Suggestions for the Beginning and Intermediate Freelancer

Last week at DunDraCon, I was on the “How to Survive in the Gaming Industry” panel. One of the topics we discussed was the vital necessity of knowing your limits and pacing yourself, lest you get yourself into serious trouble. However, we weren’t able to offer any real guidelines for how to figure out what your limits are, which strikes me as a problem; in my life, I can think of several occasions when I learned what my limits were only when I broke. Trial and error is one way to do things, but it’s less than optimal.  So I’ve been looking at my records, and thinking about my experiences, and I’ve developed a few rules of thumb.

My first suggestion is that you should keep a journal of your work progress with daily wordcounts. This becomes important later. You’ll have to figure out how to deal with the issue of how to count revisions. I count revised wordcount at a 5:1 ratio, but different people have different tastes.

Most advice on how to get started in the industry recommends starting by writing magazine articles. The stated rationale is usually building your chops and developing a portfolio to present to future employers. I think magazine articles are equally important for developing a work routine and getting a sense of what amount of work you can fit into your life in a non-deadline situation; your work journal is useful for this purpose.

Once you’ve gotten a few articles accepted and gotten your feet under you, you’ll be ready to start soliciting contracted work. My rule of thumb for choosing contract projects is “Don’t stretch yourself by more than a factor of two”. This breaks down in a couple of different ways.

#1: Avoid taking on a project more than twice as long as anything you’ve done before. Write some 10,000-word adventures before taking on a 20,000-word chapter; write some chapters before taking on a 35,000-word supplement; and so on.

#1a: Under no circumstances take on a project that will double your total professional wordcount. I’ve done this. It was a bad idea.

#2: Avoid taking on a project (or multiple projects at once) that will require you to more than double your baseline daily writing speed. (Here, again, that work journal is useful.) Most people work faster when under deadline. As a rule, however, working much faster than normal for long leads to burnout and a slump in quality.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Book Review: Metropolis: Values in Conflict

I’ve just finished a book I picked up at the Menlo Park library sale a few months ago (any venue that sells books by the grocery bag is lethal to me). Metropolis is an urban studies reader from 1964. The first lesson I have gleaned from this is that I really need to break the habit of buying generations-old textbooks for a quarter; they’re interesting, but it’s not really a time-efficient way to learn things.

The second thing I notice is that urban theorists, from the earliest days of technocratic America up to the modern day, seem to dwell in a curiously non-geographic world. (I’m not just drawing from Metropolis on this; it just crystallized something that has niggled at me about various contemporary pieces I’ve read about reimagining cities.) I’ve seen any number of discussions of how to lay out cities, optimizing density and accessibility while preserving an appropriate amount of open and agricultural space, which completely elide the question of what happens if there’s a mountain or a river in the way of, say, your concentric rings scheme.

Perhaps I’m simply oversensitized to the question from living in a part of the world deeply at the mercy of its geography when it comes to urban development. I suppose that would explain why a lot of urban visionaries are Dutch; the Netherlands are pretty much flat, and heavily modified by human intervention already.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Reflecting on a log

I’ve been tinkering around with my dormant web site lately, and in the process I’ve been running some analyses on my server logs. From this, I have learned a few things.

1) There will probably never come a day that the 5 Geek Social Fallacies are not the most requested page I have. Not only is it the most requested page, the next five most requested pages are those available when you jump up one level in the site hierarchy from 5GSF.

2) I should not process my server logs when I am feeling a little twitchy and low. Long threads of people having fun with the 5 Fallacies will bring me only a little joy, and the pompous asshole who speculates at length about my own social deficits will stay with me.

3) I never realized this fully until my work started finding larger audiences, but people really don’t read what you write. They read some sort of virtual text constructed from your title, a few fragments of your text, and whatever preconceptions may be stimulated by them. It’s sort of amazing watching people rant about your failure to consider things you explicitly addressed.

4) Dude, Mike Mearls is hating on the Collective. You don’t get to do that if you weren’t there. (He doesn’t even have his facts right.)

Originally published on LiveJournal

Food Review: Trader Vic’s Palo Alto

Last night, one of Jen’s volleyball folks had a birthday bash at Trader Vic’s, and we attended. Considering the culinary experience, I have to say that the decor was nice.

To begin with, if one is going to slap a 20% automatic gratuity on a party of 20, one ought to assign said party more staff than one waiter and a busboy. The service was extremely slow and moderately inept; I was unimpressed.

We began with drinks. Jen ordered a Mai Tai ($8.50), figuring Trader Vic’s would be the place for a good Mai Tai; while the glass was large, it was mostly filled with ice and an lime half. According to the waiter, it was made with “lemon juice, lime juice, Mai Tai mix, and rum”. Maybe it’s just me, but I am dubious of destination drinks made with mixes. I had a glass of Firestone Riesling ($6); that’ll teach me to buy wine from a tire company.

Both of us ordered salad: Jen took the house salad, while I opted for the caesar. I can’t evaluate the house salad, because it never came. At least they didn’t charge us for it. The caesar ($8) had three serious flaws. First, the croutons were bland and stale. Second, they went a little nuts with the lettuce; they used the outer leaves of Romaine and tried unsuccessfully to cut them into bite-sized pieces; as a result, most of the salad was a mess of limp, perforated leaves. Finally, the dressing was watery; I can only imagine they didn’t drain the lettuce before dressing.

For the main course, I had the grilled king salmon ($25); Jen had the seafood taro nest ($23). The salmon itself was fine, if unexciting. It came with dry, leathery fingerling potatoes, and some grilled zucchini and eggplant that I couldn’t bring myself to eat. The whole dish sat on a pool of what was probably beurre blanc, though at the time it struck me more like bechamel. So not disastrous, but I’ve had a lot better food for twenty-five bucks. Jen’s seafood taro nest was a stir fry of overcooked marine life and canned vegetables. It looked pretty dismal. She picked out the seafood and called it a night. The taro nest also came with a side of rice, which I asked if I could take a bit of, as I wanted a palate cleanser after my buttered salmon. It takes some talent to screw up rice, but they managed it. I’ve had better rice in cafeterias.

So, when all was said and done, with the food, drinks, and aforementioned automatic gratuity, the bill was $96 for an evening of insipid 50s-style Polynesian fusion cuisine for two.

I suspect I won’t be going back.

Originally published on LiveJournal

The Styles of Creative Professionals: Auteurs and Impresarios

As I reflect on the many creative professionals I have known, I notice a range of stances on a key issue: how to steer one’s creative ship relative to the audience.

One one end of the spectrum, you have a group I’ll call the auteurs. They take their cues from their own hearts — they produce what seems important to them, and hope there’s an audience for it. This is an attitude close to the old adage “Write what you know”; it views the creative process as essentially personal, not to be guided by outside considerations.

On the other, what I’ll call the impresarios: they study their audience, and develop projects based on what they think the audience will find useful (which isn’t always the same thing as what the audience wants). This is an attitude close to the saying “Only a fool ever wrote but for money”; success is measured by audience reception, and using a different yardstick is tantamount to intellectual masturbation.

The interesting thing is that people on either side of the midpoint tend to make concessions to the other side in their execution, if not in concept; impresarios take pride in putting their personal spin on whatever the market demands, and auteurs are often very concerned with how to position their work in the marketplace.

Me, I’m a mild auteur; I try to work on things that I think people will like, but I get no kick from contemplating the zeitgeist of consumer buying habits.

Originally published on LiveJournal