Sunday, 15 September 2013

Just Write

If I made one mistake when I started writing (and I didn't, I made hundreds) then it was spending too much time on my articles. That might seem an unusual thing to say. Surely to craft something publication-worthy, you need to spend a while perfecting each sentence, developing your own grammatical style, inserting fancy words and all that guff, yes? Nope. A lot of my best work has been written in less than two hours. Here, see.

This is an article I spent three weeks "getting right" before sending to The Escapist, which ultimately - rightly - turned it down:

http://www.gamelitist.com/2012/03/grand-theft-auto-iv-hitman-and-player-agency-2/

And here's something I wrote in about 90 minutes that the same website published on the first draft:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/features/10267-The-Time-You-Were-An-A-hole-in-Spec-Ops-The-Line

See the difference? One flows together and makes a consistent point. The other stutters and stalls like a knackered old car. If you're freelancing, you can't sit and be precious over every single word. You need to just PRODUCE.

The practical implications should be obvious. If you're stopping and starting and fiddling over a single article for three weeks at a time, you're never going to get anything finished, and getting things finished is how you get paid. So you need to learn to churn things out. You might be worried about that compromising your art, so here's my second point.

Articles written in itty bitty chunks tend to suck. I can't speak for everyone, but I can usually sense when something's been put together over several different writing sessions. The sentences don't flow together. The arguments are fragmented. There's a lot of exposition dropped into the start of each paragraph, as if the writer is reminding himself where he left off. Some people might work fine like this. But my advice is, if you're writing something of about 1500-2000 words, try and do it in two sittings. You can always re-draft later. Just get it out. Turn that faucet in your head all the way around and let it flow. Worry about cadence later. If you insist on getting every single clause right on your first pass, you're going to freeze up and never get anything done.

Produce. Produce. Produce. I can't emphasise this enough. Sitting in front of Word, worrying that your latest paragraph isn't as good as something David Foster Wallace would write, is not the way to become a writer. You need to practise your craft and your craft isn't writing single sentence -  it's producing finished articles. Think of it as learning to ride a bike. If you piss about for weeks perfecting the way you climb onto the saddle, you're not going to get anywhere. You need to climb on, start peddling, fall off and repeat. A lot of the articles you complete to begin with are going to be trash. Even 18 months after going pro, I still think my overall ratio of shite work to good work is mounted considerably in the former's favour. But that's how it should be. You just need to write. No-one is going to pay you for good ideas.

A tip. Next time you're sat in front of that evil bastard, that white, unblinking, totally blank Word document, just start writing. And I mean anything. Whatever is in your head, regardless of whether it's related to your topic, just put it down. Just write out your stream of consciousness. You need to loosen up your fingers, to start finding the keys. After ten minutes of just writing "I hate life, I hate life, bums bums bums bums bums" I usually find myself ready to start doing something proper. You should try it as well. As long as you have words on paper, you're getting somewhere.

Don't be precious. Don't worry if not every sentence is precisely right. Don't give yourself a month to write 600 words. Get it out, get it on paper and then go over it again until you're happy. It'll make your work better. Trust me.

And if you don't do it, you'll starve to death. So there's that.

WRITING EXERCISE: Pick a videogame, film, TV show or book that you really like and write a 500 word block, summarising the plot, in less than 25 minutes. Don't stop. Just get it out.

BONUS TIP: Watch this clip by Limmy, who sums up my whole point in song form:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMZtd3W1QaQ