Conversations With Writers: Self-Obsolescence as a Writer

Today I talk again with Ryan Macklin because I was mulling over his post on Power Obsolescence and it quickly became obvious it was the kind of conversation that should probably be shared so we decided to reconvene later that day for a more formal discussion. Also we talked about knives and tacos.

Ryan Macklin: I am here!

Minerva Zimmerman: hurray I am also here. Aaron and a programmer made post-rollout brats so I didn’t have to cook 🙂

RM: nice

I did all the cooking

MZ: what’d you make?

RM: chicken tacos with fatija veggies.

MZ: ooo yum

do you cook the chicken from raw?

RM: cube, pan cook base, drain the liquid, put in tomato sauce, cubes of frozen chicken broth, and spices. Cook until the sauce is semi-solid after the cubes melt.

veggies are a separate skillet

But not always

MZ: huh

I guess I’ve never gotten comfortable with raw chicken so I don’t cook it much other than in the crockpot or baking it

RM: Lily and I work with chicken on the stove all the time.

MZ: probably part of growing up around my Mom, who is a food scientist so she’s super big on cross contamination

RM: The trick is often in the knifework.

At least, it is for me.

Yeah, I used to feel that way. I don’t use the same cutting board for that and veggies, that’s for sure.

MZ: like she has a whole procedure for cutting boards, knives and doing a bleach wash afterward…

though I toss everything in the washer and run the heat

cause I hate bleach smell

RM: I don’t like machine-washing my knives.

MZ: I was taught not to, but I prefer to now… and just get them sharpened periodically. Which is a good reminder to get that done when the farmer’s market starts up.

RM: Part of my aversion is rhythm. If I wash the knives when I’m done, then they’re ready for the next day and not sitting in the dishwasher waiting on a full load to start.

And part of it is that my knives are Target-bought so who knows how well the handles will last over time

MZ: yeah, I’ve been lucky to get reasonably good knives but not SO nice I’d feel bad

RM: Good knives are a someday but not major thing.

I feel like I haven’t earned them yet.

MZ: oh, did you know that some QFC’s will sharpen your knives for you?

RM: I need to level on my knifework.


MZ: in the butcher department

like I think you drop them off and pick them up

but it’s a neat service

I could sharpen them myself too. I have all the stuff.

actual good sharpening kit

RM: How much time is that?

MZ: oh I’m a freak about it

which is why I take it to the guy at the farmer’s market who does it for a couple bucks a knife

cause I’d spend a whole night doing it until I could split a human hair

…but I’ll do my non-kitchen knives

though certain pocket knives I pry too much with to sharpen much

…I am basically a scout master’s nightmare is all



Creators making themselves Obsolete

RM: Right. My blog post on Power Obsolescence.

MZ: yes. That word. That I can not spell well enough to make spellcheck make it appear.

RM: Honestly, writing that post hammered spelling it in my head. I kept leaving out one letter or another.

MZ: So, my thought is that fiction writers must be obsolete to the work when it is published, if not by definition but by the fact that they will not be present when the reader reads it.

And when I mentioned this earlier you pointed out that if that was really true than no one would want to see authors at a Convention.

RM: *nod* Becoming obsolete for the art rather than becoming obsolete for yourself.


MZ: And when you said that, I remembered seeing a tweet recently where an author had gotten a comment from a reader who had really enjoyed a recent story until they realized it wasn’t autobiographical.

RM: What I talked about in Power Obsolescence is that becoming obsolete in your own terms in stuff you do allows you to grow and do new things. And that chasing the same dragon over and over leads to stagnation. It’s something I’m conscious about whenever I write about Fate stuff, which is why I do it whenever the mood strikes rather than on some schedule to keep myself relevant to a community.

MZ: Which makes a lot of sense in tabletop, because you could just do the same thing over and over forever.

RM: You can in a lot of places. Just “over and over” takes different shapes.

MZ: and I mean there are some long-running fiction series that can do that too

RM: Tabletop roleplaying games have the… maybe “advantage” isn’t the right word, but circumstance that the are inherently incomplete.

Right. Rich worlds and rich characters are also inherently incomplete. Or at least can be made that way.

Same with my career in tech writing. I could write about the same product for years, because it’s always changing and the userbase is always trying new stuff that’s worth us addressing.

MZ: My thought upon reading this, is that a fiction piece has to be released as separate to the author, but as with the example of the reader who was happy with the story until they discovered it wasn’t autobiographical fiction… the reader can drag some version of the author back into it as well.

