The Mods Will Not Save You

Tuesday, November 16th – This week I thought I’d talk a little bit about writing, the effect it can have, and how writers interact with the communities they address. Here are three things I think Magic writers need to do in order to be happy and productive.

Hi, everyone. This week I thought I’d talk a little bit about writing, the effect it can have, and how writers interact with the communities they address. Here are three things I think Magic writers need to do in order to be happy and productive:

1. Have A Reason, And Understand It


“The game ain’t in me no more. None of it.”

To get anything out of your writing, you have to have a reason.

There are a lot of different reasons to write about Magic: The Gathering. When I first started at StarCityGames.com, I was writing for the love of the game, and also because I wanted attention. Of course, I wouldn’t have admitted the second part for all the tea in China, but I had no trouble loudly “admitting” the first, especially when I thought it would score me points.

Back then, my understanding of writers, their motivations, and their egos was much less refined than it is now, but in my more introspective moments (few and far between at that age) I could certainly recognize in myself a salivating eagerness that would wet my drool-bib at the barest whiff of
positive feedback. Alex Shvartsman (who did
this week’s

Untold Legends) used to run a site called Meridian Magic, and he linked to one of my early Wakefield/Flores rip-off articles and called it “amusing.” I spent that evening listening to “Blue” by Eiffel 65, playing Donkey Kong 64, and saying to myself “I’m feeling like such a baller. Uh, sixty-three.”

Anyway, “reasons” grow and change along with the writer. While I now take a dim view of my former motivations, I recognize that at the time, all the pandering and jig-dancing was what the nineteen-year-old version of me needed, as a writer trying to find a community that actually cared about what I had to say. There are a lot of people out there like this, and since I’ve forgiven myself for chasing headlong after relevance to the great detriment of article quality, it’s only fair that I forgive others.

Things have changed for me, because

have changed, in ways to which I’ve often alluded these past ten weeks. While my return coincided with Ted’s re-emergence as a StarCityGames.com presence, I wasn’t one of the people that he actively recruited. In fact, it was the opposite. I tracked

down and asked him if I might be able to write on the “Select” side of the site.

Why did I do this?

At first, it was just to make a little extra money.

Your first inclination upon hearing this might be disappointment, and I can understand why – there’s a long history of people doing things for money with results progressively emptier even as their coffers have approached the brim. But just hear me out.

In the beginning, when I didn’t know what I was going to write about, that was all it was – a chance to make a few bucks. The rich irony is that, artistically, that motivation served to set me free. Being paid for something doesn’t mean that you have “gotten over” on the paymaster or that you’re now set. While the task of answering the question “What the blazes am I going to do with my time?” can feel arduous, almost like a job in and of itself, it’s after you answer that question that the real work begins.

Doing something for money doesn’t have to mean it’s soulless. If Upper Deck taught me anything, it was that being paid well while doing nothing can be damaging to a person, and now I can’t bear to pick up a paycheck without feeling I’ve done something to earn it.

I had every opportunity to sit around, check my mailbox once per month, smile to myself, and say “Heh… suckers,” while pocketing some bank. There are people out there who can do that and don’t feel bad about it. Indeed, some work environments become so toxic that it’s the only way to stay sane. Sometimes the finances are such that quitting just doesn’t make sense, and you have to hang on. And other times, picking up a check for doing nothing is just part of the game.

It turns out there’s more than one

for me, right now. While it’s nice to have the spare cash around to keep my fiancée in Professor Layton adventures, this writing gig has also been a very nice opportunity to reconnect with the community and once again enjoy a hobby that’s been a positive force in my life for a long time. It’s also allowed me to move my writing muscles, which for the most part, were wasting away in Siberia. Overall, it’s been a wonderfully positive experience, despite some minor speed pumps (an employee at one gaming company referring to “The Puck Stops Here” as a “racist piece of trash”). I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Turns out the game is still in me – just in a different place, and in a different way.

About halfway to the ten-article mark, I realized that I’d been carrying a lot of baggage around, about a lot of different stuff: Confusion and self-doubt from my previous job, strong feelings about the importance of content-generation work that I hadn’t been able to express, and more. For me, this weekly writing space has been like a headshrinker’s couch, and since I started I’ve been able to touch on pretty much every issue that had been rankling me. When you’re writing with that added reason, it doesn’t matter if you got into it for the money – it can’t help but have some value and catharsis.

Ask yourself what your reasons are, and try to understand those reasons. Look one level deeper. If you’re not finding the task fulfilling, or not getting the community response you were looking for, perhaps you’re not writing about the correct things. Or, god forbid, maybe it’s time to get out for a while. The end comes for everybody. As with Cutty, nobody is going to blame you if your heart wanders elsewhere. Better just to walk away than to keep on going through the motions, without a reason to stay.

If recent days around here are any indication, you’ll be back.

2. Interact With The Right Community, In A Way That Makes You Happy


“I look at you these days and know what I see? I see a man without a country. Not hard enough for this right here. And maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there.”

Misassignment of Role = Forum Loss.

