Reading is an absolute necessity for creators. And that applies to Game Masters and game players as much as it does to any other creative!
But if you’re like me, a grown-up gamer who is already juggling family, work, and gaming, it can be hard to find the time to read. And therein lies the problem. My creative juices flow better when I read. I feel more engaged and “in touch” with the world when I read. But when I don’t read? Well, let’s say it leaves the creative fields of my mind fallow.
Shouldn’t it be easier to develop ourselves intellectually? Shouldn’t regular reading be a simple discipline to develop? You will develop a healthy habit of reading if you follow the process that I followed. I read every day at work (that’s not a discipline…that’s work). But I also read for myself at home. And you can too! Here’s how you can develop the same practice:
Pick a book that you want to read
Twenty bucks says you’re not eminently interested in reading Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities. Maybe you are…but I’ve never heard of anyone developing a good reading habit by starting with Dickens and Melville. No, pick something that you’re really interested in reading.
As you likely know, I recently read a book that I think you’ll be very interested in, Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons and Dragons. Michael Witwer, in a very engrossing narrative format, has told the story of Gygax’s life. Why will you want to read this book?
Witwer’s book won’t make you a better Game Master. It won’t make you a more creative player. But here’s what it will do: it will educate you about the creative roots of Dungeons and Dragons. You’ll learn to appreciate where RPGs came from. You’ll learn the importance of having an organized and excited gaming group. You’ll realize that Gary Gygax, though addicted to making tables and spreadsheets, was really not much different from you.
More than that, Empire of Imagination will also help you understand why D&D has gone through so many editions. 2nd Edition doesn’t exist because 1st Edition AD&D sucked. I of all people can attest to that. There is intrigue, arguments, and backstabbing. There are politics and…oh wait, don’t think about politics. Suffice it to say, the history of new editions in D&D is a little more complex and salacious than you might imagine.
This bio of Gygax will also open your eyes to other games that Gary designed. D&D wasn’t his only game and it wasn’t the only game he played! While some were more successful than others, you’ll be exposed to some other lesser-known RPGs that you might be interested in trying. Some, in fact, that Gary thought were better than D&D!
If you want to pick a book you’ll want to read, I strongly recommend you get a copy of Empire of Imagination. But picking a book is only the first step in developing the necessary creative discipline of regular, recreational reading.
Set aside a time and place to read each day
While this might seem like the most difficult of the steps in my process, I actually think it’s the easiest. Here’s why: I read every night when I get in bed. If I’m really sleepy (like when I went to bed at 2:45am on Tuesday…wait…crap, politics again), I only read a couple pages. But I still read.
If I’m less sleepy, I’ll read a chapter or until a natural break in the story. Right now, I’m reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It’s chapters are really long, so I rarely read a full chapter. Luckily, there are relatively frequent section breaks. In Witwer’s book, I could read 3-4 chapters per night, because they are often short vignettes in the life of Gary Gygax. By reading every night in bed, I break the book down into short, digestible, readable sections. It may seem like you’re never going to finish that way…but I promise you’ll never finish reading a book if you don’t actually read.
It took me two weeks to finish Empire of Imagination this way. It took me two weeks to finish 1776 by David McCullough this way. It will take me longer for Hamilton. But that’s OK. It’s a book I want to read and it’s a book I enjoy reading. Who cares how long it takes!
So that’s my challenge to you. Try reading when you get in bed. Read a little bit each night and you’ll be surprised how quickly you zoom through your chosen book.
Remember, you can always read more tomorrow
This is an essential point when you’re reading a book you enjoy. There are two downsides when you’re reading in bed. One, you are often sleepy and can’t read much. Two, you may be enjoying your book so much that you don’t want to go to sleep. This second one happened often when reading Empire of Imagination. That’s when it’s important to remember this maxim: you can always read more tomorrow.
There comes a point where you’ve got to go to sleep, because you’ve got work or other plans in the morning. Maybe your job’s start time is flexible, but for most of us that’s not the case. My goal is always to get in bed thirty minutes before I need to be asleep. That way I have space to enjoy my book without rushing or worrying about getting up in the morning. Granted, I’m not always successful in this, but it’s a helpful goal to set in order to carve out time for your reading.
Perhaps to Mike Witwer’s chagrin, this will be my last blog hassling you to buy his book! If you’re wanting to cultivate regular recreational reading, it would be a great book to start off with. It’s an easy, fun read that will educate and inspire you. By reading it, you’ll be able to enjoy your gaming hobby from a whole new angle. And beyond that, it’ll be a restful and strengthening thing for your creative muscles!
Don’t miss out on an opportunity to relax and to improve your understanding of Gary Gygax and our hobby. Read Witwer’s book and then keep on reading. Gamers of all people should be readers. So follow the process I laid out above and make it happen!