Getting into Writing



  • Hi, MSB.

    I had a conversation with a writer friend IRL recently that gave me pause for thought, and made me interested in what other writer people might have to say on the topic.

    RP is writing, in my books, and what better place than to ask than on a writer forum?


    My RL friend told me the story of how he first got into writing at the age of 13. The story is not important. My gut reaction however was bafflement. You can get into writing? Honestly, I had no idea. I had assumed that, like me, everyone who's into writing has just instinctively known they were since the day they were born. That for as long as anyone can remember, those of us with the inclination have been telling stories, obsessing over stories, drawing pictures of stories in kindergarten and then folding up little pieces of paper to look like "books" with big, inelegant letters narrating one sentence tales. That we innately like the way that words sound and have always wanted to create our own collage of them.

    The friend in question also studied creative writing in university. This too is a fascinating concept to me, because while I've found the advice of other writers useful on occasion, I've never thought to study creative writing because I'm not totally convinced that this is something at its core that you can teach. I never attended creative writing clubs in school, for similar reasons. I just sat and wrote what I wanted/needed to.

    For those of you who either:

    a) studied creative writing
    or
    b) got into creative writing at a later age

    I am curious to hear your stories. How did it happen? And when studying creative writing, what methodologies did you learn that significantly improved your ability to create? Do you think creativity can be taught, or did it only refine your ability to execute that creativity?


  • Pitcrew

    I absolutely go into writing at some point. May have been in grade-school, probably around the time I discovered I liked mythology and legends, right around the time I started reading voraciously. I think I already had the storytelling drive, though, since that's essentially what I did when I played with my action figures before then.



  • I have been writing all my life. I worked as a professional copy writer for a spell and now I spend most of my time alternating between writing historical fiction and mushing. Roleplaying is definitely writing -- not necessarily something that can be published, but you learn ALL THE THINGS about pacing, keeping people interesting, setting scenes and moods, and moving a plot.


  • Tutorialist

    @L-B-Heuschkel said in Getting into Writing:

    you learn ALL THE THINGS about pacing, keeping people interesting, setting scenes and moods, and moving a plot.

    Do you though? Do you?

    I mean, given that there are no small number of criticisms about our distinct lack of ability to do this, I sometimes wonder. You'd think that it would be a way to learn, but many of us seem to be lacking in some essential element.



  • @Derp said in Getting into Writing:

    @L-B-Heuschkel said in Getting into Writing:

    you learn ALL THE THINGS about pacing, keeping people interesting, setting scenes and moods, and moving a plot.

    Do you though? Do you?

    I mean, given that there are no small number of criticisms about our distinct lack of ability to do this, I sometimes wonder. You'd think that it would be a way to learn, but many of us seem to be lacking in some essential element.

    I'm going to go with yes, if you want to, and you treat it as that -- a writing exercise. MU* people don't start out knowing how to do these things. They learn them as they go, and the more they pay attention to trying to learn, the faster they learn. And some, indeed, give no fucks and never learn. Just like a course in creative writing in real life, really.

    I think the important thing to remember there is that we're at different places in our learning process and we want different things. What's an intense, emotional scene of great beauty to me may be eighty lines of purple prose to you and can we get on with the murderhoboing already. A romance writer has trouble enough communicating with a crime novelist -- now add different play styles to the picture and it's no wonder the arguments go on.

    But it's all there. If you can find the engagement, and the game that matches what you are trying to learn to write.



  • @Kestrel said in Getting into Writing:

    Do you think creativity can be taught

    It cannot, but that isn't to say that creativity cannot be learned. The main goal with any "using and understanding language" course is not to teach people how to use and understand language, really. It's teaching how to learn how to do it. It may sound like splitting hairs, but I entirely disagree.

    I'm sure everyone can recall an English class in which one has been instructed to tear apart a supposedly great novel line by line with the intellectual equivalent of a scalpel. The idea behind that isn't to teach how to understand that book, but to teach how one can learn to approach and understand nearly any creative work.

    One cannot be taught to be creative, but one can be taught how to learn what their creativity is. I believe every human being is capable of being creative, but almost no one is capable of being creative at all things or in all ways.

    Though I would also argue that RP is less "creative writing" than it is improv and acting that just happens to be written down.



