Writing is Subjective

Originally Posted on March 15, 2012 at 4:45 AM

“Hey, help me be a better writer!”

As someone who has had modest success as a writer and game developer, you’d be surprised how often people email me asking for help and advice. Now, I’m egotistical enough that I always enjoy talking about the creative process with fans, but I regret to say that I really do not have much concrete advice I can give on the subject. In fact, I really depreciate myself to say I hate giving advice to newbies and don’t have any nuggets of wisdom to pass on.

Here’s why:

You see, creative writing, like all forms of art, is a very subjective medium, and the process of creating a story is different for each writer. I can answer your questions in terms of how I personally work as a writer, but these answers may not be what you are looking for and it’s important for me to say that the best advice I can give is that if you want to succeed as a writer, you must do what suits you best. I know it’s kind of a cop-out, but I don’t think I can quantify exactly how to be a good writer. What works for me works for me, but I know several others (I am involved in professional literary circles) who have a different method entirely.

While anyone can be taught how to be a technically proficient writer, the writer’s ‘voice’ – your sense of individuality – has to come from within yourself.

But here’s some general advice that works for me:

On the topic of how to start writing, well, I personally draw inspiration from an outside source before writing something of my own. I find that this is the easiest way to form ideas, and let nobody ever tell you that you can’t think of an original story if your idea is based on someone else’s work. The truth is, there is little in the way of originality in writing these days, and what counts for originality is your own personal expression. You and I could write the exact same story, but both would still read differently and contain different facets of our respective personalities that would set them somewhat apart. What makes me form an idea is this: I basically read, play or watch something, become invested in its storyline and think to myself “wow, this really engaged me. I’d love to create something similar” and from there the story begins. It starts off as something similar to my inspiration and then diverges from it as I add my own expression to it and turn it into something completely different. I usually start out with a vague outline of how I want a story to proceed, and then I make up the finer plot details as I go along. If you’re in the habit of planning though, please stick to planning your story out as much as you can before you begin; it leads to a more consistent story.

On dealing with rewrites and feedback, if you find yourself never happy with your work, I can totally identify with you. I do that all the time. I have a horrible habit of doing it and never being satisfied with what I’ve written. In my experience, I’ve found that the way to stop this is to value the opinions and criticisms of others more than your own. Every time you consider doing a major rewrite, pass the story on to someone else, have them read it as is, and then ask for their honest opinion. It’s best to have someone who writes or reads a lot look over your story, as they tend to be more in tune with things such as writing style, flow, tone etc than those who don’t, but anyone will do. Trust me: if the part of the story you are considering rewriting truly needs a rewrite, your readers will tell you. I’d suggest attending a professional writing course at university or joining a writing group of some kind, as having a regular “workshopping” session with your story will put you into the habit of listening to your readers and trusting that the story is good if they say it is. On the other hand though, you’re the writer and you have to do what you feel is right, because ultimately it’s your story. It’s a fine balance.

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