I can only imagine what would have happened if I had come back as Premium and started big timing, talking about making the Pro Tour while trotting out my Steel Overseer decks.

(By the way, if you’ve played in a 2-man Standard queue lately and your opponent played a deck with Steel Overseer that did absolutely nothing, basically handing you a free pack for your two tickets, that was me.)

“Guys, I qualified for Pro Tour Chicago back when I was taking Crown of Fury over Smother. Eric Taylor thought my pick of Glory Seeker over Dragon Roost was a bold and masterful example of archetype drafting. I once beat Gabe Walls despite never cutting his deck during the match. Doubt me at your peril.”

I don’t think I would’ve made it past article #2 if that had been my focus. Instead, I spared myself the grief and decided to sit around writing about flavor text in Select.

Man, am I ever glad I made that call.*

It doesn’t matter how good your writing is if you’re interacting with the wrong community – the feedback is invariably going to drag your mood into the gutter.

More generally, it’s important for a writer to be in a good place with regard to the sort of feedback he receives, and the manner in which he receives it.

Watching the interaction between writers and forum voices can often be an entertainment experience surpassing the article in question. On rare occasions, a writer goes into the breach and emerges smelling like a rose, vindicated. Sometimes, a writer loses it and begins to believe that he’s being trolled “for the lulz” (with air quotes) as part of a massive internet conspiracy. It’s a mixed bag.

Don’t like forum buffoons? Change things up! I’ve heard some rumblings lately from heavyweights in the writing game, guys like Mike Flores, who say they’ve eschewed interacting in forums altogether because of the number of trolls and the ease with which people can leave shortsighted, negative feedback with little-to-no accountability. Mike has made the choice to interact with the community in other ways, such as “Flores Rewards,” which from my limited understanding are his attempt to become the new “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. So far, people have been more than happy to clap like seals in exchange for cards, and the result has been a new paradigm in writer/community interaction.

For a more complete assessment of the program that isn’t riddled with falsehoods, consult Mike himself, and he’ll let you know how you can win a foil Gnarled Mass by peeing his name into a snowbank.

If you’re looking to engage the community and be accessible, you should write your articles in an engaged and accessible way. A lot of authors aspire to be the newest forum darling, and the ones who follow up aggressively in their article threads (and hit the right “for the love of the game” talking points) are the ones who reap the greatest benefit in terms of popularity. I used to write to this end, but I got myself into trouble by writing polarizing articles and projecting my point of view onto other people. Readers would naturally come into the forums and say “Well, wait – I don’t feel that way,” to which I would respond, “Well, you’re dumb,” and it would go downhill from there.

Now, I occasionally comment in my article forums, but for the most part I just use them as barometer to see if I still have things in common with other human beings. For this reason, simple feedback like “I enjoyed this” or a Facebook “Like” is valuable, even if it isn’t the most interactive of communications. On the flip side, negative feedback isn’t going to change writer’s minds about most issues, but it can perform the even more valuable service of keeping them humble, and making them understand that their viewpoint isn’t one held by everybody. This is something that writers need to hear. In my first article back, I wrote about how ego is the enemy, and that’s true today as it ever was.

Negative feedback is valuable because it keeps an ego in check.

Positive is valuable because it’s a writer’s only source of absolution once he takes the necessary step of becoming his own worst critic.

I think I’m in a good place now in terms of how I interact with the community. Writers, if you’re consistently interacting with the community in a manner that makes you miserable, you should switch it up. If your concerns about your work are being confirmed by the community rather than allayed, it’s likewise time to switch it up. If the audience isn’t giving you what you hoped for, change the audience! It might take a little while for people to get the idea, but once they do, you’ll be in a better place.

Forget “play to your outs.” Write to your props, or at the very least, to people with a sensibility that you can understand and respect. Do you want to get pats on the back from like-minded individuals, or get reamed for your weak decks by windbags with poker-reference forum handles?

I thought so.

3. Understand Why Negative Feedback Happens, Measure It Against Your Intent, And Then Take It Easy


“The game done changed.”

Slim Charles:

“The game the same. It just got more fierce.”

Trolling has indeed gotten fiercer, but it’s always been around. Ty Cobb was one of the most accomplished baseball players ever, but as an uptight, arrogant racist who considered himself superior to everyone else, he was a ripe target for trolls. Cobb once infamously assaulted a fan who accused him of having a “questionable racial heritage,” which in those old days was considered an insult too great for any white man to bear.

When Cobb jumped into the stands and started stomping on the fan, it became apparent that the heckler was handicapped. An onlooker asked Cobb “can’t you see that that man has no hands?”

“I don’t care if he doesn’t have any feet, either!” said Cobb, and kept stomping.

He was suspended by the league. His teammates, considering his actions justified, elected to sit out the game with him in defense of white honor, which was the main reasoning for most decisions in those days. Cobb would go on to be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, while the man with no hands would go on to sign for $18,000,000 over five years with the Miami Heat.

Now, the internet has changed the feedback game, and anonymity protects all of our handless butts. If you’re going to get out there with an opinion, you have to be prepared to weather the storm.

