My name is Filip Wiltgren and I’m a writer and game designer. I’ve been writing non-fiction for a living for close to 20 years now, but that’s not what this story is about. No, it’s about dreams, fears, and fiction.
I first realized I wanted to be a writer when I was ten years old. I loved reading, was one of those outcast kids who hid in the library instead of playing football (that’s soccer for you Americans) on our school’s gravel field. I only went to the field in fall, when the pear tree behind the goal post bore fruit. I loved slightly unripe Conference pears (still do).
One day in fourth grade we got a writing assignment. It had to be at least four pages and we got to illustrate it ourselves. Fast forward a couple of days and I’m holding my grand epos “Ragnar as a policeman”. It was like holding the gold medal in a competition I hadn’t even known existed. Here i was, this scrawny kid who never got picked for any sports, who spent the breaks swinging from a limb on the old cherry tree at the edge of the school grounds, and I was a writer.
I was awash with excitement and glory. In the days following I wrote and illustrated “Ragnar in space”, “Ragnar goes underwater” and a nonfiction work: “Boats”. Then I had a sleepover with my best friend.
We had just discovered role playing games games with the Äventyrsspel edition of Iron Crown’s Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP), and spent our days slaughtering orcs and rolling on the treasure table in a sort of free for all co-op mode as neither one of us wanted to miss out on the playing by being the game master.
At the time I was a huge Tolkien fan. I’d read the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice and gotten the complete works for Christmas and read them all, even the Silmarillion, and now I felt inspiration strike. As we lay in our beds I started telling a grand creation myth of a world where magic reigned and bravery carried the day: “And Bogdur created the land and found it well, and he created the sea and found it well, and he created the woods and the mountains and the skies and…”
And as I lay there talking I started to realize that I had hear all this stuff before. It was just like the Silmarillion except worse.
Once I opened the door to the dark hole of comparing my art to what I’d read or seen I couldn’t stop. Ragnar was nothing compared to Frodo. The space ship I’d been so proud of designing was just a poor rip-off of the Millennium Falcon. Nothing I had ever done was good. The shame of my attempts at creation filled me with such disgust that I stopped writing.
I stopped for 30 years.
I still wanted to be a writer. I still tried, fighting the giant hyena sitting on my back and howling that nothing I ever did was good enough. I went to journalism school and wrote a bunch of non-fiction and gained enough confidence to write a story, which I sent to the Writers of the Future contest (in case you haven’t heard of it, winning Writers of the Future is the Science Fiction equivalent of getting an Oscar for best new actor).
The answer came back: we are sorry to say that while your story made the semifinals it was not chosen to be a finalist. One of my first stories had been the top 20-ish in one of the most prestigious SF and Fantasy writing competitions in the world.
It crushed me.
One of my first stories had been top ranked in one of the most prestigious SF and Fantasy writing competitions in the world and all I saw was that it didn’t win. It wasn’t good enough.
There is no good enough. There is only do, or do not. It took me 30 years to believe that.
Fear, perfectionism, comparing your first, halting drafts to the revised and polished works of long time pros, that is the dark side. That way lies surrender and ruin.
Creating something is scary. Putting your creation out there for everyone to see is scarier still. I know, I’ve been there, felt my heart beating, my hands sweating. I’ve had the nightmares and tasted the bile. My first rejection letter cost me almost ten years of art time. My second rejection letter cost me over a year before I sent out another submission. I don’t want others to have to go through the same. Life is too short to worry about what some unknown entity will say. A rejection letter isn’t the same as your work not being good enough. All a rejection letter says is that this particular story wasn’t a good fit for this particular editor at this particular time. Send it to someone else!
That’s what I’m doing. And that’s why I’m sharing the tips and tricks that have kept me going and motivated these last few years, so that that you might find something useful, something that would keep you writing, designing, creating.
I don’t have the recipe for instant success*. But I might help you past the first hurdles on your path.
* It’s spelled: Create. Finish. Submit. Redo.
I’m a writer (I’ve written and published a couple of thousand non-fiction articles during my ten year stint as a news and feature writer), copywriter (ran a one man ad agency for about six years), blogger (obviously) and tabletop game designer. I’m blessed with a lovely wife, great kids, a good gaming group and a steady paycheck from my day job.
On workdays I’m the communications officer at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping University, which is less glamorous than it sounds but lets me see cool new science almost every day. Evenings I’m superdad, meaning that I don’t throw hissy fits quite as often as I would like to. Somehow I make time to write and design for come game day I’m Fil the Prototype Guy. I’m also collecting rejection letters, and the occasional acceptance, for my fiction.
I do pro-bono work for gaming companies, meaning that if you’re a small time developer and need some writing or proofreading help but can’t spare the cash, let me know and we’ll work something out.