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Silvestri Says – MTG Writing and You

Hello readers!

Since there are very few PTQ’s left for those left trying to qualify and the metagame has effectively been established, I feel talking about Standard at this point is a little excessive. For this article, instead of covering any of the normal magical content you’d normally see here, today I’m going to talk about writing about the game itself. I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and questions at various magic events over the years of how I started writing about MTG, how other people can do it, etc. Since the interest seems ongoing, I figure this lull is a good chance to explain some of the basics about this niche of writing.

There are three questions that I get Ad Nauseam in regards to writing. The first is how I got started and got to a featured columnist position at starcitygames and channelfireball. Second would be, ‘How can I get a job writing about Magic?” which is odd since most MTG players are rather averse to actual work, but seem to perk up at the thought of putting their thoughts out there for thousands to criticize. Last question is probably the most obvious, ‘what are the benefits (read: monetary) of writing?’

For the first question, long story short, you can blame this entire writing mess entirely on Ted Knutson and his constant trolling* in the TMD IRC channel. Really I had dabbled in writing before for various sites like Mindripper (anyone remember this place?) and Neutral Ground. These were generally awful, but taught me a bit about word to decklist ratio and how to write ‘proper’ English.

*To be clear it wasn’t really negative comments, more like just poking type of comments in an attempt to rabble some actual caring out of various author-y types.

A huge part of Magic writing, as with many ventures, comes down to motivation and guidance. Ted coming in to razz us and basically get on us about how we complained that Vintage wasn’t getting much love while none of us would step up to the plate and take care of things. So my motivation was to stick it to Ted by, Doing exactly what he wanted one of us to do. Yeah, I wasn’t exactly thinking that all the way through, I just wanted to show that somebody other than Oscar Tan (Rakso) and Stephen Menendian could write about Vintage.

The First Article

My first article was rather short, had too many decklists and generally was a lot more sarcastic and mean-spirited than it should’ve been. Despite its flaws, it was still miles better than most of the articles being put out there for consumption at the time and I won the submissions contest rather easily. Thus my MTG writing career was born. Over the next year or so I slowly became more competent and found out what the concept of editing your own articles was like. Here’s a tip to all those that want to write for an actual audience, let alone getting paid for your services. Learn English.

Oh look, a not-so-clever barb at the audience! Ha-ha, what a brilliantly crafted response to such a simple question! In all seriousness, most people simply cannot write very well either due to lack or caring or lack of experience in such matters. Forum responses are one thing and probably the most common grounds for people to believe they can write a fully fleshed out article. Look at me! Someone quoted me for truth! I’ve got this writing thing down pat; I’ll show all those knuckle dragging primitives how this sift gets done. Trying to write 1,500-2,000 words for your article is not only much more challenging than it sounds, but the fact that you have to follow actual structure and coherency is rather difficult for some people. The reason people love blogs, Twitter and social messaging services is because they can drop off their thoughts in nice bite-sized chunks.

So I’ll reiterate the first thing you should do if you want to write a serious piece on MTG is know how to write competently. This means double checking your sentence structure, having passable grammar, knowing the points you want to get across and then proofreading the finished product. If you want to see your name on the front page of well-traveled websites, you better have a good relationship with your editor. If he has to clean up a mess of an article and it takes him an hour longer than the norm because you couldn’t invest 10 minutes going over and cleaning your piece, you will not have a long run. Back in the day a huge number of submissions for SCG were rejected on that basis.

