Alex’s Guide to Writing

If human beings hadn’t invented writing and continued to uphold its importance, teaching it for thousands of years to the point where pretty much everything we do would eventually lead to reading something someone else wrote – be it for how long your pasta needs to be boiled on the back of the packet, or the grades you got at school – I think I’d probably be hanging from a rope. Nothing in this life fulfils me the way that writing does. Not eating my favourite food, visiting my favourite place or talking to my favourite person. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are fulfilling in various satisfying ways, but none the same as writing. None of them feel like such an endeavour to begin, a trial to navigate or as climactic to finish as putting pen on paper, or hand on keyboard, and writing. Without it I’d be a husk. A pale zombie wandering from A to B constantly wondering what the hell happened to my life with no outlet. But as I am now, thanks to writing being a thing that exists and that I can do, I get to be a pale zombie walking from A to B with an outlet.

If you’re sitting there thinking that “this doesn’t sound like a guide” well… No, no it doesn’t. Because while you can teach people how to write, you can’t really teach how to be good at it. I mean does a good writer keep it short and simple? Are they more longform? Does a good writer enjoy doing the third proof read of their own work? Does a good writer need to study writing at an institution? Do you need to be analytical? Are fiction writers better than non-fiction? There’s simply no right answers to these questions because everyone approaches it differently. What skills you specialise in – whether you’re a grammar nerd, can pump out 1000 words a minute or great at planning your work – I don’t think contribute to you being a good writer so much as they contribute to you being an effective one.

In my eyes the difference between a good writer and an effective writer is that an effective writer simply writes to get the job done, be it to fill a quota or reach a word-count for an assignment, while a good writer normally writes not only for those things, but also for the reason that they have something inside of them saying “you need to pick up the nearest pen or keyboard and put that thought to paper.” But that’s too broad, right? Like bad books are often written by people with amazing ideas but without the ability to execute them either because they don’t enjoy writing or just don’t believe it’s something they want to put their time into refining. So sure, there is more to it than the “need to write”, and I think what those things are is a set traits and/or mindsets that give what you write, whether the quality is the best or worst thing you have written, integrity.

You know, I keep a journal. It’s a journal full of all the bad emotions the chemicals in my brain make me feel in response to things that occur in my day-to-day life. And although me pulling it out normally means I’m going to write something negative, I still enjoy the act of writing in it. Part of it is that, compared to writing on a keyboard, putting a pen to paper and binding those two physical objects together, steered by your wrist to draw symbols that convey meaning, is so much more personal and intimate than pressing buttons in rapid succession. Because, in spite of the fact that ink is as easily dissuaded by an unforeseen drop of water as data on a hard drive is by an unlikely corruption, the fact that I can hold the journal and all my thoughts within it in my hands makes it feel infinitely more tangible than anything I’ve digitally written. I tried journaling digitally before. I wrote the same things. Tried to vent the same frustrations, but it wasn’t until I began to physically write again that I felt as though any kind of weight had been lifted from my chest. I had an honest moment with myself where I realised that missed writing that way and declared then and there that I would do so more often and, honestly, I feel healthier having made that decision. And I think that’s one trait good writers need to have: Honesty.

Okay, duh, of course a good writer should be honest; But I don’t just mean with literally what you write, but with how you write it and, perhaps most importantly, how you feel when you write it. You know, an awful lot of people will tell you it’s highly important to be honest with your readership first and foremost, but I don’t believe such a thing is even possible unless a writer can be honest with themselves about the nature of what they are writing and the reasons for it. For instance, more planning goes into my reviews besides “I played this game/watched this movie and want to review it”. Often times my mood dictates what I review; I was going to release a review of The Outer Worlds prior to what you’re reading now, but there was so much negativity sunk into the review based on how I was feeling at the time I wrote that, although my opinions on the game were true, they were paradoxically not reflective of the way I ended up wanting to have portrayed either the game or myself in the review of it. So I scrapped it and now there is a new version of that review sitting in my drafts waiting to be completed that (I hope) will communicate the negativity of my initial draft that doesn’t feel either over bearing or pointlessly hyperbolic for the sake of being hyperbolic (Not to say that I have nothing good to say about the game, by the way). And I wasn’t even in a crappy mood when I wrote that initial review, I was just in the mood to write something else but decided to write the review anyway. The result was something that wasn’t emotionally honest in how I was portraying myself as a reviewer or the game as a product.

But more important than that and, in my opinion, the one thing all writers should have above all else is the capacity to be vulnerable in front of your readership. If you write something but it feels like more of a product than a piece of your heart or mind on the paper, then there’s a good chance you didn’t allow yourself to become vulnerable. But what exactly does that mean? Well for me, as a reviewer, it means putting my opinions out there and, more importantly, making sure they are mine and not in service of jumping on a bandwagon or riding the back of a trend. It’s why I dropped a few fat bombs of Fallout 2, one of my most played CRPG’s, and Halo Combat Evolved because, beloved as those games are, I can’t pretend I loved them on the same level their most devout fans do. If you feel this overlaps with honesty a little then you’re right, but the one crucial difference between the two is that making yourself vulnerable is… Hard. It means saying things people may not agree with. It means potentially being judged. It means maybe having to justify your thoughts. It means other people may challenge what you think.

Honestly as a reviewer this is all part of the gig… But if you’re a creative writer, be it a poet, a novelist or script writer, it gets to a whole new level of scary. Because you’re not just putting an opinion out there, but you’re also putting your heart and soul out there. You’re creating art and the idea of rejection can be pretty horrifying. But if you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable or to put your heart into your work, you’ll end up writing the next Rise of Skywalker; A generic, soulless product that – while yes, did have a lot of effort put into the overall making of it – will ultimately feel disconnected. But the truth is you can’t make good art, or good anything for any type of audience, if you haven’t bled a little into your work.

It took me a long time to let me be vulnerable with my work. This bog started as a place I’d post poetry while taking a module on if at university, and then I got self conscious and took it all down. Then I started posting movie reviews, believe it or not, mostly of Marvel and DC films, but then got self conscious again and took them all down. I then returned to poetry and, you guessed it, eventually took everything down again. I was getting views (relative to my tiny size) but I didn’t like having that stuff out there for some reason. I guess I wasn’t ready. Obviously, now days, I feel a lot more comfortable posting my opinions honestly online and being subject to other people’s perspectives and I often find myself wondering why it was ever such a big deal. Truth is that it isn’t, but I made it out to be one in my head.

None of this is to say I am the ideal writer, perfect in every single way, of course. But after writing my review of my three years in university, I don’t think there’s much I can’t write here. That was a big hurdle for me in both being honest about my writing and being vulnerable. It goes to show that while I have been comfortable on this blog since October of 2020, I still have room to grow and develop.

I don’t know if this … “guide” … helped anyone. I think most of what I wrote is incredibly obvious, but I also thought that before I even started writing here and at a time where I didn’t possess any of the things I talked about. Hopefully, at the very least, it’s a reminder or piece of reassurance.

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