Year of a Million Words (Take 2): August
Alright, I’m going to try to do this update in one post instead of splitting it across because WordPress has been more cooperative with me recently.
I haven’t been posting many updates here, but progress on my Year of a Million Words (Take 2) continues. I still haven’t published the manuscript I was working on when I last wrote, but that’s mostly because I wound up pursuing some other opportunities.
A lot of that has been in games, and you can check out my site for Loreshaper Games (@loreshapergames) for more updates on what I’ve been working on as far as personal projects go.
The big push for me right now has been simply getting stuff commercially viable. I’ve had some luck, though I’m looking into getting a part-time job to help supplement my income. It’s at the point where the graph should be going the right direction by the time I run out of money, but I’d rather not bottom-out my bank accounts trying to write full-time.
Progress and Challenges
I’ve included my progress graph straight from the NaNoWriMo site, which I’ve been using to track my work.
It’s not quite as healthy as it’s been at some points, and I’ll elaborate more on that in a bit, but I’m still on track to finish the year of a million words by late November or early December depending on whether I’ve been having a good week or a bad week.
One thing that I’ve been doing is making a game every single day, which is an exercise in discipline and practice. I’m at the point now where I’ve made 28 games in 28 days, and I hope to keep going at least through most of August. This has been both time-consuming (since I have to do the associated production work) and a little bit inspiration-draining, but I’ve got two larger games in various stages of production. One just needs final polish, the other is going to be an early-access release that just needs a little more content.
I haven’t really written about this too much publicly, but I’ve had a couple health scares this year. Fortunately, they’ve all turned out to be minor and I have resolved them, but I wound up with a lot of lost sleep and expenses making sure they weren’t worse.
This has been something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the lack of sleep meant that I wasn’t able to keep up with my work quite as much as I ought to have, but I’ve been doing better and that’s all that really counts. Plus, sleepless nights bear lots of ideas, even if they’re sleep-deprived free-association of dubious merit.
That’s been a sticky point, though, because the added medical bills have meant that I’ve been focusing more on commercially viable writing than passion projects. In short, I can’t take quite as cavalier an approach to how I write. That’s why this blog hasn’t been getting much love. Blogs don’t make good money if you aren’t using them to sell stuff, and I don’t. Getting a part-time job should help that, since I only get three or four productive writing hours a day.
Another challenge has just been the sheer performance anxiety associated with the magnitude of the project. I know that a lot of writers talk about burn-out, and 3000 words a day is a heck of a writing goal.
There are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of people capable of that output, likely including myself in the right circumstances. If you insist on some threshold of quality, that makes it even more difficult.
My current game-a-day challenge is a successor to one I did back in May. I really had troubles getting stuff done in June, some of which was a consequence of burn-out. Then there’s just the matter of being out of ideas. Those sound the same, but if you’ve ever burned out you know there’s a difference. But things are going better, and I’m optimistic.
This game-a-day challenge focuses on one-page games. They are a lot cheaper to produce and give me more room to work on other projects. They’re more demanding from a design perspective, since you need to make complete rules in less than 900 words.
That scope means that I don’t put my other projects on pause, and I can keep working. In May I’d do a ten-thousand word game in two days. That wasn’t sustainable, even if it was fun in its own right.
The other advantage is that I don’t need to focus on an existing problem when I work. Everything’s done from the day before and I can just work on the next day’s game when I wake up.
Because of my health stuff, I got off my usual writing schedule. It was harder for me to sleep at night, so I slept in.
I’m shifting back to my earlier schedule, which should offer more freedom. I’m still looking for the part-time job, though I have an interview on Monday, so I don’t know what my schedule will be like, but the biggest issue was that I was waking up later in the day to catch up on sleep I didn’t get.
I write early in the mornings and later in the evening. Not writing in the mornings was making that hard, and with the heat where I live it’s hard to replicate my morning schedule later in the day. A morning walk in cool air is invigorating, not so much in heat.
When you try to get all your writing done in a three to four-hour chunk, instead of splitting it, you wind up with issues. My freelancing work has been largely graphic design related, which I’m better at doing during the normal day, so that hasn’t been negatively impacted.
I’ve been using an AI image generation tool called Midjourney to make illustrations for my game. It’s pretty slick, and while most of the images require a fair bit of nudging and prodding it’s better than nothing.
Unfortunately, it’s cool enough that there were a couple weeks when I spent literal hours just poking around with Midjourney instead of getting work done.