  • @L-B-Heuschkel said in Getting into Writing:

    I think the important thing to remember there is that we're at different places in our learning process and we want different things. What's an intense, emotional scene of great beauty to me may be eighty lines of purple prose to you and can we get on with the murderhoboing already. A romance writer has trouble enough communicating with a crime novelist -- now add different play styles to the picture and it's no wonder the arguments go on.

    I wish I could upvote your post 100 times, but I’m just going to respond to this part.

    So much misery could be avoided between incompatible RPers if we would just be more accepting of this sentiment: that not everyone likes or wants the same things and that that is OK.

    I have talented, highly intelligent friends whom I adore and respect, yet whom I fundamentally disagree with on matters of taste. Friends with whom I share a love of Terry Pratchett, yet have heated disagreements with about Neil Gaiman.

    I have sensitive, insecure friends in this hobby who’ve felt utterly destroyed by attacks on their style and choices. I have been that friend. I’ve loved scenes they’ve GMed that others hated, and been unendingly frustrated when as a result of criticism they received, they decided to stop running a story that they loved running and I loved participating in.

    Just because someone doesn’t like a thing you did/wrote doesn’t mean it’s bad. It might mean that the two of you are incompatible scene partners who like different things, and that is perfectly OK.

    I think game runners and staff can become particularly vulnerable to this and it’s always disheartening to see.



  • @L-B-Heuschkel said in Getting into Writing:

    MU* people don't start out knowing how to do these things. They learn them as they go, and the more they pay attention to trying to learn, the faster they learn. And some, indeed, give no fucks and never learn. Just like a course in creative writing in real life, really.

    I'm going to have to second this.

    I consider myself a professional writer. Most of what I do as a civil litigator requires me to communicate ideas in a cogent manner to convince others of the strength of my proposals. To do this often requires an ability to turn facts into an undeniable tale of events which will be interpreted in a way that is beneficial to whatever polemic I am pushing for acceptance.

    This is learned. More accurately it requires a great deal of unlearning and re-learning. Worse, the practice requires me to adapt and write with several kinds of voices to persuasive effect. Rhetoricians might call it "calling to the audience"; I call it the art of the bullshit.

    Every time I MUSH I try to practice "calling to the audience." Every scene has a certain mood; being able to maintain that mood without falling back into a different "evocative style" requires, in my opinion, a great deal of discipline. But the weakness in practicing on a MUSH lies in the inherent failing of improv as a way to practice comedy: you need someone else to participate with you in order to make it work as intended.



  • I think there are a lot of aspects of writing that are both skill-based and habitual, like most other things, and you can teach and nurture those. I 'got into' writing in third grade when our teacher made us journal for like 15 minutes as part of class every day and I certainly got better at it in more structured environments where I was forced to stretch into different aspects of it. IDK, I've worked in journalism and technical writing and I feel like I use different muscles for those than when I try to write creatively (largely for myself), but they've made me a better writer all around.


  • Pitcrew

    I think I've been 'into' writing most of my life. I think the first story I can recall writing because I wanted to write it, not because it was a school assignment, was 3rd or 4th grade, and by the time I was in high school I had notebooks filled with story fragments, terrible adolescent poetry, and worldbuilding and plots for gaming campaigns.

    As to whether MUing is writing - it absolutely is! But I definitely think it teaches some fundamentally different habits and techniques than writing fiction - and that some of those habits and techniques are /bad/ for writing fiction (and vice versa, of course. Trying to plot your MU character's 'story' in the same way you would a novel character is a recipe for sadness and disappointment, and novel plots tend to not make good MU* plots, while good MU* plots would tend to be far more chaotic and unfocused than a good novel would prefer). So I wouldn't recommend a MU* for people who want to learn 'to write', and honestly think that if you want to write fiction, MU*ing less is the best choice.

    Although that may be my own bias, since the two activities take up the same brainspace in my head, and I can't do both at once.



  • @Pyrephox I am tempted towards saying, take the course in creative writing first. Learn the basics of the craft. And then play a MU* in the same way that many writers use writing prompts -- to keep flexing the creative muscle. Because a MU* is indeed not a piece of fiction, and some of the fundamental mechanics are very very different. It's a way to stay sharp, but it is not learning how linear written fiction works.



  • @Three-Eyed-Crow said in Getting into Writing:

    I think there are a lot of aspects of writing that are both skill-based and habitual, like most other things, and you can teach and nurture those. I 'got into' writing in third grade when our teacher made us journal for like 15 minutes as part of class every day and I certainly got better at it in more structured environments where I was forced to stretch into different aspects of it. IDK, I've worked in journalism and technical writing and I feel like I use different muscles for those than when I try to write creatively (largely for myself), but they've made me a better writer all around.