This doesn’t mean your article has to be completely free of errors or any nonsense like that. In case you didn’t realize the editors job is, in fact, to edit these articles before they go up and fix any mistakes you may of left in them (You should see Josh’s articles before I edit them…LSV). All I’m saying is you shouldn’t force them to work that much harder trying to figure out what your trying to say. Don’t think that applies to just first-timers either or people that only play the game at a casual level. I’ve had the pleasure of reading completely unedited versions of popular pros articles* before and you can take my word for it that they are train wrecks and would be a complete pain in the rear to make readable. However since people want to read them, they can get away with this more than you, the unknown, can. The less work you are on top of these author’s articles and the more appreciation your editor will give to you

.*As in I’ve read pieces from people who have ranged between 20 and 100 articles written and some of them still look like they sprawled in on a couple of cocktail napkins and decided to ship it in when they got home. For most people you’ll naturally improve the more you write and for other special types, All their faults will remain the same for as long as they are being paid for it.

Another trap to avoid is adding a million decklists to your article to either fill space or try and illustrate a certain concept. Every decklist you add is going to draw attention away from the words you’ve written and the more you have, the less likely someone is going to by fully invested in what you have to say up until the very end of the piece. Instead all the tiny gears in people’s brains are already spinning and becoming filled with possibilities, drowning out your take on things. A good rule of thumb is not to go over 1:600 ratio on decklists to words. Think about it for a moment: that’s only a page of writing in 12pt font in a Word document for a decklist. There’s only so much information you could’ve shoved into a page, especially considering the number of words that are taken up by card names.

I could write a lengthy essay on these sort of tips, tricks and traps that MTG writers fall into, but I’ll cut it off here for now and delve into details in the future if people really want the nitty gritty on this stuff.

For the second question, unfortunately getting an actual position writing about Magic is a bit more difficult than when I started. No top-flight Magic sites take unsolicited content anymore for the amount of work it takes to find the publishable stuff and the quality from somebody’s good article to a regular columnists article. Another issue is that you many authors would become repeat submitters and the quality quotient in their articles would actually drop. I actually have a little theory on why this is; almost everyone, writer or non-writer, has one really solid article in them simply from their experiences playing Magic. Everybody has all the time in the world to write their first article, all their thoughts come flowing out onto the paper as if it was the easiest thing in the world, because often the subject has been swirling around in their heads for a long while.

The upside is that it’s very easy to keep your own collection of musings and writings in the public eye via WordPress blog or Facebook reports. Even if not a lot of people can see them, you have a record and timeline of all of your work. People want to know how your articles look over time, do they retain the same luster as the (hopefully) good first article? Is your work being published on any sort of consistent basis or do you take a significant breaks in-between publishing? What sort of themes does your work develop over time; or do you have a common niche you wish to tap into for future articles? Keeping all of this in mind will help increase your chances of getting noticed and published (Very true; if you can show me a body of work that goes along way towards getting your foot in the door – LSV).

As for the final question, monetary and other tangible benefits, there’s an obvious limit on what I’m willing to say on the subject in public. However I will say this as far as money is concerned, I make more money writing about Magic (and only from that) than almost any non-pro makes in a year from tournament winnings. Mind you, that still isn’t all that much, but it’s a great way to have a self-sustaining hobby with some spare change left. The other notable benefit is that it allows you to network a hell of a lot easier than if you were just some random person. You don’t have to be amazing at Magic or writing for people to know who you are or mildly interested in chatting you up at an event. All you have to do is write something that somebody in your local area either liked or had a strong interest or opinion about and they’ll probably mention it if they see you.

There are plenty more general tips, but I have no idea how much total interest there is in this topic. Would people like more on this topic? Are there any particular points that people would like me to answer? Sound off in the forums or in your e-mails.

Josh Silvestri

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

17 thoughts on “Silvestri Says – MTG Writing and You”

  1. Awesome article Josh. I would totally enjoy hearing more about the subject! Some of the stuff was seemingly obvious, but other things like the monetary aspect was definitely interesting.

    Also, in the 9th paragraph, you meant to say, you’re* : )

  2. I have made a living online writing about things I love(tech, iphone apps, etc) over the past 4-5 years. I just recently started a Magic Blog, so I hope to add MTG to the list of ways I continue to make a living online.

  3. “(You should see Josh's articles before I edit them"¦LSV). All I'm saying is you shouldn't force them to work that much harder trying to figure out what your trying to say”

    Made me smile.

