Video Games Can Kill Your Writing

In my daily lunchtime-wasting internet crawl today, I stumbled across an interview with Robin Hobb, bestselling author of (among other series) the Assassin’s Apprentice Trilogy, which I own, signed by her, and of which I have read the first volume.

Although interviews asking writers how they find the time to write are a-dime-a-dozen, I haven’t really read one since it became a real issue for me. Since starting full-time work, and getting married and starting a family, basically. And it really hit home this time. With my life destined only to get even more full of non-writing activity, I’ve begun to realise that it would be all too easy to just stop writing, and never pick it back up again.

I have got four weeks off from work when the baby arrives. I’ve got a few big decisions to make in that time. Although for the moment, work is an inflexibly-necessary evil, I want/need to start to prioritise the rest of my time. I can’t just keep going with the flow unless I first take a look at what that means giving up, and decide that it’s okay.

When do you find time to write?

“Well, I’m a full time writer these days, so it’s a 6AM to 11PM job on the days I want it to be.

When I was younger and working outside the home and having kids, it was harder. Some things, such as gaming and watching idle television, simply had to go. I still had favorite TV shows, for example, but I couldn’t sit down and just channel surf all evening. Dinner over, dishes done, kids on homework, me on the word processor. When they were really small, a notebook (paper kind!) was my best friend. Sit on a bench at the playground or on the floor by the bathtub and write. Write on the bus, while waiting at the doctor’s office, while the kids were at the roller rink . . . you can get a lot of words that way. And when you type it all in at the end of the day, it’s a revision and elaboration process that multiplies those words.

I also had and have a messy house and a jungly yard. We all make choices about what is important in our lives. And once we know what is important, that is where we put our time.”

Have you by chance ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

“I think that early on I realized that gaming, online worlds and even the Internet connection presented a very real danger to me as a writer! Seriously. I can handle one obsession at a time, and writing is a career where the obsessive parts of it are actually very helpful to me. Online gaming presents a very strong lure to me. After a couple of very small trials, I realized that it would be an ‘all or nothing’ occupation for me. And I do mean an ‘occupation’ as in something that would occupy all my life and time. At that time, with work and a family and a small farm to take care of, I had precious little ‘free’ time. I knew I could give it to gaming, or to writing. I made a conscious decision that I had to play in my own world inside my own head. So, I still feel a lot of envy when I walk past my daughter’s desk and see all this cool stuff happening on her monitor. But I have to keep walking and sit at my own desk and start piling up the words on the screen instead. I don’t think I could game and still find the time to put out a big hardback every year.”

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

“Start today. Write. Finish what you start. Submit what you finish. Repeat. Don’t get caught up in the ‘someday I’m going to do that’ trap. Don’t blog and tell yourself that it puts you on the road to being a published fiction writer. It just makes you a blogger. Get your stories down on paper now. Don’t wait. The stories that you can and would write today are irreplaceable. The story you will write at 15 can’t wait until you are 30. It won’t be the same story. It will be gone. Don’t write a lot of stuff in other people’s worlds. You are not a cookie press pushing out dough into a pre-set shape. You’re a writer. If you don’t write your own characters and worlds now, today, no one ever will.” Robin Hobb interview

Says it all, doesn’t it?

I feel that now, more than ever before, I’m standing at a crossroads. I may have even taken a few steps down a certain path, away from my writing.

When I started this blog, I pretended it was writing. Something that helped me pretend that I hadn’t left my creative ambitions behind. For a while, it worked as a distraction, but it never filled the hollow void that abandoning my writing left me with.

Most days, I don’t feel up to mental sweating. After work, all I want to do is collapse in front of the TV or the Xbox. Both offer immediate, instant gratification, but it’s the kind that dissipates instantly the moment the screen is turned off. This certainly accounts for a great deal of my free time at the moment, certainly more than ideal.

And it’s become a routine. On the bus to/from work, I read. On my lunch break, I blog. When I get home, I hang out with Katie, cook dinner, walk the dog, watch TV and go to bed.

Because of the graphic-novel nature of the project I’ve got half-finished, The Lesser Evil, I can only really ‘write’ when I am at home and have access to the computer that houses all my software. If I went back to prose, I could replace the bus rides and lunchtime blog with a paper notebook and start writing again.

Things change

When I was little, I was so sure about what I was going to be when I grew up. And now here I am, all grown up, a husband, father, breadwinner… it seems impossible for career aspirations to get a look-in past all that.

And that’s okay. For now. A little while. But I’ve started to realise that I’ve taken my eye off what I thought was the grand prize.

Maybe I was wrong. I might not want it as much as I thought I did.

But I still believe that if I’m ever to have a career rather than a job, there’s only one place for me to go. And I’ve known that all my life.

When things settle down a bit, I might fix my eye on my career.

I’m not sure what the future is going to hold for my writing. There are so many variables, and I am naturally reluctant to sacrifice any of the comforts or opportunities that I want to be able to provide for Katie and the baby.

The answer might lie in stopping/slowing this blog, putting the Xbox into storage, maybe even leaving current creative projects by the wayside.

It could be that I never really needed to be a writer; maybe it was a stopgap solution that became redundant when I found my family. Maybe all the meaning my life needs can be found here. That’s what all the movies say…

Or it could be that a change in my career path will help me find the meaning I need for myself…

… but even now, as I always have, and even though the urge to write is not as strong as it once was, I still see it as my only path to being happy at work. Maybe there really has only been one path meant for me, and it’s the one I’ve known I wanted all along.