The Big, Free Light in the Sky

I mentioned I’ve been walking a lot, and taking my camera with me, but I can’t recall writing about why it is that I’ve taken fully 90 percent of my photographs outside.

In a word: light.

Since photography is nothing more or less than capturing light, pretty much everything you do with a camera is down to the number and qualities of the photons around you. And if you’re both a beginning photographer and poor, you’ll quickly discover that the cheapest and more readily-available source of good lighting is the Day Star hovering in the sky.

I live my life by the weather, now.

My phone says it’s going to be bleak and rainy? That’s a writing and desk day. Butt in the chair, crank out or clean up words on the screen, and keep the coffee brewing.

When the forecast says partly cloudy and 70 degrees, though? That’s when I steal an hour or two and head into the great, big studio we call “outdoors.”

Because, unfortunately, that’s really the only way I can manage to shoot anything and not have it look like desaturated ass.

The light in my home is truly abysmal, with windows in all the wrong places, and far too few lamps to do anything about it. About my best hope to get a good photo indoors is to wait until after dark, set up in my kitchen, and do long exposure light painting with a flashlight.

That’s…less than ideal.

Don’t get me wrong, I like going outside to shoot. It’d just be nice if it was more an option as opposed to a requirement.

There’s hope, yet, though. It looks like next month I’ll be able to start building up a decent lighting kit that I can set up and break down with relative ease. I’ll be starting with a one-light setup, but I’m picking my lights and accessories (like stands and batteries) with the plan to expanding it to a three-point system and beyond.

With any luck–and a lot of saving my pennies–I’ll have a passable studio set up by the time winter hits and my desire to go outside hits its annual low.

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.