Welcome. This post is for those looking for advice on writing a Magic article. Part of my impetus for writing this was due to the recent article from Tim Aten’s article on Channelfireball title Aten’s Angry about it. I will stress that I am not here to pick on Aten. However, it provides a good platform for discussion.
1. Know Your Voice
I actually don’t like using the above title. Finding your voice can be misleading or at least confusing to younger or inexperienced writers. I would rather say to want to be writers is know who you are. That can be complicated though. I think many people don’t know who they are as a person. Then there is the camp of people who think they know, but they actually don’t.
First, let’s talk about why it is so important. People respond well to genuineness. When you try to write from a place that isn’t you, people can tell. Saying someone is a poser is too negative, but don’t be a poser. If you aren’t naturally funny, that is okay. Not everyone is funny. If you try to write a funny article, it is not going to be funny. It just isn’t. Your identity will seep into your writing and people will know.
Frank Karsten knows who he is as a writer. He loves numbers and his articles are great. Sure, his articles might not be your cup of tea as they say. People who do like those mathematical articles love them. Are they written well? Yes. Is there good content? Yes. Those articles are more than just content and well written words. Those articles are Frank. Do I enjoy his articles? No. I don’t. It doesn’t mean they are bad articles. From a writers perspective, they are great articles. If I was an editor for Channelfireball, I would say Frank is one of the best writers on the site. He know who he is and writes to those strengths.
Now for Tim Aten’s article. Let me put on my editors cap. It isn’t a bad article simply due to its negativity or content. Tim actually makes some valid points and some of the snipes are clever...ish. If I was his editor, I would have made him rewrite the article. I would have made him rewrite it because it isn’t him. It just isn’t. As a writer, I do think it is important for writers to stretch with one caveat. You still need to stay within your lane. That article still needs to be you. I would have told Tim that I applaud his attempt at stretching. I would have told him that there is meat to his article. However, I would have made him rewrite it.
2. Avoid Negativity
Just don’t. Oh, you need reasons. For one, people actually respond better to positivity. They just do. Sure, there are those out there who like snark and such. In the end, many more people respond better to more positive behavior. Negative articles are just toxic. This doesn’t mean critical or constructive articles should be shunned. It is like dropping F-Bombs in your conversations. They just aren’t needed. The majority of negative articles will come off as whiny, toxic or complaining.
If there is something bothering you and you want to write an article, you need two things: reasons and solutions. Most people can find reasons why thing A is bad. The problem is there needs to be solutions. In my experience, people can often do the first thing quite easily. Most people struggle with the second part. Finding reasonable solutions is hard. Suggested solutions are also opens up a writer to criticism as well. Most writers and people in general avoid hate that last part.
A good editor is hard to find. Once upon a time, I wrote articles here at mtgsalvation. It was a good time. Part of that was due to the great editors we had in the writer’s forum. Then, they left. One of them actually works at the mothership now. It is partly why I stopped writing. Not necessarily because I need someone to correct my grammar, but because my writing style desperately needs an editor. Some of my ideas or articles weren’t good. I needed someone to bonk me on the head and tell me to rewrite an article or I was being stupid. Does this mean I’m a terrible writer? No. I’m the type that likes to push boundaries or experiment. That means sometimes the experiment blows up in my face.
This brings my to a larger point. The editors out there today aren’t editors. Some sites I don’t even think have an editor. There are two types of editors. There are copy editors. These editors check grammar, structure. People who add decklists and pictures to articles when they put an article up on their site are copy editors. They make things pretty and easy to read. The other editor is your head editor. Their job is looking at the content of the article. They are the big picture editors. They are looking for the valuable content in your article. They give constructive critiques. In one word, they give guidance.
I’m not just writing this as a complaint. Here is why. Let’s say you want to write Magic articles. You write something up and send it in to somebody who calls themselves an “editor”. Ninety nine percent of the time, they’re not. If they don’t like your article, that is it. If you are lucky, they send you the sorry, but we aren’t interested letter. That is it. Many people won’t give you a second chance. It probably wasn’t best work. It doesn’t matter. You probably are officially blocked in their email. Here is why this is terrible. For one, most people aren’t great writers. It takes practice. That first article you submitted won’t be great. It just isn’t. A good editor’s job should be to cultivate talent. Their job is to find diamonds amongst the rubble. Their job is then to polish those jems.
Let me tell you a story. I wrote for many years at mtgsalvation. I enjoyed it and did it for free. I always assumed that I needed to earn my writing cred before writing for any of the big sites. So, I put in my time. I wrote and wrote. I also wanted to get paid though. I didn’t want thousands of dollars. I just wanted some chump change to buy some cards here and there. After some time, I tried expanding to other sites. I had a couple articles go up here and there. I was smart enough to start by sending them those “safe” articles first. I got published. Once I got my foot in the door, I tried expanding into other territory. I got a couple more articles got published. However, I eventually submitted something the “editors” didn’t like. That was it. Most of the time I never got a response back. The phone went silent as they would say. After that, I would crawl back to mtgsalvation with my tail between my legs. They took me back of course. Why wouldn’t they? I wrote for free.
This is off topic, but I must feel I need to defend my controversial or experimental writing style for two seconds. My intent was never to a radical. My whole purpose for my writing is that I wanted to write the articles people weren’t writing. This could be card sleeves or cosplay. It could be controversial, but I wasn’t writing for the sake of being controversial. I simply wanted to put something else out there besides tournament reports or deck techs. We already had plenty of those. Anyway, my two cents.
