Free Freelancer Advice: Starting a Project

Free Freelancer Advice: Starting a Project


As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working nonstop on several freelance projects. Recently, I’ve had a lot of other freelancers approach me for advice on how I handle projects. I’ve also had some professionals in the industry ask me about providing some advice to the freelance community. I have A Plan™ for this, but it’s not quite ready to be shown. Instead, I wanted to take some time to discuss some of the things I do when starting a new freelance project.

Reviewing Your Outline

By reading your outline, this could be you! (Maybe minus the meth dealing)

By reading your outline, this could be you! (Maybe minus the meth dealing)

Most freelance projects in the gaming industry begin with an outline of some sort. This could be a simple as a single paragraph description of what the company is looking for you to write about, or it could be a broken down document detailing specific word counts for pre-assigned sections. Obviously, the type of outline you receive is proportional to the amount of effort you’ll put into reviewing it.

In a larger outline with multiple authors, be sure to read over the entire document if possible. At least, be sure to read the other sections of the chapters you’re writing for. Many times during the course of writing on your assigned topic, you’ll come up with some ‘revolutionary idea’ that turns out to already be assigned to another author in the outline. Also, seeing what other authors are working on in a specific project lets you know who is working on similar themes, or who may be dependent on material you need to provide. In fact, many professional outlines will include contact information for the various freelancers assigned to a project, or at least have a method of communication via some project management software.

Remember: Most other freelancers don’t bite. I highly encourage discourse with other authors working on the same project as you. By talking, you can formulate better continuity throughout your project!

Thursty Example: I’m going to use Aethera as a good example on this. The principal outline for Aethera is a professionally crafted 11 page document, detailing which authors are working on each section of the book. My name shows up numerous times here, across several different sections, so it’s important for me to identify the areas of concern to me. As has been announced, I’m principally responsible for the creation of aethership rules (SPAAAAAAAAACE!!!), so there’s a lot of other authors who’re likely to contact me about these rules, as they impact numerous other parts of the project. I’ve also been assigned some archetypes that hit on the aethership rules—so, I’ll likely need to write those rules before I can write those archetypes.

Oh, one other important tidbit on the importance of actually reading outlines: as the developers are people too, there can be spelling mistakes. Don’t just do a CTRL+F to find your name in a document, as there’s the possibility of it not being correctly spelled. Seriously, the number of times ‘Thursty’ or ‘Thruston’ shows up in a document outline has trained me well to avoid this particular snag.

Create A Digital Office

Example of how I structure a project. Note: I'm picking on Aethera here.

Example of how I structure a project. Note: I’m picking on Aethera here.

All of my freelance work gets saved into a specific folder structure on my computer, which has numerous layers of redundancy—Dropbox works great for this. When I’m assigned a new project, I create a new folder for the specific project. The folder contains the primary files I’ll be submitting for the project, as well as some subfolders for additional data sorting. There’s no defined way of doing this, and sometimes I end up adding new folders partway through the project. Think of this like cleaning your office space at work prior to starting on a major endeavor.

The most common subfolders I create are:

Archived: This folder is a dumping ground for files I don’t (read: shouldn’t) need anymore. Often times, this gets populated by dropped text, or milestone submissions. Once I’ve completed sending in a requested milestone on a project, it tends to get dumped in this folder, as sometimes I’ll get feedback from the person reviewing the milestone days or weeks after I’ve submitted it. This way, I can review the document I sent, just in case I’ve already re-written that text in the main document.

Examples: If the project has an existing piece of work that it draws heavily from, I include it in this folder for ease of reference. A good example (oh, bad pun) would be when I’m working on Pathfinder Society scenarios that have strong ties with other scenarios—the tied scenario(s) end up going into this folder.

Maps: Pretty self-explanatory; this is where maps are kept. Often times these will be saved versions of the maps, or work-in-progress sketches. I like having them in a folder for situations like reviewing dungeon room numbers vs. what is in the text I’m working on.

NPCs: Take a guess on this one? Yeah, this is where the NPC files get saved to. Some companies have specific standards they want for NPCs to be created by, which can include the creation of additional files (Hero Lab is a prime example). Those types of files go here.

