When I used to be a drama geek, especially in high school but still in college, there was this common cry of distress from the thespians. It was a sense that we saw ourselves as artists of a sort but we were doomed to only execute the art of another person, the playwrite. We loved our art, we studied it, we nestled there and we truly worked in a way that was creative - but still was the awareness that what we did was derivative and that was somehow distressing.
For my own part, it wasn't so much a big deal, as I had other artistic outlets, specifically writing but a dabble here and there in just about anything called 'art' at one time or another. Nevertheless, I very much understand and feel the dilemma.
For much of the last six months I've been working hard on an effort to secure the licenses to a piece of intellectual property. For the sake of avoiding Google's prying eyes, we'll say it's the story of a wall that's Red. As of last week. It appears that effort has been successful - w00t! Now this last week I spent some time at GDC and in the course of several conversations I came to realize that what I may have latched onto was something far bigger than I realized just in terms of size. I knew, thou never really thought about, the fact that this was a series of over 20 books and conceivably we could spend the next 20 years, Lord willing, exploring, visualizing and working with this property (I'm just theorizing here - no plans to that effect). Along with that was an even broader realization that if I play my cards right I might, juuuuuust maybe, be in a position to work with several different IPs and make a career out of that. Other books, other series, other stories come to mind that I'd have a lot of fun as I...made derivative works from somebody else's art.
I should point out that it probably isn't a genuine either/or question in any legal sense. But realistically, these projects are likely to be a year or more in the making...each. So each time I might pick one up it represents a significant commitment. Saying "yes" to a project about the wall is realistically saying "no" to everything else...maybe.*
But that's perhaps beside the point. At least at some point it's a question of pride. Would I be willing to submit my best effort to supporting somebody else's work at the expense of realizing my own? If so, under what circumstances? If not, then why not? I'm pretty darn comfortable saying that Brian's books are better than my writing so at the very least I have an opportunity to learn in to craft of Epic storytelling.
Anyway, I don't have any real answer to the question, it's just something I'm thinking about and wanted to write down.
* There may be a way to do these things in parallel. For example, the creative part of a project could be mostly managed. Play more of a "producer" role and find the right folks to be creative. So long as they're the right people and I manage it all with attention, it need not be all consuming...perhaps leaving enough bandwidth to pursue my own stories. But that's iffy and not something I'd take lightly especially when we're working on something with any degree of delicacy.