I read an article some time ago about ‘Warcraft widows’, the partners of those who are addicted to online games, most notably ‘World of Warcraft’. One can only feel sorry for these individuals, for it made grim reading. The addicts themselves are not kids or adolescents – many are in their mid thirties, like me. Wives and girlfriends complain of up to forty hours a week lost to this obsession, as their partners retreat to an imaginary world full of make-believe people, surfacing only for food and the loo. Often the players only reluctantly engage with real life, forget to do basic chores, become uncommunicative, and generally act as if the people in the imaginary world are more real than their own friends and family.
I read it, and my ears were burning. Then I moved away from the fireplace and carried on reading, but uncomfortably. And this in spite of the fact that I haven’t played a computer game for ten years.
One might protest that writing novels is a job, not a silly game. It’s art, right? And you get paid for it, right? (Well, in theory.) But money or not (and sometimes it really is hard to tell) the fact is that, for much of the time, there is no visible external difference between the writer and the poor guy who lives most of his life as Bjorn Bloodaxe, 15th-level warrior berserker mage. Those around him simply have to trust that he is doing something more worthwhile than lopping the heads off a bevy of goblins. Even if he is, in fact, lopping the heads off a bevy of goblins, via the more capable hands of his fictional hero.
Because it’s a freelance profession, and often carried on as a second job (as in my case) it’s easy to stray outside ordinary working hours, writing until your brain is fried and you’re incapable of carrying on a conversation. We talk about how hard it is to sit down and write – it’s harder, sometimes, to call it a day. Stephen King said that writing should be a support system for life – not the reverse. It’s good advice. No matter how important the story is to you, no matter how urgent the need to get it down, it should never reach the point where it replaces your life. After all, if we didn’t have a life, what would we write about?