Those who can’t do….

Right now, I’m drinking a can of Monster Rehab (peach) to overcome the fact that I have a cat — and sometimes said cat thinks that if he’s awake, we should be too. While I’m sipping my caffeine I’m reading Twitter, and I came across this:

 I have on my shelf a terrible, terrible book. It’s called “Circle’s” and it makes the famous “Eye of Argon” look like high literature. It is so that bad adjacent books try to edge away from it. I have read thousands of books in my life, and this is unquestionably the worst. I can’t begin to describe how very bad it is, in every possible way. Most Harry Potter fanfic written by teenage girls is better. It’s self-published, of course.
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And yet I keep it.
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I keep it to remind myself of something: As terrible as this book is, as horrible a writer as the author is, she has done something I haven’t done: She completed a novel and got it between covers, even if she had to pay for the covers. She produced an awful book — but she produced a book. I haven’t.
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I can write better than that. You can write better than that. Yet most of us don’t write better than that, or at all. We can … we tell ourselves that we can … but when it push comes to shove, we can but we don’t do. The author of that terrible book did. She’s one up on me there. So I keep that book to remind myself that doing something, however badly, is still better than being able to do something but not doing it at all.
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Right now, I’m taking a bit of a break from direct TableMaster development to get the Arcane Alphabets font package ready for GnomeCon in a few weeks. This was supposed to be just a quick rebuild, because the fonts haven’t been updated since the mid-90s and still had Win3.1 encoding. I can’t leave well enough alone, of course, so I started tweaking them, and adding some new ones.
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One of those new ones — actually a series, with different types of polyhedra, but all working off the same base — requires alphabetic characters in it. I’m using the ones I created for my long-ago map fonts, which are very stark and plain. I drew a simple letter, expanded it to a stroke, and removed any overlaps — that was that. It looks like a font drawn by a draftsman, and for good reason: that’s exactly what it is. It’s not beautiful, or graceful, or elegantly-proportioned, in the way that, say, Helvetica is. I’m no Maurice Meidinger and I never will be. And sometimes I look at it and wonder why, when half my market could probably draw a better font, I even bother.
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Then I look at Circle’s, that bad, terrible, awful book. I look at the fact that it’s sitting on my shelf, not just inside the author’s head like all of the books I’ve never written. And I remind myself that it’s not just having the idea that matters, it’s not just being able to do something that matters, it’s actually doing it. That’s the only thing that matters. If you don’t do something, it doesn’t matter how well you could have done it, because you didn’t. Just like the person who can read but doesn’t is no better off than the person who can’t read at all, the person who could write a book — or draw, or paint, or create a font, or write a computer program — but doesn’t do it is no better off than the person who can’t.
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I think this really gets directed toward artists the most, because art is right out there in the open for people to see. In the last build of TableMaster, the compiler reported 11,506 lines. (yes, TM is really that small) And none of those lines is available for inspection by the user. The cover art for the TableMaster package, on the other hand, drawn by the excellent Rick Hershey, is entirely visible. TableMaster is valued for what it does, but art is valued for what it is. So it’s a lot easier to look at that art that’s right out in front of you and think “I could do that…” than to think the same about a program where you put your input in, and get your output out, but there’s sort of a black box in the middle. And, sadly, people do. A lot of them do it to artists who are just starting out, especially young artists — people who are still questioning whether or not they really are artists, whether or not they really should be making art.
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John Kovalic draws the art for Munchkin cards. His art is deceptively simple, stylized, and cartoonish. But after being paid to draw thousands of those cards (a disturbing number of which were sold to me, and I just backed the Munchkin Shakespeare Kickstarter too) he knows he’s a real artist. (at least I hope he does; John, if you’re reading this, you are!) Probably a lot of people look at that art and say “I could draw that.” Yeah, well, maybe you could, but you didn’t. John did. He’s making a living doing it; you’re not.
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The tl;dr for this rambling rant is twofold:
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If you a creator, don’t let the I-could-but-I-didn’t non-creators get you down. They’re like someone who hasn’t read a book since he got out of school criticizing someone else’s reading speed. You did it, they didn’t, and that’s what matters.
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If you’re one of the critics (I doubt if any reader of this blog is, but some of you might know someone like that) remember Circle’s and why I have it. Unless you actually are doing that exact same thing, but better, you have no grounds to criticize someone who is. (and odds are if you are, you won’t because you remember where you started)
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I can write a better novel than the author of Circle’s did. But I haven’t. She has. And that, in the end, is what matters.