January 5th, 2011

Smiley

20/10 Hindsight

Originally published at Figures of Text. Please leave any comments there.

A year ago, more or less, I got an out-of-the-blue phone call from Mongoose, informing me that my contract was being terminated. I was Mongoose’s longest-serving staff writer by far, having started way back in May of 2003. That equates to roughly five million words, by the way, the vast majority of which were delivered on deadline.

The termination came with a month’s notice and a thank-you, nothing more. Such is the lot of the freelancer.

2010 was a chaotic year. I’m still dealing with the aftermath of my mother’s death. I got married. I ran a marathon. I tried to have a kid, found out I’m very close to infertile, started on a course of IVF. Meanwhile, of course, the world decides to go into meltdown, and I watched as the government pushes the country to the brink of bankruptcy and oblivion. 2010 was almost entirely interesting times.

So, what have I learned? The emphasis here, of course, is on the ‘I’; these lessons are painfully obvious to everyone, but they’re what I need to internalise and take from the past year.

Quality, not Quantity: I was successful at Mongoose primarily because I was able to produce lots of moderate-quality material on command on almost any topic. While that’s useful, I need to aim higher. I must break myself of the mindset that the first draft has to be the final draft. When you’re producing a book a month from scratch, there’s no time for planning, editing, rewriting or anything other than getting words out as quickly as possible, but other companies don’t work like that. Not everyone is Mongoose.

Constraint is Focus: I need to relearn the skill of juggling overlapping projects instead of working on them in series, and to do it all without the pressure of monthly deadlines. I’ve taken to using pomodoro for time management, with good results on days when I can get a good run-up at work. Other days, I’m so squeezed for time that I’m forced to focus. I need to make sure that every day is one or the other, and stop wasting time on the internet.

Fail Better: Remember those five million words? I own none of them. They’re all work for hire, and most of them are written for licensed games so they’re doubly not-mine. For someone who’s allegedly prolific, I’ve written only a tiny amount for myself, and an even smaller amount for public consumption. I’m afraid of failure and obscurity, so I don’t even try. To hell with that. Write, fail, write better.

The World is Strange: It was a year when ‘low orbit ion cannons’ were in newspaper headlines, when the roleplaying industry slouched and mutated, when people talked about twitter being an essential service even as the water pipes froze and burst. The older I get, the stranger the world seems, and that is terrifying and inspiring. The lesson to draw from it is that there may be people interested in my stranger ideas, and to break out of my comfort zone. Stop retreading what worked in 2005… or, more accurately, 1982.

Learn Until It Becomes Habit: I have said and blogged these things before. Every year is next year in Jerusalem, the year I finally write that novel, write that game, change the world. So be it – if I have to repeat these assertions and plans until they are become real, then I will. What I tell you three times is true, and what I tell myself a dozen times will eventually become true.

Love is Enough: And I stood on a beach in Kerry in impossible sunshine and I married her, and that is enough. Everything else builds on that.