Making Friends With Your Artistic Weaknesses

There’s a lot of stupid things said about weaknesses. Things that have a core of truth but get turned into over-applied koans of wisdom. That you can do judo on them and always turn them into strengths, that you can cling to them too tightly until they become your identity, that you must break them or transcend them or confront them or master them.

Weaknesses suck, and you can’t always master them, or deal with them, or turn them into your strengths. And you shouldn’t let yourself believe they will always be there or can’t be changed. But much more importantly, you need to make friends with them. For most of my writing life I’ve been terrified and ashamed of my weaknesses. As a young artist, I tried to look for signs that I had potential, and so would look at the lives and works of people I admired, and every time I saw something that didn’t seem to fit, something they had or did that I didn’t or couldn’t, I died inside. I knew then I didn’t have what it took.

Playtest everything they say. And I hate hate hate games that are so obviously unplaytested, because I have standards. But I have so much trouble finding playtesters. It was like pulling teeth. So much so that some of my games have come out with little or no playtesting. Then a little birdie told me the other day about a very famous RPG that had one playtest only before it came out, and I knew I wasn’t alone.

One reason I’m not great at getting playtesters is I’m actually not great at RPGing, and don’t enjoy it, so I couldn’t just run everything I wrote. And because I sucked at GMing,  it was hard to believe I could write good games. But I’m good at copying what’s around me and most RPGs follow very similar pathways. I could copy those enough for my other skills to kick in – and discovered people can’t tell that I don’t run much. I had the weakness, but I had to learn to not let it stop me.

I’m actually really good at emulating things. You give me a game and I’ll give you the expansion or the supplement. I can match the language and the style and instantly see places where the rules can be expanded, developed or squeaked into new spaces between them. But I could never design my own games from scratch. I felt weak. Everyone whose anyone has their own game right? But now I’ve got people who ask me to be game developers and advisers for them. And it’s okay that I’m not good at the core. Because people have ALSO noticed that I’m good at emulating.

I was so good at emulating that almost all my work was in pre-existing media. I wrote a Matrix RPG and a Firefly RPG and a WFRP LARP to wide and loud critical acclaim and popular appeal, and I died inside because I could never publish any of them. It killed me to feel like I had skills I couldn’t market. What a failure that would be, to have these great works I couldn’t sell (because selling is the only achievement that matters, remember). But that emulation was a gift I could use when writing for the Buffy RPG, which was where I first got published.

Originally, I was terrible at rules, or so I thought, because I couldn’t quite see all the maths in my head. But I was good enough at emulating to get through AND I found people who would help, who could check my maths for me. RPG books are split up along those lines sometimes. I wrote such good flavour text for the skaven book for WFRP we won awards. And the more I did that the more other stuff caught up. I can’t code so I thought I’d never get into computer game design but I hear their are heaps of opportunities for that stuff now. I expect if I started at other points, slowly my development skills in actual computing might kick in.

After Warhammer 2nd ed finished, I tried to be a freelancer, and worked on a whole buttload of games but quickly found out I don’t like research. I don’t. I don’t really like reading game books (or reading anything), especially long detailed settings and histories and backgrounds. I don’t like doing much other kinds of research either. Don’t tell other nerds. I’ve been shunned and shamed for this a lot. But it’s just how it is, and fuck anyone who doesn’t get that. But it meant that working on Vampire was a bad idea for me, because I only get paid by the word, and I had to spend months and months of grueling research into a setting I never really liked – which meant the pay rate wasn’t fair compensation. So I thought I was a failure at freelancing. And I kind of was, in that respect.

I almost signed up for freelance work on 7th Sea, but didn’t, because I knew I wouldn’t want to do it, but it hurt. There I was, failing again. Then along comes Shadow of the Demon Lord which is a much blanker, un-filled in world, and that, I could do. If I’d signed up for 7th Sea I’d be up to my armpits in research I hated an not able to do what I love which is building the setting myself.

And with that realisation I came back to the idea that I’ve never made a game from scratch. But if I took a core system from over THERE, skipping over that weakness, and got this person and that person to help out with THOSE bits, skipping over that weakness, I could get around my weakness for working in other people’s universes, and focus on my strengths which would be filling in the universe from scratch…which would get me to break my weakness of not having my own game.

Your weaknesses aren’t strengths. You can’t sit down in an interview or a resume and list the things you suck at. You do need to try and work to not suck at things that you may need to cover. But there are some things you aren’t going to be good at and your best strategy is to do as little of them as possible. To build your artistic path away from the things you can’t do or don’t like to do, and towards the other things, because goddammit, it doesn’t pay or give you fame, so for god’s sake, it has to be FUN. And you can’t do any of this kind of planning if your weaknesses hang around your neck like a millstone, or sit on your chest like a scarlet letter. Don’t let your weaknesses define you or control you but understand them, accept them, make friends with them. Then they you can learn from them.





2 thoughts on “Making Friends With Your Artistic Weaknesses

  1. My favorite Shadow Self scene is the Hulk in the first ‘Avengers’ movie – “That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry”.
    Its a trope in Comic books I know but it made me realise its not about extinguishing your weaknesses. Its about harnessing it, using it to your advantage when you can. Great story btw.

  2. Pingback: Security and Adventure | D-Constructions

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