While chatting to some friends about Dungeons & Dragons recently we started talking about our own jobs as a D&D character class. It was kinda fun to think about how the main stats of a D&D character sheet would apply to our gigs. Because I’m a massive nerd, I started thinking about it in more detail and writing it down. And here’s what I came up with for Writer as a D&D Character Class.
All D&D characters have 6 primary stats, so let’s start with those:
STR – Strength – You need to be able to carry the weight of whatever work is required at any time, and you need to be strong enough to keep making work while living life. Making time to write takes a kind of strength – strength of conviction at the very least. And you need to be tough. You need a thick skin to be a writer, you need resilience. You need to be able to keep going in the face of rejection, because rejection is the default. (Obviously, this crosses a lot with constitution.)
DEX – Dexterity – You need to be able to pivot to take advantage of any opportunity. So much of writing is luck, but the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. You need the professional dexterity to grab an opportunity when it comes along.
CON – Constitution – Along with STR above, it’s important to remember that this gig is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t quit! You only fail if you quit.
INT – Intelligence – You gotta keep learning. You need to constantly improve your craft. If you stop learning, you’ll stagnate. So you have to apply your intelligence to constant improvement.
WIS – Wisdom – Not all things are equal. You need to develop the wisdom to make the right choices about what you want to write, what opportunities to prioritise and so on. (I’m constantly second-guessing myself on this one.)
CHA – Charisma – Despite what people say, there is definitely an advantage in being charismatic. This doesn’t mean looks, it means not being a dick. It means being professionally available and open, being a good person and easy to get along with. Being eloquent and appealing, online and in person. A Neil Gaiman quote comes to mind. To paraphrase: To succeed as a writer you need at least two of the following three: You need to be good at it, you need to deliver work on time, and you need to be easy to work with. Ideally you have all three qualities.
A D&D character sheet lists a lot of Skills. The correlation here is relatively self-evident, but beyond the skills of grammar and prose, what else do you have? What life skills can you draw on for your writing? I’m a career martial artist, so I draw on that a lot. I’ve been in rock bands, I’ve had a variety of jobs and hobbies. It can all inform what I write. And then there’s the writing skills beyond grammar and spelling. What skills can you develop, like writing for an hour every morning or making notes while you’re out and about? What use of language skills can you develop, to write evocative prise that’s not purple?
In D&D you frequently roll for Initiative (usually in combat). It basically determines who goes first. In this case, who keeps working hard enough to be ready to take on projects. Who can work fast enough to get those projects done on time. What opportunities can you grab?
Again in combat, characters have an Armour Class. In D&D, that’s literally your armour, your ability to withstand hits. Plate armour is more protective than leather or chainmail, but it affects your movement and speed too. In writing, how thick is your skin? The hits keep coming, and you’ve got to resist them. But you’ve got to keep moving too. Taking hits and carrying on is part of the gig.
How many Hit Points do you have? That’s your health. How long can you stay in the game? How many hits before you fall down? But more importantly, in D&D a long rest restores all your hit points. Don’t underestimate the value of downtime, of refilling the well. You need to take breaks from writing in order to recharge. Then you can take more hits and get more done.
What do you have beyond your keyboard? A notebook and voice recorder app, sure. But what else? Life is your toolbox – get out there and experience life, listen to people, don’t just look, but notice. This is your writerly equipment. And your brain, of course. Exercise it, keep it oiled and in good working order.
Whether you like it or not, your background matters. I play life on easy – as a straight white male, I have massive privilege. And I’m not especially poor – at least, I’m not destitute. That makes it way easier to do what I do. However, I come from a poor working class background, so that plays well into the kind of stuff I write. Laird Barron once described my work as having a “strong blue collar sensibility” and I take that as a compliment. Your character background will colour your writing – PoC, LGBTQ+, your location, your socio-economic standing – it all affects what you write, how you write, when you have time to write. All of it.
Are you evil? There’s a general rule in writing, and it applies to life in general: Don’t be a dick. But some people thrive on being an arsehole. That’s true of writers too. Will you be the kind who helps people or hinders them? Will you stay neutral and quiet? How chaotic are you? This is your alignment.
And here’s the real heart of it. Can you cast magic? I hope so, because storytelling is casting a spell. Books are a uniquely portable magic – Stephen King said that. The more you do this, the more it feels like magic passing through you rather than any conscious effort on your part. I’m fairly convinced that being a writer is constantly striving to become a high level Literary Sorcerer, where we create the most powerful magic that transports people. It’s something to always striver for, anyway.
So there you have it. The Writer as a D&D character class.