They say being a Dungeon Master and running a D&D campaign makes you a better writer. Sure, any time spent making up stories helps; extemporizing characters, plot twists, and locales to keep your game going flexes those metaphorical creative muscles.
But I’m not convinced being a DM really makes me a better writer. Here’s why.
1 – Less time writing. Every minute spent coming up with interesting and unusual ways for the stalwart band of adventurers to find their way into the enchanted city of Crystalspire means less time actually writing stories. Detailed world-building? Yes, but only as it relates to gameplay. No one wants to hear my history of the place. They want to roll dice and get stuff.
2 – Less time reading. See above.
3 – Railroading. The heroes find themselves in a room surrounded by slavering baddies. The humble DM has built a cool narrative experience for them around the challenge of talking their way out. Then the Dragonborn breaks down the wall and walks through the wreckage into the street. DMing is about bringing the players – who are creative people looking to collaborate with you on a fun story – engaging and fluid content. If you force them to do anything, in most cases you’re not doing it right. But if you let the characters in your fiction run around pell-mell, you’re going to end up losing focus.
4 – Good and evil. There’s always a Big Bad. He’s bad. He’s not complex, you can’t see his point of view, and you don’t identify with him. He’s got the PCs right where he wants them, and he’s gonna kill ‘em dead. He’s the flattest character you can imagine – and you always need him just as he is. This is a game about fighting. Sure, sometimes it’s about sneaking or negotiating, but mostly it’s about fighting. If your PCs just go around waxing everyone they come across, that makes them the bad guys. They don’t want that (especially if there’s a paladin in the party). So, if your buddies are going to enjoy this fighting game, they need someone to fight. Not a deep and subtly-crafted character: a punching bag in a Peter-Jackson-Sauron helmet.
Participating in collaborative fiction is a blast, and definitely uses some of the same skills as writing, but the two are different beasts. DMing can help the writing process, though, by teaching you about people, about their motivations and reactions. As it turns out, not everybody wants to save the village. When they do, there better be some reward. PCs can be distrustful, boorish, violent, selfish and any of a number of qualities not normally attributed to a square-jawed hero — all while still being relatable and interesting characters.
And when you’re trying to build the scenes in which these people participate — that’s when it feels most like being a writer.