New Year’s 2.0: My Second Year on Twitch

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a month now, and I’d actually considered folding it into my “Representation Matters” piece at first. But then that post became what it is now and this one has kinda just… lingered. But it was still something I wanted to talk about, because it speaks almost directly to the practical effect Black Panther has had on me.

You see, prior to Black Panther, I’d honestly been struggling. I was still getting up in the morning, jotting down story ideas and writing as much as I could force myself to. I had a goal, I had a dream, and I was going to make that dream a reality. Out of sheer spite, if nothing else. I’ve had plenty of people play the role of doubter and naysayer in my life (some of whom you would think shouldn’t play that role), and before Black Panther, sometimes the only thing that could get me out of bed and working in the morning was the vindictive desire to prove them all disastrously wrong.

Full disclosure: I do still use that spiteful desire to give myself a bit of an extra boost whenever I feel I need it. 😛

Point is though, running on spite exclusively can only get you so far and it will take a considerable toll on your psyche. It pains me to admit that, speaking as someone who’s spent far more time on the Dark Side than the Light (I will never apologize for Star Wars metaphors), but it’s the truth. And it’s a truth that I hadn’t truly understood until I got a big, healthy dose of the Light in Black Panther.

Black Panther revitalized and empowered me in ways that I hadn’t thought possible, and once my mind finished reconstructing itself after that movie blasted it into a million pieces, my actual first thought was: “If T’Challa can do it, why can’t I?” Superhero theatrics aside, it was that thought that convinced me that I really could become the best possible version of myself. And since I already had a fairly clear idea of what that version of myself looked like, the only thing I had to do was actually do it!

This is the thought process that’s led to the recent changes & adjustments I’ve been making to both my writing workflow and my Twitch streaming, both of which have revolved around the general concept of embracing who I am and running with it, rather than trying suppress it so I can chase a particular trend. And while this has always been easy for me to do with my writing, it has been enormously challenging to do with my streaming.

This is where my New Year’s 2.0 thing comes into play.

You see, my one year anniversary as a streamer was February 24th, about a week after Black Panther came out. And once the celebration stream was over, I realized this was kind of the perfect chance to re-examine what I was really doing as “TheGamingAuthor”, and what I both wanted and needed to do as TheGamingAuthor not only to achieve my goals, but to make sure I didn’t burn myself out in the process. It may not have been the start of a new calendar year, but at least in a way, it was the start of a new year on Twitch. And after a further few weeks of thinking, organizing, and planning, I finally have a new, two-part game plan to go along with the new year.

So here it is:

Part One – You Are TheGamingAUTHOR, Write Like It! Calling myself “TheGamingAuthor” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if I’m not actually writing, and since my morning writing time almost invariably bled into and delayed my streaming time way back when (a situation I found unacceptable), I realized that the only viable solution to this problem was to bring back the writing segments of my stream!

Now, this is not to say that I’ll be writing everything live on Twitch all the time. There are plenty of elements to my creative process that I feel are still done best behind the curtain. The world building, character building, and plotting out the story itself (what I call “Pre-production”, to borrow a filmmaking term), are all things that I do best in isolation. Usually in the wee, dark hours of the morning where most of the rest of the world is still asleep, and I can think clearly in true peace and quiet.

This is also generally true of the “Post-Production” phase, to borrow another filmmaking term. The part of the process where I and/or an editor go through a manuscript with a fine-toothed comb to pick out any errors and inconsistencies so we can turn the raw draft into a proper, bright and shiny new book.

However, as a chronic over-thinker who’s chronic over-thinking has resulted in him deeply struggling to ever finish a draft in the first place, I’ve found that doing the actual writing part of the job (the “Production” phase, if you will) live on stream has been a fantastic method of keeping myself accountable. It forces me to think less and write more, and that is a very good thing for me in terms of getting that all-important first draft actually done.

So what does this mean going forward? It means that for the foreseeable future, whenever I’m in the drafting stage of a particular writing project, I’ll be starting my streams by writing a bare minimum of 500 words on whatever that project may be. Once that word goal has been hit and/or the creative flow has ebbed, my streams will transition over to the “Gaming” part of my name.

Speaking of which…

Part Two – Embrace the Variety: In news that will surprise precisely no one, half the reason I chose “TheGamingAuthor” as my Twitch name is because playing video games is one of my most favorite things to do, second only to writing. However, I’m not the kind of gamer who can spend endless hours in competitive multiplayer environments day in and day out, much as I do enjoy certain games in that venue (I miss you, Battlefield 4). At the end of the day, I’m the kind of gamer who feels the most joy when playing single-player games. Be they narratively-driven open-world adventures like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, style-oriented beat-em-ups like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, hardcore role-playing games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Final Fantasy X, or any weird and lovable hybrid of the three!

Now, while this is all fine and dandy in isolation, on Twitch it presents a challenge in that it means you’re constantly drifting through different directories with different audiences who hold different expectations. This is the big reason why I’ve talked so much about finding a kind of “home game”; a game the stream always comes back to between the various story-based adventures. Trouble is, the kinds of games best suited for that are the kinds of games I don’t enjoy enough to play them that consistently, despite my best efforts to do so anyway.

So, I’ve finally decided to Hell with it! If I’m going to put my best foot forward as a streamer, I need to play the games that I truly do enjoy playing and embrace the variety rather than try to suppress it and stress myself to the point of burnout in the process! To further this end, I thought it would be helpful for all parties to list out the numerous games I’ll be playing on Twitch over the rest of the year!

And head’s up. It’s a long list.

  1. Horizon: Zero Dawn (In Progress)
  2. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
  3. God of War
  4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  5. Detroit: Become Human
  6. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  7. Jurassic World: Evolution
  8. Middle-earth: Shadow of War
  9. Life is Strange
  10. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  11. Life is Strange: Before the Storm
  12. Tomb Raider
  13. Vampyr
  14. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  15. The Walking Dead
  16. Final Fantasy X
  17. The Walking Dead: Season 2
  18. Final Fantasy X-2
  19. Dishonored
  20. Watch Dogs 2
  21. Dishonored 2

This is what the future holds for The Writer’s Room in terms of gaming content, and while many of the games on this list are on the older side in terms of gaming years, I am still incredibly excited by the thought of finally getting to play through them. 😊

So yeah, that’s all I’ve got for ya today and if I don’t step away from this keyboard right now, I fear my stomach is going to digest itself. You all take care, and I’ll see ya on the next post.

