The Project Diaries: Revisions

“The first draft of anything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway

If I ever decide to get another tattoo, it’s going to be that Hemingway quote–right across the collar bones, and backwards so I can read it in the mirror. If there’s only one truism in writing, it’s that. The first draft of anything is shit, and if you don’t believe this is true of your own stuff, then I’ve got no interest in ever reading anything you write.

Because if there’s a second truism in writing, it’s “tell the truth.” Whatever you write, even if that’s experimental fiction, needs to be composed with honesty. And if you can’t be honest with yourself, then there’s no way you’ll be honest with your readers.

That’s a topic for another post, though. Today, I’m going to focus on that opening quote, and the “joy” of revision.

Revising Sucks

Ask a dozen writers about their favorite part of the craft, and you may very well get a dozen different answers. Some like “being in the room” with their characters. Others most enjoy world-building. Still others get their kicks outlining.

Ask the same group of scriveners what their least favorite part of the writing process is, though, and I’m willing to be you’ll hear the same word again and again: revising.

It sucks.

Maybe not so much during the second draft, when your prose still has that new ink smell, but most of the writers I know end up hating life right about the fourth or fifth round of Move the Comma.

And that, my friends, is where I’m at with the RPG.

A Day in the Life

What does my workflow look like lately? It’s relatively simple and almost all prep work.

At a guess, I’d say we have actual text for roughly half the book. The rest is just notes, written to capture ideas, rather than present them to a potential player. So, the Big Goal of this round of revision is to figure out what’s been written up properly, and what still needs a first draft.

So, I’ve started by building an outline for our RPG’s core rule book. And while outlines aren’t a tool I reach for when it comes to writing fiction, it’s absolutely the way to go for something like this. The outline becomes the book’s “Table of Contents,” and forms the skeleton we’ll hang everything else on. Like so…

  1. Part One
    1. Intro
    2. Chapter One
      1. Intro
      2. Section One
        1. Intro
        2. Subsection One
        3. Subsection Two
      3. Section Two
        1. Intro
        2. Subsection One
        3. Subsection Two
        4. Subsection Three
    3. Chapter Two
      1. Intro

And so on.

By laying out the structure of the book this way, I can then follow the outline and note where we have actual text, and how far along that text is. Like this (black means no text, red means text has been written, blue means it’s been revised at least once, green means it’s good to go)…

  1. Part One
    1. Intro
    2. Chapter One
      1. Intro
      2. Section One
        1. Intro
        2. Subsection One
        3. Subsection Two
      3. Section Two
        1. Intro
        2. Subsection One
        3. Subsection Two
        4. Subsection Three
    3. Chapter Two
      1. Intro

Think of the TOC like a living, breathing To-Do List, where each item tells us not only what task it is, but also quickly relates it’s “done-ness.” One more thing to note: color is inherited from a heading’s children. That is, if there’s a chapter with a section that’s still a “first draft,” that chapter’s heading is set in red. This lets us know at a glance if that section, chapter, or part still needs work.

So that’s partly what I’m doing. Building the outline (with actual chapter headings, section titles, etc.). I’m also taking each section that’s been written and doing a revision pass on it.

What’s Next?

Once the outline is done, and I’ve given the text we have a second draft, the next step is to start filling in the blanks: go to any black headings and write rough drafts for them. And that’s pretty much how the rest of the text end of things is going to go–keep making passes through the TOC and turning everything green.

After that, it’s on to layout and art. But the less I think about that, the better.

Don’t Speak (Or, Wait For The Coffee)

Morning people creep me out.

There’s just no other way to say it. If you’re the sort to “rise and shine,” then I’m pretty you’re also the sort with one or two dismembered paperboys in your cellar. Paperpersons? Newspaper carriers? What’s the preferred nomenclature?

Whatever.

The point is, I have never once, in all my years, woken up and been happy about it.

At best, I wake up with a vague idea that I slept reasonably well, and I can find the coffee pot on my first try. Usually, though, I wake up wondering what more I can do to this body to keep that sort of thing from happening again.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not that I want to die in my sleep any time soon. Rather, it’s more that should it happen, I won’t miss the first hour of my day.

It’s an awful, awful time, marked by cups of coffee swallowed while still scalding hot, and the smoke from as many cigarettes as my lungs can absorb without turning into jerky.

And people trying to talk to me.

I’ll never understand that. And by “that,” I mean “words,” when I’m still trying to boot up.

Why do people even still try?

Until I’ve got half-a-pot of coffee in me, and had a good hour, hour and a half to get both eyes open, there isn’t a prayer in hell that I’ll a) understand what you’re saying, b) care what you’re saying, or c) remember you even said it.

And the only way my early-morning mental capacity could be more obvious would be if I dropped my coffee mug, and shuffled toward the nearest family member while groaning: “Braaaaaaains…”

Seriously, let the caffeine and nicotine clock in, turn on the lights, and get the machines going before you try interacting with me.

If you don’t, neither one of us will be happy with the results.

A Requiem for Amateur Radio

Electronics have always fascinated me. Not electronic gadgets themselves (those usually just irritate me), but the engineering and design behind them.

The how of their circuits, more than the what.

I took a very basic electronics course in high school, but until a few years ago, I hadn’t felt a need to really dig into circuit theory and understand how it all works.

And when that need struck, I decided the best “excuse” I could have to learn and practice this stuff, was to get an amateur or “ham” radio license.

There’s a huge number of ham radio enthusiasts who get their kicks from designing, building, and operating their own equipment. And there’s an equally-huge body of free or cheaply-obtained documentation and “HOW-TOs” out there, many of which will teach you the theory, and walk you through practical projects.

So, I studied up, took a couple of exams, and obtained my license. I also started hanging out with a local ham radio club filled with friendly and helpful people. Unfortunately, within a few months of obtaining my license, I learned there was a flaw in my plan: doing electronics, particularly radio-frequency stuff, is crazy expensive.

This sounds strange, at first, since if you search about online, you’ll see a plethora of detailed plans and parts lists for simple radios you can build for around five bucks worth of components. You can even get full-fledged kits with all the components and boards you need, starting at around fifteen bucks.

And that all sounds super cheap. The problem, though, is you need tools. Tools like a soldering iron. And an oscilloscope. Oh, and a spectrum analyzer would super helpful. Or you can use a fully-assembled, factory-built radio for testing.

Oh, you do have a well-lit, well-ventilated work area large enough to accommodate all of these things, don’t you?

As the months wore on, and I learned more and more about radio-frequency electronics, I also learned that those five dollar projects really only cost five dollars if you already had a twenty-thousand-dollar electronics lab.

So that sucked.

Still, I never really gave up thinking about it as a hobby. I kept it up on a high shelf of my mind, and every once and a while I’d take it down, dust it off, and see if there was a way to make it work. Then I’d put it back on the shelf for another day.

Now, though, I think it’s time to just pack it up and throw it in permanent storage. It’s an interest that might have made sense once, but I can’t see me doing anything at all with it now, even if I did have a spare $20,000 laying around.

Besides, given the luck I have with technology, I’d probably end up burning my house down anyway.