    I definitely think you can get better at writing over time. Like with anything, practice makes perfect.

    Many years ago I watched a televised interview of JK Rowling in which she described a writing technique of hers that I still employ to this day: when plotting her books, she creates a table of her characters and the overall plot, marking what each character needs to be doing in each chapter in order to progress their independent narratives. This is a technique I'd never considered until then, and her advice has proved invaluable to me. Furthermore learning terms like "plotter" vs. "pantser" and better knowing myself and my needs in this regard has also helped. (Obviously, I'm a plotter.) I follow publishing blogs which provide all kinds of useful tips.

    I don't think this taught me creativity, though, it's just helped me streamline my writing process. Over time I've gotten much more methodological, and I'm more mindful of various pitfalls for I might consider "bad writing". My style, grammar, punctuation, sentence-structure etc. have all improved with education and practice. But these are tools, not the essence of the work itself. There are things I do that spark my creativity, like going to different physical locations with my laptop/notebook to write, but I think these are things that work for me personally because of who I am as a human being, rather than things that could work for everyone. I've read about different writer routines which to me seem absolutely insane as I know they could never work for me.

    For example, @Pyrephox thinks if you want to write properly you shouldn't also MU*. For me, this doesn't work. If I try to concentrate on only one writing project at a time, I develop writer's block. I need multiple projects to work on and bounce back and forth between to keep my creativity flowing. When I'm blocked on my novel, putting it down for a bit and MU*ing instead works like a charm to reinvigorate myself. But I know myself, and I think knowing yourself is critical to any endeavour. One size does not fit all.



  • @Kestrel said in Getting into Writing:

    For example, @Pyrephox thinks if you want to write properly you shouldn't also MU*.

    I would definitely say, though, that if you want to write properly don't try to "write properly" on a MU*. Writing a novel and RPing are totally different animals. The fact that they're different-but-similar enough is probably why it's helpful as a creativity unblocker. You can be creative without it feeling like "still writing your novel."



  • @Tinuviel said in Getting into Writing:

    @Kestrel said in Getting into Writing:

    For example, @Pyrephox thinks if you want to write properly you shouldn't also MU*.

    I would definitely say, though, that if you want to write properly don't try to "write properly" on a MU*. Writing a novel and RPing are totally different animals. The fact that they're different-but-similar enough is probably why it's helpful as a creativity unblocker. You can be creative without it feeling like "still writing your novel."

    I mean. Are they, though?

    Various RP communities I've been in have encouraged things like short stories and character vignettes, which I think can make for good practice.

    A while ago I wrote around 10,000 words worth of backstory lore for a player org I'd created. It contained chapter headings etc. And I have huge respect for the amount of work involved in creating an original setting for a game/campaign run for other people to participate in, complete with a detailed website and documentation.

    Tools I use to create characters for RP settings are the same tools I use to design characters in my story; I keep notes not entirely dissimilar to a "character sheet" for them to reference in the prose. While the prose might not reveal their entire backstory, knowing it in my head is important to me. I've created a fake language lexicon for use in RP, and I've done the same for use in a book.

    I definitely view RP and MU*ing as a literary exercise, though I also agree with the comparison to acting improv. I think there are different ways to approach the hobby and if the desire is there, it can certainly be used as a tool/exercise for improving your professional writing. For me, the key differences between writing for publication and writing to RP are:

    • On a MU*, I have immediate feedback for my writing as opposed to needing to wait until after professional publication to know whether or not I've fucked up. Even if no one says anything, you can still get a general sense of whether or not your partner feels engaged in the story you're telling, though of course there are other factors here like whether or not you're demonstrating engagement in theirs, too. But I'm sure everyone has had at least one positive experience of a stranger letting them know, 'hi, I really liked that thing you did with your character, they're fun and that was super duper cool'. Or conversely, heard some soul-destroying gossip in a similar vein.
    • Stakes for succeeding at RP are comparatively very low, so I don't have to worry so much about whether or not I'm fucking up, and I'm free to experiment.

    I have no interest in writing erotica professionally but surely even things like TS offer the benefit of getting better at writing sex scenes over time. I've shit-talked professional writers for their shitty sex scenes, and praised others for being good at it. (Call me, Patrick Rothfuss.) Maybe if GRRM had some experience in that department and spent some time trawling MSB, he wouldn't be so rubbish at it?



