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.