Yesterday, I talked a little bit about how many RPG books I released last year (1017 pages and 291,000 words). In 2013, I also wrote some stuff for the video game industry, and I wrote some articles, and half of one novel and half of another novel (so about 100,000 words). And I don't remember what else I did, but there was some other writing in there, I'm sure of it.
I got some questions (from +Rachel E.S. Walton
and +Chuck Thorin
) about how to juggle the work/life balance while creating a lot of content. People say I'm prolific. I have no idea if that's true! Might be. Now, I won't be talking about quality, because that's for other people to judge. I'm happy with the books that I've written, but I can see how someone might shrug and say, "Well, he's just some indie dude, it's not like he's so-and-so, I don't see why I should care what he says." And that's totally valid! Fuck, I wouldn't read this either.
Anyhow, I figure this'll work best as an Ask-Me-Anything, so hit me with questions! I'm about to put on my headphones and work on some monsters for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but I'll be back in an hour or two to type up some answers if anyone's got questions.
Initial salvo... This is all stuff about writing. Not about game design, or playtesting, or game theory. Just my thoughts on making the project a reality by typing words.1. DON'T STOP TYPING
When it's time to create, I create. I've been working in the video game industry for 14 years, and 10 of those years, I've been working as a story designer: writing dialogue, cinematics, story docs, concept docs, game design documents, submission docs to Sony, voice notes for voice actors, descriptions for the art team, and so on.
When I have a deadline, and I have to get stuff nailed down in time, I start by doing. A lot of the time, I observe people who spend the first few days or weeks talking about things, or thinking, or researching, or brainstorming. In moderation, this is a good idea. But it's not work, it's not making. It's like putting gas in your car by drawing a map to the gas station, or imagining what it'll be like to hold the pump in your hand. You want to put gas in your car, you put gas in your car. You want to write a game book, you put on some music and you start typing.
In my day job, I sometimes get a few weeks to write a video game. And other times, I get three years. In either case, I start typing soon. Benefits:
== You get immediate feedback from yourself and others. You don't have to wonder what it's going to look and sound like later on down the line. Same thing applies to anything you create for tabletop RPGs -- once you've made it, you can show it to someone, or use it at your own table, and find out if it works. Always be typing, always be making.
== You bolster yourself! When you sit there (or stand, as I have a treadmill desk and I occasionally do some typing while I walk) and you hammer it out, you feel good. You don't worry about it, you don't dwell on it -- you're too busy making it. You get motivated.
== There's a vibe, a zone; I don't know how to describe this properly. When I'm working, my subconscious makes associations, and all the bits of meat and bone in the back of my mind, which have been marinating and bubbling, start to become visible. If you've ever done this, you know what I'm talking about; you lose track of time, you get immersed in whatever you're working on, and you don't worry about word count or whether anyone will like it. You focus on the imaginary world you're creating, and you go into a sort of autopilot that enables you to come up with really nifty ideas and descriptions on the fly.2. ENVIRONMENT MATTERS
You need to cultivate a good one. I'm surrounded with monster toys and Iron Maiden posters. I listen to death metal and black metal. I surround myself with things that I love, things that make me happy. I avoid internet arguments and people who enjoy internet arguments. When I'm online, I talk to cool people about cool things (heavy metal, D&D, Godzilla, slasher movies). I try to pursue a state of Zen. It's not like I don't have problems; like everyone, I have my struggles. I take various medications (for anxiety and for thyroid problems). And I have other woes. Such is life, we all fail a saving throw now and again, fuck it. But I avoid adding to my list of complications, because I want a clear state of mind when I'm working.
When I write about torture and cannibalism, I want to feel like a Corgi in a field of buttercups.3. GET ORGANIZED
I print everything, even awful rough drafts and typed up brainstorms. If I scribble an idea on the back of a receipt, I later pull it out of my wallet, type it up, add any additional notes, and try to furnish my future-self with as much context as possible, so that I don't later look at something that says SEX GREASE CULT / SHE REVS THE CHAINSAW and ask myself, what was that supposed to mean?
Everything that I print gets put into folders. I staple, tape, bind, and stack pages and folders on a bookshelf behind me. When inspiration strikes, I know exactly where to look.4. PEOPLE STUFF
I got a wife, a kid, and a puppy, and I spend a lot of time with them. But she's at the office all day, and the progeny's at school, and the dog takes lots of naps, so I have a lot of time during the day. Admittedly, much of that time gets taken up by my client when someone hires me to write a video game, so I wind up doing work after the kid's asleep, around 8pm (until whenever I crash). When I'm between clients, I fill the silence of this suddenly-gigantic house with noise -- mostly black metal like Lord Belial, Darchon, Vesterian, and Dark Fortress, or death metal like Ulcerate, Behemoth, and Amon Amarth. This music picks me up and propels me! It's loud and aggressive and it snaps me right into action, because of the imagery that it conjures.
The other thing about family life is that you've got to establish boundaries. If you need an hour to get something done, you say so. Tell the people that you love to just go away and stop hassling you all the goddamn time. Or you can do it politely, YMMV.5. PROTOTYPE AND KILL
This is a follow-up to the first point. You've got to create, yeah, but always think of it as a prototype. A first draft usually belongs in the garbage. Don't hesitate to red-ink the hell out of your own work, or print it up, cut it with scissors, tape individual paragraphs to new pages -- whatever. However you can force yourself to mangle your work until you've panned the gold out of it and thrown the dirt away.
== Rapid iteration. Type, scribble, talk into your mobile device (I don't have one, but I'm pretty sure you can talk to them and they record it and then you can send it to your computer while the eavesdropping NSA guys give each other meaningful looks). Think about it your work while you're in the shower or eating breakfast or shaving your legs. Get your head in the game before you actually start work, so you can hit the ground running.
== Brutal revision. Once you have an iteration, show it no mercy.
== Try it from a different point of view. You look at something through a kaleidoscope; rotate the lens and the image changes. If you hit writer's block, get up and move to a different room, switch to paper (or if you've been writing by hand, switch to your laptop), put on different music. Just don't stop prototyping and creating, because you can't play an idea -- if you want to make a game, you have to type it up.
Hope that someone found this useful. More later. Ask me questions if you want!