It’s 05:00 now. I’ve set the sprinklers (for damn near the first time in four years). I’m drinking coffee too wound-up to sleep another moment. This place is filled with memories of Callista and my marriage. The emptying rooms echo, which is good for singing and prayer but not for being alone and remembering the dead. By the time the sun sets, however, my tenure in this place of death will be done.
Lately, I have had to process a personal revelation concerning a dear feature of my geek-centric life, something I had always believed was complimentary to, but which I now understand was in competition with, my creative writing.
I love role-playing games (RPG). Though Dungeons & Dragons was published ’74 when I was 13, I didn’t play my first session until a couple of years later. While I have trouble remembering the exact date of that first game, I vividly remember the character I played—half-elf Torian Asgard—and the non-player characters (NPC) who were my companions—Sadar the cleric and Bluehelm the magic user—and the place we explored—the digs of Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown: Quasqueton! These two great heroes had driven off a barbarian invasion but had disappeared during an expedition against said horde, leaving their stronghold, Quasqueton, just waiting to be explored and its treasures plundered.
I do not exaggerate when I say that first gaming experience was a nothing short of revelatory (thank you, Ken!). Having read Tolkien, Malory, Lewis and Howard during my pre-teen years, I yearned to have adventures like Frodo, Arthur, Lucy and Conan and from the first roll of the dice, I knew I’d found a way to scratch that itch. It truly felt like I’d discovered buried treasure.
It didn’t take too long for the storyteller in me to demand space at the game table. I quickly assumed the mantle of Game Master (GM) and began weaving my own scenarios for a group of players who would become my brothers-in-arms and life-long friends. Though I left D&D behind in favor of more intuitive game-engines, for the last 40 years I have continued to play, destroying the minions of evil and amassing a body of story, mythology and history to rival the most prolific of literary heroes.
Due to circumstances, however, and though the crew still gathers to talk geek as we have for decades, we can’t seem find time to regularly game any more. I’m not going into the politics of this situation, for they are a rough emotional sea of wild cinematic waves and whirling simulationist water-spouts. Suffice to say that a “perfect storm” brewed itself made of equal parts life, age and personality. I would rather do is relate a realization and discovery made about myself and my creative writing while in the midst of this gale.
Due to this gaming short-circuit, I found myself in a creative vacuum and as a result easily irritated, dissatisfied and, without overstatement, a bit bitter. Without regular gaming, I turned to my work-in-progress (WIP) to fill the void (which at present exists within the context of Holly’s HTTS class). It seemed natural. If you don’t have creamer, you reach for the milk. I mean, was I not creating imaginary worlds, cultures and religions as I develop my WIP? Did not heroes romp about discovering, fighting, loving, betraying, exploring, etc. in similar fashion to gaming? Were there not dark sorceries to overcome, conflicts to resolve, and villains to defeat? I thought to myself: a good bout of creative writing would be my surrogate game session while the ship groaned ominously and I waited for the storm to sort itself out. Good enough and off I went, bummed about the loss of regular bone-rolling but thankful I had a creative shelter in the storm. And indeed; while it wasn’t the same as gaming, it was medicine for my queasy stomach and balm to my wounded creative humor. So, for the last few months I created characters, spun dialogue, developed conflicts, wove plots, done necessary WIP world building and, all in all, had a rather productive time of it.
And that’s when it hit me…hit me, I say, like one of those looking-for-lost-glasses-oh-shit-they’re-on-my-face type realizations:
Without a game to creatively develop and GM, I had directed more time and energy into my WIP. Without a game to regularly express myself and play, the desire to role-play had been somewhat assuaged by writing.
To many this may seem a “Well, duh!” sort of moment. To me it was nearly as watershed as the advent of gaming itself. It made me lean back in my chair and blink. I had always known that prepping my game-world in anticipation of a GM session was a creative outlet, but up to this point I hadn’t fully realized how much I depended on it nor how much of my storytelling energy I devoted to it.
I have long lamented that juggling the two has been difficult. I see now that far from complementing each other, they have been in competition much in the same way books and films compete for audience. Each mode of storytelling: books, film, rpgs, may have entertainment as a common goal, but they use different methods to do so and deliver different story experiences as a result. I think this is the main reason why those who read are invariably disappointed when their favorite book is adapted to film. It is also the reason that while gaming and fiction writing share some commonalities and even inform each other, they both demand time as a resource and as a result find themselves in competition.
Though I would never exchange my years of gaming nor even now give it up—it is a very important social outlet and connection to my brothers, as well as, an enjoyable mode of storytelling—I now understand better the creativity-sink it can be and realize it is not a replacement for serious writing…no more than writing is a replacement for role-playing.
