It's hard to say that success is not always the key to happiness. It certainly helps, I'll grant you that.
For years, back in the 1990's, even before I'd realized my hopes and dreams, I knew that I wanted to write. I wasn't much of a student in school. Hell, I was a terrible one, in fact. Chronic underachiever is probably a good description. Some folks said I was "too smart," that the work bored me. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't, but I seem to remember most of my trouble had to do with homework. I hated homework. I'd generally ace my tests, but if homework was half my grade then it didn't matter what I knew and what I didn't.
I got jobs, supported myself. Moved out of the homestead and moved in with my sweetheart. Got married. Through that period, I tried to get my foot in that publishing door. Sent in articles to Dragon, mostly, when Alternity was still supported. Moved on to Star Wars Gamer when it seemed to be a good shot. I never did make it, then SW Gamer got canned, too.
It's not like I got reams of rejection letters. It's not like I submitted reams of material, either. I think I probably sent in one article for review, and dickered with editors about ideas and proposals for half a dozen more.
Lightning struck with Dungeon Magazine, which is really the last place I expected to see my name pop up in print. Erik Mona was to blame, and when I asked him why he picked my proposal for Ord Vaxal, he replied, "I liked your Star Wars mojo." Is that mojo still here, somewhere, buried under all the adult responsibilities that I've taken on, or inherited, or been given?
How long ago was that? It was the December issue in 2003, though I'm pretty sure the article was done and submitted at least five months prior. That said, we're looking at five years plus change, going on six. Since then, every writing credit but one ("Hazards of Dark Sun") I've had has been for a book. They're game books, of course. I've constantly steered my ship towards the gaming star. I'm a gamer, after all, and I was a gamer even before I first dipped my proverbial quill in its companion inkwell.
Now I sit at a desk and I write content and material for a computer game. I get paid, and I keep my kids fed (as much as they'll eat, anyway). I'm not wealthy, but I get by. The freelance work, well, I've always enjoyed it. Some projects were more fun than others, sure, but they were all well worth the time I spent on them. It's tough to make the time anymore. I write so much at work, spending so much creative energy there, that it makes it hard to keep up any momentum at home. Pair that with my kids, as demanding as they are at their ages, and it sometimes seems like a fool's errand.
I was thinking about all the books I've worked on, and I was thinking about all those titles and where they'll be in five, ten, or twenty years. Given the way that new editions are released in the tabletop industry, will my name still pop up on Amazon.com searches after all that time has passed? I don't know. I tend to doubt it, unless I can keep the ball rolling. I've already got credit on books that represent outdated or dead systems.
Writing for roleplaying games isn't like penning fiction or, dare I say, literature. For one, the audience is much smaller. For two, even crappy novels still end up on used books store shelves. So I wonder, what's the life expectancy of the work I do? How long does it stay fresh and new? And does anyone really know my name?
I'm not sure what's next, to be honest. I'll continue with the day job, enjoying the work (because I really do enjoy it, more than I've enjoyed any other job I've ever had) and thanking whatever gods orchestrate this massive cosmic freak show for the chance to do so. I think I'm going to have to take it easy on the contract work for a while. This doesn't preclude more contract work, mind you (you hear that, people? You know who you are!), but I need a pause to take a breath.
It seems so cliched, but I guess I might like to try my hand at fiction. Short stories, essays, a book, maybe. Not sure where to start. I've been writing "to order" for so long, it's hard to imagine relying on myself for the whole enchilada. I don't know how to get started; I don't know where to turn. And one question that aches to be answered is, does the work I've done up until now count for anything in that vast pool of writing talent? Or will the attempt be akin to "breaking in" all over again?
It's not a question for the now. It's a question for the future. Right now I'm too busy and too tired to even consider writing an original short story, much less a book. I think the pause will do me good, so long as it refreshes. I'll wrestle with the details another time, and I'll keep you all informed (if you'd like to remain so).