Saturday, January 31, 2009

I need to game-ify writing my book

Writing a book does not provide me with the same kind of real-time feedback, scaffolded challenges, and network of potential allies that a well-designed videogame does.

Also, it is harder than playing a videogame. ^_^

So, I am trying to game-ify my writing process a bit.

One of my methods is to start writing the book with the chapter that I think I am best prepared to write, aka "level one", which in this case happens to be Chapter 3. So I'm not starting the book at the beginning.

I'm taking the same approach with the chapter itself. I've mapped the chapter pretty much, and I'm not forcing myself to write the parts in order. I happen to think that the final few paragraphs of "Survival of the Happiest" are going to be the hardest, so I'm skipping it and moving on to "The Halo Paradox". I'll come back to the "boss" parts of the chapter after I've killed all the other parts.

Also, since the manuscript of the entire book isn't due for another 8 months, and I may not have actual readers until as long as a year after that (!) I am creating my own real-time feedback loops by twittering chapter titles and sub-sections and blogging various breakthroughs. By sharing stuff in real-time, it feels more real and productive. Writing 18 months into the future is just too much like writing in the void!

So here is what you can expect, unless my editor hates it, which is something I'm trying not to think about, ha ha, from Chapter 3.

Chapter 3: Collaboration Superpowers

How online games connect us, and the 10 ways they amplify our individual potential

Ya know if it weren't for this game it’s possible that we would never have had something in common.
–overheard in an online chat room
  • Introduction
  • Survival of the Happiest
  • The Halo Paradox
  • The Zombie Apocalypse Solution
  • Little Big World Building
  • Getting on the Global Frequency
  • 10 Collaboration Superpowers
  • Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals (SEHIs)

  • All together, this chapter will be about 10,000 words. I've written roughly half of that already, but I'm only final-draft-happy with about 3200 of them.

    Putting this out there and thinking about it structurally like this somehow makes writing less scary. I guess that's why I love games, I have pretty much an insatiable appetite for helpful structure.


    Showtime said...

    Hey that's my quote! Yay! This book is all about me! Can I pre order a copy? VM

    Buster McLeod said...

    I love how you talk about game-ifing things. I do the same thing, making health and fitness a game, for example, by finding others who want to play the same game, creating rules, reporting scores, etc. At 43 Things we always knew that the way to accomplish goals is to make the site fun rather than useful.

    I can't wait to learn more about this book you're writing. It sounds awesome.

    Jane said...

    Buster, it's so true, 43 things = brilliant fun goal inspiration and management. i have finally managed to achieve all of my original things on my list believe it or not, including getting my wisdom teeth out, getting my driver's license, adopting a dog, downloading and watching every episode of Degrassi TNG, and finishing my dissertation. Gosh, I think I should have written you a thank you letter by now. ^_^

    Showtime, that is SOOOO your quote!! Von Million will actually be credited in the footnotes of the book. For realz.

    David Sahlin said...

    And here I was thinking that a book-writing game could be more of an action title. In my head, I see a split-screen, with a player's word processor and GUI on either side.

    I'm not sure exactly how it would go about doing this, but I can't help but see words being vaulted across the screen. They'll do damage to your page, which is armored depending on your basic skills as a writer. Some sort of algorithm based on syllable use and writer's craft.

    Faster you write, the faster the damage is moved off-screen and dismissed.

    Or something.

    Oh, and I can't wait to read your book, Jane.

    Sean Power said...

    Hi Jane,

    I'm in the process of finishing a book (for O'Reilly, called Total Web Monitoring) and figured that I'd let you know what worked for me or suprised me:

    A) Hardest first then easiest last worked for me. part of that had to do with the fact that I had more interviews lined up for the more complex subjects, and i needed more time to do mental maps of these areas. By the time i was in the 'easy' chapters, they were not only psychologically easier, but they were less stressful to write because i felt that 'the hardest' as already done.

    B) I found that rewarding myself afer certain milestones (amount of pages reviewed per day, amount of words written in an hour, etc) really helped.

    C) Having my 'own' editor - someone that I trusted and knew well, but is also regarded as an 'industry leader' in the field helped immensely in the review process. They were able to go through the manuscript (not looking at grammar and structure) and comment from a perspective of authority.

    D) More people were willing to review the entire book or sub-sections of it than I thought. People love to review stuff!

    E) I went through many more re-writes than I anticipated.

    At any rate, congrats on the book deal! let me know if there's anything that I can do to help. Will you be at web 2.0 expo this year? Hope to bump into you when i'm in SF at the end of March :)

    Holly Gramazio said...

