Arcane Game Lore

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How I Write – February RPG Blog Carnival – part 2

This is the second half of my entry for this months RPG Blog Carnival covering “How I Write” (here’s  part 1: Where I Write).  However, before I dive into the topic of how, I realized as I’m writing this that I have one more where.

The fourth locationRPG Blog Carnival Logo

The last place that I write (and where I’m writing from right now) is my treadmill.  I built a standing desk that fits across the handle bars of the treadmill that I got for my wife about five years ago (at her request).  This desk is nothing fancy, it is literally just a shelf from an old book case that broke in our last move.  The top of the handle bars are horizontal so the piece of wood just lays across them forming a work space about three feet wide and one foot deep, just perfect to place my laptop, a mouse if I want one, and a few other things if I need them. I set the treadmill to 2-2.5 mph and just type while I walk.  This gives me the opportunity to get in some exercise at the same time as I’m doing my writing.  I’m probably not as efficient at either activity as I would be doing just one or the other but I’m not 50% effective either so it’s’ a net win for multi-tasking.  This setup is good when I’m just cranking on an existing idea and have a good feel for where the writing is going.  It’s definitely not good for doing sketching or diagramming of my ideas as I’m not quite that stable.  On to the main topic …

How I Write

The short answer to that is not very consistently.  Although as I said in part 1, I have a goal now to spend at least 15 minutes a day writing on “fun” stuff, which includes this blog, articles and editing for the Frontier Explorer, and the novels I’m working on.  Hopefully my consistency and my output will improve.


Most of my writing happens either very early in the morning or in the evenings.  Those are the times I can get away from my kids and avoid distractions.  With my wife’s and my work schedules, we are typically up at 4 or 5 am every weekday.  I’ve always been an early riser but that’s early even for me and it has taken some getting used to.  However, this gives me several hours each morning to get ready and work on my school work and personal writing before the kids get up (starting at 6:30) to get ready for school themselves.  I’ve found that I’m definitely more productive during these early hours than I am even during the day and especially more than late at night.

When I do write in the evening it is typically on my treadmill (like now) when my wife is also exercising or it is when my wife has other activities (like running the telescopes and observation deck in conjunction with the university planetarium shows on Friday nights) and I’ve had to stay home and take care of kids.  Once they’re in bed I have time to myself to focus on writing.


Typically, I’m either writing in Open Office (If I’m on my desktop machine at home which runs Linux) or in Microsoft Word on my other computers.  I don’t really do anything fancy here, just basic text documents. The exception to this is my blog posts which I typically compose directly in the text editor in my blogging software (WordPress).

When I’m working on graphics, my software of choice is Inkscape for my maps and deck plans, and GIMP for photo and image editing.  I do use Adobe Photoshop for composing the covers for the Frontier Explorer as  that allows me to create the cover images needed for the print editions of the magazine with the correct color profiles.  My skill with Photoshop is not very high, however.  I’m much more comfortable using GIMP.  For my 3D printing models, I’m currently using OpenSCAD, although I’m starting to play with Blender as a more powerful tool.

Just recently a friend pointed me at the tool yWriter.  This is a tool aimed at novelists that allows you to compose chapters and scenes (or section) of a book, associate locations and characters with each one, and plot out how your books is organized.  It also allows you to shuffle scenes and chapters around just by dragging them around in the outline.  No need to cut and paste to move things.  As I said, I’ve just started working with this tool but I’m quite excited to use it for my novels and possibly even for the game rules I’m working on.  I’ll probably do a follow up post on this tool at some point in the future after I’ve had more experience with it.

The Process

I’m an outliner.  I typically start with an idea and then brainstorm content.  Sometimes this happens in a document on the computer but just as often it happens on the pages of my Moleskin notebook.  Once that is done, I like to sit down and outline the document that I’m planning on writing, typically just putting in section headings and maybe a few notes.   For example this blog post started as:

  • Intro
  • 4th location
  • How I write
    • when
      • mornings mostly
      • sometimes evenings
      • why
    • tools
      • OpenOffice & Word
      • Inkscape
      • GIMP and PhotoShop
      • yWrite
    • process
      • Starting/outlining
      • Editing
  • Final Thoughts

As I get to sections, I flesh them out using the notes to remind myself of the content I want to include or referring back to the notes in my notebook or document.  Often as I’m writing something, I often think of something else that should go somewhere and I’ll go add it to the outline so I don’t forget.  This is one of the reasons I’m excited about using yWriter as it allow me to do this outlining with notes on a grand scale that also let me shift things around easily as needed.

