Let’s face it: writing, in its current state, sucks. Writing takes a lot of planning, effort, revising, and courage - and that is even before you share the result with others. If done correctly, writing can become a great tool, whether the product is a research paper or the story to an upcoming popular video game. However, given writing’s limitations and tribulations, it’s easy to get lost or feel unprepared. Almost everyone struggles with writing at some point in their life; even authors like Elizabeth Gilbert or Stephen King still struggle with writing. For a means of communicating that seems like it should be accessible and powerful in nature, it seems almost unreasonable that writing causes a sense of fear for so many people who try to do it. This raises an important question about a powerful means of communicating with each other: if writing is crucial to communication in society, why does it suck, and how can we make it suck less?
First, having a plan of what one will write makes the overall process much easier; the lack of a plan or sense of direction can make writing difficult, if not impossible. Without a framework to work off of, writers can often feel confused or experience difficulties when writing out an essay, story, etc. In a 2002 study, Susan Ellis describes students’ responses when being tasked with writing a story from a script and later writing another one without any script or framework to go off of. Unsurprisingly, Ellis reports one of these issues with writing unscripted stories, which is common for most authors: “[In] merely identifying the characters, setting and what happens leads to story development [… they are left] with the attendant problems of generating new ideas, defining boundaries and directions”. When authors and other writers don’t find a framework to launch their writing off of, it is still important that they have a form of a plan to lean on. Writers need to take the time to make a plan and follow it loosely so that they aren’t drowning in their own ideas. Once authors have finalized vital parts of their work that they can rely on, they can continue working, knowing the direction they want to take it. In the same study, Ellis also notes this sense of direction from the students once they made important decisions about their story: “[When] the writers made in-depth, conscious decisions about their characters, they were able to create the story by identifying and resolving problems. This helped to give the storyline an initial direction and […] to constrain the storyline and maintain its coherence and momentum”. Most students made their own writing compass this way and this enabled themselves to write stories based on their own experiences. Without this sense of direction, writers, beginning or all, may have taken a long amount of time to try coming up with a story.
After setting a plan, authors will generally set their expectations for their work; however, having too low or too high of an expectation can really damage a writer’s confidence in completing his/her work. This high expectation-setting is most commonly seen with academic research and other papers in this field in which the professor, student, or both set higher expectations for the product. Early in the drafting process, students end up flustered, stressed, and even anxious. McKenna Hickox, a tutor at Goucher College’s Writing Center, notices this with some tutees during appointments: “Students have broken down in tears at the writing center […] on many occasions. In some cases, it was because of teachers’ high expectations.” The desire and pressure to produce quality work that has high or unreasonable expectations puts emotional strain on a person. Fortunately, Hickox advises to students to compartmentalize assignments, get clarification on the expectations, and, if needed, get an extension (Hickox 2).
For some students, this advice is reasonable and feasible; however, other writers and authors may set their own expectations that are too high to reach, often by accident after writing a previously-successful story and/or wanting to model another successful piece. “And it’s exceedingly likely that anything I write from this point forward is going to be judged by the world as the work that came after the freakish success of my last book”, Elizabeth Gilbert admits in one her her TED talks, “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. By her last novel’s success, she set high expectations for herself to surpass the success from writing Eat, Pray, Love; unsurprisingly, negative criticism about the follow-up novel stirred up and sales decreased in comparison to Eat, Pray, Love. Authors and writers have to be wary about the kinds of expectations they set for their writing; if writers set their expectations too high, they’ll unintentionally add additional stress and lower their own confidence during all levels and phases of the writing process.
During the process of writing, writers may attend workshops to get better ideas on what to do; however, these experiences can be less than pleasant, if not detrimental to authors. Most workshops are intended to assist authors in improving their writing. “Writers have to be brutal when it comes to criticizing each other’s work, though they also should be fair and constructive at all times,” author and lawyer Thomas Lee writes on the Ploughshares blog for Emerson College about workshops, “However, some of the workshops I’ve participated in degenerated into petty tiffs over who is the best writer in the room.” While criticism is an important part of a workshop, it needs to be given fairly in a workshop and not turn into a contest for ‘best writer.’ Not all workshops act as revision periods, however; some workshops are designed to gain insight from other authors on their experiences. If other authors are too harsh and unreasonable unfair in giving criticism, appreciation, or opinion, it can damage the intended writer’s self-esteem, confidence, and/or other skills or tools. Some writers may even never return to a workshops, due to a fear of repeated harsh judgement. Unless workshops start adopting positive means of interaction and improvement, they can’t stand alone as a viable means of assistance for writers and authors.
