So, today I sent out my first short-story submission in 10 years. I exiled myself from the writing business back in 2002. I knew my work wasn’t quite good enough, but I didn’t know why. People I knew were selling novels, but I couldn’t make a professional level sale. It was a grim time for me, and I opted out of the misery.
They say that real writers can’t quit writing. I would agree, with some minor qualifications: a real writer can’t stop writing, but they CAN use a lot of different escapes to fill that unmet need. You don’t have to use a back-scratcher to scratch an itch. Neither do you have to write stories and novels to satisfy the desire to write.
I quite happily sank myself into writing for and in a “play by email” Pern Yahoo group. I even got to be Weyrleader for a brief span of time, although I was writing a bitter heavy-handed guy whom everyone hated. It didn’t matter, I was writing and it was fun. Eventually the group politics and my very obvious lack of influence in the group led to me ditching the group after a year or two. I found myself at loose ends again.
Very quickly, though, I loaded up a video game that I’d played obsessively for a couple years– Baldur’s Gate. It remains one of the greatest RPG video games ever made. I loaded up the sequel as well and played through that a couple times. Then, on a whim, I installed the GameSpy software and went online to play Baldur’s Gate 2 with other actual real people. Online! In real time! It was a rush.
BG2 was a dying game at that point, since everyone was moving over to Neverwinter Nights. I loyally swore that I’d never switch teams, but the place emptied out pretty quickly. I bought NWN and played through the solo adventures, adding on the expansion packs as I went and playing through those. Then, one fateful July day, I went online in a NWN server . . . I chose one of the busiest and one without any of the annoying restrictions on classes and races. And I was HOOKED.
The less said about the next six years, the better. I played obsessively. I spent thousands of hours online, roleplaying sharp-tongued women and a tragic gay man. My characters were bards, and I composed dozens of songs for them to suit any occasion. I wrote copious “journals” for them, which I posted on the server’s forum. My desire to write fiction was completely subsumed in my RPing. I was writing . . . for hours upon hours. My characters were me, in a fashion, just as any characters you write contain elements of yourself. But these characters got to interact with characters that were utterly alien to me! I couldn’t tell what these people would say or do. It was like crystal meth for a writing addict like me.
Then, it died. Neverwinter Nights became a relic of what it had been in its heyday. Our server dwindled from 75 a night down to a handful of holdouts who were unwilling to quit. But then, even we holdouts quit, about a year and a half ago. People moved on to new games, new addictions. And I was left without anything scratching that itch.
It took about three months of withdrawal before I started writing fiction again. I managed to write for another three months before life got too busy with other things and I stopped again. I started reading instead, catching up on all the fiction that I’d missed over the previous six years (since I hadn’t been reading, either.) I made long lists of books that I wanted to read and then plunged into them. I gobbled up nonfiction books to feed my brain’s hunger for information, for stimulus, for new things. It took me about a year to catch up on that. And then, the writing urge came back.
Older, wiser, and better-read . . . I can only hope that the exile has made me a better writer. I have to shut off those other avenues when I’m writing or the urge starts to die. Oblivion was a huge obsession for a while, just like its sequel Skyrim. I spent a couple of weeks playing Fallout 3 and wrote nary a word while I was saving the post-nuclear world. The writing urge is fragile– I have to cosset it a little. But I think it’s worth it. This novel may never sell– it may be a trunk story in the end. But right now, I have to keep hope alive for it and for all my work. I can’t quit again.