November 21, 2004

Parts and participles

I play games. Everyone who reads this blog knows that. I also read gaming sites. There are even a few of them listed as links right here on this page. Today I stopped by Terra Nova and read this article. It included a link to an article at the New Yorker about plagiarism and copyright.

Before you go any further, click on those links and read the articles. If you're not interested enough to read them, then move on to whatever it is that does interest you because you will not understand today's post in the least. It will have no meaning for you whatsoever.

All right then, here we go:

I write. It's a worse addiction than heroin or cocaine, a greater high than Ecstasy or PCP, and more delusional than the most far fetched LSD trip you can ever have. There is no drug that can compare with writing, and that is one reason writers so often have substance abuse problems. The same personality flaws that produce an addict can also produce a writer. Artists can be spiritual and high-minded, musicians can be either elitist or populist, but a writer is always a kind of addict and like any addict, they have a very low tolerance for reality. Not all writers are geniuses, but every serious writer is an addict, and like all addicts, our drug of choice is far from pure.

Sadly, it's also the only drug we have. There are no pure words, there are no original ideas, every story that can be told has been told. The biggest difference between a writer and other artists is a serious writer cannot pretend to be original. Words are too limited, their range too short, their lifespan too completely inconsequential. There is nothing more ephemeral than a well-written story, there is nothing more immortal than a memorable one. More often than not, they are both the same story.

In 1985 I sat down to create a fantasy world. It would be a world of magic, of dragons, of political intrigue, and of spiritual idealism. I wrote up all the background material, created the principle characters, set out the timeline, and began writing stories. I wrote dozens of stories based on that world, none of them were publishable, but with each one, I learned something new about my craft and something deeper about the world. Satisified, I set out to write a novel. As fate would have it, the very same day I wrote the opening pages I got an e-mail from a fellow Usenet participant who wanted to know if I would be interested in co-authoring a story. I sent her the background material. She liked the world. Together we wrote, "Magic Lessons". 125,000 words of heartstopping, pulse-pounding, conscience-tripping fantasy build up from a symbolic iconography at least two thousand years old.

Then someone told me about Wizards of the Coast, D&D, Magic the Gathering, and Forgotten Realms. Someone else handed me the third book of The Wheel of Time. Magic Lessons had already found a publisher, for the entire two years it was on the market I lay awake nightly wondering if the next day would be the day I got a letter from the Wizards legal department, or worst yet, Tom Doherty Publishing. When I finally pulled it from and the dozen or so other sites where it was being offered I felt both suicidal with despair and giddy with relief. It sold fewer than three hundred copies, a figure I still find both fantastically relieving and deeply depressing.

And still I cannot stop writing! I am right now working up a proposal for a trilogy at Wizards of the Coast. It will go out in December. If it is accepted, it will hit store shelves in fall of 2006 and I will again lose sleep wondering which literary god I have subconsciously copied. If it is not accepted I will again go through the torturous blend of depression and relief that keeps me coming back to this silly blog feeding my insane delusion that someone out there not only wants to hear what I have to say, but waits with bated breath for every word.

Nothing, I fear, will ever be strong enough to break this addiction. Not even gaming. I am right now in the process of planning out a new character for a roleplaying group on the Lionna server of Lineage II. Why roleplaying? Simple, I get to feed two addictions at the same time: playing and writing.

I am a writer, and no twelve step program ever devised can possibly help me.