Writing a BWT Book

What it teaches us about other books

The small, stabby GM who keeps the spreadsheets talks about the process, and the time taken.

With Cups of Clearwine finally finished, I’ve got time to look at the spreadsheet, and back at the records. There are a few things that are notable here, but one I want to concentrate on. Our average gap between releases is 3 months. Cups has taken 6 months, with our last release being the Gifts of Prax.

In 2020, while we were writing our comparable book, Dregs of Clearwine, we were in our first lockdown. Vinga’s Ford, released while Dregs was in production, was written and illustrated in a month of down time, on a computer set up on the dining room table, to stop myself from going mad with boredom. I had the time to work on Dregs as well, when it was needed. Meanwhile, a lot of other people had jobs they could do from home, or were in places with different lockdown rules. The rest of the team was largely still busy.

This brings us to now. I’ve been working regularly while Cups was in development. I have the most free time, so I do the management, the layout, and some of the art and writing. I’ve noticed this time around we did a few things differently, but the main thing I’ve noticed is that we can’t do it much faster. People have lives, and they have other projects. We do this because we enjoy it, and doubling the amount of time we spent on writing would halve the time the next project took, and guarantee we did not want to carry on in the long term.

This is a simple project. It only has four writers, and two artists, and we mostly do not have other projects on that compete in the same arena. We have a two-layer hierarchy, where I can directly ask people what their free time looks like, and tell them what we need next, and there isn’t any need to wait on their time while they do another project for the same company. If they have time and energy to write, then the writing gets done, and there’s no competition for that with the Miskatonic Repository. We’re small and flexible.

Even so, it took six months, in discussion, research, drafting, editing, art, and layout. A longer book would have taken commensurately more time, not just in the writing, but in the cross-referencing. Every part of the book needs to agree with other parts of the book, and also with the other work we have done in Clearwine. It’s reasonable that a book would take a year or longer if it is several times this length, and complexity. It is literally impossible to just work on a book from beginning to end. There are pauses because of discussions on content, because a writer just went down with Covid, because several other essays that will be in a different book but bear on this one are also being written and need to be checked… and then the writing is often the easy part. Art and layout and editing and proofing and printing also take time, which is hopefully but not always time that you’ll then be able to spend on the next thing. Down time and lulls within the process lead to new discoveries as other work is done on other things, and that might be important to put into the book as well, but hopefully that all happens early in the process. Hopefully.

For Beer With Teeth, writing a single book, it took us months of as much free time as we could give it. For a company writing several books in parallel (because they cannot be done in series) it’s not just going to be longer, but it may uncover things that change the deliverable. It’s impossible to plan out a set of books in a world as big and complex as Glorantha, and have them go off in order; the world itself is just too big, and RQG is writing the rules based on 50 years of development. It adds unimaginable complexity. Added to that, the company needs to get other things out of the door as well, so any book or product will have a dozen things competing for its time, and they will all be at different stages. This is their full-time job, but that job includes doing many other tasks within the company, which bring out other books. Writing is not just writing and getting the art that arrives and is perfect, and doing the layout which is easy and never has to be tweaked. Every single part of that project has depth, and requires skills, multi-person buy-in, and repeated checking for errors from the level of typo to the level of cosmological incoherence.

My spreadsheet says we release about every 3 months, and that sometimes we have time within a project to complete another project in its entirety. Looking at Chaosium’s output, with the complexity involved, I know I want more, but I also know that inside every smooth, beautiful bit of output, there’s a nightmare of planning and complexity that we never see.

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