much further I have to go as well as how far I’ve come.

What have you learned about blogging?  What lessons should I have learned that aren’t included here?

The 6 Things I Learned After Publishing My First Book

This is my first reblog, but I loved this post. I too want to be a traditionally published author, and I think this post really goes the distance in helping to illustrate just how much work it will take!

A Writer's Path

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by Shelly Sanders (based on her personal experience, which I felt was an interesting take on publishing)

1. Signing with a traditional publisher is worth the time and sweat it takes to be accepted.

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Writing to a Deadline – A Debate!

I read an article on Write To Done today that was interesting to me.  The overview of the article was covering steps that a lady has taken in order to go from 0 to published over the span of several years.  Naturally, this is dear to my heart, so I wanted to hear how it was done.  There were several components:

The Usual Stuff:
Just keep writing.  Don’t give up!  Keep going!
Have patience!  It takes a while, but it’s worth it!
It always takes longer than you think it will.

The Vague Stuff:
She learned to work the system on Amazon… Is that the actual navigating the interface, or learning who to talk to and how to actually make it work?
Just let the silence guide you.  I’m all in favor of artsy, so I let it go… But my silence hasn’t guided me yet.

The Gold Nuggets:
She got help from a dozen sources (social media expert, brand consultant, book publicists, etc).  I just wish I knew how to find these people.  I imagine it’s years of circling the community and building connections.

The number of edits and rewrites made, both by her and professional editors is telling for what it takes to reach a quality end product.

But this wasn’t meant to be a review.  This is the foundation of a debate.  The first point she makes is to “Accept The Flow of the Creative Process.”  I’ve heard this before.  Basically, the premise is that if you try to force it, your writing will come across as stiff and unnatural.  To quote Miracle Max in the Princess Bride:
“Don’t rush me sonny.  You rush a miracle, you get a rotten miracle.”

Let’s look at the other side of the fence though.  Nanowrimo’s entire foundation is on just get to 50,000 words.  There are lots of ways to set deadlines, all date driven.  Maybe it’s driven by a publisher:  Have the draft of your next book ready by September.  Maybe it’s an artificial word count goal:  1667 words per day.  Regardless, the act of writing every day keeps people engaged and making progress.

I’m torn on this subject.  I am eternally grateful to Nanowrimo, and have extolled its virtues in other posts.  I truly believe it helped me get over the hump of writing and make sure I made progress on my novel every day rather than “when I’m feeling it.”  But I do read all the drivel slushed around out there and wonder how on earth somebody felt it was okay to finish writing that.  If you don’t believe in what you are writing… Don’t write it.

I pose this question to you, my readers.  Is it better to write as the words come to you?  Ensure that you don’t spin out garbage that you are going to end up deleting?  Or is it better to keep writing no matter what because that’s the only way to get to the end?

Temptation – Does it matter what I write?

Does it matter what project I’m writing for as long as I’m continuing to practice the craft and get words on paper (or screen… whatever)?  That’s my big question today.  I want to finish my book.  I want to be a published author.  But does it need to be my focus when writing to the exclusion of all else?  I don’t know if this is coming up because I’m entering the 45 day grind period where my attention and focus on the project is starting to waver or what, but I definitely have the little devil on my shoulder whispering at me.

He’s urging me to do some short story contests.  There’s lots out there, some that you pay to enter, some that you don’t.  But my shoulder devil is telling me it’s time to work on one of those.

“You are already writing blogs… You already aren’t being dedicated.”
“How do you get better at writing if you don’t get something finished for critique?”
“It’s more important to get something out there than it is to finish the big book.”
“How will your potential readers know who you are if they don’t get hooked on your other works now?”
“You’ve had more focus than you’ve ever had.  You’re over the hump.  You can diversify safely now.”

These all feel pretty valid when he tells them to me, so I’m pretty eager to agree.  Sign me up.  I’m ready to jump on something new.  I pinky-promise, double-triple mega epic uber swear I’ll get right back to the novel after I finish this one short story.
Or two.
Or three.

Or more… How many contests are there?  I don’t want to limit my chances to reach some readers and tell some great stories.  I could write one for each, and still have plenty of time in the month to drive the novel.

Correction.  I could start several this month and have more pieces of literature to throw in the basket that isn’t finished, isn’t polished, isn’t sellable, isn’t a career.

I love to tell stories.  I don’t write to get rich.  I write because I have stories to tell.  A lot of stories to tell.  But I’m doing myself and (one would hope) the world a disservice by not finishing any of them enough to share.  I know I need to stay the course if I’m going to finish this.  My goal is a completed rough draft by the end of May.  I’m not sure if I’ll make it, but I know I can’t make it if I take on some other stories in the meantime.

