I have no interest in writing a novel. At one point I did. As a kid, I was always making up stories about various fantasy worlds with giant trees and massive, man-eating worms. The typical tropes regurgitated from whatever video game I was playing or book I was reading.
Certainly there is merit to writing a novel. Having complete control over the story you tell allows you to express something in a more intricate and detailed manner than any other medium.
But once I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, I quickly realized that I wanted to tell my stories through games. Maybe I’m just vain, but role-playing games give you a personal audience. You can share your game with your group and directly see their reaction to it, for better or for worse.
And those first few attempts were certainly in the “worse” category. Because I had that direct feedback, however, I could improve and get better at working in the medium.
Which is where I’m at now. Still no interest in writing a novel, but very much in need of some dedicated time to write a board game.
Gloomhaven has somewhere around 90 scenarios, and each of those requires some introductory text, some concluding text, and often text in between as well. In addition, there are over 100 event cards with some setup text and then concluding text based on a decision the players make. The story of Gloomhaven is told almost exclusively with these elements, and there is a lot of story to tell.
It also happens to be November, which in some circles is also known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). The idea behind NaNoWriMo is that you take the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel, which means writing, on average, 1,667 words per day.
Of course, you could sit down and write a novel any time you wanted, any month you wanted, but the beauty of NaNoWriMo is the built-in support group. Other people are working toward the same goal, and people who perform a task together are far more likely to succeed at that task because of peer motivation.
There is, unfortunately, not a month set aside for writing board game text, but I decided to settle for the next best thing, join a NaNoWriMo group this year and just not worry too much about the fact that I’m not actually writing a novel. Somewhere around 50,000 words is still going to need to be written.
So every day I go to a write-in, which lasts for about 2 hours and consists mostly of 10-minute “sprints,” where everyone focuses on writing as much as possible, and 10-15 minute breaks in between where people socialize or write more leisurely or do research for their novel. I’m not sure I love the format – I’d prefer just to write for two hours straight – but there’s certainly something to be said for taking breaks occasionally, and working with other people is of course motivational.
What I have a hard time wrapping my head around, however, is the very strong emphasis on word output. The entire focus of the month is just getting those 50,000 words onto the page, with little regard for how good those words actually are.
For the most part, the people participating in NaNoWriMo are doing it for fun. They enjoy writing and enjoy the company of the other people writing, and it becomes a fun activity. Some people have told me that they don’t even look at the novel they wrote after November. They write it and put it in a folder on their computer, never to be opened again. It is very much more about the journey than the destination in that sense, and because of that, this confounding culture has developed around word counts.
You see, there’s a NaNoWriMo website where you can register and join your regional group and track how many words you’ve written so far during the month. But you can also see the collective word counts of other regional groups, so, naturally, competitions emerge. I was welcomed with open arms to my NaNoWriMo group, regardless of what I was actually writing, because I was adding to the word count of the group.
There is also a bit of friendly competitiveness among the writers in the group. After each 10-minute sprint, most people will call out how many words they managed to write in that time. If you wrote a lot of words, you get congratulated. During the kick-off party, there was a competition with prizes to see who could reach 1000 words first.
I came in dead last in that competition. In fact, I feel very disconnected from the whole word count mentality because writing for Gloomhaven requires a very different approach. 50,000 words in a text document can be stored very simply on your computer, but 50,000 words printed in a scenario booklet and on cards costs money. Space comes at a premium and my whole goal is to convey the maximum amount of story and setting in the least number of words possible.
It takes be a lot longer to write 1000 words because I can’t just write everything that comes to my head and then be happy about how many words I’ve written. I have to make sure I write the right words – the words that are most efficient.
Still, the process so far has been helpful, and it’s nice to socialize with people after working at home all day. Plus my wife is doing it too and the write-ins give us an opportunity to do something together and get work done at the same time, which is really great.
Who knows if I’ll actually reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, but either way it will be significant progress towards getting this massive Gloomhaven project finished on time.