Or, if you can’t wait that long since I’m a notoriously infrequent poster, feel free to swing by The Writer’s Room & hang out for a bit. We’re playing more Horizon: Zero Dawn today (3/29/2018)! 😉 https://www.twitch.tv/thegamingauthor

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The Power of Representation: Luke Cage, Black Panther, & My Life as a Black Nerd in America

“Representation matters”.

These are two words that we all have been hearing a lot lately, and I can imagine that some of you reading this may at this point be kinda sick of it. I can imagine that to you, it sounds like a bit of a broken record. And that’s why I’m writing this blog post today. Yes, if you’re reading this post and are renting a cabin at Camp Sickofhearingthisbrokenrecord, I am writing this blog post more or less for you. Because I don’t want to tell you that representation matters.

I want to help you understand why representation matters.

So let’s start with the basics. I’m black. Technically speaking, I’m bi-racial (white mom, black dad), but I think we can all agree for the purposes of this discussion that this technicality doesn’t really count for anything. At the end of the day, I look much more like T’Challa and Luke Cage than I do Peter Parker or Tony Stark, and because I live in the United States, that’s not something I am allowed or even able to forget. Especially in a post-Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Philando Castile (and so many others) world.

I list all of these names because they are all of vital importance to my life, and here’s why.

I grew up in an overwhelmingly white, upper-middle class neighborhood. One where almost everyone I saw and interacted with on a daily basis was white, only two other students in my entire school were black, and history class taught us all that racism and discrimination died upon passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This status quo was further reinforced by virtually all of the media I consumed. With the exception of Blade and Will Smith movies, throughout all of the movies, video games, books, and cartoons I enjoyed, literally every hero and protagonist I connected to, identified with, and aspired to be like was white.

Let me repeat that last bit, because I feel like it is the single-most critical piece of information here: As a black child growing up in America, literally every fictional character I loved and drew inspiration from did not look like me. Sure, Blade and Will Smith were cool and all, but their stories weren’t the ones I turned to for refuge when the world grew dark, cold, and hostile. Those stories belonged to the Harry Potters, the Spider-Mans, the Batmans, and the Luke Skywalkers of the world. Theirs were the stories that became not only my most cherished escapes from an… unpleasant childhood, they were also my greatest sources of hope and inspiration to keep fighting through my darkness and not give in to my growing rage and despair.

For twenty-three years, I couldn’t even begin to conceive of how the whiteness of all my childhood heroes could possibly be a problem. After all, my mom was white, all of my friends were white and besides, racism was dead anyway, right? It had been dead for more than 40 years!

Then Trayvon Martin was killed, and I had to watch in abject horror as so many more unarmed men and women who looked just like both of us followed in a grisly trend. And each time a new name was added to that list, I would see their face reflected in mine every time I looked in the mirror. For years, all I saw in my own reflection was the threat of death and injustice, of agony and grief for the people I love should my name ever be added to that list.

This was how I finally realized what it truly meant to be black in America, after being raised my entire life to believe that racism was a long dead-and-buried thing of the past, and being sheltered from the fact that it was not. And absolutely none of the heroes in the movies, books, and TV shows I’d relied on to get me through every other nightmare life had thrown at me could free me from this one. Because Peter Parker would never have to worry about a neighborhood watchman accosting him for being “suspicious” for walking home with a bag of Skittles at night. Bruce Wayne would never have to worry about getting dragged to the ground and choked to death because he was selling individual cigarettes on the sidewalk. And Harry Potter would never have to worry about getting shot dead by police within twelve seconds of them arriving on scene after being told he was playing with a toy gun in a park.

I don’t think I will ever be able to properly convey in words the effect these realizations had on me. I felt betrayed, like I’d been lied to my entire life, and that I’d had some final piece of my hope and innocence stolen from me. Over the course of perhaps two or three years, I grew to feel astonishingly disempowered. My heroes were no longer my heroes. Not really. Not in the same way they used to. How could they be? When the Avengers went home after fighting off an alien army, they didn’t have to worry about the same cops they just risked their lives to save shooting them dead because the color of their skin branded them a potential threat. But if I was an Avenger in that scenario, I would have to worry about that, and so what would be the point of becoming an Avenger in the first place? Why be a hero, why try to excel at anything at all if society is just going to label you a thug anyway?

I couldn’t find an answer to that question.

And so my last little flicker of hope went out.

But then on September 30th, 2016, something changed.

Marvel Studios released Luke Cage on Netflix; a superhero show about a bulletproof black man who walks around in a hoodie and uses his superhuman strength and durability to protect his neighborhood from both gangsters and the corrupt politicians who would exploit it. Before watching that show, I’d had no idea how badly I’d needed one like it. I had no idea just how desperate I was for even one story that featured a black superhero facing the same kinds of cruelty and injustice that I was still coming to terms with in the real world. Sure, Luke Cage wasn’t a superhero that would’ve appealed to me ten years ago, but now? Now spending 13 hours watching a bulletproof black man walking, talking, and fighting to overcome our specific adversity all while wearing a dark hoodie ranks as one of the most powerful media-related experiences I’ve ever had. One that sent a renewed spark of hope through my chest and made me start thinking there just might be hope for the world, and our future in it as people of color, after all.

And that was when I got truly excited for Black Panther.