Once the rough draft is finished, maybe I’ll take a breather on some short stories before diving into the editing and review stage.

But that doesn’t stop the call.  That doesn’t stop the whispers.  Finishing this story has to be my highest priority, and has to be worth it to the exclusion of everything else.

I hope.

What do you think?  Am I lying to myself, or am I focusing to my own detriment?  Does anybody else struggle with a desire to tell too many stories at once?  How have you overcome this problem?

Breaking through – 3 Tips to get writing

I don’t want to call it writer’s block.  I’m stuck.  I have a great outline; I’ve written several scenes, but nothing feels really that appealing to work on.  I honestly don’t think it’s fair to call where I’m at writer’s block.  I imagine Writer’s Block to be a bit more nefarious.  It’s that moment of “Wow, I don’t even know what’s supposed to happen next.  I am in fact COMPLETELY out of ideas.”

I’m not out of ideas.  The well of inspiration has not dried up.  The world is not ending.  The scenes that need to be written look like they should be engaging or interesting.  The story flows and the tension continues to build.

I just have no interest in writing them.

Is that Writer’s Block?  I don’t know.  Regardless, it is an impediment to moving forward.  This is usually the point in my writing plans where I pause this work and start on something else until “inspiration hits me.”  In a lifetime or two, I may come back and look at this work, but at that point I’m so detached from the story that I decide it’s worth a full rewrite.

But this blog isn’t about the hundred different stories I started to write and never finished.  This is about my quest to finish my first book.  So I must maintain focus and push through.  Here are some of the things I do to push on through:

1) Ditch the plan and just go somewhere else. 

So in the eternal war between “plotters” and “pantsers” I land (like most authors I would think) somewhere in the middle.  That said, I do plot out some scenes to make sure I am including some of the hooks I want.  So, for all you die-hard pantsers out there, this may not work, but for me, this can help a lot.  Ditch the plan.  It’s time to go off script.

I have run D&D games for two decades.  During this time, I can’t think of a single group I’ve had that actually followed my adventure to the letter.  I can only think of a few that followed the loose outline.  Inevitably, the group goes off script… Way off script.  You may be planning to have the party visit the town of Moldirk, but lo and behold, the party is all fired up about traveling south to get help from the Wandering Wizards of Wondrous Waffles.

That’s when it’s time to ad lib.  A good DM (or GM or Storyteller, or whatever moniker is carried) will get the group back on track without looking like it.  And the Side Quest may very well be the most talked about part of the game.

Do this with your story.  Throw a curve ball, send them somewhere else, have a meteor drop on the castle.  The cool thing about being the author is that you are the author.  No one else needs to know when the story is over that the Mutant Space Monkeys were never meant to be part of it and came about because of a bad case of writer’s block.

2) Start up a conversation.

Some writing experts call this interviewing your characters.  We are social animals, and I think when we get our characters talking, we are extremely likely to let the characters take the scene where they want to go.  Some people have trouble with dialogue; And to a degree that’s reasonable.  Dialogue in books should not perfectly mirror real dialogue.  It is the stylized rendering of real dialogue.

Spice it up later or cut it out altogether, but for this exercise, just get the character talking.  If you need “Umms” add the “Umms.”  If you want emotion, even over the top emotion, throw it in there.  Talk to the character directly, or have a scene between two characters.  Make it directly relevant, or make it like a cutaway interview in a reality show.  Whatever your method, get the characters talking and then let them run away with it.  Once the rhythm of writing is going again, you’ll launch into your story proper.

3) Play out a scene from something else.

Sometimes the block is too strong.  You aren’t pulled to write the main plot and the characters really aren’t interested in a side-quest.  You try to get some conversation going and the characters refuse to talk to you, even under pain of death.  So what happens now?  Throw them into another scene from your favorite story, show, or movie.  Give them as much rope as they deserve, but play it out from their point of view.  If you’ve ever seen the movie version of something and the broadway version, they may contain the same lines, but how those lines are expressed may vary.  Let your characters make the scene their own.  Adjust elements to bring it closer to your story.  See if the act of writing gets you back into your story.

These are a few of the things I do when I’m stuck (cough, Writer’s Block, cough).  I have almost always found that just the act of writing lets me get back into the flow, and gets me past any major hangup I face.

How do you deal with Writer’s block?  What has worked for you and what hasn’t?