I mean, we can all think of the first author whose books we loved and then discovered they were not a great human being.

so does that power structure lay in the hands of the creator or the consumer?

RM: Yeah. I think one of my super old back-in-the-days-of-LiveJournal posts were “Your favorite author is human”

MZ: The human-ness of creators is awesome and awful at different times.

RM: Let me propose a horrible analogy

It’s like a party

The reader is throwing a party.

Maybe the reader is fine with your work there, but without you personally being present. But are you fine with that, or not? You see the creators who aren’t fine with that as they keep trying to shove their way into the party.

That’s more on what I was talking about in the post.

Or maybe the reader wants you there, and you don’t want to be there.

MZ: yeah, that isn’t a horrible analogy

RM: The “just as I get out, they drag me back in” vibe.

Good. Because I made a lot of tacos tonight, so you could totally come over and join my taco party.

MZ: I find it sort of weird since I never write myself into my stories?

RM: Or you get the really weird thing where the reader is dragging the author in, the author is all “yeah, look at how awesome this is,” and it turns out the reader ends up disliking the author.

MZ: I mean clearly I have to put parts of myself in there to bring it to life… but it’s more like donating blood than making a clone.

RM: I’m a Remix Culture guy. I’m totally down with using myself as something in the mix.

But it’s not the same as authorial presence in the lives of readers.

MZ: No, it isn’t. I guess I just personally find it weird that someone could basically create a figment version of me in their mind based off of what I write?

RM: They’re already doing that to us based on our tweets.

MZ: Yes… but that’s not what I mean.

RM: Fair.

MZ: I mean, I’m ME in my tweets.

sure it’s not a 100% version of me, and I swear A LOT less online.

I sort of think of Twitter as my “visiting someone’s house” voice?

so I try to be reasonably polite and only mouth off with people I know

But, the Points of View in my stories are very much Not Me.

RM: Hehe. I could possibly stand to apply that to my main Twitter account, maybe.

But yeah, I get you. The fictional construct is being remixed in a reader’s mind into a sense of their identity of you.

Identity perception? I dunno if that’s a term.

MZ: Which I find REALLY weird since I write in a male POV a lot.

I do worry I put a lot of my vocal tics in stories, but the characters themselves I hope live on their own.

I’m not sure how to express this.

RM: In relation to the idea of self-obsolescence?

MZ: Ok. As a creator, I have to consider my work as its own thing once it is out in the public. I feel that to try and maintain how people think about the characters and worlds once I release them is breaking the agreement with the reader.

I think THAT is why people react so poorly to say the Star Wars reissues.

That everyone lived with this cultural mythology for 20 years and then suddenly the creator was like “No wait, I’m going to change this”

like, it wasn’t truly HIS at that point.

So, when I think about people trying to dissect everything through a lens of who they perceive me to be and to put me back into the story… that feels wrong.

RM: Lucas is, particularly in that regard, someone who doesn’t appreciate the power of self-obsolescence. But then, there’s money to be made there, too.

MZ: well, he did step away

I’m not sure if he understands it or not

we could dissect just the Star Wars part of self-obsolescence for… weeks.

I guess my main thought, now that we’ve talked this out… is that if I am not ready to give a story over fully, I don’t publish it.

Which is kind of a big self-discovery thing.

And possibly part of why I hold on to certain stories or refuse to finish them fully.


Yeah. That’s totally it.

I must get to self-obsolescence before I can submit/publish something.

RM: That’s something I wasn’t thinking about when I wrote my blog post.

MZ: It wasn’t something I was consciously thinking of when it sparked something in my head.

RM: It, on the career-scale, has been on my mind for years. Knowing I was going to leave my day job in games for, well, I knew probably a year into it that I didn’t want it as my end-of-life career.

MZ: I think self-obsolescence is more powerful than control.

RM: Ideally, it’s easier.


MZ: it’s like you could hear me chuckling

RM: Since with control, you have to keep struggling to maintain it. That’s an endless fight. Struggling to stay relevant, to regain lost relevance and spotlight.

MZ: I don’t know about you, but I struggle to release control.

RM: That’s exhausting.

Oh, sure. But once you do release control, if you have people watching your back, you’re done.

That struggle… no, it’s not over, because you can always try to grab control back. But it has the potential to be over in your favor.

The struggle of keeping control, on the other hand, doesn’t have a positive endpoint.

Unless you count “took it to the grave” as a win.

MZ: yeah I don’t want to aim for control, I want to aim for stability and giving up control

er, self-stability

everyone else is on their own.

RM: Also an ongoing struggle, though I’m happier with that struggle.

Though I start mixing the metaphor messily there.