  4. Casey fatguy_poolshark

    Ironic considering I had recently emailed LSV about doing a article over how to extract the most value out of the MTGO economy and bots.

  5. As i am sort of Magic Writer myself (for a german strategy site) i can so far second everything you said. Its not hard writing one article. But its almost impossible to write (good) articles on a regular basis (weekly or monthly, the faster the frequency the harder it gets). The more you write, the more you are struggling to find content you have not written about yet. And you must avoid telling the same jokes or using the same expressions too often.

    Writing a Blog entry is so easy compared to writing an actual article. In a blog you just kick out your emotions, thoughts and other stuff and maybe people like it. But to upgrade that topics to a whole article takes a lot of work. I usually need 2-8 hours for an article of about 4000 words (remember its german, i dont know if it needs more or less words to express things in english). A Blog of 1000 words takes 30 minutes.

    What you did not mention is the need for the ability do deal with flamers. At the beginning of your writing career you are most likely getting flamed a lot, because – as you said – you don´t get away with things the pros or established writers get away with. So at the start every mistake you make will be exposed and held under your nose. No matter how good your article is, people won´t trust your opinion, because to them you are still some kind of newb who doesn´t know jack. And even if your first article is great and people aknowledge you, just wait for the first weak article. You will likely be ripped to shreds by the critics. If you recieve no praise at all, then maybe you are just not good enough yet, but if you get positive comments and the number is increasing over time, you may develop your skills to a higher level.

    That said, i love writing about magic, despite all the harder parts and all the notorious flamers you will inevitably encounter over time. But what is really important to me: do NOT blog or write an article if you got nothing of relevance to say. And a lot of comments does NOT mean its the best article. Most of the times it just means that you either are totally wrong in some part or made an offensive statement that people are now discussing about to contradict you. At least thats what creates tons of replies for the german blogs and articles.

  6. dowjonzechemical

    Gotta love that Silvestri…

    I would like to actually see your first article from Mindripper.

  7. If you’re at all interested in writing, I strongly recommend you look at your own conduct in the forums and such of other peoples’ articles. One of the biggest pitfalls is basically that it’s probably not worth it to deal with criticism. If people who have T8ed Worlds are still getting shit, what chance does anyone else have? It’s really easy to sling flames around in forums and even to take them back, but when you spend hours working on an article and get flamed to hell for it, it makes you strongly reconsider.

    Josh is basically right though. Back in the old days, if you could string two sentences together without “lol ur Mongerl gets in thurrr” you were head and shoulders above the copmetition.

  8. There is one guaranteed way to never be published, and that is to be too lazy to ever finish writing anything. That may seem like “obv obv obv” territory, but 90% of “you” will never get over this hurdle.

  9. I’ve been writing a satire/politics column for the last two years. If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s edit whatever you write before you submit it. You’ll be surprised how dumb you sound when you write something the first time.

  10. “All I'm saying is you shouldn't force them to work that much harder trying to figure out what your trying to say.”

    sweet sweet irony

  11. LSV with the sick burns. I’ll agree though, I’m meh on the self-editing, something to improve upon.

    Just on a fun note though – just imagine how bad everybody else must be for me to keep getting hired by sites and having a signficant hit count. 😀

    Def. agree with MacMurdo. Whatever you think was poor in X or Y article was probably much worse before the editor got a hold of it. First drafts are the abs. worst.

  12. “(You should see Josh's articles before I edit them"¦LSV)”

    Best thing I’ve read in your articles.

    OHHHHHH

    All jokes aside, I have a ton of questions to ask about writing that I’ll probably shoot your way during the trip to LA if you’re coming.

  13. Is there not a grammatical error right before LSV’s comment there? Should of be have? I think it is the editor that is slacking now eh.

  14. @ I thought that it would be funnier if I left that one in, or am I cunning enough to insert an error myself?

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