The response to my Snow Crash piece overwhelmed me a bit. To have a post which I thought was really not written very well – it’s way too long, too meandering, but it HAD to come out OMG get OUT of my head IDEAS it’s all related CAN’T YOU SEE IT’S ALL RELATED guilds are circles twitter is circles we just like doing things together can we just DO THINGS together METAVERSE is WOW OMG get OUT of my head ideas please get out – to have a post come spilling out just like THAT, that’s what it feels like sometimes, and have it strike a nerve with readers, to have people get the ideas, is pretty incredible and awesome and scary all at the same time.
Overwhelming. Much like that paragraph.
It can really be difficult as a writer to reconcile the ideas you’re trying to convey with the manner of their presentation. My opinion of the Snow Crash post is that the ideas were good, though I skipped over some interesting discussions, and that the presentation was okay but flawed, mostly due to length. I am seriously considering a followup piece just because I missed some key ideas the first time around – but this time it will go someplace other than CFN, just so I can edit it.
It’s somewhat overwhelming to punch a post like that out of your brain, hit the Publish button, and have people like it. It’s even more overwhelming when you realize people find your creation intimidating to their own creative spark. I’m going to pick on @DiscoPriest for a minute, not only because she’s a good sport, but also because she gets more pageviews each day than I do (NAKED BELFS > PVP), and quote her twitter response:
@wowcynwise I cannot BELIEVE you wrote that in one draft, you complete and utter bastard.
I laughed and gold starred that response (because it’s funny as all hell, and I enjoyed the ribbing) but then I saw that other people in my twitter stream were actually a bit … despondent? that they’d never be able to write like I’d just done. Write like me. That this flawed piece was somehow –
Holy fuck, I thought. That’s me. That’s me, right there. I have been there. I spent years there.
The last thing I want to do, ever, is squash someone’s spark. Be it in PvP or blogging, that’s the last thing I want.
Because I’ve been there. I’ve been there, looking at other bloggers, going – I will never be that good.
And it felt terrible.
The header image above is a composite of two of the headers of blogs from my personal blogging heroes, Jamie Zawinski/jwz and John Gruber of Daring Fireball. Both of them had profound influence on me when I was much younger. I read them religiously, not just because they wrote about things I was interestd in, but because their style and verve was just … awesome. Cool. Cooler than I could hope to be. I was the awkward fanboy, aping the stars of the tech blogging world, imitating them in my own posts, but never with their panache.
I hoped they would notice me. Oh god, how I hoped they’d link me. That sounds dirty, but it wasn’t – it was hero worship on my part, and before Twitter was around you had to work through blogs. You had to have a blog, preferably hand-coded and stylish and XHTML/508 compliant. Or it had to deliberately say screw that, this looks best in Netscape 3.2 – the rules changed a lot and I didn’t navigate them very well. Daring Fireball is part of the commentless tech/design blog movement, which is daunting to break into the inner circles of, and while JWZ went to LJ for almost a decade, I never felt like I could casually comment on his site. My comments had to be INSIGHTFUL and WITTY and OMG OMG OMG BETTER BE TECHNICALLY ACURATE and possibly HIP.
And it all seemed so effortless to them. So, so effortless.
They looked like they had their shit together and all the little details fell into place for them.
I found, after a while, that I was jealous of how easy it all seemed for them. Not just Gruber and jwz, but all the popular folks I followed. Not because of anything they did – they were creative people being creative. No, it was me – unhappy with my own creative output, stymied by looking at really great examples and finding myself wanting.
You’re not good enough, Cyn.
You’ll never write like that. Never be that funny. Never be that insightful.
My tech blogs grew stale. I kept going through the motions, trying, trying. I got on Twitter, I made Favrd a few ties – does anyone even remember Favrd anymore? – and was sort of hanging around the outskirts of a cool tech community that I wasn’t really part of.
My online self was unhappy. I followed hundreds of blogs, trying to be informed and have well-formed opinions on the latest tech and work styles and life hacks and politics and cryptology and open source and photography.
I compared myself to other people whom I admired – good people, mostly all of them – and found myself wanting.
I didn’t like much of the things I talked about. Shit, how much can you talk about the latest device coming out of silicon valley or the latest web startup before they all start blurring together?
I came out of a brutal project at work, looked around, and said: none of this makes me happy. I think I love these blogs and I think I love these tools and I think I love all of this but it doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make me thrive.
So I walked.
I walked away from an online presence I’d spent 10 years building.
I downloaded World of Warcraft, something I’d sworn I’d never do. (I didn’t play video games. That wasn’t me.)
And I let my heroes go.