Now, to be clear, I’d been aware of Black Panther as a character for some time. I knew his history, I knew his powers, I knew about Wakanda, the whole shebang. I even got my hands on a couple Black Panther comics at one point. And I loved it all! Perhaps my favorite moment in these comics was when, as part of a flashback, Black Panther kicks the stuffing out of Captain America; supposedly the best hand-to-hand fighter in the entire Marvel-verse! Problem was though, Marvel (and DC) comics on the whole have never really appealed to me. I wasn’t raised with them, and as I grew older, they always seemed like this gargantuan monolith of impenetrable complexity, rife with retcons and contradictions, and devoid of any meaningful consistency. This is why, as much as I enjoy the (very) few Black Panther comics I have, I still longed to see T’Challa and his world adapted into a storytelling medium that I could more easily immerse myself in.

This is why I was both supremely excited and just a little underwhelmed by his live-action debut in Captain America: Civil War. Even though he was played to perfection by Chadwick Boseman and his super-suit was so much cooler than it was in the comics, his actual fights with Captain America were disappointing, and we didn’t get to see any of the really cool stuff that separates Black Panther and Wakanda from the rest of the rather crowded superhero pack. So while I left the theater absolutely loving Captain America: Civil War as a whole, a part of me couldn’t help but feel a little let down by the fact that one of the coolest superheroes I’d ever known about got so little time to really shine.

But then last month, nearly two years after his cinematic introduction in Civil War, Black Panther’s solo film was released and HOLY GODS WAS I NOT PREPARED FOR IT!!!

I cried four times the night I saw Black Panther. I cried for the fact that for the first time in my life, I saw a major Hollywood blockbuster full of people that looked like me where absolutely none of them were playing to a stereotype. I cried for the fact that I’d just watched a major Hollywood blockbuster give life to a glorious Afrofuturistic culture where a young black scientist can both be a woman and create technologies decades more advanced than anyone else in the world. I cried for the fact that a major Hollywood blockbuster portrayed a black man as not only a powerful and principled superhero, but as the wise and compassionate king of his own powerful country.

But more than anything, I cried for the fact that there is now entire generation of young black kids who will never have to know what it was like to grow up in a world without characters like this. Where the superheroes worshiped by mainstream society don’t look like them. Because now, at least one of them does, and that one has more money than Batman, more advanced technology than Iron Man, is a better fighter than Captain America, and has more political power than all of them combined.

For me, all of these things make Black Panther the perfect black superhero, and the fact that I now get to live in a world where he exists not as an obscure, C-list comic book character, but as an A-list fixture in mainstream pop culture with the highest grossing solo-superhero film of all time?! I could never have imagined that becoming a reality before, and now that it has, the parts of me that had died with Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and Philando Castile have all started coming back to life.

This is why representation matters. Because this is the effect that it can have when you see yourself reflected as a genius scientist, a powerful superhero, a loyal general, or a charming undercover operative, rather than a stereotypical “thug”, gangster, or drug dealer. Even as a 28-year-old black man who had already made his peace with the reality of being black in America, it can still open your eyes, and your heart more importantly, to doors of possibility you thought were closed to you.

It can teach or remind you that you are allowed to be more than the stereotypes of a previous generation, and that your life does matter.

#WakandaForever!

My True Fear

2018 has been a strangely illuminating year thus far. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that.

Towards the tail end of 2017, I thought I’d had everything figured out. I knew exactly what I was doing both on the writing front and on the streaming front, and I deliberately ignored the voice in my head that had begun to tell me that things were not going to go according to plan. It whispered its warnings and I would shout my denials in response. As we all know however, denying reality doesn’t change reality, and only ensures that reality will smack you in the face that much harder when it inevitably does so.

Which has kind of been the story of my last week, truth be told.

The first reality smack I had to deal with came from the Twitch streaming side of my life; when I finally had to face the fact that Destiny 2 was not going to be the kind of “home base” game that I was hoping it would be. I’ve known for a while now that I couldn’t be anything other than a variety broadcaster (that is to say, a broadcaster who streams multiple different games), but I still wanted to have that one game I could call home. A single game that could form the foundation of my channel and while I still went out and explored more linear, story-driven games like The Last of Us. Unfortunately, Destiny 2 eventually proved to be wholly incapable of filling this role, and my entire plan for Twitch went up in flames along with it.

The second reality smack hit the writing side of my life, and is so recent that my cheek still stings. I’d thought (as my previous blog post no doubt demonstrates) that I had finally figured out what it was that was preventing me from moving forward with my various writing projects. That this deep-rooted, semi-conscious fear of The Demon was the one and only thing that kept sabotaging my efforts to finally finish a book and get it out into the world. Based on this “knowledge” I charged headfirst back into writing this infernal project and paid no heed to the whispers in my brain telling me that The Demon wasn’t ready for this yet. Yet again, my instincts were warning me that this was a bad idea, that I needed to give The Demon 2.0 more time to settle and adjust to the dramatic new direction I had taken the story. So of course I ignored these warnings, and crashed straight into a brick wall after little more than a week.

This impact finally got me wondering “Okay, what is actually going wrong here?” Because it’s clear that something was, and yet I couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was. I was more motivated than I can ever remember being before, I’ve gained enough small successes as a Twitch streamer to have real confidence that I’m on the right track with it, so seriously… what is actually going wrong with me here?

That question bounced from one corner of my mind to another for a good few days, and I couldn’t figure out an answer to it until I caught the latest episode of ProfessorBroman’s (a fellow Twitch streamer) “Ask Broman” podcast. In it, Broman expresses the thought that people who have a chip on their shoulder tend to be more successful than those without, because that chip gives them that little extra bit of drive to not just be successful, but prove all their naysayers wrong. Now, as someone with a pretty significant chip on his own shoulder, this wasn’t an entirely new thought for me. But to hear it come from someone else? To hear someone who has already achieved the level of success that I aspire to? For some reason, that’s what allowed it to really sink into my brain and light up a thought-bulb that had only ever flickered before.

You see, I don’t think it’s The Demon 2.0 and all the memories that come with it that I’m afraid of.

I think what I’m really afraid of is success.

I think what I’m really afraid of is my dreams coming true in a way that I simply cannot dismiss or ignore.

I think what I am truly, deep-down terrified of is that if I actually do succeed, if I do actually manage to build a life-supporting career out of being an author and a Twitch streamer, I’ll lose that chip on my shoulder and no longer have the same drive or passion that I used to achieve that success.

