Sunday, January 20, 2013

Writing is a lot of work

I have been writing a book.  Awhile ago I decided to write a book about atheism and the practicalities of dealing with religious cultural tradition but that went precisely nowhere; it turns out while I want that book to be written I have no deep desire to write it.  Instead I have been writing a roleplaying game book called Heroes By Trade, vaguely like Dungeons and Dragons.  It isn't a story but rather the complete ruleset for a new fantasy roleplaying game.  Writing it has been a great education in how hard putting together a big manuscript can be.

Creating blog posts is utterly trivial by comparison.  While I try to make blog posts good there is only so much complexity there can be when I only have one page to work with.  With a full length book I constantly trip myself up by spending a day writing something and then realizing weeks later it doesn't work properly with what I have written in the interim.  I have to go back and redo it all to make it right; I have rewritten certain parts of the book at least ten times now as I slowly make changes to the system as a whole.  Blogging has certainly been good practice because much of writing a book eventually boils down to communicating a single idea as clearly and succinctly as possible but I sure have more sympathy for writers who take forever to produce their stories.  (This is about you, George RR Martin.)

Prior to this project I did not realize just how the length of a piece changed the time required to write it.  It seems like it is on an exponential scale.  The first 40 pages was very quick, but the next 40 pages required a full rewrite of the first 40.  The next 20 pages required a full rewrite of the first 80, then another rewrite of the 20 pages most recently completed.  At this rate the final page of the book will take a month to write as the changes slowly cascade down through the system altering everything slightly as they go.  Though I sometimes feel like I am wading through glue it is nice to look through all of the text I have produced and see how it is slowly shaping itself into something I can be proud of.

Doing this project has actually been really transformative for me.  I have given up playing games almost entirely for months now as I funnel all of my energies into the creation of a new one.  I have played less games this fall and winter than any time in my life since I was a small child, I think.  This has been very strange for my gaming blog because I have little to say a lot of the time; I am not in a position to talk about mainstream games anymore because I am not playing them.  Unfortunately it has made sleep very difficult too because I continually have to fight the urge to write and design while lying in bed, looking for rest.  Even when I am tired and rationally sure that I need sleep I can't turn off that desperate need to solve the latest problem I have encountered.

One thing that has been key for me is not treating this project like a jackpot.  What I hope to do is to make something beautiful, to make the best game that can be made.  If it makes me a pile of money I certainly won't be sad but I have no illusions about my chances; this is only about making something awesome, not about striking it rich.

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