To summarize, if you are a writer and expect an healthy exchange of ideas and thoughts between you and the editor, it isn’t going to happen. Those sites also want safe articles. This is probably for good reason. Most of the time that one or two controversial articles blow up in their faces. I can list dozens of articles on many sites that have blown up (in a bad way) on many major sites. Why take a risk on an article that can hurt sales? I get it and you should too if you want to be a Magic writer. The risk for them just isn’t worth it (most of the time).
Sorry, I just can’t resist one last jab. The reason for this problem is due to the lack of good editors. A good editor can take any article and make it palatable for the masses. How did this or that bad article get out? Did it get overlooked? We just have bad editors. Yes, some blame is to be put on the writers. However, that isn’t their job. Writers are supposed to experiment. Writers as supposed to find new content or things to discuss. That is their job. Good editors make sure that it is acceptable before it goes out the door.
If you didn’t like Tim Aten’s article, blame the editor. Don’t blame Tim.
4. Practical. Practical. Practical
Nope. Not a typo. As I write this, I am trying to choose my words to avoid sounding too cynical. I’m really not. Well, maybe a little. More of it has to do with my sadness for the writing world as a whole. As society has moved onward and forward, we just don’t appreciate a good quality article. We accept quantity over quality. I can see this in Magic articles in general. They used to be well thought out and insightful. They were longer. As the days pass, articles get shorter and shorter and shorter. Part of it simply has to do with pay. Magic sites just don’t want to pay for writing. They just don’t. We have too many idiots out there who will do it for free. Free doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. However, why spend 16 hours on an article when some site is going to only give you 5 dollars in store credit? It is simply the world we live in.
If Maro makes mistakes, one of them has been his past statements on the lower quality of Magic writing out there today. He said it. It didn’t go over well. Somebody higher up probably told him to knock it off and we probably won’t hear about it again. The problem was how he presented it and then didn’t fully explain. On the surface, it sounds like he was simply being cynical. I think there is a lot of truth to it. The problem is that he never explained himself and the dynamics at work in the real world. Problem one: we don’t have good editors. Problem two: the financial incentives are terrible. Problem three: we don’t cultivate talent.
I would like to install the virtues of practice, practice and practice to improve your writing. The problem is that it is very difficult to get those opportunities. You need to either know someone or be someone. It is hard to get the practice needed to write good or even great articles when the door is firmly shut on you. There used to be sites where one could get a foot in the door. The writing here at mtgsalvation was one of the few as well as others. Those days are gone. What people want is tech and they want it from the professionals.
I understand why Maro won’t and never will talk about the state of Magic writing. While it may be true, it is a very sensitive subject. It is a terrible thing to say, but it would be like going around and telling fat people they are fat. Yes, I could probably write that it more PC manner, but I am trying to make a point actually. If Maro elaborates, you are basically saying sites like starcitygames has terrible articles and their editors are morons. Again, being a little hyperbolic to make a point. While it may be true to some degree, it is very dangerous territory. Also, some of the problems doesn’t have anything to do with the available talent pool. A lot of it has to do with financial incentives. People don’t want to pay for articles. It is the digital world we live in. Sites don’t want pay for articles. How many people do you know complain about starcitygames premium? It is thee reasons for writer turnover and burnout.
5. Positive about Podcasts
Yes. I am going to say something positive. I don’t think I have actually been negative. I’m just being honest (although I could probably be a little more PC, but I’m not getting paid for this advice/article and I don’t want to spend too much of my life writing this).
Do a podcast or stream?
Why am I saying this? Well, Magic sites are for smucks. There is no money there even if you can get in the door. A podcast or stream allows for you to take control of your media/information or however you want to think of your work and intellectual property. If this is something you want to be a success at, you can make some semblance of a paycheck. There is patreon to help you in the beginning or possibly even into the future. There is also that youtube or twitch money if successful. Articles may hang onto life support a while longer, but there is no future there.
I thought this was about writing?
It is. A good writer is more than being able to type coherent words. A good writer is about content and understanding how to present that information. The skills necessary for being a good writer is the same skills as being a good podcaster or streamer. Good podcasts have some amount of work put into them before the podcast. That is the same skills writers utilize. Articles (good ones anyway) don’t suddenly materialize out of thin air. There is the idea. Then there is looking at all the angles. Digesting the material. Thinking about the different ways to present that material. The structure and order of the material in presenting it.
I am going to point at the Tolarian Community College. The professor spends a good deal of time before that clip formulating his thoughts. He has done research. He probably has a script or at least an outline of his talking points. It is the same skills as a writer. Instead of writing those words on a page, the professor is simply speaking those words. If there was an example I would hold up, it would the community college. He is also making money. While it may or may not be making a lot of money (depending on your perspective), he is making a ton more than if he were puttings those words to print.
The only downside is the lack of guidance. There are no teachers or editors. We have the audience, but they can be fickle or down right unhelpful. Rarely is there useful information to be mined in those comments. If people don’t like something, they just stop watching. Your fans will just pump up your ego. While it can be great having people tell you how awesome you are, it doesn’t help a person grow. Fans are sometimes useless in other factors. I’ve read terrible, terrible articles by professionals and people are just expounding upon their amazing abilities in the comments. I wonder “am I missing something”. Don’t get me wrong. It is great to have fans. It what supports us financially. Let’s put it nicely. I’m a parent and I support my kids whenever they draw a picture. I tell them it is great. It is what good parents do. Encouragement is a good thing in the right doses. I’m a fan of my daughters. This doesn’t mean their finger painting is the Mona Lisa.
Maybe I will actually talk about craft of writing in the future, but that is it for today.