When people ask me what I do for a living, I beam and tell them “I write about games.” It usually takes a bit of explaining, but to be honest it feels good to tell someone that I get to stay at home and play games all day. Of course that’s not all there is to it, and I’m not exactly a millionaire because of it…but the point is that I even feel as though I am bragging about it much of the time. Of course, the person on the other end of the conversation probably does not give a poo about what I do for a living, but I enjoy it enough that it feels like it should be bragged about or said with pride. I mean, it’s not as though I need their approval or want to act like some sort of bigshot (mainly because me or the job are both nothing like that) but I just enjoy telling people about why I like the job and the industry.
I’ve known quite a few writers in my time, especially now that I am an insider. I see how some of them either take the job way too seriously or way too lightly. I was next to a reporter at the E3 booth game demo area for SWTOR when I heard him telling the developer that (and these are not his exact words, but his intent was perfectly clear) he might make the time to write about the game. Then he decided to ask how the game was different than World of Warcraft, and that he would only write about the game if he could compare the two since WoW was basically the only MMO that anyone outside of MMOdom would have heard about. It was as though he was saying “Yeh, I’ll write about your project, but only if I can compare it the best known project out there. Instead of doing my homework and finding other games to compare it to, I am going to take the lazy route.” The writer had such a snooty tone that I wanted to punch him in the face. I had no idea who he was, and I sure as hell didn’t recognize his face…so who exactly did he think he was?
On the other hand, I have found people who had very nice jobs at nice organizations like MTV or some other major, major website and they seem horribly sad about it. Even more common are writers who are at my level and who have already made up their minds that it was just a passing job to a design gig. That’s fine, but why wouldn’t they just go to school, learn to code or figure out how to craft monsters in animation programs like everyone else? Why not take the job as a writer seriously?
Well, it depends on the site you work for. While I will never go into specifics about money, I can promise you that some sites treat their writers like peasants. I worked at one site that basically chopped up everything I had and barely paid me in return. I didn’t last long, but it was a great learning experience.
Essentially, writing about games is like doing anything else. You often have to become more skilled at it as you go along, and it can take quite a bit of time to become rich doing it. In fact, you may never become rich and might even find yourself having to justify doing it while other people your age are busily growing babies and buying homes. But, you either like the job or not. I’d like to think that I know something about what makes a good writer — not because I am one but because I read those writers and have studied them — and I can tell you that it is a pretty simple formula to follow:
- Recognize that your writing, especially if it is a timed column or article, is a performance. Like a band, that audience can be swayed or turned off by your performance.
- Recognize that you have to have a character about your writing, that people picture you as a particular type of person (they even have an idea about how you look) and that the audience can be led to believe that you are almost anything.
- Recognize the power of the ability to lie to your audience, and do not do it. I had a bit of a feud with a podcaster years ago and he did his best to slam me and tried to find ways around my logic. It never worked because my only gripe with him was that he was faking it when he did his show. He eventually admitted to it, but said that every professional had to have a persona in order to “succeed.” I called BS, and said that people can fake it and meet with success, but so can people who are being honest. Which would you choose?
- Trust your vision, and do not be shy about spreading the message. For example, my message is basically “portability, accessibility (meaning for people who cannot physically play or afford a game) and originality.” This means that I try my hardest to talk about the games that are accessible to disabled players or players who cannot afford a gaming rig or sub, and about games that are simply original and are trying something new. I work hard every week to give people that message. Sometimes your readers will notice that you repeat that message, but you have to for it to stick out in the noise of the internet.
- If you don’t like writing a lot, don’t do it. Move on.
Again, I want to emphasize that I do not think I am a good writer. I think I am a good artist and drummer. I am a writer who is learning how to get better. I say this without bragging, but I am naturally gifted at art and drums. To an extent I am naturally a gifted creative writer. But, to be a good columnist or reporter takes a different skillset than drawing ogres or writing stories about ogres. So, I am paying attention to the writers I like and trying new things. I don’t know why but writing this blog, podcasting and finally writing for AOL and Massively is the only time I have taken a job very seriously. Most of the time I hated going to work. Now I feel like I am doing something that is making me more skilled and generally better. Still, I have to stay on message. Anyone can write about the latest patch for World of Warcraft, but not many of us can say that we have a definitive message we are trying to send with our writing. Yes, even the writing we are doing on a gaming website…it should be taken as seriously as if you are writing your first novel. Have fun with it, of course, and accept that you’ll make mistakes…but take it seriously.
I wonder what my fellow writers think. It would be fun to pick out 10 or so of my favorites and ask them what they do to be happy with writing, or if they are happy at all!
If you are reading this and write for a living…what advice would you give me? What do you do to spread your message? Do you have a message at all?