As a writer, my skills and personal style are constantly growing, always maturing and changing. Just on experience, what I write today is going to be better (sorta) that what I wrote yesterday (maybe). But sometimes you have to go back and analyse your articles and fiction to find out what was wrong there, what mistakes you made and what you can learn from them. So today, as part of my continuous growth as a writer and (amateur) journalist, I’ll talk about my worst articles. These were flawed pieces from the get-go, and had an immense impact on me.
This is perhaps my most read review aside from those for the first and second seasons of The 100. But while it has a lot of views, and continues to do so, there is one flaw in it that makes me at least 90% certain that no one has ever finished reading it: it’s over 13 pages long, 8000 words. Consider that your average review is in the range of 500 to 1500 words, about two to three pages long, and you’ll realise just how long that is.
I consider this one of my worst articles not because of the writing. Sure, every time I’ve gone back to it thinking of fixing it, I’ve thought of ways to make it a better review under my current format and standards, but the writing’s not bad, even for a two-year-old article. The problem is that it lacks focus. It’s a purposeless article. It’s tagged as a review and it even does some of that, but it’s also a strategy guide, crafting guide and there’s even a bit of walkthrough in there.
By the time the review comes to the conclusion I’ve already gone through half the game in content and through every mechanic in detail, from combat to exploration. Hell, I go into really big detail on the crafting, more than anyone ever should.
Since then I’ve learned to keep the reviews focused on critiquing the game and its features but not let myself get lost in the descriptions, or go into too much detail. There is a line between review and guide, and since writing this review I’ve learnt it.
I started the Taboo project with the intention of having multiple guest writers each tackle a different taboo. I was going to take the first and last. For the first I thought of Sex Shops, adult stores, and talk about the difference in perception in different countries, from the USA up to England. For the purpose of this I interviewed employees at several of these stores, did the research on laws and religion and eventually wrote the article months later.
Sounds pretty normal, and ok, right? Sure, but the problem was that the project consumed me. I became obsessed with Sex Shops and their product and as a related note, with sex itself. You know, more than guys already are anyway. It was the subject of conversations, discussions and a few arguments, and at the time I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t realise the obsession. It got to a point that my partner in crime at the time told me it made them uncomfortable to hear me talk about them with such fascination and interest. But again, at the time, I didn’t think any of it.
Then I wrote it…and the interest and fascination evaporated. I didn’t care about it anymore. I had written it and gotten it out of my system but the issue was that I let it change me that much in the first place. I let it become an obsession and didn’t realise it.
What’s done is done of course, but I’ve learnt since then not to let articles or my interest in a topic dominate me.
This review was one I was happy with at the time and in terms of writing I’m still happy with it. The issue with this one was me. I’m a big fan of Dracula, the novel is one of my all-time favourites. So when I saw the series, I let myself be drawn in by the promise of how great it could be and the stellar Rhys Meyers’ performance and didn’t notice all the very apparent flaws in the storytelling and pacing, in other words, the craft itself. From the beginning of the series there were fundamental issues in the premise that I should have seen, I should have picked them up then and not by the last episode when the train wreck was apparent.
This review was my failure as a critic. I failed at my job of noting the bad because I let myself get taken in by the very flimsy good.
Since then, I’ve learnt to distance myself from the subject of my reviews. I now review what I’ve played, read or watched based on its own merits, and doing my best to identify all possible flaws and stating them on my review, instead of letting them slide because I hope for the best.
As a reviewer, that is my role.
These three have taught me more about writing and journalism, particularly critiques and investigative pieces than any other I’ve written. They’re constant reminders of things I shouldn’t do, mistakes I shouldn’t repeat. In that regard, these aren’t really my worst articles, but the best ones, the ones that have made me grow the most as a writer and journalist.
But if there’s one thing I’m sure it’s that by next year this list will be longer as I’m bound to make more mistakes in style, writing and in the process of reviewing and analysing subjects for articles. But if I’m lucky, one day I’ll have learnt enough to perfect my own style and voice.
But now I turn the focus on you. Which are the worst articles you’ve done, and why?