Or, How to Succeed in the RPG Industry while Trying Very Very Hard.
For a variety of reasons I want to look at how to succeed in this industry, as much as I know, and as much as I can pay that knowledge forward, now that I have been something of a success, in my own definition thereof (which is not everyone’s definition).
About eight years ago I was on a panel with Robin Laws and he described the four things you needed to do to become a big name in RPG design. Note it was to become a BIG name, a big success, working full time kind of deal. The less you want to do that, the less this applies. He had four principles: Be Brilliant, Be Prolific, Be Furious, and Be Professional.
Be Brilliant we can dispense with straight away. Because you can’t control it. You can work hard, read widely, push yourself, read Strunk and White but this isn’t up to you. It is a variable which determines how successful you will be but not a variable you can control.
Be Prolific is also a variable which is hard to control. It is 100% true though. RPGs, like most writing fields, is a machine that feeds on volume, and the most successful writers in the industry are always the most prolific. There are ways to modify how prolific you are: you can push things out of your life, reorganize and re-prioritize. Learn patterns and systems that help you get it done. But some people are more prolific than others. Some people WANT to be more prolific than others – it depends on what kind of writer you want to be. But there’s always going to be the Gareth Ryder-Hanranhans who write three books while raising triplets or the Rob Schwalbs. Which to say, being prolific is not something you can always control, some of it is inborn. Some of it, for me, is medical. I’m a depressive, I can only work a few hours a day before my body packs it in.
So brilliance is up to the ages and prolific is hard to control. That leaves be furious and be professional. We’ll do the former here and the latter next week.
Be furious. What does that mean? By furious, what Robin meant was be constantly working. Go for everything. Get in everyone’s face. Hustle.
Furious was one that scared me. I was not, when I heard that, a very agile writer or adaptive writer. I’m a depressive. I suffer from qualifying anxiety where I don’t do things because I don’t think I deserve to – after all, only clever writer people can write things, so why bother. Meanwhile fighting my demons would drive me crazy if I worked too hard. I had to learn that hustle has two sides, and bad hustle helps nobody. I also, as in the link above, don’t want to work on everything in the world.
Furious is also the monkey on my back, the way the demons get in. I’m a picky kind of person and I actually don’t like most games (or most anything), and that can leave you feeling isolated and a jerk normally, and out of touch when it’s your own industry. Furious is the voice that whispers you’re not good enough when you hear about something but can’t participate, and that you’re not plugged in enough when you don’t hear about it. Furious will make you sign up to write games you hate and then leave you caught between staying even though it’s crushing your soul or leaving and exposing your soul to the harsh truth of failure. Trying to be furious can literally kill you.
What’s important is to find, as with prolific, the level and style of furious that works for you. I’m a slow reader and I’m broke and I’m not interested in most games so for me, being furious is not going to mean me reading all the hot new RPGs. I can’t get out of Australia and travel is usually beyond my means so furious can’t mean getting to every event there is. I was shy as hell so I spend years teaching myself how to schmooze so I can be something like furious when events do happen.
But I have skills already in place. I’m on the net all the time, and I love to tweet. And while I’m not interested in every game, I’m interested in what people are doing, and what people like. So I can be furious by pimping people’s stuff. Linking the product to the people who want it. I can write reviews and commentary which illuminate hidden gems and their subtle strengths. I can write a blog about my gaming and my writing and finding my path in them. I can share about my struggles with mental illness and creativity online. All of these things are ways I can add to the industry and the hobby – and that, people, that’s what being furious is.
It’s also about passion. It’s about giving a damn. Not just about the hobby, but the people in it. So much of hustle is having a good heart. Tell someone you love them. Tell them you like their stuff. Hand them a coffee or give up your seat. That’s not sucking up, it’s buying in. People notice those things, and they pay into the bank. Caring about the hobby also counts. Are you the guy with every single book for a game line? Did you stay up three days straight finishing that one campaign? That’s fury too.
It can also be a clear vision. Lots of people have a game in their head but if you’ve got a game in your head you’re always running, that’s different. Even more so if you’ve written it out and self published it. Or written up a supplement or world for that game you like. One young designer told me he had a plan to be working full time by year X. That’s fury too.
It is passion. Passion, I like to say, is the only virtue that matters. Boldness counts too. Goethe said boldness has power and magic in it, and it does. That doesn’t mean build castles in the air and have unrealistic fantasies. It means coming with an attitude of can-do and will-do. Committing. Buying in. Signing on. Using your entire ass as Ron Swanson says.
As Peter Capaldi said, almost everything in life is showing up and having a good attitude. The second one is really what furious is: living that good attitude, as hard as you can. Fury will kill you if you let it, but if you find your own kind of fury, it will set you free.
But showing up? That’s the other half. That’s be professional. That’s next week.