Shop Talk: The First Graph From Hell

shoptalk copyStaring at a blank screen, knowing you have to make word magic happen is frustrating when you’re on deadline and things aren’t clicking as fast as you need them to. It’s even worse when you have a sense of what you want to say, yet reaching for the specific words leaves you grasping at the empty nether. I’m in one such predicament myself. In this case, it’s with a game review that is in desperate need of writing STAT! In fact, I find that mental long jams pop-up most frequently for me when I’m writing critiques. So in hopes of loosening things up, I figured I’d blab about it for a moment in a blog post — a brief exercise in clearing the word palate, if you will.

When you’re writing a review, first paragraphs are the WORST. Style, tone, and format can differ widely from one outlet to the other, so you can’t always lean on your old stand-by methods. And because ledes are so important, finding just the right hook that also sets up the tone for the review ahead can be agonizing when you have to drag it kicking and screaming from your head through brute force.

Some days I’ll write, then destroy. Write, then destroy. Write, then destroy. Over and over again without making any real progress in a solid hour or more of futile writing grind. Those days are tough, but the rote process of forcing myself to slap some garbage on the page, even if it really is just awful trash that’ll never make it into the finished piece, can leave residual idea nuggets that grow into great material.

I find that giving myself permission to suck — to really super suck hard, in the most suckiest of sucktastic ways — can help get the ball rolling before I go back to clean it up. Other times, I’ll dive back into a game for a few minutes in hopes of jump-starting an experience that’ll spark my brain into word-action. Getting a fresh taste of the thing I’m supposed to be intelligently slinging words about usually works.

Overcoming that first graph hurdle can be a real BEAST. The silver lining, however, is that once you slay the monster and conquer that stubborn bit of critical territory in your review, the rest of it tends to fall into place and flow onto the page far more easily.

With that image in mind, I’m off to power up my word chainsaw, don my coffee-powered combat visor, and charge headlong into battle. PEW PEW PEW!


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The Game Journo Guides series offers in-depth advice and helpful tips on different aspects of the writing life, from freelancing and publishing to journalism and beyond. While these books are geared towards writers who primarily cover the video game, geek culture, and tech industries, much of the knowhow they contain is useful to writer folks of all stripes.


4 thoughts on “Shop Talk: The First Graph From Hell

  1. Yes, first paragraphs are mythical beasts from the nine hells (or seven, if you are a Game of Thrones fan). Sometimes I do play again for a few minutes as well. But the saddest is when I am almost a hour and no word has been written. It is a good exercise to desperation lol.

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