Low-Hanging Fruit (Or Being Short-Sighted and Self-Serving)

Today, we’re going to talk about setting the bar low, in other words, grabbing the low-hanging fruit. For those of you who may suddenly think I’ve become a sell-out, shame on you, and direct you to weird and quirky things I have created like RunePunk (existing, I may remind you, before steampunk suddenly became mainstream) and, more recently, the well received, Iron Dynasty.

Low-hanging fruit, for the purpose of our discussion, is setting short-term goals in the realms of the realistic and achievable. Don’t plan on writing and releasing a 300 page, hardback, full color magnum opus by this Friday, for example. That’d just be absolutely ridiculous. You want to be a writer. Then write. Do some wind sprints. Write some short stories. Suck down gallons of grammar books like high-schoolers with wine coolers. (Not that I’d condone the analogous behavior by any means.)  If you want to be a game designer, well guess what, you sprinkle words on paper or throw pixels on a screen, so you’re a writer too, just wearing a t-shirt instead of a fancy, schmancy cardigan, so get over yourself and begin the begin. You, too, can be Miles Standish proud. Learn the craft.

Game design is a blending of a lot of different disciplines. There is a fantastic little video I’d love to link to here, but I can’t find it offhand. It was at a Game Dev conference and floated around the net not to terribly long ago, but my words will have to make do. Game design requires creativity, analysis, disparate fields of esoteric knowledge, common sense, practical experience, and a mastery of the English language unparalleled by lesser mortals (or at least the ability to string together a sentence with a passing familiarity of grammar and syntax). A sense of style is recommended along with a rhino’s head and an artist’s sensitivity. Add to this Molotov cocktail of abilities discipline and a strong sense of self and you may have a chance to put together something of worth.

Or you can walk about in a bubble of self-denial with a pocket full of “maybes” and “one days” and never achieve any of your goals.

You may have a goal, but if it’s a lofty one you and I both know you’re not going to get it done, and it’s an easy out. You have a safety net and a built-in excuse if you never complete it. If I told you I was going to hike across America, you might say “Rock on, brother”, but if I fell short, no big deal. I wouldn’t even have to take one step on the porch to bow out with my integrity intact. I could simply state I couldn’t logistically work it out–job responsibilities, etcetera made it impossible for me to even begin such a thing. (And I know it would hamper my writing. You want more of that. Don’t you?) However, if I claimed I was going to walk to the corner storer (about a block or so away) and didn’t do it, you would (rightfully) say I was lame and pathetic and you would ask for locks of my hair so you could weave them onto the head of your voodoo doll of me and stick small pins into the temples of my head to give me a horrible headache like I get when the barometric pressure wages war with ideas in my skull.

Setting goals small gives a small risk, but can give you a large return in building confidence and competence. While the skill sets are different between longer and shorter works, if you apply yourself to some shorter works, you are able to have the sense of finishing something, you can get feedback more easily (friends are more available to read something you wrote if it’s ten pages as opposed to ten hundred of those babies all in a row), and you can see for yourself if you’ve got the chops for it. Let’s face it. Writing more words means more work. If you don’t like writing a short piece of fiction or a short adventure, let me tell you, it doesn’t get magically more fun if you have a larger project on your plate. It’s like going to a Mexican restaurant, if you can barely stomach one burrito, you certainly won’t want Chimmy Changa’s Burrito Buffet, believe me.

Let me gently interrupt the thought some of you are bouncing around in your head about your big ideas. I respect big ideas. I have some of them myself. I know, if you’re reading this, you more than likely have some big ideas, but for those of you who haven’t dipped your toe into the charnal waters of design, you need to finish something smaller first. Trust me on this. You may think you’re the exception to the rule, so I’m not talking to you, but the 99 people standing around you when I stress this point. The low-hanging fruit exists so the rest of us can eat too. It’s tasty. It’s filling. And it goes into the same pile as the rest of the apples, even the ones way up high.

The lesson you’ll learn is this. If you can’t even be bothered to reach up just a tiny bit, writing is not for you. At least, not right now. And that’s a valuable thing to learn. If you find the banana to be good, but you want to taste the coconut, you’ll know in your hungry heart whether you deem it’s worth the climb.

What I’m sharing with you today is the info I’ve never seen in writing books. Writing books exist to sell to those who would be writers. I’m laying this down here gratis. Not every one of us is meant to write words, just like many of us, no matter how much we may want to be star athletes or artists we aren’t cut out for everything. (If I had to rely on my drawing to sustain myself, I would starve or standards would have to be radically reduced.) We cannot lament the cruelties of fate. We play what we are dealt as best we can.

Go forth. Give it a go. You’ll never know until you try. Now, with these random words bouncing around your brain, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

1 Note on “Low-Hanging Fruit (Or Being Short-Sighted and Self-Serving)”

  1. “Listen to him, Father,” Paul said in a low voice. “He speaks truth.”

    I’ve always been fond of Dune, in addition to several thousand other books. Reading is a great way to learn how to write, provided that copious bouts of writing follow. Getting this whole written language thing right is a major challenge.

    Of course, the whole game design process is another molten bowl of hideously burbling wax.

    Sean, thanks for the great advice!

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