Writing Considerations – October 2015

I’ve been really busy these last few weeks, with one thing or the other. Much of it has been spent organising gaming stuff, but the majority has been trying to make a reputation for myself as a freelance writer/developer. I’ve recently indexed three supplements, and although it’s not “creative” it does encourage a certain amount of proficiency on my part. I’ve also taught myself to proofread. It’s a useful skill to have, although the speed I read at means I have to usually read a paragraph twice. Again, it’s a handy skill to have in that respect. One that I can continue to apply. I’ve a relatively good grasp of the English language, both grammar and vocabulary. None of these are formal qualifications, so I always feel a bit surprised when folk ask me for advice.

First off, I don’t consider myself an “expert” on writing. I’m technically proficient, that’s all. There’s entire books and University Degrees dedicated to creative writing. All I can offer is a few tips here; they may be of some use (or not). These are only suggestions, but they work for me! Everyone has different ways of writing, so these may – or may not – be for you. Fair enough.

I don’t write for fun. There. I’ve said it. I write for a reason. I’m either being paid to write a certain number of words; or I’ve a definite goal in mind. I’m sure there are those who can find fault with this, but for me there’s a certain discipline in it. It’s far more of a challenge as a result, and you feel a proper sense of achievement on completion. Plus, deadlines encourage you to actually beat procrastination; something I’ll come to later. When I’ve tried writing for “fun” I’ve wound up with a lot of unfinished projects.

If you’ve a specific word count, try to keep to it. If it is a paid-for number of words, it’s unlikely you’ll get paid for any extra. If you don’t turn in enough though, you may not get the full amount. It’s a balancing act. I find it handy to block out sections of the text under headings, along with a rough word count for each. Chapters should be the same length in fiction, less rigidly so in non-fiction. Summarise each chapter. Scrivener (see later) is great for this; so’s MS Word. Blocking out these sections is the best way to help plan things out. Plus, if you get stuck on a section, you can come back to it later.

If you’re doing something that involves researching a topic, do it with due diligence. Don’t make assumptions; it’s the absolute worst thing you can do. I remember a source book for an RPG based in the UK that labelled Glasgow as Scotland’s Capital. It’s not, in case you’re wondering. Don’t just rely on Wikipedia either; find out more via books or existing research. I did this for my Prayer for St. Nazaire Achtung! Cthulhu game and it gave me a huge number of ideas as a result of the research I did.

Now we come to what I call ESP: Edits, Self-doubt, and Procrastination. As Ed -Forgotten Realms, Elminster – Greenwood , once said to me.

We all get edited. – Ed Greenwood

True dat. It doesn’t matter how competent you think you are, there’s stuff you’ll miss when you write. Capitalisation. Spelling. Run-on sentences, etc. Just running something through a spelling or grammar check doesn’t always pick up any errors. For that reason, always get your work read over by someone else before submission – it may be a colleague, peer, significant other, or mate. Don’t be offended by any criticism. Negative criticism of some aspect of your work is a flaw you haven’t addressed yet.

Self-doubt usually kicks in when there’s a negative review. However, it can also be something akin to professional jealousy/envy (“I wish I’d thought of that!”). Sadly, that’s the risk you take as a writer. If in doubt, keep polishing your work until you – and others – are happy with it. Never take things personally when it comes to negative criticism; it can cripple you emotionally and leave you feeling hurt and angry when you do. Do what you can with what you have; don’t be afraid to rewrite. Most published authors were rejected by publishers until they get the right “mix”.

Procrastination next. So you’re a new writer, doing Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). You’ve never done it before. But you can’t get started. Ever wondered why? You’re writing a bloody novel. In a month. It’s like a marathon, but you’re feeling unfit. My advice: until you’ve written a few long (20,000 words +) stories, avoid it. Write at your own pace (if you’re not writing to a deadline); never hurry. As I said before, if you have a problem, move onto another section and come back to it. Plus it’s worth carrying an “Ideas book”; usually a small notebook that you can jot ideas down in. If you are writing to a deadline, you’re going to need to put some time in!

I’ve also been asked about software to recommend when writing. I usually use the best software available: the one between my ears (well, wetware I suppose)! Software-wise, Microsoft Word still has the lead on most other Word Processing packages (and is a standard format). Scrivener is a great way to organise your work. It has a bit of steep learning curve, though. It is well worth a look and will allow you to integrate, say, Word documents – and actually publish a book. Dropbox is also useful for a Work In Progress (WIP) –  the ability to restore earlier versions is definitely a great feature!

So that’s kind of it. In summary, you’ve got to feel comfortable in what you can do – and remain dispassionate to a certain extent. Hope this has been of use!

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.