FINDING MY OWN VOICE
I wanted to respond to each and every person earlier this week who said, your first drafts are better than my finished drafts, and say: please, don’t do that to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to me or any other author or artist. I know where that leads. I’ve been down that road.
And I never want to be the cause of someone else going: damn, I’ll never be that good.
That first year of playing WoW, I didn’t blog very much at all. I didn’t have any reason to. I was a clueless noob trying to figure stuff out. And the online persona I left behind? Well, he didn’t have much to say about Warcraft, so he didn’t say much at all.
I didn’t pick up a camera for a year, except to take pictures of my kid. (Only one at the time.)
I didn’t look at a tech news website. I trashed my feed reader.
And in WoW, I discovered a little voice. It was when I was searching for help trying to figure out PvP, and I found … nothing. So I figured it out on my own, but I remembered that. There wasn’t anyone really blogging about the thing I’d come to enjoy in this video game.
Hey. I can do this. I can help people. I can teach. I can show that there’s this part of the game and it’s REALLY COOL and yes a little intimidating but if I CAN LEARN SO CAN YOU and COME ON PEOPLE LET’S GO HIT SOME BGS.
That was the first thing I was missing before: an actual purpose in my blogging. Before, I wanted to be popular, to be cool, to be like my heroes.
But what I didn’t realize was that my heroes were just doing things that interested them and writing about it. That’s it.
The second thing was that, instead of a community that valued being hip, the Warcraft community valued the thing I actually wanted to write about: helping other people. Disseminating knowledge.
Druids often say that Druids should halp each other, but it’s not just Druids. The entire Warcraft blogging community is fantastic. People are open to new people. A new voice is something to be celebrated. Trying and failing is encouraged. Every blogger starts out a little rocky – I know I did. Give it time. Keep trying.
My first CBM Post: Wintergrasp Keep. It’s scintilating stuff, I tell you.
Warcraft helped me find my voice; not those of my blogger heroes, but mine. Through the mask of Cynwise, I can write. Warcraft gave me an outlet when I needed one, it gave me a supportive community to help me through the tough times. I feel totally blessed to have found people who want to read what I write and who find what I write helpful.
It’s that last bit, you see, that I’d missed before.
THE PIGGIES AND FINDING YOUR VOICE
Tonight, MMO Melting Pot announced the winners of the 2011 Piggies, those outrageous WoW blogging awards started over at the Pink Pigtail Inn. I remember last year how thrilled I was to be nominated last year – holy crap, people are noticing me? – but then to get nominated again this year?
And to win?
Holy fucking shit.
Serious congratulations to all the other winners, honorable mentions, and nominees, and thank you to the crew at MMO Melting Pot for hosting and judging the Piggies this year. I’m overwhelmed again. Thank you.
Let me tell you a little bit about the post that won, On The Forsaken. I wrote it in a frenzy, over two nights after thinking about it for a week. I wrote it only after thinking about those quests and staring up at that statue in Brill for like 15 minutes. Seriously. Clink, clink, clink, things falling into place, I must write now.
It was also the first post on CFN that I looked at and said, I cannot publish this.
It is too much. It is too controversial.
I walked away and thought about it.
What will other people think of me? That I’m biased against the Horde? That I hate Forsaken players?
It was that phrase that did it. I remember that night very clearly. What will people think?
That’s how I used to think. That’s what led me down the path of not writing about things I cared about, but rather what I thought would be popular. Would be well-received.
Fuck that shit.
If you had told me, at that moment, that that post would be the most memorable post of the year and help inspire several of the entries into the Blizzard story contest, I’d have told you you were out of your fucking gourd. That post is not good enough to do that. It’s too long. It’s too emotional.
But it did.
All because I got pissed off and hit Publish.
This isn’t really about me.
I think you’re smart enough to know that by now. Y’all are getting used to my tricks, where I talk about one thing and then realize I’ve been talking to you, about you, the entire time.
This is a great community. Seriously great. For all of its foibles and petty squabbles over things that don’t matter 2 inches outside of our little playground, this is a great community to be a part of. The Piggies are a nice way to celebrate each year.
But don’t let them stop you from writing.
I’m amazed at how many really good writers and artists I’ve met in this community.
But remember, this writer at least is just a regular guy, typing on a laptop, trying to finish up so he can get some sleep. We’re all just people here.
(I hear Matticus might be a superhero in disguise, though.)
The only thing that can stop you from writing – is you.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Read a lot, but write a lot, too.
Try things out. Different things. Don’t get caught in a rut.
Most importantly, write when you have that spark.
Don’t wait. Do it.
And then hit Publish.