  • @Kestrel said in Getting into Writing:

    I mean. Are they, though?

    I use the same tools to put up a shelf that I use to build my computer. Building a computer is not the same thing as putting up a shelf, even though they fall into the same vague category.

    Are there similar elements in both the writing of novels and the writing of poses? Yes, of course. But I still believe that they are different enough in their nature that the distinction is important. The main one being that a player is generally not in control of anything other than their character and perhaps the small sphere of influence around them.

    RP is still a literary exercise, I'll agree, but it is certainly not the same as writing a novel. A player is the actor, not the playwright.



  • @Kestrel He totally would, his audience likes it just the way it is.

    Jokes aside, you make one very important other point: Writing fiction is LONELY. Mu*s are a way to alleviate some of that loneliness and get some creative juices flowing. Writing a 120k words novel is a process of literally 2-3 years for most writers, during which you get feedback of maybe 1-4 people at most. The rest of that time? You, just you, and nothing but you.



  • I'm also in the camp of 'professional' here. Not only in that I get paid to write, but have been published for creative works.

    And the sort of writing that I get paid for is different than the creative stuff. (Someday though, ah, someday.)

    I did end up going to school to study this stuff. I think, for someone who has a real interest in making a career of it, that school has a good purpose. I learned things like techniques and methods in different industries (such as TV script writing) and I learned skills outside of writing. I can both give and receive critique to a far better level than before. I actively feel a sort of discomfort now when I hand in something professionally and get told they like it 'as is.'

    Anyway.

    I'm also in that camp that MUing and prose, while both creative writing, are not remotely the same. There's so many reasons they aren't. One reason is actually the critique. Sure, you get feedback. But there's a huge difference between someone not enjoying a PRP because you didn't include enough monsters for their personal taste and whether or not it was well and engagingly written. Also, never write to cater to just the single loudest voice. Big oof. Few people on MUs are ever going to give you true constructive feedback. Their feedback is going to be personal. 'I don't like female characters with red hair. There's too many of those already.' Or'Why did you let Bob lead the party when my PC is more suited to it?' I've never had someone give me feedback on my actual writing.

    To me MUs are socializing I can do while doing other stuff. And they're a way to test out ideas.


  • Admin

    @Auspice said in Getting into Writing:

    I'm also in that camp that MUing and prose, while both creative writing, are not remotely the same. There's so many reasons they aren't. One reason is actually the critique. Sure, you get feedback.

    Obviously being paid for writing stuff is great feedback in and of itself. That goes without saying.

    I do feel others choosing to spend their time with you is a form of feedback as well. Even if you don't actually get directly complimented for it it still means something; perhaps it's both your writing and your personality that compels people to hang around. That isn't so bad.



  • For what it's worth(which is admittedly not much), I make a pretty decent side living writing fiction. In my opinion and experience, writing and RP are two very different animals. To break it down into my most sincere beliefs, RP is cooperative, and writing fiction is not. When you're RPing, you're telling one side of a story collaboratively with other people. The expectations for RP are often very different than they are for writing fiction. To list just a single example, most people don't like exposition or internal monologues in RP, but both can be a handy tool in fiction writing. There's also timing. I can spend a day on a scene, a paragraph, or a single sentence when I write my fiction. This would be unforgivable in an MU scene(unless you're using Ares for a long term RP scene!)

    That said, I have found that RPing has helped me with my dialogue. I also know of at least two people who have taken RP logs and published them to at least moderate success. Writing is, ultimately, a personal endeavor, and what works for you may not work for someone else. You can undoubtedly use RP to sharpen your writing, but I think it must be done with reasonable expectations.


  • Pitcrew

    I got into writing because I am a reader and monkey see, monkey do. I have never tried to publish a story because I will never personally believe I am good enough at anything to deserve recognition for it, but I took classes, I've read books about writing, I've kept journals, all that.

    The only thing I can say to answer the question about what I learned that improved my ability to create is, I have failed. I have failed a lot. I have failed over and over at attempts to capture a feeling in words, and I have used those failures to avoid failing in quite the same ways again. I don't really feel qualified to give advice, but since you ask for it, my best advice is this:

    Every painting is a self-portrait. Sometimes, you are going to paint yourself in ways that show you to be very ugly. You have to be willing to be ugly because without that ugliness, there's no truth in anything you write.


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