That Most Difficult Question

One question that’s been bouncing around social media writer circles recently, “Why do you write?” hit me a little flat-footed. That question forced me to look back at 30+ years tapping on a keyboard and really ask myself about my creative motivations. One clear answer came through: My answer isn’t simple, and has changed over the years.

My first impetus for writing anything substantive came after a 2-year RPG campaign that I created for friends to play. (Gamer to the core, me) My own world, villains, and story. When the campaign finished, I had a ton of source materials and an epic tale. I decided that I wanted to share that tale with more people than just the players. No grand plan, no financial goals, no dreams to become the world’s next Bob Salvatore. I just wanted people to enjoy my imagination. That story promptly got rejected (and rightfully so – I knew nothing about the business of publishing back then), but I’d written a novel. I was a writer.

I began attending small SFF conventions, and my dreams started to take shape. I began to create more in this world, vast cities, cultures, and magic that didn’t fit into the RPG realm. I wrote three novels with the hopes of getting an agent and maybe a book deal. I got pretty beat up with rejection notices and bad agents, and the dream faded. I self-published (that was a chancy business back then, with many shady publishers) did some cons, ignored the NYT bestselling authors telling me I was ruing my career (what career?) and decided it would be a fun hobby.

Then I stared at myself hard in the mirror (figuratively, of course) and bowed to the elephant looming over my shoulder. I had, at the time, 25 years of experience on the sea, and I wasn’t writing nautical stories. I began to think that writing from my own experiences would enrich my stories. That earned me a break with a small press, then an award, then two more.

Boom! I was a professional writer.

My dreams of a writing career returned. I took some time off to go sailing. We’d saved up to do that, and it had nothing to do with my writing, but it gave me a lot more time. I got my first deal writing tie-in fiction for a gaming publisher. My reason for writing changed drastically. I was making some money. Not a lot, but some. I was also getting some good reviews on my original books. I attended more cons, and got more tie-in writing deals. I was having fun in my own world and others, doing what I loved to do: entertaining readers.

Then lightning struck.

My self-published novel, Weapon of Flesh, took off. Ebooks! Yay! I really started making money. The potential to become a full-time self-employed writer loomed. I could maybe never go back to the day job! We went all in, and really started pushing to do 2 or 3 novels a year. I churned out five more books in that series. That and my tie-in work supported us for years. I’d made a real name for myself, and publishers knew me. I had fans who asked when my next book would be out. I wasn’t getting rich, but we were living comfortably, sailing and returning to the US for summer cons.

I had a new mantra: If you can do what you love and make a living, you’ve won the game of life. I still believe that. The making a living part, however, put a lot of pressure on my writing, forced me to pay much more attention to marketing (and therefore social media – eeew!) always planning ahead, pitching, submitting, and looking for the next idea in my own world stories.

Tragedy changes your perspective.

In the span of four years, my wife and I lost our parents, then a very dear friend. Mortality loomed. Money became less important due to an inheritance and some investments (thank my wife for the latter). Our priorities shifted.

The circle is now complete. I’m writing for only one reason once again: to entertain people with my imagination, my characters, their lives, loves, hates, turmoils, and trials. I still love writing tie-in fiction (won a Scribe Award this year) but I can pick and choose my publishers without worrying about making my car payment or the grocery bill. That freedom has sparked an explosion of creativity. I’m going directions that I’ve never gone before: a new far future SF shared world effort, a paranormal fantasy series, near-future post-apocalypse fantasy, a lot more diversity in my characters, harder questions, and fewer strictures. My writing has matured, I think, without the constant worry about money looming constantly over my head, or the doom of a day job on the horizon.

I’m still doing what I love, and would jump at the chance to write more RPG pirate stories (maybe space pirate stories?) but I’m not waiting for the phone to ring or worrying about rejection letters. I still do conventions, because I love meeting fans and fellow writers. I love paying it forward to new writers, too, because I’ve made just about every mistake there is to make in this crazy business, and I don’t want others to have to go through that.

So, when someone asks me, “Why do you write?” the answer is, “Well, that’s a hard question to nail down, and the answer is complicated.”

Because writers are complicated people. And I include all creatives in that statement. Don’t let anyone tell you game designers aren’t writers.

There are no easy answers.

But there is one thing I still know: If you can do what you love for a living, you’ve won the game of life.

Roll the dice.

You might not roll a natural 20, but you may just score a hit.

Guest Author