I learned to read the other day.
Since I was barely a fetus ejected out of my mothers vagina, I have been playing with books. Quite literally playing, when I was young; biting the corners of thick cardboard pages which lead to my inevitable brain damage URK EEK AAAK - okay, I took my pill, everything is better now. My mind is a calming sea. With dolphins.
Point is, I was raised on reading, and the second I was able too, I started writing. The very first thing I ever wrote was a short story about a bunch of birds who go on an adventure together. There was a kiwi, and a blue jay, and a duck, and a penguin. They all had to help each other out because of their personal weaknesses; the kiwi couldn't fly, the blue jay couldn't swim, etc. It got an A when in reality, it was a B+ AT BEST. That was when I was around five years old. And it took fucking hours, and was only two pages long which seemed like a goddamn novel at the time.
We never owned a computer until I was about ten, so I used to write on a electronic typewriter. I was reading novels by the time I was six, and I remember doing a book report for Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King in seventh grade. I often get people praising my writing, but it has always felt like a half assed effort, something I do for fun and nothing more. Most of the blogs I write are thrown together in fifteen minutes, and I usually spell check them thoroughly after they have already been posted, using the edit feature furiously to make sure any mistakes are ironed out before someone sees them.
This kind of blind, effortless writing is probably the reason why I haven't really improved that much over time, and also why I have never really considered writing as a career. To me it just seems like a pipe dream, a delusion of grandeur; I mean who the fuck needs another writer in this world? There are so many people as it is, and even more in this current generation who are unwilling to accept the fact that they might have to do some real work, that maybe they aren't gifted or talented enough to make a living from their artistic pursuits. I am a realist, and a bit of a cynic in that respect, and I think maybe it has actually held me back.
Over the past couple of months I have been trying to figure out what it is I wanted to do with my life, and I keep picking straws from the pile until I find something that makes sense. The pile is empty, and I have been feeling frustrated the past few weeks because of it. I desperately want to achieve something, but have not found anything I am even remotely talented at. As a result, I was looking around at my possessions one day and realized just how much time I spend doing absolutely nothing; I blamed video games.
At first, I was on a total tirade about this. Rather than simply taking responsibility for my problems, I started to go on a rampage, eliminating all of these negative factors from my life; negative in the sense that I made them negative, not that they are inherently evil. I managed to sell a good portion of my collection, which I do not regret; it has actually helped me organize my home. Luckily, I managed to stop myself before the damage became to severe. Ultimately I did achieve the desired result; I have already been spending a lot more time doing more productive things, though I have also found a way to schedule time for games as well, without them feeling like an interference. It was positive, although due to my own compulsive nature, it could have been very negative.
I pulled all of my old books out of storage, and found a few lists of classic literature which I wanted to pursue as part of my education; if I couldn't decide on my own what my goal is, maybe some serious time spent "working", educating myself so I could better educate my daughter, and generally getting away from entertainment might help me set off on the right path.
In some ways, it has already. There is a part of my soul (if such a thing exists) that simply can't let writing go. It seems to be in my makeup to write, even when I don't want to, don't feel like it. And I think it is time I accepted this about myself and embraced it rather than writing it off as a simple fantasy, as something for someone else. Because my entire life, everything has been for someone else, and I have been left thinking that a "life of hard work" is the only thing I am capable of doing. Maybe it is the low class environment I live in, the people I associate myself with, or an inherent fear of the difficulty a life of pursuing my "dreams" might bring. But either way, there is no escape. So I have finally made the decision which I always found so abject, found such a cop out in other people who I perhaps mistakenly felt were simply too lazy to just put their nose to the grindstone, and do something they hate like everyone else; I want to be a writer.
There is something that makes me feel very dirty about saying that, even now.
These blogs are probably a short road to nowhere, but I do them because they are fun. Plain and simple. It is entertainment for me. Part of being a good writer means being a good reader, and the feedback I have received here when looked at on the whole has actually been essential in improving my skills on the long term, although I was never really paying attention to it before. I like to entertain people, so I wanted to know that people enjoyed what I was doing, but I never really analyzed the feedback until the past few days when I went back through countless old blogs, and saw how I had improved based on the suggestions of others. Early on I was still fairly immature, since my writing had never been exposed publicly on any tangible level, and I reacted poorly to criticism. But I thank each and every one of you for your opinions, thoughts, and advice over the past year or so. You really have no idea how much it means to me that you pay attention to, and respond to what I have been doing.
The biggest thing I have learned about writing, about blogging here, is just how essential reading is. I have met writers at meet ups, groups like NaNoWriMo, who will openly and unashamedly admit that they don't read. If they do, it's flash fiction, in short spurts, or fan fiction. Naturally, their own writing is on a similar level of competency (although that would be insulting to the word "competent") because of an essential flaw in their reasoning, which is usually along the lines of "well I am a very imaginative person. My characters are like real people, and with enough practice, I will become good over time without really having to read."
The problem is, these very same people are ultra sensitive to any criticism, and usually don't let others read their work. I know people who want to write, who want to improve, and who will do anything to do it, except sharing their work publicly. This is a serious problem, in my opinion, for somebody who wants to continually and quickly improve.
For myself, I have a long way to go, and for anyone else in my shoes who feels like they might have potential, here is the advice I would offer; keep fucking going. Here, there, everywhere. I have written blogs that were as enjoyable running your nails on a chalkboard, I have been aptly criticized for them, and although it was discouraging to fail, it only made me want to improve. But even more important, read! Read everything. But read things which are difficult, which are slightly over your head. If you sit there and read cheap, easy fiction, or editorials on highly restricted sites like IGN, the best you can ever hope to achieve for yourself is a level of competency which is slightly below that material. If you read difficult writing, informative writing, the classics of western literature, and generally stick to material which you have a hard time with, you will improve massively in a short period of time, not just as a reader, but as a writer as well. And it doesn't matter what kind of writer you are trying to become; these are essential comprehension and communicative skills you can apply to almost any field. A game journalist shouldn't just read, or even write about games. You should strive to go beyond that, because it will inevitably make you better at what you do, even if your other pursuits are in no way related.
Back to the first thing I said however, and most important of all; do you really know how to read? It seems like a silly question of course, especially if you have made it to the end of this long winded, disjointed conversation. But the fact of the matter is, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that, until the last month or so, I really had no idea. Reading is a skill just like writing, and there are some incredibly helpful tools at your disposal, should you choose to use them, which will help you to get the most out of any book, article, essay, which you decide to sit down with.
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler is the most embarrassing book you will ever buy at Chapters, but it is absolutely incredible; an essential tool for anyone who is serious about pursuing a career in writing. The time I spend with my books has increased and has actually taken on its own addictive quality on account of this book. To summarize, the book is all about active reading, and treats anything written as if it were a conversation you are having with an author. It makes sense; most authors are trying to make some kind of point, or make sure you absorb the facts which they are presenting, or the story they are telling. It isn't something I thought about, but we are usually having an internal conversation with the author as we read, deciding if we agree or disagree on their points, or if we think they are correct or not. It taught me to really pay attention, to always have a pen, and to write in, dog ear, and ruin my books. Because of these things, I now have a much more fulfilling experience with anything I read, and it has helped me, while writing, to better articulate the points I am trying to make.
I know this is largely of no interest to the readers of the C Blogs, (those who don't write them themselves) but for others like myself who are interested in making writing a life long pursuit, I'd like to spark up a conversation; what has helped you to get where you are? I have heard about books like The Elements of Style, one which I am going to be picking up very shortly in lieu of my recent decision. But I want to hear from you guys, what you think, any suggestions or advice, etc.