Tuesday, August 23, 2022

That's my secret: I'm always motivated

(Apologies to Bruce Banner for that modified quip.)

Something that nobody --and I do mean nobody-- has ever asked me in my years of writing is how I stay motivated.

Probably that has something to do with the size of the reader base of this blog, which I'm pretty sure is around 30-ish regular readers, when you filter out the web crawlers, spambots, and the individual spikes due to someone linking a post back to PC. Sure, a lot of the articles may eventually reach about 100 hits, but that's a long, slow drip-drip-drip over the course of months.

We used to have more regular readers, back when the major WoW/MMO watering holes were active*, but you could tell almost instantly when a site went dark because we'd see a corresponding drop in traffic. In my experience, people didn't migrate from a central watering hole to a Feed Reader, they simply stopped reading. People didn't come here for WoW (or MMO) news, for that they'd go to Wowhead or WoW Insider/Blizzard Watch or Massively/Massively Overpowered.

I've said numerous times over the years that if you're looking for validation by having people read your blog, you're going to be disappointed. Once you make peace with the reality that blogging is a niche format and very few people break through into the greater consciousness by blogging in this day and age, you'll be fine.


So that does beg the question: why keep blogging? Why stay motivated?

Well, I'd be lying if I said that I don't get any gratification at all from PC. When I see the page views go up after I posted something, I get that good ol' dopamine rush of "Hey, somebody wants to read this!" It's similar to that initial high you get when you discover that someone you've developed feelings for actually reciprocates. It's somewhere between "YESSS!" and "How did I get so lucky?", but before those doubts of "Okay, this can't really be happening, can it?" creep into your head.

That first time that Tam from Righteous Orbs commented here on the blog, I was about over the moon with excitement. Or when WoW Insider linked to a series of posts I made, I had to be walking on air for an entire week.

Personal gratification notwithstanding, I have a confession to make: I've always wanted to be a writer, and blogging gives me that outlet.

I can turn my head from where I'm sitting right now and see this up on a bookshelf:

This wasn't the first book on Science Fiction and Fantasy that I'd read --Lord of the Rings and The Sword of Shannara had that beat by a few years-- but this was the first collection of short stories that I owned. I devoured the stories within and began hunting for more. When I realized that there were actual magazines that published F&SF short stories**, 

Some publications lasted only as long
as the driving force was alive, such as
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine.
Given how well MZB's reputation aged over
the years, it's probably for the best.
(From ebay.com.)

and that publishing three short stories would qualify someone membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America, I made it a goal to try to get published. 

I should add, this is despite my mother's obvious distaste for my dad's mother being a regular reader of Reader's Digest and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, as if both were inferior products. My mom loved the cozy type of Mystery novels***, and I guess between the two major mystery magazines her tastes would have run more toward Ellery Queen than Alfred Hichcock's, but I interpreted her dislike as a putdown of the short story format itself, which motivated me all the more to try to write better. 


Here I am, over 40 years later, and I'm still not a published author.

There was a time when I used to get
a copy of this from the library
on a regular basis, so I knew what
the submission requirements were
for all of the F&SF magazines.
(From amazon.com)

Writing fiction, especially short fiction, is harder than it looks. 

Okay, I should qualify this a bit. 

Writing fiction is easy; writing good fiction is hard; writing good fiction that is publishable is harder still.

If you want to find out how easy it is to write fiction, go check out the fanfic websites. (I'll wait.) A lot of SF&F fiction put out on the web isn't very good, and that has nothing to do with the nature of fanfic itself. I've wondered about why the writing isn't that good, but having gone back and read some of the novels and short stories I read as a kid, I think I can understand why: the quality of stories back in the "golden age" of SF&F overall wasn't really good.

Oh, don't get me wrong: I loved those stories, but the writing itself needed work. 

A lot of SF&F writing back then had, well, a ton of info dumps. The concepts of world building were such that in order to set the scene, authors basically spent pages setting up the world rather than simply letting the story fill in the gaps along the way. There was also such an emphasis on getting the science right that the quality of the writing suffered as a result. 

And the Mary Sue/Marty Stu protagonists. Hoo boy, there were a ton of them.

That's not to say that I don't like a heroic character, because I do, but some of the protagonists in the stories back then were so perfect that I have a hard time going back and rereading them.**** I like characters who do heroic things, not heroic characters doing, well, their thing.

