My First RPG: That Time I Said Yes Then Couldn’t Back Out
I struggle with writing fiction. Not because the writing is hard, but because of what I call “American Idol Syndrome”. Every season, American Idol features the audition of someone who is really not a good singer. Without fail, the not-good singer is convinced that they’re amazing. In fact, they’re deeply offended that the judges can’t see their talent.
I don’t want to be the writing world’s version of the deluded American Idol hopeful. I think I have talent. I think my ideas are interesting and I write amusing dialogue. I think my descriptions need a hell of a lot of work, but overall I have a pretty high opinion of myself.
My confidence in my writing rests precariously on the fact that so few people have read it (except for that one fanfic that I won’t give you the address to). No one can tell me I’m not good and I like it that way.
I need to believe I am a good writer because writing’s really the only thing I have much talent at. If I’m not good at this, then what do I have left?
So I don’t write often, I don’t finish what I write, and I never, ever let people read my work.
A couple years ago I made a terrible mistake.
A friend of mine asked over Twitter if anyone would be interested in playing a 13th Age campaign over the internet. I immediately said I wanted to play. I didn’t have much tabletop experience, but I really wanted to learn and I figured that playing online with people I trusted would be an easy way to do that. There would be no rush when it came to taking turns, so if it took me a long time to figure out the math or to decide how my character should react it wouldn’t be a problem. No pressure, right?
Seconds later, I realized what a terrible position I’d put myself in.
I was going to have to write fiction.
On a public forum.
Where other people would read it.
I was going to have to do this under my own name and on a regular basis and some of the people who would be reading it were established authors who I greatly respect.
If there’s a way to gracefully back out of something seconds after you enthusiastically opt in, I don’t know it. I was stuck, worried, and desperately uncomfortable.
I was terrified I’d make myself look stupid.
And I did. Of course I did. I had no idea what I was doing. (Let’s be real, we’re two years in and I STILL have no idea what I’m doing.) I have felt agonizing humiliation during the course of this game on more than one occasion, and, much to my surprise, I have survived it.
I’ve written fiction that other people can read on a regular basis for almost two years. I’ve edited other people’s work and collaborated with several other writers to create moments and interactions that I’m really proud of. I’ve gotten a lot of excellent feedback from other players and from people outside the game.
Our 13th Age experience built friendships that I expect will last the rest of my life. It’s offered artistic opportunities that I wouldn’t have had without it. I’ve learned how to fit first-person snark into a third person paragraph and how to issue a real-world apology through a fictional character’s lips.
Am I good at writing fiction? I still have no idea. I know that I am better than I was before I started this, both as a writer and as a person, and that makes it worth all the discomfort.