Our Princess is in Another Castle

Writing is hard, but is it "Nintendo hard"?

The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (1985–1995) is notorious for offering some of the most challenging video games ever made, games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Battletoads that would make many of today's Xbox and Playstation gamers weep with anger and frustration. Although you could often find cheat codes to get extra lives, pore over player's guides, and even call an official hotline for tips, in the end, games of that generation all relied on skill and reflexes. You also needed one more very important thing:

Persistence.

To complete a difficult game like Mega Man, Castlevania, or Ninja Gaiden, you needed to play through each level over and over and over again, memorizing the patterns of enemy movements, finding power-ups, and avoiding traps (usually after getting caught in them a few times first). This takes a tremendous amount of patience and persistence, which are essential qualities for the hopeful writer submitting work to agents and editors. While I was playing all those NES games as a kid, repeating the same levels for hours (no save games! limited continues!), I was also unknowingly rewiring my brain for a career as a published author.

Consider: How different is "Thanks, this is a solid novel but it just isn't for me" from "Thank you, but our princess is in another castle"? It's disappointing to slog through four treacherous levels in the Mushroom Kingdom, sneak past pitfalls, and triumph over a fire-breathing dragon only to discover that you have to do it all over again somewhere else. So it is with writing and revising and querying and waiting for weeks or months only to find out that you've ultimately sent it to the wrong agent.

Getting a rejection letter can feel like hitting a brick wall, but it isn't game over. You have to get back on that speed bike, telling yourself that next time you'll make it. I came so close this time! I just need to give it one more try. Come on, five more minutes, Mom!

The act of playing a video game is all about not only learning how to play that game, but putting in the time to practice and master it completely, no matter how many times you have to press Continue. And if that isn't bad enough, sometimes you have to blow on the cartridge to even get the game to start in the first place.

But as you pick up the rules, get better at writing, and persist in sending those queries out, you'll hone your instincts. Maybe along the way you'll find some warp zones and things that will shorten your journey or improve your chances of success. And one day, probably after numerous setbacks, you'll find the agent you've been looking for.

6 comments:

Melody said...

Haha, great analogy {and great blog title}! Thanks for the encouragement! :)

jonyangorg said...

Battletoads can be an apt analogy... So hard!

Adam Heine said...

Those speed bikes were rough. And yet nothing felt more awesome than when you succeeded.

E.C. Myers said...

Thanks, Melody!

Jon and Adam, I only beat Battletoads once, when I was 13. I can still do the speedbike level, but I fear the later levels might be beyond my aging skills...

Fran Wilde said...

Fantastic analogy. And a fun walk down memory lane!

Matthew MacNish said...

Having beaten Ninja Gaiden (Black) in its later iteration, I can say with confidence this is probably the most on point blog post I've ever read.