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.

The Project Diaries – Shifting Gears

So, that novel? Yeah. Turns out that’s not happening.

Yet.

As I mentioned before, my friend Shawn and I have been working on something I’ve taken to calling “the Project.” And while I’ve hesitated to write about it before–and still can’t give you a lot of details–there are some things I can safely mention.

More importantly, I think there might be some value in doing so, too.

For the most part, production diaries for large, multi-year projects are either written after the fact (as a kind of postmortem for other industry types), or only started once everyone’s sure of what’s happening, and know that they can pull it off.

Given that, why not put on display some of what’s been going on “behind the scenes” with this thing? If you’re struggling with your own flailing and far-too-massive creative undertaking, perhaps this and future posts like it will make you feel better about yourself.

The Project?

Essentially, the Project is a setting, a “science-fiction universe,” that we intend to use in variety of different media–with fiction, and a paper-and-pencil role-playing game being the Big Two we’re most interested in. And, minus a few breaks here and there, we’ve been steadily developing it for the better part of the last three years.

This includes writing the history of our universe, creating the major characters, and detailing the major locations–each requiring all sorts of brainstorming, long phone calls, and writing.

Lots, and lots of writing.

At a guess, I’d say we’ve got over 100,000 words of notes, in various states of well-thought-out-ness, and even more still in our heads to get down.

Which Comes First?

The novel I’ve been working on is part of the “fiction side” of Project (and about 30,000 words of its own so far), but a few weeks ago we made the decision to hold off on doing any more work on it until after we’ve released the RPG, which is a lot closer to being complete, and probably makes more sense as a first product.

Here’s where I have to get a little vague.

See, the nature of our setting is such that any single novel or short story won’t really capture the essence of what we’re trying to do. It’d be showcasing just one facet or side of a much larger, much more complex polyhedron. And even though novels and short stories are absolutely things we want to put out there, it’s much more important for our opening salvo to show what we’re really offering.

The whole, as opposed to the parts.

The Upshot?

I’m disappointed.

Well, a little disappointed.

I was really digging the novel. And one of the reasons I shifted my own work over to the fiction side–and away from the RPG–was because I got kinda sick of writing about the setting, as opposed to writing within the setting. I wanted to take some time to actually tell stories in this universe we’ve built, instead of laying the foundations for others to build upon.

Of course, the reason I could make that shift in the first place was because the RPG seemed pretty far off. Shawn’s been handling the rules or “system” development, and it looked like we were still several months away from having something he thought worthy of play-testing.

As it turns out, he’s gotten through a ton of the system since the first of the year, so we can start beating on the thing next week.

That means my part of the RPG–writing and editing the text–needs attention again.

lot of attention.

And once we’re confident that the basic rules and text hold up, it’ll be time to start the long slog toward publication–typesetting, art design/production, printing.

And that’s, like, a lot of work, too. I’d say about a year’s worth, if I had to guess.

Going Forward

I’m going to try to write a post about the Project once a week–explain what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what’s coming up in the near future. Hopefully, it’ll be interesting for you. Mostly, I’m hoping it will be cathartic and cut down on my therapy sessions.

Ultimately, though, you should probably think of it as a cautionary tale.