Preparing to be Awesome

June 30th, 2010essays, news, operation: awesome

A couple weeks ago, I mapped out the basics of my plan to reprogram myself as a writer. It’s a process I call “Operation: Awesome” because that’s an incredibly uninspired and pretentious title and nothing amuses me more than uninspired and pretentious titles.

I’m bringing it up again because the reprogramming isn’t as simple as following a five step plan. Yes, that plan helps. I’d say the plan has been essential for me even though I’m far from being the A-1 Top Storyteller/Writing Machine that I want to be. This is all a process and I’m in the mix. I’m also fortunate to be in a position where I’m applying what I’m learning and what I’m changing in a real world environment. I’m a working writer in the midst of evolution. I don’t foresee a point where I’ll throw up my arms, declare myself to be fully awesome, drop the mic, and walk off the stage. There isn’t necessarily an end to Operation: Awesome. But there was a beginning.

And it began prior to Step One. It began with conditioning myself. It began with making myself ready to be awesome.
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Rattling THE BONES

June 29th, 2010board games, essays, news, rpg

Last September, I managed to convince the folks at Gameplaywright that I was worthy of being included in their next book. Their previous publication, the well-received Things We Think About Games, was buzzing around the gamer zeitgeist with supersonic speed and I knew I wanted to hop whatever train was leaving their station next.

For those who don’t know, Gameplaywright is the venture of two of tabletop gaming’s brightest stars, Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball. Through my serpentine path through gaming industry, I managed to connect with Jeff years ago. When I heard his outfit was putting together a new thing, I got in touch with him. He put me in touch with Will, who was heading up the next book, a collection of dice stories called The Bones. Will had a pretty full roster, which included smarter and more renowned folks than myself, but was open to hearing my idea.

I pitched him a manifesto, a defense of my favored randomizer: the six-sided die. Will and I hashed out the specifics and I set pen to paper. A couple weeks later, “The Die of the People – A Six-Sided Manifesto” was born.

Will was an amazing editor, cheerleader, and guide. I’d contribute to any book for which he’d have me.

Before you think me hyperbolic in my enthusiasm or insincere in my modesty, check out who I’m sharing page space with: Keith Baker, Greg Costikyan, Ray Fawkes, Matt Forbeck, Pat Harrigan, Jess Hartley, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, John Kovalic, James Lowder, Russ Pitts, Jesse Scoble, Mike Selinker, Jared Sorensen, Paul Tevis, Monica Valentinelli, Chuck Wendig, and Wil Wheaton. Having my name on the list is humbling, to say the least.

Anyway. The Bones. It’s a book about dice. But not about the technical nature of dice. Not math, not chances. It’s about people, traditions, and superstitions. It’s about dice and gamer culture. I have the limited edition hardcover and, though I haven’t read it cover to cover yet, what I have read has been amazing. The standard edition is coming out at the end of this month. I highly recommend you pick it up for yourself, a gamer friend, or anyone who’s interested in games, culture, or the weirder parts of history.

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I’m Writing CONDUIT 2

June 17th, 2010news, video games

Which I knew. But it wasn’t general knowledge until this morning when developer High Voltage Software revealed the fact at a closed-doors presentation that included the Wii-exclusive FPS amongst its other titles. has the brief here, if you want to read it.

(To clarify two points in the article: I did rewrites and dialogue revision on PREY and I wrote a full script for BORDERLANDS but that was prior to the game’s reimagining.)

I’m psyched! The team at High Voltage has been a dream to work with and I’ve made contacts and connections there that extend beyond the project. I look forward to hearing what folks think about the game when it ships.

“Blair’s writing this? Woohoo!”


Operation: Awesome

June 8th, 2010essays, operation: awesome

Earlier this year, I kicked off Operation: Awesome, a multi-phase attempt to reprogram myself as a writer. I had spent far too much of my life under this delusion that the traditional rules of writing and story didn’t apply to me. I thought I could just riff and my stories would work. Most often, I didn’t finish the stories. My initial excitement and momentum ran out before I got the car down the road. A lot of the time, before I’d even left the garage. I didn’t understand how stories worked. I didn’t do the pre-production on my ideas to see if they were actually stories or just ideas or hooks with nowhere to go. I would talk a lot about a story I had when I actually had no such thing. I had a premise, maybe, but most often I had a character or a starting point or a scene. And those are not stories.

