By T. Trian
”Hey, man, I just got a new custom axe! 24 frets, maple fingerboard, hand-wound pick-ups, locking tuners, even a rare-wood body!”
“Dude, check out my new custom 1911, it’s the best pistol ever: bull barrel, lowered ejection port, full-length guide rod, beveled mag well, custom trigger job, adjustable night sights, golf-balled front and back straps, and ivory grips!”
If you have any hobby or interest which requires tools, be it playing an instrument, sports, or working with computers, you have probably experienced GAS. Several times. No, I don’t mean flatulence, but a syndrome all too familiar to most people even if they don’t know the term Gear Acquisition Syndrome aka GAS. Many, such as yours truly, suffer of MGAS or Multiple GAS. Presently I’m GASsing for a new guitar head & cab (Blackstar Series One 200 & 2×12 closed cab with V30s), a rifle (VZ-58 since I’m on a budget, a well-tuned AR-10 once I got extra cash), and two fixed blades (a decent kukri and a KA-BAR Eskabar BK14).
I’m lucky though: I have a gig-worthy amp, albeit a mediocre one, I have a gun, just not a rifle, and I got plenty of knives although not a kukri. That means I can practice all my skills without having to wait until I’ve saved enough money to quench my GAS. Too many people spend too much time mooning over gear porn, fantasizing about their next perfect tool while utterly failing to realize they are just that: tools, not works of art. Yeah, I know, there are guitars and guns out there that could be works of art, but I believe what Miyamoto Musashi said in his Book of Five Rings. Paraphrasing, his message was that you shouldn’t get attached to your sword because it’s just a tool: you should be able to pick up any blade after losing / breaking your last one and perform just as well or almost as well as with your old one.
All too often I’ve witnessed guys who are just utterly lost if they can’t perform on their baby. Okay, that came out wrong, but you get the picture: your favorite, highly customized 1911 craps out on you just before your first stage at an IPSC tournament, and you have to shoot on a borrowed stock Glock. End result: disaster. Or you can’t get your own drum kit to your band’s gig and end up making a mess of the music just because you can’t adapt to another guy’s kit, you’re out of your comfort zone.
That’s just being pampered. When drums were my main instrument, I got to play a gig on my own set… twice. And I played over a hundred gigs in over two dozen bands, which means most of the time I played on someone else’s kit. Usually I brought my own cymbals and snare, but that wasn’t always an option either. I can’t remember the last time I played a gig with my own guitar amp: I just bring my guitar and pedal board and use someone else’s amp which is sometimes an adventure (ever tried setting up quickly on a Mesa Road King when you got no soundcheck and just 5 minutes until it’s time to start the set? Not that they aren’t great amps, but it’s a good idea to know the owner in situations like that and make sure he/she’s not yet too drunk to help). Band competitions always have schedules tighter than a homophobe’s asshole at a gay club, so a couple of times I’ve had to play my wife’s SG when I’ve broken a string mid-song on my Telecaster. It’s a bit nerve-wrecking, but perfectly doable as long as I don’t pay attention to what can’t be done, and focus on what can be done with the backup instrument.
Writers are lucky in this respect: we rarely rely on gear to such an extent as musicians or athletes. Some still enjoy working with pen and paper and those living in the current century are usually content with whatever POS comp that has some word editor and internet access. For a long time K and I wrote on one laptop. It was a bit annoying, switching back and forth, especially since most scenes involve both of our characters, but it was all we could afford at the time, so we made do. A friend of ours built a computer for us as a wedding present in 2010 and soon we realized what a good idea it would be to get two mice and two keyboards. Now if only someone figured out how to install a second cursor and pointer on Windows and we’d be set for life! All seriousness aside, two mice and two keyboards are already a dream come true for a team of two writers.
So do writers suffer of gear worship? Well, yes and no. The problem is just less hardware-related and more… “software”-related. And by software, I mean our minds. I have encountered many self-proclaimed “writers” even though they actually never write anything. They just talk a lot about writing, crit other people’s works (usually excessively harshly), and discuss the theoretical aspects of writing, the process of getting published etc. ad nauseam. Yet they too, like our more musical or athletic brothers and sisters, fall into the trap of focusing on anything and everything besides the most important, definitive thing, i.e. writing.
I don’t know what it is about writing that seems to draw such people. Maybe it’s the artsy-fartsy tag “writer” they’re after even though they lack the fire and passion of actual writers. Kind of like MMA aficionados who have seen every UFC bout and then some, yet have never gone to a single MMA (or any martial arts) class. Why? Because MMA, like any other sport, art, or craft, is fucking hard work. Becoming good takes a shitload of effort, time, and dedication, often great sacrifices as well, but, then again, if you truly are a crafts(wo)man, that doesn’t matter. Hell, many of us enjoy the hard work on some masochistic level; getting our asses kicked at the gym, practicing guitar licks we can’t play until our fingers ache and sting, writing and rewriting our WIPs until we dream about the characters only to have our betas / forum critics bash it and tear us a new one. Well, our wonderful betas have been gracious enough to at least wear silk gloves while doing the tearing, but you get the picture: it’s not always fun and games. Nothing is if you do it enough to become good at it.
I believe it’s just that, the amount of discomfort and hardship, which drives many of us to dream of better gear, thinking (usually mistakenly) it would somehow help us suck less. Well, unless your guitar is an utter piece of excrement that barely deserves the name, doesn’t stay in tune longer than a few seconds (like my first electric guitar: didn’t stay in tune through even one song, but it taught me to tune by ear since I couldn’t be arsed to always use a tuner), can’t be set up for correct intonation etc. a more expensive guitar won’t make you sound any better. You’ll just look stupid sucking onstage, being outplayed by the virtuoso with a stock $500 axe he bought used from his neighbor. Just like you’ll look ridiculous missing your target with your custom race gun when competing against some guy with a Glock who spent a fraction of the money on his gun and the rest on ammo and actually practiced, got good.
The same goes for us writers: we should focus less on extra-curricular activities, like debating word choices, finding the best character data sheet template, asking ‘is this plot twist good?’ and pay more attention to the craft itself. It’s pointless to wonder whether you should e-publish, self-publish, or go traditional if you haven’t even finished the first draft of your MS. Or, rather, if you haven’t finished the 100th draft, because every single first draft ever produced is crap. Don’t kid yourself and pretend your shit doesn’t stink; it does, just like mine, his, and hers. And their dog’s.
I got a proposal for you: take one day a week, every week for one year when you do nothing else writing-related but write your story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or 100th draft. It doesn’t matter if you’re editing a specific part or rewriting the whole shebang. What matters is putting words on paper (or screen). Get that word count up, four digits or more. If you are a writer, you should write. That’s what we do. If you don’t write even this much… well, let’s put it this way: nobody likes the guy who never trains martial arts but wears TapOut and constantly talks about the latest UFC event. Don’t be that guy. Instead, be the Musashi of writing: focus on your skills, focus on improving them, and not through hardwire updates either. Write on your computer, write on your cell phone while on the bus to work / school, write on a napkin at lunch, doesn’t matter : just write.
PS. Also, what rock have you been living under if you think gun / knife / guitar porn means porn involving any of said items (yes, such people actually do exist)? To all the cave dwellers out there: it means pictures of those items, usually expensive, well-made ones you drool at in magazines or at trade shows. Now go and clean your dirty fucking mind already, scrub, rinse, repeat, and then learn to use fucking Google when you encounter an unfamiliar expression.