“Nothing f**ks you up like having something that’s hugely important to you, being something you’re also ashamed of.”
Back to that again. I can’t adequately convince you of what those words mean to me, or how true they’ve rung.
I’ve been writing on and off for years. If you were to go back to the very first time I wrote a story for myself, or my earliest memory of such, you’d set the Delorean for the late 1980’s. That means my writing is sitting around twenty-five years of being a thing. That’s not an exaggeration, because I’m fairly sure that it was either year 4 or 5 that I wrote the story that I’m thinking about, and I still remember bits and pieces of it to this day – the Ghostbusters fan-fic I’ve alluded to before, which had a possessed vacuum cleaner and another dozen or so pages of *something* which I clearly can’t remember anymore. I also recall doing a Kings Quest 3 fanfic set around the time that KQ6 eventually took place, which covered Gwydion/Alexander returning to that… place/land/etc and I don’t remember what else. I think owning the Kings Quest Companion may have had a hand in inspiring that, potentially more than the game itself.
None of this was for the eyes of others. They were secret stories for me to write, and not to divulge to others. I had my own ideas with the settings laid out before me, and I was going to tell them. I recall discussions about writing a play based on Monkey Island with highschool friends that were similarly awed by the game, I wrote something else inspired by Quest for Glory/Hero’s Quest, and it was around there that my ideas started to truly split away. An atypical Hero’s Journey story, and some miscellaneous non-Star-Wars version of Star Wars. I had plans to turn it into an animation (so wrote it as a script), so had a very grand-sweeping space-opera feel, with a tinge of espionage to it. Both of those were worked on over the next ten years, at very inconsistent rates. Eventually the fantasy one became something else (though still fantasy), and the scifi/space opera turned into its own thing. There was a point when it became a game for some time, first with the AGI engine, and later for about a room’s worth with Adventure Game Studio, but it also morphed back into a story, and a few more alternate-setting versions of the story.
I can only think of one person I might have showed any of it to, and that was after I’d laboured over that particular section for months, making sure to have it just right.
Meanwhile, I started roleplaying. I was always interested in it from a very young age, and used to force my cousins to play the roles of their characters while I made up the map and adventure for them. Didn’t know what Dungeons and Dragons were, and wouldn’t for some time. The roleplaying I started (when I truly did it, rather than DM’ing random bullshit for family) was online, real-time, and Star-Wars. There was a MUSH (acronym: Multi-User Shared Hallucination, real terms: real-time character-based chat-rooms connected via a Zork-like map of various Starwarsian locales) that all this happened on, where players would emote what their characters were doing and saying. At this point, there was no keeping it to myself, but I didn’t physically know any of the people I was interacting with. All I knew is that somewhere along the line, I started getting recognition within that group of players for being good.
To this day, it’s still difficult for me to accept it was anything other than luck that gave me the recognition. Players were able to submit nominations for quality roleplay, which would translate into potential skill-increases. They were a rarity, but somehow (again, luck) I managed to accumulate a number that was a lot higher than the average at that point. I’d get compliments on my writing, though all of this was happening at break-neck speed, and I just didn’t see what the big deal was. I wasn’t showing anyone outside of the MUSH what I was doing, and I wasn’t showing any of my other writing to people, so what on earth could have made it SO special if I couldn’t see it myself? If it was actually good, where the hell was my pride in it?
Sure, I would entertain fantasies of secretly being a good writer, but they were bizarre scenarios like having my eyesight cured, or winning the lottery. They weren’t going to happen.
There was a turning point of sorts when Lionhead’s The Movies came out. I was able to throw together shorts quickly, sometimes just random concepts I hadn’t really thought through, and just trying to create a different experience. There were only three movies that I did, with the rest being random shit that was hacked together in a few hours. The reason this was a turning point, is because I started writing scripts. I started writing a lot, even though I finished only a handful. I started putting together complete stories again, and once or twice, was able to present them for consumption by other people. There was praise again, since I was lucky enough to have something that was coherent and at the time, fresh. Some of the ideas I’m working on currently came out of ideas that began while using that game, and some of the others seamlessly slotted in to existing stories, magically filling what had previously been plotholes.
The scripts that came out of it were alright. For the first time in years, I was able to test the waters with them, and showed them to a few people that knew me. I was still very defensive of the scripts, pre-warning that they’re potentially not any good, and if they didn’t want to waste their time, it would be okay. I’d love to be able to tell you that I was still a teenager when I said all that, but that’s not how this goes. The feedback was usually good, and they always asked for more (which there wasn’t any). I didn’t feel like it was an assessment of my quality as a writer, but that obviously I’d fluked into something that was passable. Most of them didn’t know I wrote before that point, so maybe their thoughts were that for a non-writer, I was still capable of forming sentences in english.
I’ve consumed thousands of pages on the act of writing itself, and written quite a few of them myself. I’m confident in the knowledge of writing, but am stuck on translating that into belief in having any skill for it.
Yes, I’m embarrassed by it. I’m ashamed. If I write something I suspect might be okay, I don’t accept it. It’s not even false modesty, but actual doubt, and it comes down to almost completely:
I can recognise good writing when others do it. If my writing were truly good, shouldn’t I recognise it too? It doesn’t feel special to me.
Logically this mindset does not make sense. I write naturally, without trying to force my expression into every sentence, which results in it being something that feels normal to me. How can my no-effort, normal tone be good? If I am not beating myself over the head looking for the right way to phrase something, but going with the most immediate, where is the skill? Even when I believe I’m doing okay, it is still kept to myself. Whatever is special in it is invisible to me, which makes it harder to accept that it is there. I want to be able to take what I’ve written, thrust it in somebody’s face, and say “Read this. You will not be disappointed, your time will not be wasted.”
I’m not there yet.
I still footnote the things I post here saying “I hacked this together” or say “Working on a draft” without specifics. I quote my favourite fictional setting (Mass Effect) whenever I get the chance because it is so inspirational to me, yet when I’m inspired to write a story in that same setting, I don’t talk about it. It feels like there’s some stigma attached to it, because it’s a piece of fan-fiction, because it’s inspired by a game, and because I’m the one writing it. Not only am I not doing something wholly original, but I have the audacity to believe I should add a story to that setting.
I still have trouble with the whole not-hiding-geekdom thing I learned to do as a consequence of experiences in school, and still grin like an idiot because if I’m wearing my blue hoodie with the yellow 101 on the back, I feel secure that I’m signalling to other people that get the reference, while staying below the radar of those that wouldn’t. It’s a safe way to do it that didn’t feel within my grasp before.
It’s all a part of who I am. The writing, the gaming, the geekery. They’ve also been a very private part of me for most of my life, and when they all intersect like they do here, it’s tough to stop the urge to hide it all. Maybe that’s where this measure of my writing comes from – being so used to hiding it from all but the internet at large, that I need to find flaws to stop me from broadcasting it to everybody. That quote has really resonated with me, and I hope that I can work at becoming properly proud of my writing outside of the internet, and outside of the company of other writers.
Not being f**ked up would be nice.