Friday, October 10, 2014

On Writing

With Green Ronin's search for new freelance writing talent, and the reactions of several game designing friends to the specifics of their requirements, I have decided to write a little bit about my experience thus far in the industry. I am a member of an elite club/mentoring group of which I may not speak, but I can say that our aim is to produce publishable gaming material for a certain online periodical. Since joining at its foundation last year, I have written over 19,000 words over four completed articles and have another 6,000 word article in the works. Of these, two have been retained for future use. The journey here has been fascinating and, at times, frustrating. I'm still waiting to see my name in print, but I'm confident it will happen.

I have always been fairly imaginative, and had to write a lot in grade school.  I had a couple of essays even place in writing contests, but I've never attempted to make money at it before. It is a lot different than one might think, especially in the gaming industry. That isn't to say that it is difficult, but it isn't the "make up creative mechanics, slap the rules down, and send it in" that I always pictured it to be. Sure, that's part of it, but it is just as important to use proper syntax, grammar, and always, always, always adhere to the house style. The latter most was the largest obstacle for me. Fortunately, I have had the help and guidance of two very experiences writers who, together, have had 28 articles and a book published by +Steven Jackson Games.

My personal process was and continues to be one that +DouglasCole and +Christopher R. Rice both espouse as crucial: begin with an outline. This serves as a road map and lets you tweak overall structural elements without having to rewrite anything. It also helps to organize your thoughts, demonstrate where you are spending your word count (yes, it is a currency!), and greatly speeds up the actual writing process itself. I can't stress enough how useful outlining truly is. I use it even for setting material and game prep.

Next, I hammer out a first draft, which adheres to the house style from the start. Learning and internalizing the house style takes practice and nothing else. Do it always and often. This first draft contains the basic ideas in a stripped down fashion. It is enough to convey the concepts for what I call an "Is This Anything" check. What it doesn't include are fluffier bits like introductions, boxed texts – these usually just have a short blurb about what will be covered – or fully fleshed out examples. I send this out for an interest check among some people (including my mentors) who tell me if its worth continuing and if I'm focusing on the write things.

After an article passes its Is This Anything check, I make any content adjustments on the outline, then go back and write a proper draft with everything written explicitly. This becomes my first draft. I usually pass around drafts to several reviewers who give their opinions on everything from grammar and syntax to adherence to house style to actual rules and balance issues – nothing is ever off limits. After several rounds of revision and review, I usually take a week or so and don't look at the article at all. This lets me clear my head and approach it with fresh eyes. Then I do one final review, myself, during which I chop, cut, and edit it until it fits in the word count I want (I always aim for a certain number of pages), and then shoot it off for one last review. Barring any glaring omissions or errors, this becomes the final draft and is submitted to the editor for consideration.

I have not progressed beyond receiving an email requesting permission to use the article in a future issue. I've seen and helped review a couple of articles after layout was already complete and only minor grammatical or math changes could be made. I look forward to the first time I receive an article back from the editor with requests for revision or change, though. I want to see exactly what he is looking for. I suspect the first time this happens, I will likely write another blog about just that.

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