I have been blogging a long time now, and understand my own rhythms; when I am devoting a lot of creative energy to writing something and/or gaming, my hobby itch, as it were, gets very nicely scratched and I don't have a great deal of juice left over for blogging (or, at least, blogging about role playing). This is very much the case recently. I am finishing off a biggish writing project for somebody (details will follow when I am allowed to talk about it) and have a long-running weekly game to manage, and I find this means that, like a junky with a stable and regular supply, I need to devote less time all round to the source of my addiction.
Instead, I have been thinking a lot, in a vaguely self-critical way, about my productivity (or lack of it). I have a day job and a family, so I do have some excuses, but I am now probably in the position that I have to refer to myself as middle-aged, and I am disappointed with my creative output so far. I have written an honest-to-goodness real book for a real publisher (admittedly, an academic monograph nobody in their right mind would want to read), and I have written quite a lot of academic articles. I also write for a general audience in various online publications. But when it comes to what I really, really care about doing, the sum total is Yoon-Suin, the first issue of The Peridot, a longish bit of a yet-to-be-released game, a yet-to-be-released campaign setting, and the aforementioned work-in-progress.
And I've been at this for getting on for 15 years.
After years of polite agnosticism about Ursula Le Guin (I read the Earthsea books ages ago and found them pretty bland), I have been reading and enjoying some collections of her short fiction lately. This comment of hers, on 'April in Paris' (from the collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters), really struck me:
This is the first story I ever got paid for; the second story I ever got published; and maybe the thirtieth or fortieth I wrote....At about twenty I began sending things off to publishers. Some of the poetry got printed, but I didn't get systematic about sending out the fiction till I was getting on for thirty. It kept systematically coming back....[at] age thirty-two I was very pleased to get a check.
Thirty or forty stories! Before even getting published! And then after that she wrote about twenty novels! And literally hundreds more short stories! And she had the same number of hours in a day as the rest of us!
Agatha Christie is also a writer I was always politely agnostic about. My sister is a big fan, and like any good brother, very early in my life I made up my mind that anything my sister liked had to be bad. I had read the The Mysterious Mr Quin stories, and like anybody from my generation grew up watching David Suchet swanning about and berating 'Aystings' as Hercule Poirot on ITV. But I was never a big reader of Christie's fiction. Lately, I decided to dip my toe in, and again discovered a writer of quite astounding productivity: she wrote 66 detective novels, hundreds of short stories, and half a dozen 'proper' novels to boot - and she, it turns out, also seems to have only had 24 hours in a day as well. And she wasn't like Enid Blyton, churning out largely formulaic fluff at a rate of a book each week. This was decent stuff.
We are very down on guilt, regret and shame. This is a problem; they are beneficial emotions which should be rehabilitated. Comparing oneself negatively to others can serve as a useful kick up the backside; the torment of regret is a good incentive to change bad behaviours; sensing that you've wasted your life is an excellent reason to make up for lost time. I invite you in a spirit of brotherhood to join me in feeling like shit for a little while in comparing yourself to these authors. And then get to work.