It’s the internet, gentlemen. The mods will not save you.

Were Cobb active today, ESPN.com comment trolls aware of his hard-headed Georgia pride would be playing the mongrel card more often than Jeff Cunningham. This lawless zone of barbs and brickbats is where we now find ourselves, and for the sanity of everyone who puts himself out there for public consumption, negative forum comments should be put into a special context. Doing so will go a long way toward improving a writer’s mood.

Know this: The reminder that there exists a sensibility different from one’s own is, to the common man, a sensation not unlike a hornet sting – and it provokes a similar distemper.

Most hurtful comments come from people who have themselves been hurt in this way. Matt Sperling latest article was panned by some people who seemed offended at the content, and I could feel a general “he didn’t let me into his clubhouse” vibe to their posts. I want all you forum complainers to know, I understand. I understand how it feels to be left out of the clubhouse, and I understand how it feels to watch a parade of people walk by who

get in, and see them high-five the guy who built the clubhouse, while you stand there in the rain. You feel “stung,” right?

Eventually you just want to scream “Eff your clubhouse, it probably has cooties anyway!” at the top of your lungs, and then stomp off like a petulant child.

Though it didn’t apply to me in the case of Sperling’s article, I can relate to this general feeling. Often when I read an article that I thought was mediocre, and a parade of people are there singing its praises, I feel stung – like the world is telling me that my point of view is flawed, like I’m being told “No, you’re the one who doesn’t get it.” That feeling is the reason that most negative comments occur.

I do sympathize. But, my brothers in complaining:

We’re just going to have to get over it.

I thought Sperling’s article was risky and good for a laugh. Any feedback to the contrary was just one long, frustrated moan coming from people who couldn’t relate, that subset of readers especially rankled by being “left out” when they expected to be let in the front door. That’s fine – that sort of response is information that any author needs. I felt a little of that too, but not enough to get bent out of shape about it.

Here we see the function of negative feedback as a gauge of an article’s effect. If Sperling’s intent had been to write an article accessible to everyone, the responses would’ve given him all the information he needed to understand that’d he’d failed.

That wasn’t his intent, though, so I’m sure he’s doing what every author should do once he identifies the source of negative feedback and safely determines that it’s not relevant to what he had intended: he’s
taking it easy.

The howling of the outraged is thusly rendered impotent, no more than the gastro-intestinal rumblings of a hydra with one-million heads, each more opinionated than the last. That’s as it should be. If you think for a few seconds about the genesis of negative feedback, you can come to understand the reason for it. That additional knowledge can help you decide whether to dismiss it, or to take something useful from it.

You can take something useful from negative feedback more often than you might think. Even if a response seems needlessly mean and unconstructive, there’s more to it than that. A drive-by “eff you” forum response is just another form of pushback, letting the author know that his point of view is not shared, his attitude not appreciated. Take a second and consider it. Sure, nine out of ten times the responder is a curmudgeon with an axe to grind, but occasionally you’ll glean something useful about your tone or methodology that will allow you to take the sting off of your words as applies to a certain demographic. Or, if you wish, allow you to needle them all the more!

A negative response that speaks directly to the intent of the article and suggests an alternative is the Holy Grail, and they don’t show up often. So if you want to get anything out of the forums, you have to look deeper. If you’ve really struck a negative chord with people, you can’t hide your head in the sand.

Oh, and one last item. I’ve already mentioned this in other articles, but consider the source of the positive feedback you receive. If the people saying that you’re the second coming are all buffoons, they’re setting you up for a fall when your work comes under greater scrutiny.

Again, be your own toughest critic, and if you meet one of your fellow critics, thank him.

On the other hand, if you meet a fan, ask him what his frickin’ problem is.

4. Final Thoughts

The StarCityGames.com Talent Search is about to bring several new writers into the fold, and while it’s still up in the air how much the masses will enjoy their articles, I think all contestants who want to write consistently should think about how they’re going to get satisfaction out of the “contracts” that they win, if indeed they’re chosen.

Prepare to deal with user feedback and interact with the community in a way that jibes with your reason for writing. Make sure that you’re self-aware enough to understand why you’re doing it in the first place, and keep that need healthy. As your Magic interests change, cultivate the appropriate audience, and bring them along with you for the ride. All players grow and mature, and life circumstances change. It’s invisible when it happens to your average spell-slinger, but writers take their readers along for the ride, often with a hiatus or two in between.

Remember, misassignment of role = forum loss. A headstrong whelp named Georgie Tait found that out when he tried to bring an alternative take on card advantage theory to the masses. Don’t let it happen to you! Just get out there and enjoy yourself. Write to your props, and your reason, and let out a little bit of the frustration inside you with every article that you submit, just enough so that this crazy, 21st-century life doesn’t make you blow your stack.

Best wishes,
Geordie Tait

Geordie_Tait on Twitter

*  – Of course, if you see a guy get hit by a semi while crossing the street in front of you, it’s pretty easy to make the decision to wait at the light.