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Thursday, 18 September 2014

What do you think it takes to be a writer? My evolving perspective.

Hi, Alex writing on the 18th September 2014 here, I was just rummaging through my hard drives, earching for college and university essays to have ready as filler content for this blog when a piece of writing I did in my first year of university struck a chord with me and gave me the idea for a blog post. I'll let past me speak first then I'll point out how my opinions have changed and evolved and how that might reflect on what being a reviewer and getting a job does to you.



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What You Think It Takes To Be A Good Writer
I used to think good writing was about ideas, concepts and stories but over the past 12 weeks that idea has been challenged and stamped upon leaving me disillusioned as visions of people like Douglas Adams hammering out the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series at the last minute are replaced by images of people bent over a keyboard spending hours thinking about the perfect word or sentence, consequently taking years to write a single book.

What good writing seems to me now is something like the literary equivalent of nouveau cuisine, all very important and impressive if you know anything about the subject but near repugnant if you just want something that tastes nice and fills your belly. Perhaps television has tainted my view of the official version of good writing or perhaps my lack of familiarity with officially well written writing has caused me to make certain unfair judgements and over emphasize the importance of the craft in writing but I cannot help feeling almost physically repulsed when 'good' writers talk of putting the craft before the story, letting the need for perfect syntax or style overwrite the intended meaning of a sentence.

My disillusionment has not stopped me from learning from the past 12 weeks however and while I think I will never truly write in a literary style, I have learned and relearned a great deal about the details that make great writing. I have stopped writing in the 3rd person perspective and past tense by default and have begun to use the various tenses and perspectives to further delineate and differentiate the different parts of my science fiction writing. It's rather like discovering a new colour pallet and quite frankly I'm surprised I didn't make as much use of tenses and perspectives before since I was certainly aware of them.

One good thing about my work this past semester and a real learning aid has been the reading logs since I've found myself learning from the literary greats I had promised myself I would not. While I have admittedly found myself unintentionally mimicking the style and vocabulary of these people as I had feared, it was a revelation. Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle were basically writing Doctor Who 60 years early, a fact I really should not have been surprised by. That means that all that guff I said at the start about being disillusioned needn't hold me back or prevent me from perfecting the craft because two of the greatest writers of the 19th century were writing about ideas, concepts and stories.

In conclusion then what I think makes a good writer and writing isn't some top flight chef working months on the perfect amorphous green lump of scented jelly for a pedant who gets giddy over words yet neither is it a sweaty down and out, handing an underdone burger to a square eyed nerd desperate to get his fix at 3 in the morning. Instead I think being a good writer is to be a chef in a gastropub, capable of cooking a fairly wide range of dishes in a fairly short time but without compromising too much on taste or texture.

Apologies if you can't make sense of that metaphor but the mind works in mysterious ways and for some reason it's easier for me to explain it in terms of food.


I still have some way to go before I achieve even my own definition of what makes a good writer and already I have plans to get better at slice of life and romance writing in my spare time.  

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Hello again, what do you think of that? 

I know what I think. Arrogant. The me that wrote the above lamentation of what it takes to be a good writer believed in the myth of the perfect first draft and it shows. With the benefit of experience and hindsight I can see that I believed I was that genius writer who could write the perfect draft. I produced so much drivel and scum as a result of that supreme over confidence and in this lamentation I was clearly looking down my nose at the humble and professional for daring to trim the fat. 

At the same time though I think that beneath that arrogance is an important declaration: Just because you can write better, doesn't mean you need to. As a reviewer these days I am obsessed with objectivity. I can't just watch an episode and feel how I feel, I have to dissect it as well and add the objective deductions of its quality to my feelings because I daren't just dislike or like an episode any more. I have to arm myself with the most comprehensive wall of information lest someone try to debate me on my feelings. I miss the days when watching Doctor Who was like watching a let's play, it was just a show made for enjoyment and yeah sometimes it was rubbish and you bitched about it but there wasn't this constant mob mentality or peer pressure about it. I wonder if that's a factor of reviewing or just Doctor Who's popularity.

If I were to record in depth reviews of Zisteau's letsplays for five years would I get sick of it like MrTARDISreviews and if so maybe that's a problem of reviewing. Perhaps there's something to be said for experiencing an episode the same way it's viewers do. I mean so what if the burger's high in saturated fat and made from soul sucked chicken? It tastes niceish and is almost cheap.