    It's interesting, in this context, to think of things that writers have done in the past that are clearly game-like, but which they didn't frame as playful. Of course writing out of order is a popular one (perhaps most famous in the form of Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the last chapter of "Gone With the Wind" first and gave the book to a publisher without having got around to Chapter 1; and Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote on index cards so he could shuffle them around at will). But there's things like:

    * P.G. Wodehouse used to stick all the pages of a manuscript around the room, high on the wall if he thought they were really good, low if they weren't; then he'd rewrite the lowest pages, move them, rewrite the next lowest, and so on until it was all up near the ceiling.

    * I think it's Malcolm Bradbury (in Unsent Letters) who writes about working on two different projects at a time, both of them collaborations with a friend, sat opposite each other with a typewriter each; whenever either writer got stuck they'd call out, and the two of them would move around the table to swap typewriters. (This one might have been fictional, but it's a fun idea.)

    * Write or Die is interesting in this context, and seems to have been widely used during National Novel Writing Month. You have a text box to write in, and if you hesitate for too long first the background starts shading from white through pink to red, then horrible music starts to play, and then - if you have it on "kamikaze" setting - the most recent words you've typed begin to disappear from the screen. I find this extremely useful when I can bring myself to use it, but I'm always reluctant!

    As a nice contrast: Kent Haruf writes his first draft sitting in a cellar with a woollen cap pulled over his eyes, touch-typing and unable to see his surroundings, or what he's written for that matter. (He writes about it here). Difficult to argue that it's a game-like technique, but it's the same intent: concentrating attention, shifting the relationship between external world and writing, and thus convincing yourself to do something you wouldn't have done otherwise.

    Der Merzmensch said...

    Nice Idea!

    You can also name the pages as points, every new page is more points :-)

    I know, is kinda geeky, but it is like the game - the further you come, the more points you achieve.

    Anyway, if you need help - player opinion, brainstorming or so, feel free to ask :-)

    Jonathan O'Donnell said...

    You might want to thing about using a site like Fan Story to build up an active readership. It uses rewards to 'gamify' the writing (and reviewing) process.

    By serializing the production of your book (even out of order as you describe), you can build a keen set of readers who will provide feedback, celebrate each new 'level' and perhaps buy the book when it is published.

    One of my friends found that the site was helpful for her. She found that some of the feedback was excellent, which helped her keep going. Her only criticism was that the structure of the site encouraged shorter chapters, which didn't suit her style.

    Just a thought.

    Der Merzmensch said...

    One more idea (sorry for spamming) :-)

    I'm thinking all the time about making a documentation of my grassroot ARG I made last year. Since I used many channels I also wanted to use the idea of split-screen like it was mentioned here in comments.

    In the one part would be the story, and in the another the forum discussions and another meta stuff like reports of live events etc. The parallelization of these two parts is imho important for the completeness. I also was inspired by "Glas" (Derrida) and "House of Leaves" (Mark Z. Danielewski), but perhaps it's a little bit too much a self-product.

    Anyway the typographic, visual difference between IG and META could be pretty useful - also for people, who have never taken part on ARGs.

    The problem of the most ARG reviews (and I know it by myself :-)) is, it becomes either too much a meta-discussion, or the rendition of the plot and happenings. To combine these two important parts of an ARG is difficult, but also challenging :-)

    Oh, I see now, my way of thinking is going in the wrong direction now (rather an ARG documentation than book as a game). But perhaps can "House of Leaves" and also "Only revolution" (with split screen technique) also inspire you :-)

    Btw. while of genesis of "Only Revolutions" Mark Z. Danielewski used intense reader participation in his forum - so the reader were partly a writer or idea-bringer. This teamwork was really cool and global, and has in some ways similiarities with ARG.

    Chris Havranek said...

    game-ifying is something I'm trying to grasp right now too. I made a presentation based on a lot of what Steve Peters and you had told me and it has really inspired me to take it further.

    Next fall I plan on studying international marketing in Tokyo along with some cultural classes. I know this is a real offshoot, but this post really made me think about this. My goal is to take ARGs and really make them international.

    It would be really fascinating if you could somehow make this a game not only for yourself, but something others could follow. Turning writing a book into a sport where others can easily track progress and get involved at some level themselves.

    I'm going to mull over this one and get back to you on it.

    Oh and it would make documenting your process a lot of fun.

    Meg said...

    Awesome strategy! I find myself gamifying my studying, by grinding on low-level reading before taking on the boss assignments. Sometimes I check and see if I can beat the boss without all the grinding. Good to see someone else see games in everything!

    Ashwaria said...

    Heeeeeee Nice Idea.u can name the page as points, every new page is more points.thats a best option

    Andrew said...

    Strangely enough, I'm working on a story writing / mmo where you play the role of a world creating magic user - you begin by slowly influencing other's worlds with feedback, comments, perhaps even adding some background and eventually you level up to become your own world creator with others helping you. Feel free to message me if you want in on the alpha. I definitely need folks to help give me feedback :)