You Need to Overdocument
I cannot say this enough: if you’re working on a project — brainstorming, developing, testing, refining, whatever — have a pad & paper or a voice recorder handy. Document everything. Document until you feel silly for writing something down because it seems obvious. Then document some more.
During the creative process, overdocumenting cannot hurt you. But not writing something down because it was “obvious” or because you’re “totally remember it later” will. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost thoughts because of those excuses for not writing something down. No, really, I can’t, because I don’t remember all those times.
It happens as we’re drifting off to sleep. When that happens, I’ll type myself a note on my phone or use the voice recorder function if it’s more complicated, and email that to myself so I can check it out the next morning.
It happens while we’re testing something. When that happens, have a piece of paper around to jot notes on. And then when the testing is done, go back and see if you still understand your shorthand. If you do, rewrite it in a way that’s clearer to someone else — trust me, you’ll regret leaving notes in shorthand. If you don’t, ask the group what that note could have meant. Likely they’ll be able to tell you.
I was recently talking with a friend about his playtest. He was telling me about the stuff he learned from it, and I asked (because I always do), “Have you written that down?” He said no, that he’d remember it. I just glared at him, because I wish someone had done that to me every time I thought the same thing. Eventually, he started writing down his thoughts.
On another playtest where I was a participant, the designer was working out some issues in his game & had some epiphanies. He was new to this, so whenever this happened, I would say “you should write that down.” It’s a habit we’re not use to when we’re just playing games, to stop and write down thoughts mid-process, but it’s necessary when we’re making something.
This applies to fiction as well. If you have a thought about a scene idea in a story, but you’re not at that point or up to writing it at the moment, jot it down. And here’s where I can get to a specific example from me. Last night, as I was taking the shuttle home, I had an idea for a scene for a story in the upcoming Don’t Rest Your Head fiction anthology. I didn’t immediately grab for my phone, because the shuttle & my medication tends to make me dizzy. Instead, I closed my eyes until the 20 minute ride was up.
And guess what I didn’t remember? Yeah. Luckily, I have other ideas, but that’s not the issue. By not penning it down, by not writing or speaking into my phone a couple dozen words, I’ve denied myself the option of choosing that. Maybe whatever ideas I come up later will be better, but there’s no way to tell. More than that, I’ve denied myself the option building on that to make something stronger.
I know some people would say “well, if you can’t remember it, it probably wasn’t any good.” Those people are ignorant fucks who know nothing of this process we go through. As creators, we’re constantly responding to stimuli, synthesizing that with our experience. Let the mind go blank for whatever reason — in this case, to combat nausea — and you could lose the idea when other stimuli hit you. A billboard, a near-fatal car accident, a cute guy or gal, cacophonous traffic, whatever.
That’s why we need to document. Because then we retain what we have synthesized previously. We don’t have to reproduce it, with whatever changes we accidentally introduce. And only when we do that do we have the choice to use something we’ve come up with. If we forget something because we didn’t document, we cannot choose to use or build on it.
Which is to say: documenting isn’t making a commitment. You’re not saying “I am going to use this” and certainly not “I must use this” when you write something down. You’re saying “This might be useful, for this project or maybe for another.”
Now, yes, there is one sizable flaw in overdocumenting: if you have a shitty organization scheme (or no organization whatsoever), then you might be causing yourself a lot of headache with overdocument. But, then, is overdocumenting really your problems?
 And for more, you might want to check out Monica Valentinelli’s post about her involvement, since it’s currently the only post I can find about it on a quick Google search.
 Here’s a hint: nope.