I have a confession to make. I haven't been writing much lately. At least, not on the things I should be writing. I've been kind of hip-deep in multiple text-based roleplaying stories instead (yes, I'm a nerd, but surprise).
For those of you who don't know, a text-based RP is basically writing a story with other people. Each of you has a character (or ten) and you each take turns writing what that character is doing and how they're interacting with the others and the world and the plot. It's very similar to tabletop RPs, except without the rulebooks and the dice and seeing each other in person.
I know I should feel guilty about spending my writing time on these collaborative stories that will never get published instead of working on my own short stories or novel ideas. But I think there's something valuable in the RPs, too. It's still getting words down, still practicing character development and plot creation, and it's a good way to be surprised by a story. When your writing partner does something totally unexpected, you have to take the time to figure out how that affects the story and your characters and your plan for all of it. Which, honestly, I think we should all do in our own work anyway. As the saying goes, if the author isn't surprised by the story, the reader sure as heck won't be.
Obviously, roleplaying isn't going to get novels written or published. It's not going to make you the best writer you can be, because certain patterns arise with RP partners that encourage your own weaknesses in certain areas (for example, my writing partners tend to be very good at developing/driving the plot, so I don't think about it as much, even though that's one of my personal writing weaknesses). It also takes a lot of time and brainpower away from more productive projects. I can't tell you how many times I've fallen in love with a RP character to the point where I just want to write their story instead of the one I'm supposed to be working on. It's baaaaaad.
I guess this whole ramble goes back to something Giles said a while ago: roleplaying and telling stories with other people forces you to think creatively, which can pump up your juices for whatever other projects you're working on. Just don't get completely lost in the campaign.
Emily started writing text-based roleplay stories almost a decade ago (eek) and has had some incredible ideas pop up from it. She even wound up co-writing a webcomic based on one of these stories! Now, if only she could figure out a way to get paid to be a nerd full-time...