I’m posting on Tuesday this week because I was travelling over the weekend. My thanks to Lorien for covering my usual slot.
I am in Poland! I’m visiting Selayna, one of the other authors here on the Art of Writing, who’ve I’ve been friends with for almost a decade without ever actually meeting her face-to-face. It transpires that she’s just as nice in person as she is over the internet.
Selayna and I actually met through an online text-based Star Trek roleplaying game.
Yes, we’re nerds. Remember that I willingly flew sixteen hours to attend a convention called NerdCon last weekend.
Anyway if you’re curious about how text-based roleplaying works, it’s like writing a book, but only having control over a handful of characters. All of the other characters are written by other players, and the other players control their actions and decisions, like in a D&D game. I’ve been running our game, the Starship Intrepid, since 2007, albeit with irregular updates and long periods of inactivity. I’ve let several months pass since the last time I was active in the RP, and since I arrived in Poland, Selayna has been badgering me to put more time and effort into it, so that she can get back to playing some of the characters that she loves writing for. I’m beginning to think that her invitation to visit her in Poland might just have been a clever ploy to get me in the same country so that she could accost me and demand more roleplaying…
There are plenty of characters in the RP that I love writing for as well, and nothing beats the feeling of taking command of a starship and exploring strange new worlds through the medium of prose (save for doing it in real life), but I have to admit to some feelings of hesitancy about the idea of getting back into the saddle and re-immersing myself in the comfortable creative environment of the Star Trek universe.
I spent most of my teenage years devoting my creative energies to roleplays and fan fiction based on Star Trek, and I don’t regret a moment of it, but I do sometimes wish that I’d written some more of my own material. As a teenager, I didn’t finish very many pieces of writing based on my own ideas. I only really started to make progress on my own stories, set in my own fictional universes, once I went to uni and fell out of the habit of regular roleplaying. And then whenever the lure of roleplaying calls me back to the bridge of the Intrepid, it seems that my own writing tends to suffer.
I don’t think that roleplaying is the root of the problem here. I think my main problem is that I’m very bad at having multiple irons in multiple fires, and giving them all the attention that they deserve. I’ve made it clear in some of my earlier posts that I’m not the world’s most disciplined writer, and that’s definitely something that I need to work on, but what interests me about this problem is the difficulty of budgeting my creative enthusiasm. If I start to get into a Star Trek frame of mind, I can very quickly find myself falling down the rabbit hole. Before I know it I’m spending all of my free time roleplaying, agonising over minor aesthetic changes to the site where we host the game, writing out rules and guides to good Star Trek RPing, creating image prompts and character avatars in Photoshop, and generally expending all of my creative energies trying to build the best roleplaying environment that I can imagine. I usually enjoy this process, and produce good writing as a result, but ultimately my other projects suffer. Going back to the metaphor of having different irons in different fires, I end up with one beautiful piece of steelwork (that I can’t sell), at the cost of neglecting the others, which melt and warp and distort in their fires.
But it doesn’t end there. Sometimes I can be in the spiralling depths of a roleplaying binge when I consume another piece of media that isn’t Star Trek – a movie set in the Age of Sail or a young adult novel about teenagers struggling with their existential crises in the modern world – and it suddenly shifts my attention. It feels as though someone has taken a magnet and shifted the poles of my creative compass, and I will launch with equal zeal into the epic fantasy series that I’m writing, or an entirely new project, or one plucked from the backburner of books that I’d like to write but keep putting off until later. When this happens, roleplaying tends to stop. And if I’m working on a book at the same time, then that tends to stop as well.
Perhaps I just have a short attention span and I need to work on fortifying my focus, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. For me, striking a healthy balance between different hobbies and creative projects can prove very difficult. I want to throw this one open to comments – do you have similar problems? Do you find that you get obsessively carried away with individual projects, or that you can only truly devote yourself to one project at once? Or are you more of a multitasker, capable of writing three books at the same time? I’d love to know!