Why Dungeon Diving is Like Writing by John David Anderson
I am armed. With Post-it notes and Atomic Fireballs (the sucking-on kind, not the scorching-your-enemies kind). My muses sit beside me: Homer Simpson and Doctor Doofenschmirtz. Mark Twain and Chewbacca. I wield something even mightier than a sword—a Toshiba laptop. It is time.
I am going to write today.
There is a very good chance that I might not come back from this awake.
Every day I venture into the depths in search of gold. I plumb the caverns of my own twisted imagination, unlocking doors and overturning rocks, poking my nose into shadows and corners, ferreting out elusive characters and plot lines, opening chests full of words and sifting through the piles to find something, anything of value.
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
For starters there are traps. So many traps. Peanut M&Ms for one. Good in small doses, but eaten by the pound they will stop your heart. The Internet—that’s another. Let’s just watch the Star Wars preview one more time. Then there’s the couch, beckoning to me, “Come lay down,” it whispers. “We all sleep down here.” Yes, yes. Just for a little bit…
And there are the monsters. The Demons of Doubt that lurk in the back of my skull, constantly telling me that I’m not good enough. You’re a hack, they spit. An imposter. Give up. Mow the lawn. Do something useful with your life. They prey on my feelings of inadequacy. They mock me with Amazon sales statistics. And the Blockers, who squat in my head, impeding my progress, siphoning off my creative juices, leaving my fingers paralyzed above the keys. “Ung,” they say. “No ideas for you.” (The Blockers aren’t very eloquent).
And, of course, the book reviewers. Those guys can eat you alive.
Yet I persevere. Armed with little more than my imagination but flanked by the thousands of authors that have explored these same dark recesses before me, who egg me on by their own genius. I know I will never be a legend like them, but even just to share shelf space is an honor. So I suck it up. I put the M&M’s back in the freezer and call the couch a few choice names (writing can be a lonely enterprise—it helps to talk to inanimate objects). I kick the Blockers in the shins and sit on the faces of the Demons of Doubt and I start opening doors, one after another, venturing further and further into my many-chambered head, determined to unlock them all.
Because there’s treasure, oh so much treasure to be had. There are glittering phrases, masterfully crafted (or simply smelted together, in my case) and richly adorned paragraphs, so tempting to the ear. There are so many interesting characters to meet. Sarcastic barbarians. Washed-up superheroes. Love-struck tweens. There are acts of bravery and compassion to be catalogued. There are fevered dreams and flights of fancy. There are punchlines to be delivered. There are battles to be won. And there are royalty checks.
Okay. There aren’t always royalty checks. But that’s all right. That’s not why I go into the dungeon. That’s not really the treasure I’m looking for. I go for the going; the trip is what matters. The excitement of discovering what happens next. The pain and joy of watching a character you’ve grown to love rise and fall and rise again. The exploration provides the greatest pleasure—just watching the story unfold.
There are some treasures you can’t touch. There are experiences that are worth their weight in jewels. Writing is a journey, a discovery, a mystery, a gift. So is reading. Every day I jimmy open another door, pick another lock, crack another spine, turn another page—and I hold my breath.
Because even I’m not sure what comes next.
John David Anderson is the author of Sidekicked and Minion. A dedicated root beer connoisseur in his spare time, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.