Because I internalized a lot of these stories in my youth, when I started trying to write my own fiction, it just didn't sound right. The flow wasn't there, and the info dumps didn't mesh well with how I wanted stories to proceed. The characters were either too good and perfect, or I'd swing too hard the other way and torture the characters for no good reason other than "the characters have to suffer or have angst" for it to be legitimately good fiction. And I'll be honest in that I hate that. As I've said many a time, if I want that out of a story, I'll watch the news.

"What about catharsis?" someone once asked me.

Thanks for saying so, Mr. Crews.
(From Brooklyn Nine Nine, meme from GetYarn)

"Catharsis is fine, so long as tragedies and black comedies aren't the only things you're consuming," I replied. "After a while, reading all that will merely get you depressed."

And when life is going shitty for you, or even just kind of shitty, reading tragedies --or their close cousins, the stories where tons of main and secondary characters die-- isn't exactly a big pick-me-up.


My writing foibles aside, when Souldat asked if I wanted to blog about WoW, I felt that at least here was my chance to actually write something and get it out there without any internal pressure to get published. I could just write, and by writing, improve my craft.

I'm grateful that over the decade plus I've been writing PC I haven't had people tell me that my writing sucks, or been critical of the overall quality of my work. And I'm doubly grateful for that because I've read some of my old stuff, and boy does it stink.

(From youngwriterssociety.com.)

I have no idea what made me think I was "writing gooder" back then, because I wasn't. And I realize that a few years from now I'll look at these posts and groan to myself about how terrible they are. I mean, I do that already with One Final Lesson, and that's the only story of that length I've ever finished and released into the wild. 

But that's the thing that keeps me motivated: the knowledge that I'm improving with every post I write. It may not be obvious to me now, but it will show up some years later. 

It's something that keeps me posting, because even if I never get published I'll at least have a body of work I can look back on.

"Well yes, but not in the traditional sense...
Wait, are you in Eversong?"

"Oh. Well, it's nice of you to keep up
with your Instructor's relatives."


*Blogs such as Righteous Orbs, MMO Melting Pot, The Pink Pigtail Inn, Orcish Army Knife, and when WoW Insider (now known as Blizzard Watch) used to have a weekly update of activity in the WoW Blogosphere. All of these are either defunct (Righteous Orbs and MMO Melting Pot), have bloggers fall away from blogging (PPI), pass away (Orcish Army Knife), or just shut down their regular articles highlighting bloggers (WoW Insider).

**And still publish, despite the decline in circulation among paper magazines. Venerable names such as Analog (launched as Astounding Science Fiction in 1930) and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1949), and more recent fare (in a relative sense) of Asimov's Science Fiction (1977) still are kicking around. There are others out there as well, but I can always count on these three to be on the shelves at my local independent bookstore, right next to the two long running Mystery magazines Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (1941) and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (1956). 

***I remember one time my mom's mother, my wife, and I had a conversation about books. Grandma told me about a book she was reading, and that my mom was interested in what it was like. "Oh, you wouldn't like it," Grandma had told her, "because there's sex in it." The fact that my grandmother knew her own daughter was too much of a prude to enjoy a novel she obviously liked tickled me to no end. That was when I realized that my grandmother was far more comfortable with sex and modern society than her own daughters were.

****This is a problem even with current fiction. There was a novella in one of the magazines I have from the mid-2000s --I think it might have been Analog-- who had a protagonist that was smart, scientifically trained, witty, and athletic. I struggled to find any flaws in him at all. Ironically enough, I found a novelette in a 1986 Analog magazine, The Barbarian Princess by Vernor Vinge, that turned the Mary Sue concept on its head. 

I think I still have my copy
around somewhere, but this came
from abebooks.com.

Even though Tatja Grimm was definitely the Mary Sue type, that didn't mean she was perfect. And seen from another character's point of view, which is how the novelette is told, their own internal biases against the "barbarians" played heavily into making that an enjoyable story.

EtA: Corrected some grammar. As usual.


  1. Great post! It appears writing your blog allows you to "live the dream" to use an overworked but relevant phrase. I think blog post writing is often storytelling, so there you are. Atheren

    1. Oh yeah, in terms of putting things out in public, blogging definitely does qualify as "publishing". I still have the dream of publishing something, but I fear that what I like now isn't what publishers are looking for. It's too, well, "standard". It's definitely not edgy enough.