After a lifetime of saying I was a writer, I decided to actually do the legwork and become a writer.

I needed to push myself. I needed to learn my process and establish good writing habits. I knew I worked well with an outline (another late discovery). I’m a lazy person by nature with a history of feverishly writing down 1000 words then abandoning the story or jumping from one great idea to another without settling on one and doing the work to get it done. A big part of Operation: Awesome is fixing that. Is fixing myself.

You’ve heard this cliche numerous times: Being creative for money is a business. If you’re rolling your eyes at that, go somewhere else. My intent is to make a living from writing. To do that, I needed to be more than just creative. More than just a guy with good ideas. Everyone else you’re competing against, for an agent, an editor, a publisher, for the audience’s time and money, is creative. They all have good ideas. Being creative and having good ideas just isn’t good enough. You need follow-through. You need discipline.

At least I do. And I didn’t have it. But I was going to get it. I came up with Operation: Awesome and immediately started putting it into motion.

Phase One was learning the craft. For a guy who had spent the past ten years in publishing, in writing and game design, I knew frighteningly little about writing stories. I had the mechanics of writing down (spelling, punctuation, paragraphs) and an ear for dialogue (still my strongest suit) but no concrete idea about construction, payoff, character and story arc.

I studied screenwriting, particularly the late Blake Snyder‘s wonderful Save the Cat! series of books. It’s not a book of theory, it’s a book based of codified observations. Blake’s humorous and insightful approach to story construction was an eye-opener. I put Blake’s ideas into practice in late 2008 with a screenplay I’ve recently entered into competition (wish me luck!). I use his ideas in every story I draft. It’s my first step once an idea has taken shape. It’s my test as to whether an idea is actually a story yet.

Phase Two was laying out what type of writer I wanted to be. If I couldn’t define and sell myself, I couldn’t expect anyone else (agent, editor, publisher, reader) to. I needed to be honest about genre and market. I needed to hone my abilities and direct the other phases of Operation: Awesome toward that genre and market.

I know some writers hate defining themselves or, worse yet, think they defy definition. Yet, the successful authors I know, those who produce and sell, can tell you their market. They may branch out (or wish to) and may struggle to accept it but they know it.

I am aware of my interests and strengths and they are not burdens. They help me focus, help me sell myself, help me be a better writer.

Phase Three is research. As a creative, my life is research. Observation and experience is research. But I had a huge gap in my research process: reading. I read a lot as a kid but hadn’t made the time in recent years to get back to it. My life had leaned more towards games, particularly video games, so I spent my time with them. My reading had suffered.

Once I knew what I wanted to write, I needed to read. Lucky for me, what I like to write and what I like to read are the same thing. (Is this true for other creatives? I do not know.) I’ve been on a reading bender, having finished seven books in the past three weeks, with more waiting.

Phase Four is writing. Without this step, the other three are for naught. And by “writing” I’m not just talking about stringing words together. A big part is pre-production: mapping the beats, growing the characters, writing the outline. All of this is necessary for my process. Without them, stories either don’t get done, get done poorly, or need a lot of back and forth (which I could have prevented if I’d done the pre-production). Once that’s done, I do the writing. I don’t miss writing without an outline. It’s not more romantic, the stories and characters still have plenty of surprises, and I can lean on the pre-production when the muse doesn’t show up to work which means I can finish what I start.

Obviously, I go back through Phases Three and Four. They’re not dead ends or one-ways. Reading is an important part of the writing process. (Yet another old chestnut I ignored at my own peril.) Sure, Phase Five is probably selling books and a series or two but I’m not worried about that yet. My goal is to become a better writer. To become the writer I want to be. Once I’m there, I’ll think about getting published.

© 2010-2013 Jason L Blair except, y'know, stuff that belongs to other folks.