Get On With It

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-09 22:00:00 No comments

Agile Creatives: The Agile Manifesto - Steven Savage

... you want to get to a result because it speaks for itself. A rough draft gets you feedback. A wearable if safety-pin laden costume can be tried on. Getting something done matters, even if you know it’s a draft or will need feedback to improve.

What’s less valuable is trying to document all of this. Sure, you might need to do some documentation, but don’t make it the most important thing. Do you need a giant list of possible color swatches? Do you need twenty pages of outlines explaining five pages of story? Do you need a Powerpoint to explain another Powerpoint? Do you need all this extraneous stuff?

Probably not. You need enough to do your job so you can make something. Produce something that speaks for itself so you can get your hands dirty, learn, and get feedback. Besides people relate better to something solid.

In fact, with creative works, which often have infinite potential, comprehensive documentation is a trap. You can never be complete. You don’t have time to document fifty ways to do a training video when you need one.

Bold emphasis mine. Steve's post is the first in a planned series of same that looks promising, and has a lot of immediate relevance to both my day job and the creative work I document here.

Back when I started working on Flight Of The Vajra, that mammoth space opera epic thing o' mine, I wasn't in the habit of assiduously documenting the contents of my stories for reference. If I couldn't fit the whole thing in my head, my thinking went, it was my fault. Then I discovered Dostoevsky's work notebooks and decided to stop being silly and start keeping track of everything. And thus was born my use of a wiki as a receptacle for all things related to a given project -- characters, plotting, storyline, locations, red herrings, MacGuffins, veeblefetzers*, etc.

The trap with such things, as I quickly found out, is that you can spend so much time planning and documenting the project that it becomes tempting to use that as a substitute for writing it. In which case you're not dealing in fiction anymore, but something more akin to tabletop RPG modules.

One adjunct to this, though, is when I use a section in the wiki to debate with myself or talk out the implications of something. This isn't documentation, in the sense that I'm not going to use it to explain the story to someone else or even to use as reference when writing the rest of it. It's more a way to rubber-duck-debug the problems I may run into in a given story.

And the point of the wiki as a whole isn't to serve as the prototype for its Wikia or TVTropes pages. It's meant to be a way to figure out what story to tell and how, and to serve as a store for details so that you don't get confused or end up contradicting yourself. It's just a way to get the story done. It's a means, not an end in itself.

When I finished writing Welcome To The Fold, the wiki I'd used for the project was in a slight state of disarray -- some things were completely filled in and others not. I resisted the temptation to go back and tidy it up, because it wasn't meant to be a public artifact anyway. It was just, if you'll excuse a borrowing from Buddhism, the raft I used to get to the other shore. And now that I had alighted on that shore, I wasn't about to drag that raft around anymore.

I come down on this harder than I might on other things, because I see in a lot of creative folks the impulse to create a whole universe. It's not that I think world-building is bad; it's that it too easily becomes an impulse that subordinates so many others, especially the impulse to tell stories. Worlds are without end, but stories need endings, and you need to be able to reach them in a timely way. Document as needed, but no more than that. Getting to that other shore is what matters.

* My own appropriated coinage. A Veeblefetzer (courtesy: MAD Magazine's Usual Gang Of Idiots) is "a placeholder name for any obscure or complicated object or mechanism." In my use, vis-a-vis fiction, it's when you have a placeholder reference to something in a story outline that gets fleshed out later, but where the exact details are not that important to the implementation. (E.g.: "there's a fight here".) I'm still thinking of a word for "something nifty that's essentially useless to the story, but is just there for show, although not at the cost of making the story unnecessarily complex or otherwise sabotaging it". Maybe that's a Potrzebie.

Tags: Agile Flight of the Vajra TiddlyWiki creativity plotting wikis writers writing