Monday, 21 January 2013

What I Learned From A Writing Marathon

I am the Warden!!

The first draft of Fires Across the Plains is nearly complete and by nearly, I mean the gamebook itself has a complete first draft. All that remains is touching up the appendix (there will be rules for creating half-breed characters, such as half-orcs, half-elves, half-goblins, and half-giants) and provide an prologue detailing a rough layout of the landscape.

Capping off the gamebook's draft, however, required a shitload of catching up. When I originally signed up for this project, I figured there was enough time on my plate to get it done in roughly three months and this past weekend was pretty much the end of that third month. I needed to fire off a massive amount of text and get this sucker done or else it was going to require an extension and while an extension shouldn't have been a problem, I still need this project off my plate for the moment to clear room for my incredibly busy schedule. (After this, it's time to wrap up layout and final output for Killshot Files #1: Blaze of Glory and I'm getting started on an article for Savage Insider on a new Savage Worlds race build. These lead into next month when I'll be at Game Summit in Ottawa and work continues on both Killshot: Reloaded and Optional Core.)

I needed to pull a writing marathon.

My original plan was to work almost non-stop from Thursday until Sunday with the assumption I had roughly 50 sections remaining to bring it a few alternate endings, but there were serious hitches in the plan and I underestimated how many sections this gamebook needed to end properly. While I was able to pull off some of the work on Thursday, Friday ended up as a day off when I had to drive my fiancee into Ottawa for X-rays and doing so required driving my mother-in-law to the same city to drop her off at work so I could return home and drive my fiancee in for her appointment later in the day. My four day marathon was pushed into a two day marathon.

Did it get done? You bet your ass it did.

Crunching the Numbers

In two days, I wrote just over 23,000 words to complete 100 sections and provide 5 alternate endings (not including all the death sections, of course) for a grand total of 437 sections, 83,000 words, and 167 pages across the whole document. All this was done over 24 hours throughout those two days (14 hours on Saturday, 10 hours on Sunday) to create this final breakdown.

Average Word Rate/Hour: 900

Total Hours Spent Writing 
Based on Above Word Rate/Hour: 93 hours

Percentage of Gamebook Written in Marathon: 27.7%

The word rate is especially important and one I've been trying to average out for a while now. While all writing and RPG projects are paid by the word count, freelancers need to ensure they are maximizing their time properly for their ultimate pay-for-work ratio. In the beginning stages of any career - where my currently stands - you'll take on what you can find and whatever rate you can get for your name (or pseudonym) to make the rounds and attract an audience. For sample purposes, let's assume Fires is a major project paying out at the standard book/magazine rate of $0.05 per word.

83,000 words x $0.05/word = $4,150

$4,150 / 900 words/hour = $4.61 per hour

So there we have it. If Fires were a major contract paying at the average rate, I'd be pulling in the equivalent of $4.61 per hour of work (as I understand things at this point). At first, this screams out "FIND A NEW PROFESSION!!" because the only way to bring that up to Canadian minimum wage is increased my word rate per hour by 2.5 times the current rate and I'm thinking that's impossible.

It's also assuming I actually spent only 93 hours working on this project, which I did not - it's a lot more. What catches my attention is the total money for a project like this. If I actually pumped out these many words in 93 hours, this is how the math looks.

83,000 words x $0.05/word = $4,150

$4,150 / 93 hours = $44.62 per hour

Now we're talking. That being said, this involves 93 hours of writing and nothing else (save for the occasional thought pauses, coffee breaks, and Twitter glances). How much of that is actually going on?

Clearly, I haven't been reaching any kind of solid writing rhythm just yet and haven't since wrapping up the initial Killshot release. The fact that it took me three months to get through "93 hours of writing" is proof. Then I must figure out what's an acceptable time frame for 93 hours of writing.

If I were investing 6 hours of writing for 4 days a week (allowing a couple of hours every day for blogs, website updates, and other tasks usually assign to my daily Warm-Up task), allowing another day every week for columns such as Under the Hood, that's 24 hours per week. At this rate, it would take me 4 weeks to write 83,000 words (and that could go as high as 85,700 words in 96 hours). Therefore, if I were pulling in professional-level rates, I'd basically be looking at completely one of these in a month, making the expected average monthly income to be $4,000 and thereby allowing for an expected range of 8-12 projects per year and pull in $48,000 per year.

Reality Check (AKA Ain't Gonna Happen)

As sweet as that sounds, it's all based on the premise that an entire career works out as neat as a paragraph, including having enough work to go around, getting paid the professional rate, balancing off multiple simultaneous projects requiring additional months of work and prep, and the sheer fact that writing this gamebook and designing a complete system are like a horse of a different colour. It's no different than writing a fantasy novel is vastly different from a history textbook as each one requires it own level of attention and detail. I did not have to test out the mechanics for Fires to ensure they'd work; that was already done by the publisher. That's a huge difference in time management.

Odds are slim this number may be way off (especially on the high side), but that doesn't matter. It's a goal and that's what I've come to learn from this writing marathon above all else. I need a goal, a deadline, and a greater purpose than wanting to finish a project. I need to finish the project or answer to a higher level.

That's where you come into the picture. It's why I want to use Kickstarter for my upcoming projects. Not just for the money - that's an awesome part of it - but for the deadline and public attention it places on the work. Once Killshot became a viable product, having a deadline of six months really put my ass on the hot seat and I responded in kind (delayed only by difficulties with print production, but it was worth the extra effort to get it right). It's exactly what happened this weekend - in my mind, the publisher was counting on me to deliver. Even when he tweeted me in the middle of the night...

...I was still determined to hit that deadline because I told myself he was lying. 

WARNING: There Are Penalties

Aside from typing up bits and pieces of this post throughout the day, I'm taking it easy right now. My brain is a bit drained and the fuzziness that comes and goes is here. I couldn't do much work today if I tried.

And I say fuck it because I'm in too good a mood to care right now. The point is I know I can do it when I have the right motivation. It's a sign of improvement that must be broken down and analyzed before it can be replicated. 

The trick is converting that marathon energy into a steady stream for a normal work week. Until then, it's just the first of a multi-phase process.