Reference: Any documents provided along with the outline end up in this folder. This usually includes style sheets, company specific freelance guides, and other similar documents.

The Starting Document

This is an example starting document. Note how barren and desolate it is, but also how organized!

This is an example starting document. Note how barren and desolate it is, but also how organized!

Depending on the number of sections I’m writing for on a project, I create an appropriate number of word documents. If I’ve been provided with a style guide example, I copy that file and use it as the base for these starting documents. The idea, is that I start planning out—in very broad strokes—what the project will look like on paper. Some outlines will meticulously describe your use of word count, along with what sections you’ll need to include and what word counts those sections will have. Other outlines could give you upwards of 10,000 words with a sentence or two describing what to do with them. Either way, it helps to plan out what your document will look like, by filling in the broad strokes.

I’d suggest creating separate documents for each section you’ll be working on. Even if the company you’re writing for wants everything as a single document at submission, it’s far easier to keep things compartmentalized when in the process of writing. Plus, you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to keep jumping back/forth between a single document where sections are located pages apart.

Each document I create is then filled in with a number of headers/sub headers for the areas I plan on touching on. If the outline provided specific word counts, I put small notes in those sections detailing the word counts. This keeps things nice and ordered, providing you with a document that you can ‘fill in the blanks’ on, instead of staring at the dread Blank White Page of DOOOOOOOM!

A Side Rant on Style

This is boring. But, seriously, do you even style, bro?

This is boring. But, seriously, do you even style, bro? THIS IS HOW YOU STYLE!

I’ve already mentioned that some companies offer up a style guide, often with accompanying example style sheets. This is important. Part of the reason you’re getting paid, is because you SHOULD be adhering as best you can to these guides. Some people prefer to write everything in plain old Times New Roman size 12 font, and then format later. That’s… fine… assuming you actually get to the second part of re-formatting prior to submission.

I’m currently using Microsoft Word 2013 to do my writing. In this version of Word, styles show up in the Home Ribbon along the right side.

“But Thursty, I’m not seeing all the styles that I’m supposed to! I’m missing the Blah Header Version 2!”

Hint time (at least in my version of Word). At the bottom right of the style guide listing, there’s a little button with a tiny arrow pointing to the lower right. Click on this icon, and you’ll be presented with a full list of all styles present in the document. Use this. Treasure this.

And Finally, Reading!

Once you’ve got everything lined up and ready to actually start the process of writing… take a step back. Review everything you’ve set-up to tackle the project ahead, and then make some time to read. I’m not talking about reading related materials for writing ideas (though you 100% should be doing that). Instead, I’m talking about reading related materials to get a better sense of how to format and layout your nascent projects.

Hopefully, by reading this, you'll be prepared for the rigors of the writing to come!

Hopefully, by reading this, you’ll be prepared for the rigors of the writing to come!

Depending on the specific project you’ve been working on, now is the perfect time to start delving into similar material. While you’re a special unique snowflake of a writer, you also shouldn’t have to recreate the wheel every time you start a new project. If you’re writing a book that details tons of spells, be sure to see how spells have been presented in previous work by the company. If this is the first product that this company has done for a specific topic, see if other companies have done work in this area before, and take what’s best from how they present their information, to make your writing job easier.

Thursty Example: I’m writing some archetypes for Aethera. The first thing I do prior to delving into the actual writing for these archetypes is to see how they’ve been formatted in other documents. Since Aethera is the first in the product line, I figure it’s best to check out how Paizo has presented archetypes in their hardcovers. I take important pieces of information from this, like:

  • The Archetype title is presented as Header text.
  • The title is always ARCHETYPE NAME followed by CLASSNAME+’ARCHETYPE’ in brackets
  • The first paragraph after the header is a basic description of the archetype.
  • There’s an order to how things are presented: For example, Alignment/Class Skills are defined before ability changes, if they differ in the archetype.
  • Archetype abilities that replace an existing class ability, have a line that uses the verbiage “This ability replaces…”

There’s several more nuanced things to note for archetype formatting, but just by spending a few minutes reviewing several existing in-print books, you get a sense for how they should be formatted.

Next Time!

I’ll talk about the actual process of how I fill in these prepared documents.

Spoiler Alert:



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