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Writing is Hard

June 24th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Me, Media

I just finished a 1500 word article for a future Escapist and I’m still not entirely thrilled with it.

This is a normal feeling for me. There are reviews I wrote three years ago that I still think could use another ten edits. But deadlines are deadlines. Fortunately, The Escapist has some good editors. I’ve been fortunate in that very few of my pieces have ever been sent back for major rewrites by anyone.

I attribute this to my good nature and winning smile.

A lot of people want to write about games. Check the forum of any gaming publication and you are guaranteed to find a new thread every few months from someone asking how they can get a chance to write about games for money. There is an underlying assumption that knowing about games is the same thing as being able to write about them.

Of course, it isn’t. Knowing about games is essential, but not the end of the process.

For some reason, a lot of people have asked me how to get started, even though I’m hardly a great success story. I’m not making a real living at this, and I’m not even in the top ten game writers that I read regularly. But people ask. And they sometimes send along samples or ask for critiques. Here is all my wisdom distilled in a bite sized chunk.

Two things separate good writers from the rest.

a) Good writers read widely across a range of subjects.
b) Good writers write because they have to.

The first part is the hard part. Most people don’t read any more, me included. I read two newspapers a day, a lot of nonfiction and poetry. But that’s about it. My fiction reading is negligible at the moment – a major oversight that cuts me off from some good stuff – and I’ve never really been much into writing about music. Considering how many gamers and game journalists subsist on a steady diet of anime, scifi and fantasy, I probably seem erudite. But there’s a lot more I could be doing.

Reading is important because it teaches you how to pace your words and ideas. It’s not about learning ways to drop references to Robert Frost into a review but about economizing word choice, knowing when an anecdote illuminates or obfuscates and realizing that even the unspoken word has a cadence to it. Exposure to different styles and forms is important.

The second part sounds like a motivational speaker slogan, but I think it’s true, notwithstanding. Good writers are compelled to communicate their ideas, and will find a venue for that communication. Even in those professions that demand writing as evaluation tools, like academics, the best writers are those who are driven not simply to finish the tenure book but to pass along an idea to as wide an audience as possible.

So there you have it. My thumbnail guide to being a good writer, something I make no claim to for myself. But I think that if you are ever truly happy with something you have written, you aren’t self-absorbed enough to make it.


8 Comments so far ↓

  • Justin Fletcher

    “But I think that if you are ever truly happy with something you have written, you aren’t self-absorbed enough to make it.”

    Well put. Your post was more succinct and useful than many of the articles on the subject that make the rounds every eighteen months or so.

    I know your focus was on the writing itself, but if you’re responding to those asking you how to “make it” in the biz, I’d say you forgot one thing: you have to know how to sell yourself. This is the dirty secret on the business end of every creative endeavor, and it is the one with which people have the most trouble. Not to get highfalutin, but writers usually have a passion for their writing, not for self-promotion. It’s no coincidence that the ones who can do both well are the ones that generally succeed.

    Of course, if it were easy to stand out with your work, everyone would do so. This is the part where I’m supposed to give some advice, but, as an occasional freelancer in these post-CGM days, I’m having as much trouble as anyone else. I’ll just offer my firm belief that in addition to enriching his word power, any aspiring writer needs to consider improving his marketing skills, too.

  • Troy

    Yeah, self promotion is tough. It really is a distinct skill, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had others recommend me until I was confident enough to recommend myself. And still I could do more.

    As a reader, I’d rather have more good writers out there than more successful ones, but I’d be selfish to separate the two.

  • Alan

    I agree with all of what you say here, but of course that should be no surprise. As for the guilt over turning in non-perfect work, remember that the ability to “get stuff done” actually counts for something too.

    As for self-marketing, it’s necessary but not sufficient, There are those super-annoying people who oversell themselves and clutter up the market with sub-standard work. Ah, but that’s a different rant for another time.

  • Alan

    Also, that reminds me; I should get working on that editorial I’m supposed to write for August.

  • Darius K.

    I know what you mean. Last week I sent in a 1500-word piece for Escapist #103. Their editors are, in fact, pretty great. And I definitely was still not happy with the way my piece ended up.

    What’s nice is that years of blogging have actually curbed my perfectionist tendencies. I’m much more likely to take the leap of faith and just hand something in (or publish it to the web), whereas before I started blogging I would simply not write something because I couldn’t figure out the perfect way to do it.

    Assuming a piece of writing is not utter crap, and that the premise has some merit, it’s probably better to publish something imperfect than to not publish it at all.

  • Corvus

    I was really nervous when I submitted my first Escapist article. Now I probably rely on their editors overly much. Either way, I usually feel I ought to have spent more time on it. I’ve had to learn, the hard way, to not polish things to death.

    I’m getting the hang of self promotion. I’ve always been a performer, so that part of it isn’t difficult for me, it’s leveraging connections and asking for what I need that comes with difficulty.

  • roberton

    /As for the guilt over turning in non-perfect work, remember that the ability to “get stuff done” actually counts for something too./

    Isn’t there a saying that “perfect is the enemy of good”?


  • Corvus

    Seth Godin would have us believe that perfect is the enemy of progress. I tend to agree with him…