And what tells me this fear is real is that I can’t talk my way out of it. I can’t come up with some kind of rational, step-by-step plan to overcome it and move on. It’s the kind of fear that sucks the air from your lungs and steals the warmth from your blood, leaving you to suffocate alone in the freezing night. It’s ever-present, inescapable, and will drown you in despair if you give it even the hair’s breadth of a chance.

And I’ve been giving it a lot more than that for years.

I don’t know what this means for my New Year’s Resolution to free myself from fear, because this fear doesn’t live in my head. This fear lives in my soul, and has lived their for so long that I don’t know if I can exorcise it. What I do know is that my journey is no longer about using the chip on my shoulder to prove “them” wrong. It’s now about using that chip on my shoulder to prove myself wrong. I need to prove to myself that losing my shoulder-chip will not rob me of the drive and passion that’s kept my head above water, and there’s only one way that I know to do that.

Keep. Writing.

I’ve already gone back and taken a second look at The Wolf, and you know what? I’m honestly surprised by how well it held up to my “own-worst-critic” gaze. That by itself has given me a much needed boost to my self-confidence as a writer, and has confirmed for me that my first step towards overcoming this fear of mine is finishing and publishing The Wolf. It won’t be the first brick I lay down in this career construction project of mine, but I feel like it’ll be the most important.

Until next time. 😉

Freeing Myself From Fear: My 2018 Resolution

I spent six hours writing a whole different draft of this blog post that wound up coming out as something akin to a horror movie; dark, threatening, and with almost zero light at the end of the tunnel.

Not exactly the kind of tone you want to set for a brand new year, is it?

But in taking my fingers off the keyboard and eating some lunch while a few episodes of The West Wing played on Netflix, I realized that the reason the previous draft of this post came out like a horror movie was because I’d lost focus on the real reason I was writing it in the first place.

My one, solitary New Year’s resolution.

To free myself from fear.

Now, obviously I could go on about how fear is an innate, biological response to certain stimuli, but I think that’s a bit too literal a take for the purposes of this post. After all, I’m a writer, and where’s the fun in writing if you don’t get to indulge in a free few moments of theatricality? That said, all kidding aside of course, I think this could be the most important new year’s resolution I’ve ever set for myself. Because looking back on my life, especially in the wake of my 2017, I have been an incredibly fear-driven person. There are so many things I wish I could’ve gone back and done differently, now that I have a much higher level of self-confidence than I did way back when. And even today, here now in these present times, I still find myself doing or not doing certain things because I’m afraid of what could happen. I’ve been afraid of getting hurt, I’ve been afraid of losing something dear to me, I’ve even been afraid of being afraid in some instances. And in each and every one of these cases, these fears have stopped me from doing something that hindsight has told me unequivocally I should’ve done.

So for 2018, I say no more. I say not again, and I say never again.

Because the thing that 2017 has shown me, repeatedly and with startling clarity, is that the big and exciting changes that I’m sure we all hope for in our own ways? They don’t happen if we let ourselves be cowed by our own fears into the same old dreary routines that we so desperately seek to break out of.

For the longest time (far too long in the eyes of most, probably even myself if you pushed me to it), I didn’t get a normal 9 – 5 job because I was afraid that it would mark me a failure, and because I was afraid I’d fail at it. I was afraid of dealing with people on regular basis, I was afraid of screwing it up and letting people down, and I was afraid of getting fired because I screwed up and let people down. But then in July of 2016, I found something that mattered more to me than not being a failure. I found something that mattered so much to me that I was willing to risk failure (my actual greatest fear) in order to make something happen.

I found GuardianCon, and the Destiny Twitch community that made it possible.

So I got my first job.

I got my first job and I used it to pay for my cross-country trip to GuardianCon 2017. That was the first time I’d ever booked, bought, and went on any kind of trip completely by myself, and that in and of itself was a whole series of fears that I had to face. But you know what? I faced them. I faced them, I overcame them, and I had a truly life-changing experience because of it. One that I am still feeling the ripple effects of all these months later.

Which brings me back to my New Year’s Resolution.

To free myself from fear.

There is a very specific person I have to thank for this. Someone that I’ve met through Twitch who continues to be a surprising source of inspiration to me. Not just as a streamer, but also as a person. Because this resolution is actually the result of a conversation that I had with them months ago about fearlessness and not getting what you don’t ask for. It was a conversation that wandered back into my head yesterday morning as I was out for my morning walk, trying to figure out just what the hell I was going to do with all the different writing problems and projects I had rattling around in my head. I was honestly starting to freak out a little over it all, and then in walks this memory, almost out of the blue. So I start thinking about it and as I’m starting to think about it, I begin to realize that there was actually something there. I could feel it, like this subtle tugging at my heart, as if something’s trying to pull me towards this specific direction. So I went back to the conversation and staring turning it over, pulling apart the various lines and exchanges, and looking under just about every other word and letter, trying to find the answer to a question I couldn’t quite remember asking.

And then I found it.

I was afraid.

I was still afraid.

I was still afraid of the one thing that I kept telling myself I was almost ready for.

“Just one more book,” I would say. “Just this one or two, or maybe three more books, and then you’ll finally be ready to tackle the big one.”

My heart felt like it cracked under the weight of this realization.

All this time, all this planning, all this work… and it was all because I was still trying to run away from the one book that I told everyone means more to me than just about anything else.

The Demon.

This book, this story… quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me. Because that’s just it, The Demon is Hell. My Hell. It is the fictional distillation of the Hell that I’ve spent the last thirteen years of my life trying to crawl out of, and every time I’ve tried to write it in the past, I’ve felt the remnants of that Hell boil back to life in my soul. Because to write The Demon is to travel back to that Hell. To write The Demon is to stand on the edge of that abyssal pit and look back down, to feel the infernal heat of it burning through my flesh and to see the monsters writhing within the flames, screaming and screeching that my true place in the world is back down there with them.