MZ: I am much happier with my own stability these days, but I think I have been compensating with holding on to stories.

That’s not very zen of me.

RM: Not being very zen is sort of zen.


MZ: moderation in all things including moderation?

RM: glug glug glug

MZ: I feel like there should be some form of Confession for Writers.

“Dear Editor, it has been three months since I last submitted something”

I feel like I have some kind of writing sphere spiritual guilt I need to rid myself of because of failing at self-obsolescence

RM: Heh

I have something related to that.

I was showing my wife my list of drafts on my blog.

I have around 185 stubs or partly written articles.

MZ: …I can imagine her response.

RM: And I think around 550 published ones. That’s my ratio.

More in the early years.

So mine is “it’s been ten days since I finished a damn blog post.”

MZ: I kind of wish I had more blog drafts… I don’t though.

RM: Though my Patreon has me motivated to finish more.

MZ: though I’m kind of cheating by posting a link round up roughly daily now if I can’t think of something to say

I try to tack it on the end, but like today, I just didn’t have anything interesting

“I got up at 6:30 yesterday, so I went home and was goofy tired on the internet before sleeping like the dead.” doesn’t make for a good blog post

RM: BRB totally ripping that off for tomorrow’s post.

MZ: /shrugs

RM: Seriously, though, I find it super fascinating that you took to smaller scale what I was thinking about in larger scale.

MZ: with self-obsolescence?

RM: Cuz yeah, at minimum you have to remove yourself from your work if it’s gonna stand on its own.

The work could be a short story or a novel or a game.

Or the work could be an organization or a website or a product line.

Or a convention. Or a fulfillment company.

I’ve had a lot of hats in games.

The pangs are different, I think.

You still have your name on your stories, but people might misinterpret them or whatever.

Whereas I’m thinking about the pangs of being unremembered.

MZ: It’s very clarifying to me, to realize that for most of these stories I’m holding on to… I just haven’t gone through the process to be ready for the characters to be anything more than MY imaginary friends.

RM: Is any of that a trust issue for you?

MZ: like, I don’t want to share them

RM: I know that it can be for me.

MZ: yes and no?

RM: That sounds like it needs unpacking, if at least for yourself.

MZ: I think a lot of it is just wanting something just for me… to selfishly hold on to them.

and in the past I’ve had stories I knew I would never write down that I’d play over in my head for my own amusement.

And I just haven’t been doing that recently… so I must be holding on to these instead.

Very weird.

RM: That’s where it becomes the opposite of what I was thinking about.

MZ: So, I have a thing that will soon be a known thing, but will be winging its way into the world in a very big way.

RM: Ohh!

MZ: and I’ve gone through the process of self-obsolescence with it, but it is still not out in the world yet. It’s sort of in a liminal state.

RM: I hate liminal states

MZ: So I trust that some people will adore it and it won’t be other people’s thing… but I’m in a place where right now I have no idea how that will actually go.

So yeah, I guess I have a lot of weird mixed up thoughts.

RM: On the eve of launching something important to you? I am shocked that there’s gambling in this establishment.

MZ: A lot of people talk about books as babies… but that’s not true. It’s like sending a kid off to college. All the kid stuff happens BEFORE that.

You’re trying to think of everything they need in their dorms and worrying about every stupid thing they could fuck up… and knowing that there is a fast approaching date where you will drive them somewhere, drop them off, and… hopefully things work out and you aren’t picking them up in 3 months after they’ve flunked out due to joining a MMRPG raiding guild.

I’m mixing metaphors…

RM: Heh

Join the club 😀

MZ: but no one gets self-obsolescence at birth.

and I’m totally going to start referring to a certain kind of author as a “helicopter-author”

RM: I think I know what you mean by that, but let’s pretend that I don’t.

I have a saying I do at work, when asking someone to unpack an idea:

“Explain it to me as you would a wealthy child.”

MZ: Ok

/takes you to Starbucks /gets you a chocolate crescent and a double tall sugar-free mocha with no whip

Now, Ryan. You’re heading off to college. But we’re only a phone call away and we’ve got tracking on your phone so we know where you are at all times.

RM: Right, yes. helicopter parenting. I knew I was tracking the metaphor from somewhere, but wasn’t clicking.

MZ: 😀

it just happened that your saying worked well with it

well I think I’m about tapped out on the topic

RM: Word

(Note: totally unrelated to ALL of this. Ryan also just recently released Katanas and Trenchcoats and raised a lot of money for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital. If you like katanas, trenchcoats, living forever, and RPG’s.. you should probably check it out)