Sunday, 24 September 2017

Writing about writing

The last two to three weeks have been a huge challenge for me. For a few years I have been working as a freelance writer for Spartan Games and Modiphius Entertainment. It's something I enjoy doing a lot, but it can be draining, especially when writing is not my main job. This last month was one of those occasions where everything just happens to land at once.

Freelance writing, at least in my experience, is a funny gig. Both the companies I have worked for produce licensed products I have worked on, Halo with Spartan, and Infinity with Modiphius. A typical job runs through multiple stages, first the offer of doing it (of course). The outline, which then is approved/improved by both the company you work for and the license holder. Then the draft, which is then approved/improved by both the company you work for and the license holder. Then the drafts following...

This process can be quick, and it can be lengthy. I have been writing for the Infinity: The Role Playing Game line, published by Modiphius and licensed from Corvus Belli, since the latter part of 2015. This year that work has taken a sharp upturn in speed and quantity, and this last month has been one of those wonderful occasions where everything seems to land at once.

The last two or three weeks have been a real challenge for me. At the start of September I was twiddling my thumbs, enjoying Netflix, blogging and putting together a bunch of miniatures for Kings of War. About a week and a half in, everything landed. Outlines had been approved and dates for draft submissions set. New jobs offered and dates set. All of it landed quickly.

In the last two weeks I have managed, just, to pen some 30,000 words (that's around 60-70 typed pages). It has been a real challenge. I realise that for full-time writers this amount may not be very much, but it is the most I have written in such a demanding time-frame, and has been tough. No Netflix, no miniature assembly, no gym, no game nights, no anything other than sitting down at my desk every night and pushing on with the job at hand. It was a challenge, but I managed it, I am proud of it (and here's hoping Modiphius and Corvus Belli feel the same). It has been intense, but I have loved it.

I learned a lot in the last few weeks.

One: I can manage 20,000 in a week if I really push myself, but it is exhausting.

Two: Most nights I worked between 3-5 hours, and managed a rate somewhere around 800-1000 words an hour (some nights more, some nights less - and these are words that I am happy with having on the page).

Three: No distractions, no procrastination. Even half an hour lost is too much time lost. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to start.

Four: If you're stuck, start some other section. Don't waste time staring at the screen and wondering what to do. A lot of the time your subconscious will keep at the problem even when you're thinking of something else - then at some point it will ring the consciousness doorbell - Ding. Hi, I'm the subconscious, I'm here to tell you how to deal with that problem... Or, go for a walk, throw some darts, do something mindless for a short period of time to let your brain clear and mull things over.

Five: I have been writing for a role playing game - so the key question is always: How would this be interesting or useful to the GM or players? How would this make the stories they tell, the adventures they experience more exciting and nuanced?

Six: Writers research some weird stuff. Common Latvian surnames? What conditions in the ionosphere cause microwave beam attenuation? Types and effects of different necrotic poisons? What would the word 'condolences' be in Persian? What biological systems allow an insect to breathe? What is the structure of the UN Security Council? Seriously. My search history has me flagged as a seditious terrorist, I'm sure of it. Irrespective of the watch lists you might end up on, writers research. I was lucky enough to have the Infinity books published by Corvus Belli, the Graphic Novel Outrage, the Infinity RPG Core Book and so on to call upon. But we don't just get information, we apply it. How does that information change, mutate, alter and make more interesting the thing we are sculpting with our words?

Seven: Reread and edit. Chances are at that at some point you were three sentences ahead of your fingers and you accidentally typed to to or or and and when when. Chances are you mistook one name for another, or rewrote something you had already described. Chances are a convoluted sentence can be rewritten to be more clear. I read my writing aloud to myself. If I stumble as I read I stop and look to see why, most of the time it's because the sentence structure needs work, the phrasing is confusing, or too much has been packed into a single sentence.It seems obvious to write this, but it takes time and needs to be done.

Eight: Ask questions. If you have an editor, liaison, or group you're working with and you're stuck on something, ask (for me this was regularly something like: Wait. What did you want with this bit?). They want what you want - the best danged piece possible.

Nine: More. Much more. It was a real challenge this last two and a bit weeks, and I have more projects to finish yet, but I have a better understanding of my capabilities and limitations now than I did at the start of the month.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this was... but there are some thoughts regardless.

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