So I run away. I run as far and as fast as my mental and emotional legs will carry me, paying no heed to the fact that there’s still a great, big, gaping hole back there that leads straight into the depths of Hell. And even from a distance, the gleeful, taunting shrieks of the beasts that live within it echo through the breeze. In the moments where I hear those echoes, I know the only way to silence them for good is to travel right back to the edge of that pit and face them down once and for all. To accept all of the pain and grief they’ve inflicted on me and use that acceptance to break the final chain of theirs that’s still wrapped around my heart.

And yet, as ever, it’s the fear of failure that stops me.

What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s not enough? What if they do actually convince me this time that it’ll be better for everyone if I just jump right back into their pit and get this whole charade over with? These questions and all their myriad permutations are what fly through my mind every time I try to sit down and seriously think about writing The Demon, and every time those questions have the same answer: “Eh, don’t worry about it. We’ll think of something else. There’s always a different story you could write to try and launch your career as an author.”

Except that this isn’t just about my career as an author, and that answer is rotted to the core with fear. Fear of failure, fear of pain, but most importantly, fear of my own past. Fear that if I look too far back for too long, my past will somehow consume my present and ruin my future. Which might sound like a not-unreasonable fear, were it not for the fact that this fear itself is a child of that past and listening to it now really will be my past consuming my present, and potentially ruining my future.

And so to this I say no more. I say not again, and I say never again.

I say that 2018 will be the year that I free myself from this fear.

I say that 2018 will be the year that I finally finish The Demon.

 

Happy New Year, everybody. 😊

Thirteen Years

(Author’s Note: I received the email from Twitch inviting me into the Affiliate Program three days ago as of this posting, on Nov. 13th, 2017, and I have been wavering on the verge of tears ever since. I wrote the following blog post at 3AM the next morning, and while it will hopefully explain 90% of the reason why, there remains a critical 10% that did not get included. A 10% that I haven’t the heart or emotional energy required to go back and edit in. As such, I will lay it out plainly here.

As a child, a powerfully influential person in my life taught me to believe that I would never achieve my dreams. That the odds were stacked impossibly high against me, and that I was too weak/stupid/whatever to overcome them. This was a belief that became rooted in the very core of who I was, and whose poisonous tentacles wrapped themselves around every single neuron in my brain; infecting my thoughts and twisting my emotions.

I say in the post below that I don’t know why I’ve kept fighting so hard for so long, but that is no longer true. I now know exactly why I’ve done so. I have fought so hard for so long because I simply could not live in a world where this person was right about me. In every sense of the word, I needed to prove them wrong. Not for them, and not for anyone else in my life. I needed to prove them wrong for me, and thanks to all of the love and support each and every one of you have shown, for the first time in my life, I finally feel like I have.

Thank you.)


Thirteen years. A decade plus three.

That’s how long I’ve been trying to make even some semblance of a career out of my passions. That’s how long I’ve been pouring everything I’ve ever had into making that dream a reality. Sometimes I would be sprinting forward with reckless abandon, leaping into the sky and flying high on wings of purest hope and joy. But other times, most times, I would be crawling broken and bloody through the mud; snarling and grimacing as the demons that had followed me out of my own, personal Hell clawed at my heart and stabbed pitchforks into my mind. They whispered of doubt and death and failure, and on more than one occasion, they came very close to dragging me back down into the abyssal pits of darkness and despair I’d fought so hard to climb out of.

For thirteen years, I have fought those battles.

For thirteen years, I have waged this war.

And for thirteen years, I have refused to give up.

To this day, I don’t know whether it’s been stubbornness or insanity that’s kept me going. Most of the time it feels like it’s been at least a little bit of both. After all, what possible logic or sanity could there be in persisting for so long in a conflict without a single, demonstrable victory? What rhyme or reason could there be in continuing to fight with nothing but heartbreaking defeats and soul-crushing stalemates to your name?

I don’t know.

But I kept fighting anyway.

I kept fighting because at the end of the day, of every day, it felt like the only thing that I was actually good at. Writing was my weapon. My words became my swords and my shields, and even with every battle lost, I could still feel myself getting better, faster, and stronger.

‘The next one,’ I told myself. ‘The next one will be the battle that I finally win!’

And so it was that I would pick myself up off the dirt, no matter how badly I’d been beaten down into it, and charge headfirst back into the fight.

For thirteen years, this pattern played out.

Fight, Lose, Get up.

Fight, Lose, Get up.

Fight. Lose. Get up.

Fight.

Lose.

Get…

Back…

Up!

My calendars rolled through birthday after birthday; from fifteen, through sixteen, through eighteen, all the way up through the most recent one of twenty-eight.

Fight, Lose, Get up.

The drumbeat pattern of my life continued. Became a constant. Became the single point of reference I would use to judge all future successes and failures by.

Fight, Lose, Get up.

Fight, Lose, Get up.

Fight.

Lose.

Get the f*** back up!

To say that anger never became a factor in all this would be to lie. Anger very much became a factor. Indeed there were days where the only thing that would actually get me back on my feet was the pure, unfettered rage I would feel at the thought of my demons finally overcoming me. That thought felt worse to me than just about anything else and so I would channel this fury, use it to reforge my word-swords and fly myself back into the fight.

For thirteen years, this pattern would be the single-most defining feature of my life, the axis upon which everything else would spin.

Fight. Lose. Get back up.

It got to the point where the thought of actual victory became little more than a pipe dream; a comforting fantasy I would let myself indulge in to numb the sting of fresh defeats. The battle was all I had, all I really needed. The war had become a waltz, and all I wanted to do was just keep on dancing it.

And that’s where it finally happened.

Out of what still feels like absolutely nowhere, I won a decisive, indisputable victory.

At 1:31 PM yesterday, I was invited to join the Twitch Affiliate Program.

To be perfectly honest, it still doesn’t feel real. After thirteen years of fighting, losing, and getting back up, my mind has been conditioned to reject this as reality. My brain has been trained to believe that this just another impossible fever-dream that I will soon wake up from.

And yet… I know that it’s not.

