How Many Brilliant GMs Have We Lost To This Writing Biz?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

After months of playing evil vampires, I have agreed to step back up again and become DM for my gaming group.  They’ve been asking me to.  We stopped right in the middle of a very exciting plot twist in my Numenera campaign, and I know vaguely where it’s going…
I hope I won’t punk out on them this time.
But it’s hard to GM these days, because as it turns out my GM headspace lives right in the middle of my novel-writing headspace.  I plot my novel in my empty spaces: when I’m walking the dog, I’m marking out the beats for this epic soup-making action sequence I’ve got planned. When I’m driving long distances, I have conversations in-character, mapping out dialogue paths through the epic soup-making action sequence.  When I’m in the shower, I’m envisioning the tiny details of soup-making – what the bowl feels like in my hands, trying to master the little tidal shifts in a five-gallon pot.
All that primes the pump so when I eventually sit down to write that epic soup-making action sequence, it’s as good as I can make it.
(NOTE: You may think I’m kidding. I’m not. I am actually writing an epic soup-making action sequence.  Well, consomme, to be precise.)
Anyway, the issue is that most of the good bits of my novel are created when I’m not staring at a screen… and the same can be said for my GMing.  I plot out campaigns on my walks, on my drives, in the showers.
Switching modes doesn’t work. I can really only novel-plot or GM-plot.  Not both.
So my campaigns have suffered for some time now, ever since I’ve started writing (and selling) novels. I don’t have this problem with short stories; short stories don’t require me to keep an entire world juggled in my head the way that both games and novels do.  When I wrote short stories, I could switch modes easily, because short stories aren’t exactly easy but they are compact.
The thing is, I’ve gamed with Cat Valente, author of the Fairyland books, and I know that she’d make an awesome GM… but she also has the same issue of “novels vs. GMing, novels win.”  Mike Underwood, who writes the Genrenauts series, experiences the same problem.
In my ideal world, GMing would be its own financial career path, where the really good GMs were stars – maybe not Brad Pitt-level stars, but MC Lars-level stars where they have 20k followers and earn a nice living off of merch and video streams.  And in that world, novelists would have a lot of overlap of skills – no, you don’t get to control the characters precisely, but there’s a lot of related talents in worldbuilding and character tension and plotting and motivation that get hauled out when you’re a top-tier GM.
And I wonder how many novelists could run awesome long-term campaigns – not the one-shots you occasionally get at ConFusion, but those epic months-long games where you have character development and get hooked into the world because you’re both in it and changing it.
I dunno.  I know the world often loses me as a DM.  And I’m sad I never got to sit in a Cat Valente campaign.  And I’m sad that GMing isn’t more valued, because god damn there’s a lot of great sci-fi and fantasy writers I’d love to see behind the screen.


  1. Michael R. Underwood
    Jan 8, 2016

    I’ve been wanting to get back into gaming, but in a way that doesn’t cannibalize my writing time, as you say.
    When I was a teenager, all I really wanted as a job was to be a professional GM. I am delighted that now it seems like there *are* some Professional GMs, from Adam Koebel at Roll20 to Matt Mercer for Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role.
    But even though it is fun to watch those games on YouTube and Twitch, I’m still itching to do some dice-chucking of my own.

    • @kagevortex
      Jan 15, 2016

      I had a similar thought many many years ago, partially to the issue that many players have of “finding a good GM/finding a GM AT ALL”.
      I left it aside because honestly I’d make a rubbish GM, but I did run some numbers.
      You’d HAVE to schedule a full 40hr/week on live session hours alone (not counting prep work), and what you’d need to charge the players for THAT would cause most to balk. And this was in pre-recession conditions, it’s even less workable now.
      So sadly, like many things, it’s a career that will have to wait for economic conditions to stop being so shitty.

  2. Sandra
    Jan 8, 2016

    I have this problem with fiction writing, since I started being paid to freelance writing. The desire to jump in and write more for fun, after a full day of writing for a paycheck, just isn’t there. Even journalling has gone by the wayside.

  3. Alexis
    Jan 8, 2016

    I have this problem too–my husband and friends want me to GM, but it takes time and creative energy. I think it does help writing in that it makes me think about story arcs and characters, but the time suck is hard.

  4. Carolyn VE
    Jan 13, 2016

    Three things I don’t do any more: run roleplaying games, write house rules for board games, and (more unusually) write poetry.
    These are all small, personal pursuits, and they all depend on an energy that I currently harness for professional reasons. I still do creative things just because I want to, but only when they fall into the boxes I can use. Otherwise, I have bills to pay and I literally can’t afford it.

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.