Well, what to do? I plan to adapt to this new reality and learn to walk its rolling deck. I’ll not exacerbate gaming’s present illusiveness by wasting what time I have waiting for a second advent. I will embrace the situation as a mixed blessing and make the most of it by romping in my WIP’s land of dark sorceries and bright heroes. I have learned a valuable lesson: time and energy are finite. When the storm finally passes, and it will, I will strive to keep the weather-gage and maintain a more satisfying balance.
Greetings, true-believer–whoever you might be (I can usually count on my brother to read my blog snot); I am not dead.
I continue to soldier on with HTTS. I’m almost to Lesson 8’s homework and am eager to begin writing the first draft of my official HTTS WIP proper. Sitreps for 5, 6, and 7 will have to wait for now, but rest assured (who am I talking to?), I did complete them. Huzzah!
Seven, however, threw me psychologically. I know these lessons are designed to be finished in a week, all things being equal, but that lesson was challenging, taking no less than five months…five months and eight days to be exact. The length of my response to the prep-work is what did it. I’m sure 38 pages of 10pt, single spaced reflection was not what Holly had in mind when she wrote the lesson, and which she obliquely warned against. It is, nonetheless, what happened to me. I’ll detail that rather cathartic experience and how I got through it later. In this missive, I’m going to give voice to one of my secret writing wishes: a writing-buddy…other than my writing totems and writing sound-track.
At my age writing buddies are hard to find. Work, home and personal responsibilities are not illusionary or excuses; they are hard reality, and social opportunities wherein I might meet such a person conflict with that reality. That being said, I must confess to having been to only one such social gathering: a Nano’ write-in at the Queen Bean in ’12. There were three other writers there. One left almost as soon as I arrived. That left the organizer/leader, and one other writer who, God bless him, talked most of the time. He didn’t know me, so directed most of his banter at the leader, a gentle and understanding soul, whom he seemed to know. Maybe he was nervous, but at every pause he would bring up a book he’d read or banter on about his WIP–not a 30-word sentence, mind you, but a blow by blow commentary. At the time, it irritated me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool to meet a couple of locals, but the event was billed as a “Write-in.”
In retrospect, I wonder if the poor guy wasn’t just looking for a buddy too. Maybe he needed to break the cocoon of silence and isolation we writers by virtue of our craft tend to work in. I mean seriously, I’m in my bedroom right now at my emergency writing desk, a common occurrence lately (why not in the awesome study-library down stairs I’ve written of before with its comfy chairs and 2,500+ volumes? That, sigh, is another story for another time), with my head-phones on; I might as well be in my own pocket universe.
Dear Santa, I’d like a writing-buddy who is about where I am at: working full-time, home responsibilities, maybe a serious hobby to two, and a dream to write, a love of storytelling but with very little (nothing) published. This person would encourage me when my out-put was meager and challenge me when I began to wimp-out. I could be able to trust them not to steal my ideas and they would help me develop them without demanding copy-right. We would delight in knowing the other understood terms such as: rough-draft, revision, re-write, alpha-reader, proof-reader meant and be able to judge work…or NOT…accordingly. No “If I were you…” or “I think you should…” or “From my perspective…” without solicitation. They would have their own problems and challenges and look to me for support and encouragement. Above all, we would both understand how hard this thing we love is to do and would gather strength from each other because of that understanding.
Sheesh! It sounds like I’m a teen again day-dreaming about the perfect spouse. Pathetic.
There’s a local writing group in Modesto that meets once a month. The first meeting comes with a no-strings-attached invite: no sharing of work or critiquing required, just a look to see if the fit it right. Nice. Later, however, attendees are expected to upload material for members to critique prior to meets. And rightly so, I say, but two thoughts hold me back.
First, from what I’ve read of their profiles only one or two of the 500+ members have published a novel. The vast majority are like me, un-published wannabes. As an unpublished wannabe, I can’t help but ask by what right of experience do I critique other writer’s work? I mean sure, I can tell when someone’s grammar and punctuation sucks or when they’ve made errors in POV, or tense, or voice, or misused some literary device (my students have been great for teaching me that), but as far as giving out sound advice concerning writing fiction, it’d be like the blind leading the blind. I mean really, WTF do I know save what I’ve heard on Writing Excuses and read in books?
Second, because I’m an academic writing teacher, have read extensively about writing, and am working through Holly’s class, I know only too well where my writing is at in terms of stage and condition. All I have to do is wait a week and re-read what I’ve written and I can clearly see and hear the problems: “Puuuutrescence!” So, why in the world would I offer substandard writing for critique that I already know to be rough, flawed and broken…especially when I can see and address those flaws myself? It would be one thing to offer a manuscript for critique that I’d done everything I knew how to do to improve saying, “I’ve done all I can, but I know it needs work. Please help me see what I can’t” or “It’s coming along, but I’m not feeling it in this part of the story. Can anyone help me?” but to offer my rough-drafts, revisions or even my re-writes for critique seems, frankly, presumptuous of other folks’ time and not a little rude.