In the grand scheme of things, I had enough of a lead (especially after my fantastic May writing progress, which was often in the scale of 5-10 thousand words) that I didn’t fall behind, but I ate up a lot of that extra progress.
Apparently this is a common experience for new users of Midjourney, and I think it’s already paid for itself as far as the money investment, but it has made me need to do more writing.
I started a podcast. Then I stopped a podcast. It took a lot of time and effort to set up, and then I didn’t really follow through.
I plan to return, with a focus on storytelling and game design/development (not just storytelling). Combined with a focus on 15-minute “bite-sized” episodes, I think this will work better.
The problem with the old method was just that it was a lot of time and effort. If things went wrong, I was throwing out half a day’s work, and I could either script in advance or go off-the-cuff. Off-the-cuff was better for quality, but also took longer because I would need to cut and edit more.
This isn’t really the best for the writing thing, but it is something that pushes me to write. It also keeps me disciplined.
Here’s the place where I talk about what I learned again.
Generally, most of what I thought about last time still holds. But there are a few new things.
It turns out that it’s easier to find inspiration when you’re looking for it. This seems obvious, but it requires more deliberate thought than you think, at least for me.
If I ever think “that’s cool” I focus intensely. I’m not great about writing stuff down, though since I’ve been writing full time I usually just start a draft the moment I think of something. Advantages of being at home all the time.
I don’t engage with much media. The last movie I saw was Dune, and I watched like half of an episode of a couple TV shows over the last few months. I read more, though almost all of my reading is non-fiction.
I’m big on visuals in a way I haven’t been. Seeing a cool image, especially now that I have an AI toy that will crank out cool (if warped) things on demand, is very helpful. I used to do speed-writing exercises based on image prompts, and I should probably get back into doing that once I reclaim my mornings.
And, of course, cool things are everywhere if you know where to look. The important thing is to grasp them rather than just sitting back and watching them pass by.
Set Achievable Goals
One of my goals during May was to make a 10,000 word game every couple weeks. This was not a great goal for a couple reasons. Although that was a tiny portion of my overall writing output, it was also a major investment when you’re doing a game every day. It was also a push to work on things regardless of quality.
I don’t think anything I pushed out during May (and you can find a store listing with all the games here) was bad in its own right. A lot of it was small and fairly lazy, because that’s what I had the time for on any given day. Some of it failed on core levels, like Recension, which tried to adapt rules that didn’t really fit the setting it was building, but others were much better. Even then, the stuff that had issues would still be okay in my book, just not ideal.
Now that I’m doing one-page games, that goal doesn’t drain all of my working energy for a day.
Of course, my overall word count is still high, but not all writing is equally taxing.
An Ounce of Maintenance is Worth a Pound of Cure
My health stuff was largely unavoidable. Without knowing what was wrong, I couldn’t take the (fortunately simple and painless) steps to fix it.
Having had to deal with pretty much constant pain and sleeplessness for a couple months ate into my work quite a bit. I still hit output goals, but it was miserable and part of my work was simply avoiding the state I was in, which isn’t a quality of life goal for anyone.
Now that I’ve been symptom-free for about a month, I’ve had much more resiliency. Long projects go more easily, and I don’t have the same issues with making simple mistakes due to being tired.
Now, my output’s down a little because I’ve been more busy on client freelancing work other than writing and doing editing/revision. But that’s good busy, not bad busy.
Seriously, though, I cannot stress enough how bad stuff got for a while there. It doesn’t always show in my output, but I felt so bad that every little thing made me want to give up.
Write With Others
I’ve been trying to keep accountable by writing as much as possible with others involved. I’ve been joining game jams, hanging out in communities dedicated to certain games, and keeping in touch with writing groups, and it’s a big help.
Being alone makes accountability hard, and while that’s not the end of the world if you’re disciplined and know what you’re doing I think that this one factor has been the big difference between this year’s attempt and last year’s attempt.
My goal was to write these updates on a quarterly basis. Obviously I didn’t write the one in June for almost a month and a half. However, I think I’ll be able to have stuff for September. The closer I get to the end of this project, the more I have thoughts about it. Some of them will have to wait for later, though. I haven’t actually finished my game for today yet because I procrastinated. And, of course, I should have a nice big announcement in December!
You should follow @loreshapergames for updates, since that’s where I’ve been doing the majority of my writing. I intend to get back into doing more blog stuff here as I relaunch my podcast.
Until then, have a good one!