I know that it’s not because despite how it feels, this did not come out of nowhere. This is in actuality just another impossible event in the string of impossibilities that feels like it’s been happening to me since the first day of TwitchCon. I don’t have any words for this. All I know is that for the first time in my entire life, I finally feel a sense of true victory and accomplishment.

For thirteen years I have fought, I have lost, and I have gotten back up to fight again to make even part of my dreams a reality.

And yesterday, finally, after all that time and pain and effort, I’ve won.

Even if it was just this battle and not the whole war…

For the first time in thirteen years…

I’ve won.

Sailing Off the Edge of the Map

“You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be monsters!”

This is a line from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, said by Captain Barbossa to Jack Sparrow at the beginning of their duel during the film’s climax. It’s a line that’s been playing through my mind for the better part of the last month or so, any time I stop to think about the reality of what I’m doing as both a writer and a Twitch streamer. Because I know there are people who have achieved success from nothing through writing, and I know people who have gone from nothing to success on Twitch. In both cases, there’s a fairly solid blueprint to build from; a fairly detailed map you can follow that will generally lead you towards success, provided you have the right combination of skill and good fortune.

In my case however, I don’t feel like I have that map. Not anymore anyway. Because while I’ve heard all the stories of authors coming up from nothing to the heights of the New York Times Bestseller’s List, and I’ve even watched as people on Twitch have gone from streaming on the couch with their dog to grasping the Holy Grail known as Twitch Partnership, I haven’t heard even a single whisper of someone who’s managed to do both. Let alone do both simultaneously.

Which is, of course, what I’m trying to do.

Feel free to call me crazy. I’ve been calling myself crazy just about every day for the last four months or so; ever since I truly committed to becoming TheGamingAuthor at GuardianCon back in July. That was the first time that I realized I would be sailing off the edge of the map to pursue this dream, and in the intervening four months, the edge of that map has only gotten further and further behind me. It’s a state of affairs so intimidating, filled with so many unknowns, that it’s almost enough to send me screaming back to the safety of dry land and never again deviate from the trail that so many others have blazed before.

Almost enough.

Because there’s another line that’s been rattling around in my head for the last few days. One whose sentiment pre-dates Pirates of the Caribbean by an amount of time I couldn’t even begin to guess at.

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

To give this one proper context, we’re gonna have to wind our clocks back a bit. All the way back to March of this year, if you can believe it. Because that’s when a fellow Twitch streamer talked me in to going to TwitchCon; the massive annual convention put on by Twitch itself. Now, at the time, I was just starting out as a streamer and had no idea what a fry as small as myself would do in a pool filled with all of the absolute biggest fish in the Twitch Ocean, but I also very much enjoyed talking with this fellow streamer and wasn’t about to pass up the chance to meet her face-to-face. So even though I was still saving money up from my cross-country trip to GuardianCon, I also started saving up even more money to attend TwitchCon a few months later in October.

And attend I did.

I’ll set aside my stories of meeting the streamer who talked me into it, as well as all the other streamers I’d come to know in the interim, and simply describe my experience like this: If GuardianCon felt like a gigantic family reunion, then TwitchCon felt like an amazing corporate bonding retreat. One that only further cemented my commitment to figuring out a way to marry the author half of me with the streamer half, and become TheGamingAuthor in full.

This was only two weeks ago, and once again I realized that I am sailing way off the edge of the map. But this time, thoughts of steering this ship around and returning to safe harbor never really occurred to me. They never really occurred to me because attending TwitchCon showed me that while I may be sailing my own ship and plotting my own course, I am not alone. The people that I have met on this journey, both at GuardianCon and especially at TwitchCon, have been without doubt or exception the kindest, warmest, and most welcoming and supportive group people that I have ever met.

I’m off the edge of the map, but there have been no monsters here.

And all of this brings us to Saturday, October 28th 2017.

I’ve been back home from TwitchCon for all of two days, and one of the biggest streamers I follow is kicking off his broadcast that day with an hour-long Q&A session for and with small/beginner streamers about the basics of streaming and other related topics. I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to line up to ask the one question I could come up with, and eventually just said “Meh, what the hell?” and got in line. Long story short? What I thought would be a five-minute answer turned into a fifteen-minute interview about why I chose TheGamingAuthor as my username and how I’m trying to integrate my writing with my streaming.

To say that this was unexpected is just a little bit of an understatement, but the boost that it’s given to both my writing and my streaming has been tremendous. It’s given me what feels like the final piece of the puzzle, the final variable that I needed to solve this GamingAuthor equation, and the support that people have been showing for it in the week since that interview has been so much greater than I expected. To the point that the three-day weekend I gave myself this weekend has been a surprising shade of unpleasant. While I was able to overcome that on Saturday by binge-watching all Stranger Things: Season 2 (which is AMAZING, by the way!), I was much less successful at that yesterday. All I’ve wanted to do this weekend was keep writing, and keep streaming that writing under Twitch’s “Creative” directory, and not doing that has been a miserable experience.

Because while I may be sailing far beyond the edge of the map, doing so has finally let me find a job that I truly love, and it doesn’t feel like work at all.

My name is Zachery Richardson, and I am TheGamingAuthor.

Unleashing the Horsemen: Taming of The Wolf – Part 7

To say that the author half of my “GamingAuthor” equation has been a grind this week would be an understatement, though you wouldn’t know it just by looking at the numbers. If I averaged it all out, I was writing about at least thousand words a day, even on days where I was streaming and had to split my writing sessions in two. That was something that I’d tried to do before while I was still working at my local grocery store, and I’d failed at it pretty completely. So the fact that I was able to succeed at it this week is not an insignificant accomplishment for me, and it’ll definitely be something I try to maintain going forward.

However, this also starts to touch on one of the two big reasons why writing turned into such a grind for me this week. That reason being that I was just having a great week on Twitch. I picked up a new game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, to satisfy my craving for a fresh and exciting RPG experience, and boy oh boy did that game live up to all the hype. I’ve sunk nearly 20 hours into it already and have barely scratched the surface of all it has on offer. On top of that, I saw more than a few familiar names in chat while I was streaming it, and that’s always a special kind of gratifying. It’s the thing that makes Twitch streaming such great fun; getting to hang out and talk to people from all over the world in real-time while you collectively share in your enjoyment of video games.