It reminds me of my seniors who turn in Senior Portfolio Project assignments with hardly more than a cursory glance for mistakes knowing I’ll point them out, which they in turn correct and get full marks for from the Project Committee. I don’t mind if it’s a mistake they’ve truly missed, but what irritates the shit out of me is when they don’t proof for mistakes they could easily have found themselves if they’d taken the time to look. In essence they are too lazy to do a little proof-reading…just like a lot of wannabe writers who are in love with the romance of writing but not so much with the less fun realities of writing well.
Oh, hell no; I’ll not be “…that guy.”
I have a cadre of brothers who will most likely form the core of my beta-readers. They are intelligent, versed in my chosen genre and take well to instructions (as long as we’re not gaming; then, everyone’s a GM). What I wish for and want is a writing-brother-in-arms, who’s in the trench right beside me, as confused, hopeful and bemused as I am.
Ah, well, until I meet one, I still have this blog…and the knowledge of thousands of wannabe writers out there are wishing for the same thing and getting it done without. Oh, and I can’t forget my writing totems and mojo. Can you dig the salt-crystal lamp my awesome mom gave me for Christmas? True magic, man, true magic.
I’m sure there’s a neat metaphor in there for next time.
I enjoyed Oath of Gold, the third in “The Deed of Paksenarrion” trilogy and getting to know Elizabeth Moon’s early fantasy side. It has been remarkable to watch the evolution of her writing style. She seemed to have found her stride during this the final chapter of Paks’s story and Paks truly stepped out to become round and dynamic. The dialogue felt more authentic and the predominantly human versus human conflicts extremely satisfying.
On that note, a thought came to me as I finished the book. Was the dialogue an issue for me because Moon was still developing her skill or was it a purposeful device to support Paks growing from a young country girl naïve in the ways of world to a full grown woman tried, tested and sharpened by harsh experience? As I reflect on the trilogy as a whole, I plan to keep this thought in mind when I next read a fantasy. To answer the question here would take a second read of the trilogy and my reading list is too long for that. Another tantalizing tidbit gleaned from Moon’s website is the suggestion that trilogy was first written as a single long story, broken up “…for practical purposes…” I can only imagine this means for publications sake. Did Moon’s skill evolve more organically then rather than in stages? Or are my own observations too amateur and arm-chair in nature?
As intended, Moon’s exploration of the military-religious mind set was thought provoking. I am always torn between wanting the authentic ring of the ever-compromising human mindset and a craving for a clear cut conflict between good and evil and a champion clear of mind and purpose. Paks seemed to reflect more of the later than the former in her perception of right and wrong, which was alright by me. Her need to come to grips with the reality of human suffering however—the feelings of those who cannot wield weapons in their own defense due to status, class, economic or training limitations—I thought was a great touch and satisfied the former.
We (and I use the term very loosely) are so jaded against those with a singleness of vision. We fear the power it gives them and its possible abuse. Templars come immediately to mind. I wonder, however, how much of the negative reputation gained by such holy warriors was not the result of the greedy men and woman who commanded them; who, though purporting a veneer of religious intent, were truly concerned with narcissistic gain and infected with megalomania. What resulted was an order of knights fed at an infected teat and as far from the Grail model they dreamed of as one could be. Our opinion of such is further influenced by our own political leaders who have failed us time and time again…and continue to do so, unable to agree on anything, behaving in a fashion no recess-monitor would tolerate on the playground let alone the halls of congress. The scope of this musing does not allow for much more than idle thoughts, but it is a tantalizing thread.
I still felt put off by the use of elves, dwarves, gnomes and orcs as too crutch-like, unnecessary for an enjoyable story. I think it would have been more exciting had she kept such at a minimum and relied predominantly on exotic human constructs or developed her own races and species as she did with some of the creatures Paks encountered. Again, I realize this was the rage at the time of publication—witness the Dragonlance saga. I also realize it is most probably my own tastes which are involved here—thousands of RPG inspired novel readers can’t all be wrong.
So…what has this modern master taught me or reminded me of that I should keep in mind?
I love a good bildungsroman. I love reading about characters going through a process of both structured growth as well as growth and evolvement that is experience based. Paks satisfies both categories as she undergoes her military training in the first book; her spiritual training in the second and the harrowing ordeals of the world’s training ground in the third. Over and over again, I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I note that this predilection is on my HTTS’ “Sweet Spot Map” as one of the things I’m drawn to.
In relation to the above, it was satisfying to read as Paks learned from her experiences and to place them as filters over the past. The changing POV and her notice of it lent another layer of authenticity to her characterization.
Paying attention to dialogue is important. Though the honeymoon phase between reader and author is a real as it is brief, authentic dialogue, reflective of a character’s experience and place, is important from the start. I’ll need to look into this very carefully and be wary of it.
A book that provokes thinking is always good. I would rather write one like that than one wherein my reader smiles, has a good read and promptly forgets they ever read it.