Steven S. Long is a writer, game designer, and all 'round great guy. According to the secret files of the KGB, he once singlehandedly defeated the Kremlin's plot to attack America with laser-powered Godzillas.

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Juggling Stories

Writers love to write about writing, so I figured what the heck, I can get on that bandwagon. But I’m not going to give writing advice. As I’ve said on many occasions, “All pieces of writing advice are, to one degree or another, crap — including this one.” Instead I’m going to talk about one of my writing habits and see what y’all have to say about yours in comparison. Perhaps we’ll both pick up a useful trick or two.

When writing roleplaying game material, I tend to focus on one project at a time, or at most just a couple (such as one during normal working hours, and one “for fun” after dinner). If I get bored or stymied with one part of the book, I jump to another one that seems more interesting at the moment and just keep going. This ensures that I don’t lose track of what’s going on in the project. That’s important, because a lot of RPG books cover a wide swath of ground. If I don’t keep it all fresh in my mind I’m liable to overlook something, or waste my time writing something twice.

Now, like any RPG designer, I have more ideas than I have time to work on them, and sometimes one of those ideas takes over my brain and demands precedence. So I have a file with a list of ideas, and a folder full of partly-done RPG, board, and card game designs just waiting until they catch my interest. Every few months or years I open a file, add some new ideas, and then go back to working on something else. Eventually maybe one or two of these games will see the light of day. ;) But that’s not really the same as working on multiple games at once.

Fiction is different for me. At any given time I have multiple stories in the works:

—upwards of a dozen stories on my desktop. I work on these based on inspiration, deadlines, and other factors. As a result they all limp along at more or less the same sad pace, and then I finish several over a short period of time in a sort of whirlwind.

—my “laptop story.” I keep one story on my laptop, and only on my laptop. When I’m somewhere with that computer and have some time, I work on it. I don’t transfer it to the desktop until it’s finished, then I start another one on the laptop. Laptop stories take a looooong time to finish.

—my “fountain pen story.” I collect fountain pens and enjoy writing with them, but there aren’t nearly as many opportunities for me to write by hand as there used to be. (I don’t have to take notes in class, for example, and even if I did I’d probably do that via laptop these days anyway.) So I keep a blank book handy and start a story in it with one of my fountain pens while watching television/movies. Some nights I only get a few sentences done, while on others I fill several pages. Only when the story’s completed do I type it into the computer and consider it a finished first draft. Then I start another one — usually by thinking up an evocative first sentence and then “pantsing it” as I see where the story takes me.

Looked at from the perspective of most of my writing career, this is kind of odd. Different stories on different platforms, worked on at different times in different ways. It’s almost chaotic. But it’s not unprecedented. For example, the Pulp author H. Bedford-Jones kept three stories going at a time on three different typewriters, moving from one to the next in response to his creative impulses.

And more importantly, it works for me — which is a good thing, because writing fiction is a tougher thing than writing game material to me. Somehow separating the stories inspires me to keep going. If I’m not in the mood to work on one (assuming deadlines allow for such fancies), I can just skip to another and not feel as if I’m shirking my responsibilities. If I’m not at my office desk, I can keep cranking on my laptop story or fountain pen story, giving me a freedom I’d otherwise lack.

So — how do you organize your writing work? What habits help you keep going?

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    Response: Tiffany e co

Reader Comments (4)


That's interesting. I tend to work in 1 story at a time mode. Which can be a bit crazy with multiple deadlines stacking on one another. I try to have atleast one or two ideas in "percolate mode!"

It take me a long time to write something so I find that the less distraction I have the better.


April 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTera Fulbright

I can see that. Similarly, I know some Fantasy writers who won't read Fantasy while writing it, because they fear it will be too distracting/influential. I've never seen that as a problem personally, but writing is, after all, a pretty subjective pursuit. ;)

April 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterSteven S. Long

Luckily, I don't have to worry about it too much as all of my stories are delivered whole cloth from God.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little. Not all of my stories. Well, none of them. But I have been thinking about a story about a character who gets stuff delivered whole cloth from a god in the setting.

I generally write the openings for stories I want to work on, about 200 words. I save them, and often I leave them open on my laptop. Then I work on whatever it is I'm concentrating on. When I finish, I pick one of my 200 word openings and start on it.

Lately, I've been fascinated by the "Write 1/ Sub 1" idea. I think it was Bradbury who wrote a short story every week for a year, and submitted the story right after he wrote it. And therein is the idea of write 1/ sub 1. It helps to build up a bulk of short fiction; it helps to pump the well for ideas; it helps to get a lot of material submitted reasonably fast.

A lot of the short fiction markets are reasonably fast. But a lot of them can sit on stories for a hundred plus days, so it's nice to get a lot circulating.

May 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJo Bird

I seem to go through periods where I have a lot of stories circulating, and then others where I have virtually none (I'm still in one of the former at present). I can't quite manage write 1/sub 1 at present for various reasons (not the least of which is the paucity of acceptable markets these days), but it's a good goal to strive for!

May 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterSteven S. Long

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