Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Turning Point

I arrived at an interesting realization yesterday evening. It was one of those moments when you suddenly stop, look around, and light dawns on you that totally changes your worldview. I need to give you a little background here. Typically, once I put the baby to bed (around 7 PM), my wife and I log on to one of the massively multiplayer online (MMO) games that we play. We've played these games for three or four years now, starting with the launch of Anarchy Online and with the exception of Everquest and its sequels and The Matrix Online, I think I can say without exaggeration we have played or beta-tested just about every MMO that has ever been created. We're currently playing City of Heroes and Guild Wars, for those who are interested in that trivia. It's good escapist fun and a great chance to reconnect with old friends from college and grad school. I "see" them every couple of days, so it has really served to keep us all in touch. It's one of the things my wife and I have in common, so it's a great way to spend time with her as well.

My wife has been teaching her astronomy class four nights a week this summer, so the impetus to log on hasn't been as strong lately, but I've still been playing. Last night, however, I realized that I was more interested in reading and thinking about writing than I was in playing a game. This is more significant than it might appear. Anne Perry, a historical mystery writer, wrote that she is often asked, "Should I become a writer?" Her response has always been that if anything she could say had the possibility of changing your mind about being a writer, then no, you shouldn't be one. Her point is that if you aren't driven by a need to write, then you have no chance to make it in this business. I've heard numerous other authors express similar sentiments.

Frankly, I don't buy it, and I never have.

I don't feel the burning need to write. I don't feel that it is healthy to neglect your family, friends, and the rest of your life in order to write -- even though I have heard writers I respect say exactly that. Balance is important in all things, and writing is no exception. To this point, I've dismissed these statements of the obsessive-compulsive theory of writing. Surely they don't really believe that, and even if they do, I believe they're wrong.

But last night it occurred to me that maybe there is another way to look at it. I still don't need to write. Maybe that's because writing is my job and not something special I do on the side, I don't know. It occurs to me, however, that maybe the required mental state is not being obsessively driven, but instead for writing to be something you actually enjoy -- enjoy as much as playing games, or watching football, or whatever your favorite form of entertainment might be. I've always looked at writing as working. Enjoyable work, granted, but work nonetheless. Could it be that the motivation -- the drive -- that all these authors say is critical to success could arise from the simple enjoyment of writing? It would seem to have essentially the same effect, but is, in my opinion, a much healthier outlook.

There are those who will say that everyone gets bored with their hobbies or their jobs at some point. If enjoyment was all that was keeping you writing, how do you keep writing when that pleasure is absent? We used to say in the Navy, "If you aren't having fun, you aren't doing it right." The corollary of that is that if you aren't having fun, do it differently until you are. Writing has endless, endless challenges, so I think there is enough to keep anyone interested for many, many years, provided they can stay out of the proverbial rut. On the other hand, if writing truly isn't enjoyable for you anymore, stop writing. I've never understood the tales of the "artists" who absolutely hate what they are doing, yet feel "driven" to do it anyway. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Does the fact that I write because I enjoy it mean that I have less dedication than those who are "driven" by a need to write? I don't think so, though I suspect those writers would strongly disagree with me. My understanding of psychology tells me that it is much more difficult to be creative when you are stressed, angry, or depressed. I would contend that he who can write because he enjoys it will write better fiction than one who "struggles for his art."

Time will tell, I suppose.

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