The theme for this month is writing. V describes the theme as follows:
There are a lot of creative folks out there in Blogistan – some write for work, many more as a past-time. Likewise, we plan for games – perhaps reskinning, melding, or pulling critters and spaces and situations out of our own minds. And everyone has their own inspiration, process and space.
Feel free to share yours. Perhaps we’ll all find a bit of inspiration.
The first part of how I write, is the question of when I write.
For the moment, my primary job is being a full-time Father to our two young boys. Fortunately, they are now both at school, which means my schedule revolves around the school calendar. This gives me two very different work routines.
Firstly, there is the term-time routine. I am usually back from the school run at nine in the morning, and I leave to pick them up at three in the afternoon. So, that’s six hours of writing, five days a week. Right?
Er, no. I have household chores to work through as well. Nor can I write for six hours without a break, although my productivity is growing. Lunch, and servicing the whims of three troublesome cats, also eat into my time. However, there is a good chunk of free time through the week, and this is where I am most productive.
My second routine is for the school holidays, which amounts to 13 weeks in the year. I am lucky enough to have a good support network with the two Grandmothers. Even with this help, I can expect to have at least one of the boys for most days through the holidays. Individually, the boys are usually well-behaved and it is a pleasure to spend quality time with them. I appreciate how lucky I am as a Father to have this chance to bond with my sons.
It is far more stressful when I have both boys, as they are fond of annoying each other. Much as I love them, this can be quite stressful. I do not enjoy shouting at them, or negotiating with their stubborn demands. Yet, this is all part of being a parent. Overall, there is far less writing achieved through the holidays.
In both routines, there are always the evenings free. Once again, this is not as simple as it may appear. I want to spend some quality time with my wife, and there are yet more chores to be completed in the evening. I find I am very much a momentum writer, so if I have been productive through the day, I can carry this over into the evening, and keep working. For those days when I have written very little, it can then be a problem to work into the evening.
Plus, the boys are always up at six in the morning, to see their Mum before she leaves for work, so there is a limit to how late I can work. I have learnt how hard it is to cope with either writing or the boys if I am tired. After years of disturbed nights, I can cope with less sleep than I once thought. Yet, there is a limit, and some evenings I am just too tired for serious writing by the time all my chores are sorted.
Now you have an understanding of the amount of time I have available to write, the next question is how I divide up my time.
Essentially, I have drawn up a timetable for the week. This has the days along the top, divided up into morning, afternoon and evening blocks. My tasks scheduled for every week are printed onto the timetable, and then I add on all the unique events for the forthcoming week. This gives me a good picture of what I have to do during the week, and thus a framework for my writing.
The bottom part of the timetable serves as my motivation. I block out my writing tasks for the weeks, with a time allocation to them. Yes, this is a little obsessive. However, I find without this structure, it is all too easy to lose focus, spend my energies less productively and simply achieve less.
Over the course of each day, I time my writing tasks, switch regularly between the different areas and generally track my progress. As I write this, the timer is running. On a good week, I build momentum and maintain energy through the week as the deadlines mount. If I am not having such a good week, then I cannot hide from this fact, as I have my total hours for the week in front of me. Thus, there is motivation to put myself back on track.
The next question is where do I write.
Sadly, the cost of having two children in a three-bedroom house meant I had to relinquish my computer room to become a bedroom. Thus, I am relegated to writing at the dining table. On the positive side, this keeps me close to the coffee. However, this also means being close to the snacks, so having the kitchen nearby is probably not the best thing for my health.
My work station consists of the laptop, my timetable and a few papers. As I am using the dining table, my station has to be cleared away for meals. Overall, this may be a benefit to my writing, as it keeps my area clutter-free. Or as clutter-free as anywhere can be in a house with two young boys. It is a nuisance to have to tidy away my writing several times a day. Yet, I may gain from the mental clarity of a clear desk.
Types of Writing
As for the writing itself, the process varies according to the material. My writing can be divided into three categories:
First there is the blog writing, which equates to non-fiction. My blog, and freelance work, requires both short and long essays. Having been blogging for well over a year, I typically clone the framework for my short essays from a previous article. I then update the material to match the current subject and job done. A quick editorial pass after a short break, and the article is ready to upload.
The longer essays, however, have more structure to them. First of all, they have an outline, For freelance work, this can be a pitch of about 100 words, otherwise the outline is a bullet point list of the headings for the essay. Here is the outline for this essay:
- Writing Station
- Types of Writing
- Game Prep
Even this basic structure is enough to use as the skeleton for an essay. The outline shows me the major topics I want to cover, and gives me an easy framework to fill. Simply write a couple of paragraphs for each heading, and I have a first draft.
Of course, the outline is only a guide, and the finished essay can vary from the initial plan. Astute readers will notice the Timetable section is missing from the outline. As I wrote the Schedule section of this essay, I realised I had a lot to say. Thus, it was split into two sections to make for easier reading.
Once the first draft is complete, I leave the essay for a couple of days before editing. Longer essays will have at least two editing passes. The first pass focuses upon the structure of the essay. I usually write the first draft over several days, so contradictions and repetitions can easily creep in. The first pass wants to tighten the structure and maintain the focus of the essay. There can be a fair amount of rewriting on this pass.
The second pass is focused more on the writing. Have I repeated the same word too many times? Does each individual sentence make sense? This edit is all about polishing the text. If there was a large rewrite in the first edit, then I will make a third editing pass. Otherwise, the essay is complete.
My fiction writing is very similar to the non-fiction, except there are two outlines. The initial outline is similar to the one described above, being little more than a bullet-point list. However, this list will follow the standard fiction structure of Introduction, Rising Action, Setback, Climax and Reward. Not every story outline follows these steps exactly the same, but all these elements will be present in the story.
This short outline is then expanded into a longer version, which forms a synopsis of the story. The synopsis shows what will be in each scene, but without all the dialogue and details. Again, this shows me the shape of the story, and makes sure I have all the scenes I need. I can expand on this in the final text, and add more scenes as I need them, but the synopsis is my route map for the story.
Finally, I write the text. There will be several editing passes, as well as showing it to some test readers for additional feedback. Overall, there can be a lot more rewriting in the fiction process.
3 Game Prep
My last category of writing is the preparations for my ongoing Tales of the Hero Wars campaign. This is a narrative game, played using HeroQuest 2 and featuring a high amount of improvisation. Over the years, the amount of time I spend on my prep has declined.
However, since that article, I have cut back on the prep even further. The central part of preparing for my game now consists of writing out some story elements on small index cards. I will list a couple of locations, some people and probably some challenges the Heroes may face. Beyond this, I may have an overall story arc in mind, but the steps along the way are not fixed.
I really want my Players to have agency in the game, and thus I limit how much I structure the plot. During the course of the game, I follow the lead given by the Players. I then introduce plot elements from my index cards as the next obstacle on the Players’ chosen route. In this way I can mix preplanning for the game with full Player choice. So far, the results have been entertaining.
This is how I write, a process which has evolved over the last year, and changes even now. As I learn more about what works for me, then I adjust my system accordingly. I keep racking up the hours, so something has to be working for me.
How do you write? What is your writing area like? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.