Writing... It's a Process

10min read

On and off, since early 2017, I’ve been writing about the video games I play. I’ve always loved video games and writing so it seemed like a good idea to write about video games for fun. I got into the habit of writing concise reviews for most of the video games I played. I would play through a game from start to finish, pick out the juiciest parts of the experience, write about it in about 200 words and post the review to Steam. I’ve uploaded them here if you’re interested in taking a look.

I love being creative with constraints. In the past, I’ve gotten into making pixel art and chiptune music. By limiting the decision space, constraints focus my creativity and, in doing so, make being creative more enjoyable for me. But, the constraints I set out for myself with my mini-reviews were a little too limiting. It was a good writing exercise but I felt crippled by them.

I’ve had more free time than usual this past year and, after a year long hiatus, I got back into writing reviews. The reviews I write today are longer and more essay-like but share many similarities to the mini-reviews I used to write. The writing process I’ve developed over the past few years is what I want to share with you today. I hope that by sharing it, I can encourage you to pick up a metaphorical pen and write about a game, or something else, you’re passionate about.

Before we begin, there’s a few key points to keep in mind. My process works for me but it might not work for you. My process isn’t set in stone, I’m constantly tweaking it. Each of the steps happen one after the other, usually, but the steps are fluid and I sometimes go back and forth between them. I have a writing process because it usually feeds my brain with the input it needs to help me write about a topic well. If the words are flowing then sometimes I skip a step or two. With that out of the way, let’s talk about it.

Our brains work in mysterious ways. Ideas and thoughts can come to me at any time. That’s why I always keep notepads on my work desk, my couch and on my bedside table (and if I could have one in my shower I would). Taking notes is the most important part of my writing. Playing a video game all the way through might take me weeks; taking notes helps me remember everything I experienced in that time. Even for shorter games, I might have a thought after an hour of play that I’ll have forgotten by the time I finish the game if I don’t write it down.

It’s hard for me to know ahead of time whether a specific video game I’m playing is going to be compelling enough to write about. There’s a lot of video games out there, most of them are trash. My goal is to sift through the garbage to find hidden gems that people haven’t heard about or to reveal obscure aspects of more popular games. I’m not psychic and, so, I’m always taking notes just in case.

If I’ve written a lot of notes for a game then I’m probably in a good position to write an essay about it. Sometimes I decide not to. The part of my brain that pushes me to write is fickle. Sometimes it’s not in the mood to write about a particular topic. But a filled notepad means that when I feel like writing about something, I’ve got exactly what I need to get started.

So, I’ve decided to write about something, if everything has gone according to plan, I should have a bunch of notes related to the topic. I take all of my handwritten notes and type them out digitally. I could digitize my notes automatically, but making a digital copy of my handwritten notes myself is useful. I’m forced to read my notes again which refreshes my memory, allows me to filter out the noise, and expand on the notes with a thesis that ties all my thoughts together. Also, my handwriting is terrible… I’m not sure we have machine learning algorithms powerful enough to read it.

Now that the notes are digital, I can easily move them around in a way that makes sense to me and will, hopefully, make sense to the reader once they’ve been transformed into an essay. I want to take these thoughts, talk about each of them in more detail and tie them all together in a reasonable way. I usually use the voice typing feature in Google Docs to narrate the first draft of my text. This allows me to create a somewhat readable first draft in a short amount of time. I try to avoid editing myself at this stage to avoid cutting out any underdeveloped thoughts from the text this early on.

Connecting these ideas in a readable way is important. This isn’t easy, writing well is hard. There are a lot of good resources out there that can help you improve the way you write. One book I recommend is the Elements of Style by William Strunk. It’s free and short. There’s nothing stopping you from reading it now and improving the way you write today.

Now that I’ve written the meat and potatoes of my textual meal, it’s time to wrap my work in some beautiful buns. The introduction should bring the reader in and convince them that they need to read the rest of the essay. The conclusion should tie everything I’ve written together in a meaningful way.