If workshops aren’t enough for authors, they may consider collaborating with another person to work on a piece of writing; unfortunately, in some cases, this collaboration leads to more conflict and inability to write a story. Typically, contradictions in ideas or disagreement about a particular part of the story will be enough for a writer to stop working on a piece for a while; sometimes, this can even lead to the writer abandoning their project entirely.
For example, in the fall of 2018, I collaborated with a few others on a modification to the video game Doki Doki Literature Club!, a psychological horror visual novel. The genre of these type of games require a story to be written; so, the owner, Enra, tasked us with writing the first chapter of the story. In particular, he tasked me to write the scene where the main character visits Natsuki’s bakery after the events of the original game. After writing the first few drafts, the team heavily disagreed with some of its content; to remedy this, I attempted to create a universe that my work and the team’s could seamlessly use without issue, dubbed “The Pink Box” in reference to Valve’s “The Orange Box”. Unfortunately, suggestions were turned down in favor of a “vanilla1” mod; in a post on Sayonika’s blog titled “DDEA Diary #1: Moving on without AliceOS2”, Enra (nicknamed Cappucino on Medium), remarked on this and my prompted resignation: “Since the damage was done, there was a decision to throw the Pink Box out of the window because of its limited nature […] because it was too heated, two of the writers left, including [Marquis].” Because of the disagreements and my futile attempts at making better suggestions, I forced myself to resign from the project entirely, knowing that I couldn’t work in that collaborative space. Writers should be careful and acknowledge that these kinds of arguments can and may occur should they decide to collaborate with another.
Collaboration aside, finally, before authors publish their work, they generally decide to get reviews and suggestions for editing; but, some feedback can tear writers down just as easily. Feedback is important; it helps writers grow and express their ideas so that others can easily understand it. Another study done by the Virgina Commonwealth University indicated that college students, especially, valued criticism and feedback of their work; most importantly, good feedback correlates to better student motivation in writing. However, this feedback must be relatively positive. Eric Ekholm, a contributor of this study, remarks that feedback that students won’t accept will be useless and that “fostering positive student perceptions of writing feedback should be a primary goal of instructors in higher education.” While this study targeted college students specifically, the same is said for any writer or author. Negative feedback, if not accepted, can be damaging to a writer’s self-confidence and motivation to keep writing. Recently, schools and other communities have pushed for constructive criticism in hopes of alleviating this system; however, this won’t be as easy for the rest of the world to follow suit, given the conditions of publishers and editors in the writing space. This can also be said for negative comments posted on online publications, especially YouTube videos, in recent years.
As of the time of writing this, it remains unfortunate that writing is still difficult and just “sucks”. Planning and expectation-setting can impede authors and writers if done incorrectly, collaborations has its own issues, and harsh criticism and feedback, if not handled correctly, can really damage a writer’s self-confidence. For a select few, they may enjoy these difficulties as a challenge; however, writing should be more accessible and pleasurable for the rest of us. In a world where communication is key to making change, writing must be able to work effectively and be easy for anyone to do. If we don’t do anything about the way writing is right now, it will continue to be difficult for anyone’s voice to be heard through this medium. Reassessment of how writing is right now and how it affects authors and writers is in order.
- They wanted a modification that was as minimalistic and close to the original as possible.
- AliceOS was also a project I worked on which included an operating system-like framework for visual novels.
- Capuccino. “DDEA Diary #1: Moving on without AliceOS.” Sayonika, 4 Nov. 2018, https://medium.com/sayonika/ddea-diary-1-moving-on-without-aliceos-b052a0f68c76.
- Ekholm, Eric, et al. “The Relation of College Student Self-Efficacy toward Writing and Writing Self-Regulation Aptitude: Writing Feedback Perceptions as a Mediating Variable.” Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 20, no. 2, Feb. 2015, pp. 197–207. a9h.
- Ellis, Susan. “Story-Writing, Planning and Creativity.” Reading, vol. 37, no. 1, Apr. 2003, pp. 27–31. a9h.
- Gilbert, Elizabeth. “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” TED, Feb. 2009, https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.
- Hickox, McKenna. Writing Sucks: Interview Q&A. 28 Nov. 2018.
- Lee, Thomas. “When a Workshop Goes Bad (Part 1).” Ploughshares at Emerson College, 6 Feb. 2012, http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/when-a-workshop-goes-bad-part-1/.