Can you force it?

Not far to go before Clarion West now, and my drive to get my novel completed before I leave has that distinct look of doom about it. However, recognising the look-of-doom and having to take a step back and think seriously about what I would do next has been interesting and, I hope, useful.

Last week I spent 5 days on a writing course for MMU students at the Arvon Foundation centre at Lumb Bank, outside Hebden Bridge. Incredible place: beautiful view over the valley, black-chimneyed mill at the bottom by the river, wooded slopes, open fires, excellent food and even better company. It was a disaster.

I had intended to make a Great Leap Forward with my novel. Write like the wind. Have it close to completion when I returned so that I could go into the last stretch before heading away on June 15th, and send it to my workshop group for review before leaving. Total failure. I needed to write around 5000 words a day to acheive this goal, and I topped out at 2000 w/day. Oh, I wrote other things. And I had a couple of nice walks, did some workshops, heard some excellent work read aloud, drank a lot of wine, talked to Ted Hughes (the cat)… But the novel progressed at the exact same speed it had been doing at home.

Being surrounded by other writers, I of course took the oportunity to whine, whinge, moan, complain, yeah, bitch about the fact that I could not seem to get the novel out any faster no matter how hard I squeezed. And what did they all say? Essentially, the answer was ‘Well, duh.’

I realised it’s not shameful not to be able to crank out novels at the rate Barbara Cartland did. It takes as long as it takes, and that’s a lesson I can usefully apply to all sorts of areas of life at the moment. Too used to working in business, where meeting a deadline is generally just a question of good planning and hard work. Creative work benefits from discipline and planning, and by ‘eck, it certainly takes effort, but it’s not like dusting crops. It’s not even like writing code. It takes a certain kind of emotional energy, and the simple fact is, I have 2000w/day to give, and not a drop more. And that’s OK.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

So said Einstein.

To be honest, I’m not terribly interested in whether our default reality is real or illusion, at least not for the purposes of this blog. I am interested in the shared realities deliberately created for us, purposeful illusions that hope to be persistent, known as MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games).

I’m a keen player of games, and for the past 4+ years I’ve been playing Dark Age of Camelot. My time there has come to an end, possibly temporarily, possibly permanent. As I explained over at Zora’s Corner, this has been an upsetting process, and I am grieving for the loss of a major part of my life.

People often say things like ‘It’s just a game’ and talk about games and ‘real life’ as being completely seperate things. But a game can become part of one’s life, and if reality is what we can agree exists, as has also been claimed by philosophers, an MMORPG is lent its reality by the people playing it. If a couple of thousand people are sharing a virtual world, spending hours every week acting in it, forming and breaking relationships in it, it is real, if only in the sense that it has a real and sometimes profound effect on the lives of those playing it.

Arvon, Clarion West, and the Great DAoC Aftermath

I’ve spent a couple of hours this evening talking to my friend Sharkith about MMO’s, and the breakdown of ‘community’ in virtual social groups. It’s a subject that’s dear to our hearts at the moment, because we have both recently left Dark Age of Camelot (I haven’t offically left but I am not playing). It feels as though there has been a catastrophic breakdown on the Dyvet cluster (Excalibur & Prydwen), but who knows as to whether what we experienced actually had any effect on the population.

I’ve decided to take a look, as objectively as possible, at what causes so-called game communities to go bad, and what breaks the trust between the playerbase and the company running the game. Does it really make people leave? What can be done to prevent it? I’m partly doing it as catharsis – I am grieving over what I’ve lost, strange as it may seem – but I have always been fascinated by the psychology & sociology of MMO’s.

I shouldn’t be doing this as this point, because I am still flailing around trying to complete my novel, a task which has become far more urgent due to my acceptance onto Clarion West. Six weeks in Seattle during which I will not have time to work on it, followed by an imminent Pipeline issue, means I have to have it ready for a final proof-read and edit by 15th June if I’m going to hand it in on time in September. I’m very excited about CW, excited enough to risk the novel for.

I’ve come to accept that I may not finish on time thanks to a lovely bunch of people that I met last week at a writing retreat at Lumb Bank, a mill owner’s house outside Heptonstall that used to belong to Ted Hughes. The place is owned by the Arvon Foundation and MMU takes students there at this time every year. It was a last-minute decision for me, but I’m very glad I went. The tuition (from Nicholas Royle and Conrad Williams) was excellent, the food was good, and the company was superb. Lumb Bank is a wonderful place. It’s not the open fire, the comfy sofas, or the incredible view across the valley that make it – it’s all those things, experienced through the imaginations of talented and fascinating people. The company of writers brings you to life and makes you appreciate everything around you so much more intently. Thanks guys.