Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)


My friend Serdar has a fascinating response to my column on the Agile Manifesto for creatives.  Focusing on my calling out overdocumentation, he sums things up amazingly well:

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.

(Emphasis Mine)

I’ve played a lot of RPGs and games.  I love worldbooks and guides.  I enjoy fan wikis.  However, reading Serdar’s comments made me realize that it’s possible to take documentation concepts from one form of media and apply it to another inappropriately.

RPG books, character sheets, wikis, etc. can teach us great documentation skills, as well as different forms of documentation.  However, if one is not careful, one can take the methods and skills from one form of media and try to apply them to another where they don’t do any good and may harm the work.

Case in point, Serdar’s example of overdetailing something so much that you’re not writing, say a book, but a module about the book’s world – which may keep you from writing the damn book.

This is a danger that creatives face, and I think it’s a more modern creation – we have so many documentation methods and tools at our disposal, we may over-use them or use then inappropriately.  We end up wasting time with unneeded documentation and documentation forms that keep us from writing the story or creating the comic or coding the game.

A good creative has to be selective in what they document and how they do it.  By all means get diverse experience, try different methods, indulge your skills – but pick what works. Don’t go overboard with documentation you don’t need.

This is extremely hard for me to admit as a worldbuilding fanatic, but you can overdo documentation or do it wrong.

Let me leave you with a metaphor a co-worker used (which in term he derived from a Scrum training event) – optimal miscommunication.  You don’t have to say everything to say enough, and it’s better to leave things out to help you communicate what’s important.

Or as I put it, better to have 80% of what you need documented and it’s all useful, than have 120% of everything documented and then have to figure out which of the extra 20% you don’t need.

– Steve

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