February 4

Writing Systems

I spent my evening finally creating an Excel spreadsheet for my finances. I’d been doing a paper journal for a while now, but I figured it was time to utilize the tools I have and take a crack at Excel. I’ve used Excel before, but mostly in list building. I had a penchant for cataloguing my manga collection when I actually had a manga collection. Paper is a bit of a luxury with my severe allergies and all.

Excel is about learning a new language and then utilizing that language to create functions that allow the program to calculate simple to complex tasks so you don’t have to. It’s actually pretty damn interesting once you get past the frustration of needing to learn another computer language just to do the most simplest of tasks. It’s so specific, a comma or = in the wrong place can ruin everything and I really couldn’t find a great resource for getting exact functions for my needs, so I ended up just trial and error a lot. As I was finishing up, feeling quite content to see my numbers add up properly depending on if something was marked paid or not, I realized how writing a novel is the same as setting up a bunch of functions to calculate your finances. It’s all about those systems humans create.

For those pantsers who don’t understand the value of an outline, this part is likely lost. But if you’re a commercial writer who needs to reach a guaranteed output, you can’t fuck around hoping you’re going to come up with a good story. You need to plan. You need to learn what makes a story good, why it’s good, and figure out the tools that you have to create that result. Think of this like planning how you want your finance sheet to work, what it’s supposed to do, and then how you’re going to get there with the correct function. Before you do a thing, you’re already visualizing what you want.

Next, you plot (create your functions) with an outline. Let it take the time it needs because if anything is wrong in this step, the results just won’t work. Fixing a fatally flawed book after the fact is so much harder than creating one that has all the right elements but failed to fully reach its potential the first time around. Make sure you’re planning the story that’s going to work, that’s going to sell.

Flesh it out with a rough first draft, aka, input all your financial data from dates to amounts to background info, etc. You have to research what you must, spend the time to get all that info for each bill, figure out which bank/card account is paying for it, when, etc. It’s an investment of time, as is fleshing out a first draft, placing things where they need to be, figuring out what must happen first, choreographing scenes, figuring out where to place that emotional reveal for the most impact, etc.

After that, you don’t have a computer to do the work of going through each layer and computing, unfortunately. That’s you as a writer. But you do go through for that next draft. You’re guided by your input and outline, and you polish it out scene by scene, following those instructions to craft a book that’s going to entertain and ideally sell. But you can’t just manifest it out of thin air, you need those first steps. And when you have those first steps, and you make that plan, as a writer you know you have everything available to get to the end just so long as you are willing to invest the work and time.

That’s really the beauty of any kind of writing system. There is no ‘only way’ or magic bullet bullshit; writing systems are about the confidence and assurance they give you as a writer to know you’re going to get to the end. I write in events, breaking long novels and serials into chunks of story that interconnect to build suspense and momentum and keep readers hooked through big wordcount. I do that because I know that’s all I need along with a clear outline (even if that may come a little later–whoopsie) to ensure I’ll complete whatever project I tackle. And I can put that system mentality toward anything, be it trying to make a video game for the first time, or build a new business, throw an event, etc. As long as I can visualize, plan, plot a foundation and build off it, I know anything is achievable–even if I have to learn a bunch of ridiculously convoluted shit just to understand the language being used.

Yeah, so if you didn’t figure out I was a nerd before this, now you know. Comparing Excel spreadsheets to writing. XD I swear I’m a rebellious, wild writer of fuck fics. Totally.