Writing Long Stuff

Writing is a skill…sort of. In a traditional RPG with skill mechanics, writing would be something anybody can try to succeed at (unlike brain surgery or particle physics) with the education we assume most people have, but which is greatly assisted by practice and even a little study. In some ways, this makes writing at length tricky to master, because people assume they can just scale up their short form process. Or to put it another way, you can’t use the same method you used to write undergraduate papers when you’re expected to write something stylistically superior to an undergraduate paper every one or two days.

I learned by getting a sink-or-swim assignment that I think ended up at 40,000 to 50,000 words. I do not recommend this, though it worked for me. One thing that helped is I did not already think of myself as an established game designer or anything. I was taking my shot.

What should you do instead? Well, there’s lots of general writing advice around about that. I’ll do my best not to duplicate what you’ve heard before, though some overlap is inevitable.

Relax and think. The first thing I do when I get a new assignment is…I chill for a bit. I think about what I want to do in a rough, abstract sense. I try to take the attitude of someone who has heard about the project but isn’t working on it, but is wishing, guessing, and arguing about what it might have. It try to be a fan, in other words. This not only mentally prepares you for setting goals, but it starts you off with enthusiasm. Don’t feel enthusiastic? Make yourself feel that way.

Trust your feelings, workspace-wise, but don’t be afraid to experiment. I currently do most of my writing on my living room couch. I usually have something on TV that is either inspiring, dumb, or both. For Modern AGE development I watched the Fast and Furious movies, The French Connection, both Raid movies, and a slate of supernatural and cyberpunk flicks. It’s an ergonomic nightmare, but it works for my typical pace. However, when I need to write faster than usual or make a deadline, an office space helps. The funny thing is if I used my office to write all the time, I’d burn out eventually. We’re a literate culture, and we read and write constantly, so I have always been skeptical of the sealed-off office or “writing shed,” especially since those cost money. But you may need that isolation.

Outline. Write a list of what you want to accomplish in the words you’ve got. These are both the goals given to you by any client, and your personal goals. Use that to define the major headers and maybe even their H2 subheaders. Some writers like to set word count goals for these sections, but I don’t, unless I know it’s going to be laid out a certain way. However, there have been other exceptions where I have found a chunk hard to do, and defining a set wordcount for it helped me get it done.

I’ve been doing this for a while so nowadays I mostly outline in my brain, but I used to put it right on the file.

Don’t stop. Don’t look back. As I’ve said before, you must maintain forward momentum. That means you can wait until you have a finished zero draft to tidy up your style. With the exception of typos and errors you immediately notice, I don’t think you should ever go back and revise until you’re turning your zero draft into your first draft.

Write for longer than you’re comfortable with. This is work. Treat it as such, where you can go beyond the simple gratification of productivity to the point where it feels difficult, then go a bit further. One sprint of work you don’t really feel like doing per day is enough.

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