So I’m sure you can imagine how going from that to the cloistered, solitary practice of writing a book was a… less than exciting process.

In addition to some personal life-type stresses, the simple fact of the matter was that pretty much all I could think about on Friday, Saturday, and yesterday was how much I wanted to be streaming again on those days. Sure, they were my days off from Twitch and sure, I had a book that I needed to finish, but what could it really hurt? I could always pick the book back up once I got the streaming bug out of my system. The thing is though, I know that thought process, and I know all too well what kind of trap it really is. It’s the trap that sucks you into procrastination, the trap that leaves half finished manuscripts collecting dust in your computer’s digital drawers, and convinces you insidiously that whatever plans you have can always wait just one more day.

Needless to say, I would have none of that.

I kept my nose to the grindstone and my fingers to the keyboard in spite of how violently my mind was rebelling against me at times. I kept telling myself, over and over again ad nauseam, that all I had to do was write one more word, one more line, one more sentence. I reminded myself of the cartoon I’d once seen of two men digging for diamonds. One is further back than the other, but charging full-steam ahead, all systems go. The other is turning back after giving up, crestfallen and exhausted, even though he’s just a hair’s breadth away from breaking through to this massive cache of diamonds! I refused to let that be me, and so even though I actually hated the thought of trying and failing to write for even one more second yesterday, I forced myself to keep going.

And you know what? It paid off.

By making myself power through, I was eventually able to drag myself to a point where the words started flowing again. They may not have been flowing in a direction that I originally wanted them to, and I may have resented them for taking the story off of what I felt was the right track, but that wasn’t the part that mattered. The part that mattered was that I was writing, I was getting the story out of my head and down on to paper, and if this new direction truly didn’t work out, I could always go back and change it later.

Because of this, by the time I was done yesterday, I’d written nearly 1,500 words and finished yet another chapter.

I’d say that’s a pretty solid accomplishment for a day where writing The Wolf was the literal last thing I wanted to do, and it’s kinda confirmed something that I’ve been kicking around in my head for most of the week. When I was still working my grocery job, I set a daily writing goal of 500 words. Not a huge number, but something that I felt was legitimately doable even on what amounted to ten-hour workdays. Now, I turned out to be wrong on that account, but it brings me back to perhaps the most important thing I learned about myself from that job.

I can push myself pretty crazy far if I set my mind to it.

So that’s why in the wake of this week, I’m setting myself a new writing goal: 1,000 words a day, even on days that I’m streaming. If I can maintain that pace, that’s essentially one complete draft of a novel every two to three months. Now, this doesn’t take into account all the pre-production work that goes into a novel like character building and plot development, but as far as the Horsemen are concerned, this pace could allow a blistering rate of completion. Which would be great, considering how my plans for these books have shifted a bit lately.

In any case, that’s been the story of my life this week. It’s been about as smooth and pleasurable as a sandpaper massage, but all that really matters is that I got through it, and there’s about 7,000 new words making themselves a home in the manuscript I call The Wolf.

See you all next week. 🙂

Werewolves, New Artwork, & War, Oh My!

For those of you who follow my blog for my writing alone, consider this Part 6 of “Unleashing the Horsemen: Taming of The Wolf”. I actually tried writing an isolated version of that blog post yesterday, but honestly? So much had gone on over the last week that I just had too much on my mind that I wanted to talk about for it to work. So, here we are today.

I suppose then that the first thing I should address is The Wolf, and whether or not I jinxed myself by crowing about my progress last week. Short answer? I actually didn’t. My pace has fairly consistently leveled out to almost 2,000 words a day when I sit down and commit to the keyboard. Which hasn’t been every day, mind you. Truth be told, it hasn’t even been most days. One of my uncles passed away last week and those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that it knocked me off my game in a very bad way. I was depressed, I was viciously angry, and the last thing I wanted to do was write a happily-ever-after story about reunions with a long lost love. In fact, I almost went back to working on The Demon just so I could have a proper outlet for all the rage I was feeling.

But I didn’t. I stuck with The Wolf and just hunkered down for a few days to ride out the storm. And when the worst of the storm had passed, I wrote all the things. In just two writing sessions, I cranked out nearly 7,000 words, with probably close to another 1,000 added today. At least if we count the complete re-write of Chapter 6’s ending. And with the completion of Chapter 6, as well as the commencement of Chapter 7, I feel quite confident in saying that we are officially passed the halfway point of this story. There are only two more major events left in the plot before the climax begins, and if all goes well, I might actually be able to complete this draft before TwitchCon!

Speaking of TwichCon and other streaming related things, you all may have noticed that this whole website looks a little bit different. That is thanks in large part to the talents of an artist friend of mine known to the internet as CCSpectre. I’ve actually been unhappy with the look of this place for a while, and with the conclusion of The Wolf now in sight, I’ve started thinking about what I’m going to have to do going forward with regard to publishing and marketing it. And the first thing that came to mind was that if I was going to be serious about being a hybrid author/Twitch streamer, I needed a website for the author half of that equation that was a bit more professional that neon designs on black backgrounds. Since my website is called “Quills & Controllers”, I hit upon the “Ink & Parchment” theme pretty quickly, and CC was kind enough to apply that theme to the existing artwork she’d already done for me. The result has been a universal branding update that I feel ties my writing and streaming together beautifully, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

One thing that I could be happier with however, is my streaming. Specifically how and what games I stream. I’ve made no secret of my love for the Destiny franchise, but taking these last two weeks off of streaming has really highlighted for me just how ridiculously fast I blew through the opening content of Destiny 2, and how little enjoyment I was then getting out of it as a result. I was in such a rush to get ready for the new raid that I completely forgot about the things that actually make games like Destiny 2 so much fun for me; exploring new worlds, experiencing new stories, and in general just immersing myself in a different reality for a few hours. By the time I realized I’d done this, I was already so disheartened and disappointed in myself that I didn’t even want to go back through it all on a new character.

