Word by word…

One chapter closes, another one opens… Well, not quite closes, but one chapter submitted, and I hope it is written well enough that I don’t need to revisit it, much…. This is the perpetual battle for someone who works as a freelance writer and gets paid by the word: the piece is done, it is submitted, please don’t let there be many edits!

Going back to rewrite, rework, edit, and change things is dead time. It’s time I don’t get paid for. It’s time I could be using to write something I do get paid for. So it’s something I want to avoid.

In the RPG industry a majority of freelance work is paid by the word, and rates are typically low. ‘By the word’ is what goes into layout, not what was submitted, deleted, swapped out, or altered. If I spend an hour researching, and then an hour writing 1000 words, I get paid for 1000 words, and that pay represents two hours work. If, for whatever reason, I need to spend another hour rewriting 500 of those words, I still get paid for 1000 words, but now that pay represents three hours work. The longer the piece, the more hours it represents, and the hours spent rewriting are hours that could have been spent on a new piece…

Now don’t get me wrong, rewriting is completely understandable. If I make a mistake, or get information, intention, tone, or emphasis wrong. If that’s the case then it behooves me to change it, make it better, get it right. I absolutely don’t have a problem with that! Making mistakes, or not following the direction given to you, lack of communication or miscommunication can all end up in extensive rewrites, and these need to be avoided. Poor communication or direction can also end up meaning work done needs to be redone. The result? I lose hours. Hours means words written. Words written means money.

In short: I don’t want to rewrite.

This may sound like I am happy with sub-par work, but I am not. I want to do the best I can, but I also need to balance the time I spend with the compensation earned for that time. I want to get it right the first time, or as close as I can. I want to ensure that the piece I submit is written cleanly, that it is good, and that it doesn’t need to be reworked or rewritten. I want to make sure the information I include is correct, and that it matches the tone and requirements of the publisher.

That is the nature of being paid by the word, because at some point the ‘by word’ rate is translated into money made given time spent.

What does this mean for me? It means I need to read the directions I am given carefully, and stick to them. It means it is better to ask too many questions about whether I have the right concepts or tone, than find out after I have drafted a piece of writing. It means I need to research: be familiar with the game, with the line, with the publisher, with the setting, and with any of the ideas that I am introducing, including, or referencing. It also means that I need to write well, or as well as I can.

I’m sure there is a further conversation to be had, that all of this will lead many people to to reflect on debates about quality and quantity in the RPG industry, but this is not that post. Just some idle thoughts about writing and rewriting, and the economics of being paid by the word…

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