I usually inject a little bit more of my personal life in the introduction and the conclusion compared to the rest of the text. Writing about who I am, what I like and what I’m feeling gives relevant context to the reader about me. I’ve found that my best writing happens when I’m able to tie my personal life and thoughts intimately with the video game I’m writing about. My essay on Blood Bowl 2 is a good example of this where I talk about how the game teaches you to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt as best you can and how that relates to my chronic pain struggles stemming from the tendonitis in my hands. It’s difficult for me to write this way consistently. Like I said earlier, writing well is hard.

These past few months I’ve written a lot of introductions related to the pandemic and how it makes me feel. Until this is all over I expect to be writing a few more of those. The introduction is the most important part of the text because it’s where most of the readers are likely to drop off unless I serve them up with a juicy hook. The hook needs to convince the reader that they should care about the rest of the text. For a lot of the games I’ve written about, my hook briefly describes the most interesting parts of the game and why the reader should care.

Any creative endeavour I attempt that’s fueled by other people’s reactions to my art is doomed to fail. I write because I enjoy writing, it’s helped me become a better communicator and it’s helped me understand myself better. If other people want to read what I write, awesome. If not, that’s life. With that said, I put a lot of work into my writing and one of my goals is to help people discover games that they might not have heard about. There are more and more games being made every day and it’s becoming harder and harder for smaller games to reach the players who would enjoy playing them. I’ve always liked recommending games to people and that’s what I’m doing here. To increase the number of people that read my writing and discover games through it, I need to think about how my work is presented.

Picking a good title for my essays is an important part of this. Ideally, it should draw the reader in by describing the text as a whole while leaving room for the reader’s imagination. I’m currently working on figuring out how to record myself reading my essays. I hope that being able to listen to my work will increase the number of people interested in it. Eventually, I would like to be able to find a way to turn my writing into videos as easily as possible.

Now I’ve got a mess of text written out, a good title, an introduction with a juicy hook followed by a few paragraphs talking about what I want to talk about, and a conclusion that ties everything together. I read through it a few times and improve the wording where I can. If something looks weird, I fix it. Finally, I spend some time reading the essay out loud multiple times. This helps me notice missing words, awkward phrasings and run-on sentences which I can correct.

And that’s pretty much it. My writing process can be summarized by the following steps:

  1. Write down my thoughts on paper all the time.
  2. Choose a topic to write about.
  3. Gather all the handwritten notes and type them out on the computer.
  4. Using the digital notes as a foundation, write a rough first draft.
  5. Write introduction and conclusion paragraphs to hook the reader and tie the rest of the text together.
  6. Choose a title for the essay that describes the text and entices the reader.
  7. Review the text a few times and make any fixes, edits and improvements.
  8. Read the whole text out loud a few times to make sure it’s readable and isn’t missing any words.

My process isn’t perfect. In the future, I would like to figure out a way of getting consistent constructive criticism for my work. Hopefully, I can find someone with similar interests to mine who would be able to look over my essays and give me some honest feedback, and I could do the same for them. I enjoy writing but I don’t enjoy doing narration and video editing. Videos are the most effective way of talking about a visual medium like video games. Eventually, I would like to write video essays on video games. I’ve done it once before for Trials Rising, but a 3min video took me 40h to produce… Video essays can be a time consuming hobby but I think I know how I can turn my writing into low effort videos that some people might enjoy watching.

It’s interesting to look back on all the time I’ve spent writing over the course of my life. In high school, I wrote the first few pages of a cheesy science fiction story featuring pirates, mechs, zombies and robots in an intergalactic war that would decide the fate of the universe. I took a creative non fiction writing class in CEGEP (or early university if you prefer). Unfortunately, I got really busy with school work in university and then work work after I graduated leaving me with less free time for my less instantly gratifying hobbies like writing. I started writing mini video game reviews on Steam a few years ago and I’ve been writing about video games since then. This past year I’ve evolved my writing into what you see today.

I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made so far as a writer and I have high hopes for the future. I want to be able to infuse my writing with more of myself to connect with readers in a deeper way. I’ll try my best to stay on track, keep doing what I’m doing and improve my writing in a way that’s meaningful to me and, hopefully, meaningful to you.

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