Now that’s not to say I don’t want to play Destiny 2 at all anymore. Far from it, in fact. I’m still hugely excited for the PC version’s release, and honestly can’t wait for the chance to have a fresh start with a new character on it. Because this time, I won’t be in a rush to complete the story. I won’t be in a rush to get ready for a raid I won’t actually have enough friends to complete. This time I will stop to smell the roses for a while and poke my curious nose into all the little nooks and crannies of the world, and quite frankly, that’s the part I’m most excited for with the PC release.

That said, there’s still almost a month between now and when Destiny 2 launches for PC. That’d be a painfully long time to go without streaming, but fortunately, there’s another game on the horizon that I’m almost just as excited for.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

That game is the sequel to my personal Game of the Year for 2014; Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Set between the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, these games tell the story of Talion, a Gondorian Ranger, who is murdered by the agents of Sauron and resurrected by the spirit of Celebrimbor; the elf-smith who Sauron tricked into forging the Rings of Power, and who Sauron later tortured to death in an effort to learn the secrets of the three Elvish rings that Celebrimbor forged by himself. Shadow of Mordor is a great game built upon a thrilling narrative idea, and while it may have stumbled in the delivery of that narrative sometimes, the core gameplay was fantastic. And in every way that matters, Shadow of War looks to expand upon that core gameplay in every conceivable way. Even better, based on recent articles that I’ve read, Shadow of War also looks to be stepping up it’s narrative experience in equal measure.

If you can’t tell, I’m just a wee bit excited for this game.

Because of that excitement, and because of my badly self-inflicted burnout on Destiny 2, I’m switching things up with the stream for the next few weeks. Things will start with a nostalgic stroll back through Shadow of Mordor next week, and then when Shadow of War comes out the week after that, I’m going to apply the lessons learned from Destiny 2 and take my time to savor the smell of ash and sulfur as we rip control over the Land of Shadow right out from under Sauron’s gaze. Fun times will be had by all in attendance (except for the Orcs and Nazgul), so feel free to tune in via Twitch itself or the embedded player here on Quills & Controllers under the “Twitch” tab in the menu bar. The shenanigans begin next Tuesday at 1:00 PM, Pacific Time.

Now, about that Wolf that still needs taming… 😉

Unleashing the Horsemen: Taming of The Wolf – Part 5

8:56 AM, Pacific Daylight Time – September 17th, 2017.

That was the exact time that I finally cracked my knuckles and got back down to the nitty-gritty of writing The Wolf yesterday. This after nearly a week of trying and failing to re-plot the rest of the book after deciding to completely upend the previous chain of events that I’d forged through three previous drafts of this novella. So many repeated failures at this made me realize that the only way I was ever going to really figure out where this new direction was going to take the story was to just sit down, and write it out like it had been part of the story all along.

In hindsight, this was clearly the right thing to do because while I started writing yesterday at 8:56 AM, I didn’t really stop writing until 10:34 PM.

More than 13 hours later.

I mean, to be fair, it was probably closer to ten hours of total writing time. Because, you know, I did eat and go to the bathroom a couple times, but I think the point still stands: I put in serious work at the keyboard yesterday. By the time it was all said and done, and the dust had started to settle, I came up out of the writing trenches with eight new pages, nearly 4,200 words, and two complete chapters added to The Wolf.

All in a single day.

I haven’t written that much in one sitting since March of 2013, and the eleven-day marathon that resulted in the The Wolf’s first complete draft.

My heart tells me this is a good sign, but my brain is still so hungover from all that writing that about all it can do is gurgle incoherently and give a vague thumbs up of approval. Or is that the middle finger? I can’t really tell from this angle…

In either case, I can feel the peak of this project approaching. Just one, maybe two more chapters, and all the hardest parts are over. The characters will all finally be established, all of the exposition will have finally been delivered, and all that will remain is the ever-exhilarating rush towards the climax. And even before that, there are still one or two scenes left that get me just as excited in and of themselves!

I won’t say that I’m close to finishing The Wolf. I’m too superstitious at the end of the day to risk jinxing myself like that. What I will say however that I feel closer to it now than I have since completing that first draft more than four years ago. I’ve already crossed the mark where all the other drafts have fallen apart and wasted away, and despite having been reduced to near-mush by all the writing yesterday, my brain is still pushing me to write out another two to three thousand words. And that I know can only be a good sign for things to come. 🙂

Unleashing the Horsemen: Taming of The Wolf – Part 4

I’m gonna be completely honest, everyone.

I got zero writing done this week.

Destiny 2 entirely consumed my life.

However, that’s not to say I made zero progress on the writing front. In finishing Chapter 3 last week, I actually cut it off several pages before the original end point, and that randomly opened my eyes to a new (and probably better) direction to take the story. Obviously I can’t say much because spoilers, but it all hinges around a relatively minor detail and the realization that I don’t have to rely on an admittedly awkward lie I had my main character tell to explain it in The Wolf’s original draft. A lie I had him tell in order to avoid a conflict I didn’t know how to resolve.

But in taking this new pass over The Wolf and approaching it from a somewhat different mindset, I realized that there is a far more interesting way to deal with this little detail, and to actually take the story into what I feel is far more compelling territory. Largely because I’ve learned to embrace conflict in my stories, and that the lack of it in this next section of the book is one of the things that honestly held it back in the previous draft.

That’s not to say this new direction is all sunshine and daisies though. A big part of why I chose The Wolf to be the first of my Horsemen was because I already had the entire story locked down, and it wouldn’t take all that much work to get it fixed up and ready for life in the world. By pursuing this new narrative direction, I’m sailing off into entirely uncharted waters, which means a whole lot of extra work that I hadn’t planned on. It means entire plot and character arcs need to be re-thought at best, and re-constructed at worst. Thankfully I’m not entirely at a loss for how I can make this change and still preserve the overall shape of the narrative, as well as the few key scenes that drive that narrative forward.

The real test, quite frankly, will be if I can pull myself off of Destiny long enough to take all this theory and put it into action. 😛