Once I have the outline, I’ll typically work through the writing task front to back, especially if it is something small like this blog post or an article for the Frontier Explorer.  That just helps me maintain a consistent flow through the piece.  However, sometimes, and especially on larger pieces like large articles or books, I might jump around and do some of the later stuff earlier, especially if I have a clear idea for what I want there and the ideas are fresh or strong in my mind.  In those cases I just dive and and get the ideas out on “paper” before they fade away.

Once the initial writing is done, I spend time editing.  I’ll read through the piece start to end, and fix any glaring spelling, grammar, and structural errors I find.  When I’m doing this I typically sub-vocalize what I’m reading.  This has two effects.

First it slows me down so I’m actually reading every word and not skimming through it and filling in what I think I wrote instead of what I really did write.  I catch more errors that way as I’m looking directly at the words and not flying past them.

Second, it’s almost as good as reading out loud but not as noisy.  You are actually articulating what you wrote and can hear things that sound off, funny, or just downright weird.  This helps me pick up on even more errors.

It’s at this stage that I do my wordsmithing, fixing phrases, making things more clear, etc.  I also try to clean up transitions here as well.  When I’m running through my first pass, I typically am just typing and trying to get the words out of my brain and on to paper before they disappear.  It’s not stream-of-consiousness but it is definitely unedited beyond basic obvious spelling errors.

I had another thought I was going to include here but it slipped away while writing that last paragraph.  This happens often and is one of the reasons I try to update my outline as I think of things (which of course I didn’t do in this case).

Once I’ve finished my first editing pass, if I’m working on a blog post, it is typically done and I schedule it for publication (or publish immediately). Almost invariably, as soon as I hit publish I find more mistakes so I’ll go in quickly and fix them before anyone notices.

If I’m working on a piece for the Frontier Explorer, I’ll submit it and let the other editors pick it over.  For longer pieces, I’ll set it aside to work on other things and come back to it later.

And now after I wrote that last little bit the thing I forgot came back to me.  I think it was to mention that sometimes I have to interrupt my writing on a piece when I’m not planning on it and have to come back later as well.  And to talk about the process I use to get back into the flow (which I was going to do anyway). So …

Regardless of the reason I’ve set something unfinished aside, I’ll typically start back up by rereading the entire thing (if it is short) or the last couple of pages (if long).  That allows me to get back into the rhythm of the piece and remember what I was thinking.  I also do minor editing as I go back over it as well.  If it was “complete” and I’m picking it back up, I’ll be looking at it with fresh eyes and mind and so will start at the beginning and read through the entire thing, editing as a I go.  Without fail, no matter how many times I read through something, I’ll find errors I missed, things that are not quite right, or information that is missing.  Rereads always help.

When I’ve completed longer pieces, I typically try to hand them off to others to look at and provide feedback on.  For FE articles, that is the other editors.  For my one novella that I’ve finished, I sent it off to multiple people to read and critique, all of which was quite valuable for improving the story.

Final Thoughts

That how I do my writing in a nut shell.  There are probably other things related to my writing that I’m forgetting to mention (like sources of inspiration and organization of materials – topics which just came to mind) but this post is getting long enough.  I’m looking forward to reading in the other Blog Carnival posts about what others are doing and how they are writing.  I’m sure I’ll pick up some interesting ideas.  Hopefully my ideas provides some nugget of value to you as well.  As always, feel free to comment below and be sure to hit the main page for this month’s carnival to see what others are writing about.

Categorised as: General

One Comment

  1. [...] I’m well over my 15 minutes for the day and this post is ending up longer than I expected.  I’ll do a follow up post on the how I write part shortly.  Until then, visit the main post for this month’s carnival on Leicester’s Ramble and see what others are saying.  (Update:  Here’s a link to part 2 – How I Write). [...]

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