Writing is sometimes
Playing a game of chicken
With all of your fears
Writing is sometimes
Playing a game of chicken
With all of your fears
You may notice that this episode is completely silent. In fact, it’s silent for all sixty minutes of its length. The reason for this is because although we can’t manage the blackout as easily, for a podcast, this is the nearest equivalent.
You can learn all about SOPA and PIPA here. The…
This is the podcast I host, and my contribution to all the crazy what the hell stuff that’s going on right now.
I had a conversation on Twitter today that mainly revolved around a well-known writer (we’ll call him George) disagreeing with the opinion of a writer (we’ll call him Bob) working for a site that has, shall we say, something of a bad reputation amongst writers who work hard at trying to raise the reputation of their craft above “smut peddler”.
Bob stated that readers want more content, at lower quality, more frequently. Putting aside the concept of committing to “lower quality” for a moment, I think that Bob has, whether intending to or not, accurately represented most readers.
The reason tat-rags and tabloids are so successful is that a constant flow of “meh” quality content (hinging on sex and gossip, much akin to the site Bob writes for) appeals to most people who just want something to read and aren’t really curious about whether or not there’s anything more in the world than the fecal matter churned out by journalists wondering why they bothered studying Linguistics.
George was incensed by this proposition, and stated that his first day as the new writer for a site with traffic coming out of its ears would demolish the monthly stats of Bob’s site. I apologise. The word he used was “crush”.
The interesting thing about it is that whether or not he beats their stats, his are completely useless. Jumping ship to a huge site with a readership in the millions means that there’s no guaranteed way to tell how well your concept of longer, better, less frequent pieces (what George proposed) will fare. Sites like Vox Games, and Venus Patrol, however, will be, although their stats are also slightly marred by the cult of celebrity that surrounds the writers involved in both projects.
The fact of the matter is, the field of writing is not a democracy. There is no vote as to how things will and won’t be done, and sometimes, you’ll encounter people who write journalism, novels, screenplays and other material for audiences or in ways that you think are utterly abhorrent. You’ll see sites (as I unfortunately did today while trying to find Bob’s quoted piece on the site he writes for) that are, by the look of it, utter garbage. But that shouldn’t matter to you.
What should matter to you is raising the standard of your own journalism. Your little quality blog is not going to singlehandedly convince these people of their own idiocy. But it is going to provide a safe haven for those who are sick and tired of reading patronising, offensive journalistic excrement on a daily basis and want something new. Funnily enough, those that can offer this and throw quality in as a bonus are often successful. Not always, but often.
For me, success in writing is having someone say “this is great, I really like this”. It’s hard to get past the self-doubt and modesty, especially when I read it back and see all the places I sound stupid (read: all the places in all my work), but my satisfaction comes from knowing that one person thought it was good. Or even just writing it and finishing it and seeing it go out the door with its backpack on, smile plastered on its face, blissfully unaware of the storm of criticism surging across the skies towards it, or what I like to call “the comments thread of any site on the internet”.
Writing is not a democratically chosen series of requirements.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t become a member of the Awesome Party.
When I was a student, I was offered the job opportunity of a lifetime.
I had gotten in touch with IGN UK after running into one of their staff at a games convention, and asked about a work experience placement. Thrillingly, they not only said yes, but actually offered me my entire uni summer - three months - at their offices in central London. As a budding young games journalist, this was a golden opportunity, and one that few people are offered. There was, as there usually is with opportunities in life, one catch:
The gig was unpaid.
Now, as a uni student, I didn’t have a lot of money, and within a week the travel and food had emptied my bank account. Luckily for me, my father helped out, but within two weeks I had to leave for paid work, as it was no longer viable to stay at IGN as they weren’t covering any expenses at all, despite getting content from me that was (to quote a staffer) seeing 80,000 hits in one particular example. You can imagine the ad revenue, right? Would’ve paid for at least a lunch or two.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not criticising the staff at IGN UK. Alex Simmons, Matt Wales and Martin Robinson (now of Eurogamer) were all very helpful in my time there, and not only provided me with training, but references and open doors to assist me in the success of my own blog. I also got two freelance gigs and industry contacts out of it, and even my current job.
Now, why would an SEO copywriter get a job because he worked for IGN? Well, it wasn’t because of IGN. It was because my CV quite clearly also lists their parent company: Fox Interactive.
Anyone not living under a rock can picture the sheer amount of cash Fox have floating around - after all, IGN UK share offices with Myspace, a dying social media platform that Rupert Murdoch himself has classed as an expensive learning experience.
So why couldn’t they pay me?
Beats me, to be honest with you. Anyone who writes for free for a profitable publication is a mug, in my opinion. It’s also my opinion that I was not only a mug, but a starstruck mug who couldn’t believe that I was doing work experience at one of the biggest videogames sites on the planet.
If you went to work at Burger King, I guarantee you that what you’d be doing there might take some training, but is arguably easier than writing great copy. The difference? You can get a gig at Burger King straight out of university, and you’ll actually make money - above minimum wage, even.
I was extremely strategic in the way I went about making money from games journalism. I’d hear about a BAFTA talk on games, head down, corner a speaker and gain an interview, then pitch that to The Escapist knowing that the name was part of selling the story. I would chase IGN for freelance payments, and I was constantly seeking new ways to turn my identity as a writer into a business, because that’s what you are - a business. Even though you don’t have staff, you have output, and gain revenue. Run yourself professionally and you’ll have fewer problems.
However, run yourself like a gullible idiot and you will run into a lot of problems. Some people write as a hobby - I have no issue with that at all, and think that it’s a lovely hobby to have. Some, however, write with the aim of turning it into a career - something that used to be noble, but these days is usually regarded as pathetic. Helpfully reinforcing this view is NowGamer, with their “win a blogging position on our site” competition. The people behind this corrupt and full of it. Let me explain just how wrong what they’re asking you to do is, courtesy of my SEO experience and the common sense of those I discussed this with:
But not you. You got nothing out of it bar “exposure”. Guess what? I can write a bunch of stuff and get exposure. In fact, I’m doing it right god-damn now. Sure, it’s on a site that gets good traffic, but if they respected you, they’d pay you.
[Edit: Originally was somewhat judgemental about this person, but have since spoken to them and had this cleared up.] Someone from IGN UK then got in touch, at which point I asked:
“Would you ever hire someone for three months, unpaid, at IGN UK?”
They responded and told me that no, they do not currently offer slots of that length. That’s fair enough, but at the time, this was the case. Definitely an improvement, of sorts. Especially all the times when I called back repeatedly angling for a job at the site that likely went to someone else.
You’ll sometimes hear that writing can be a bit of an incestuous business, full of politics and favours for friends. This is, in some sad cases, 100% accurate. Some people will get gigs because they’re friends with the editor, and you’re not. But most of the time, if you work hard and produce great copy, you’ll succeed. People notice talent, most of the time.
Late last year, I got offered my first paid creative writing gig, which sits just into the triple digits in terms of pay. It’s a lot of work, but it’s work, and it’s paid, and I won’t turn my nose up at it. Would I work unpaid now I’m savvier about the business? You’re god-damn right I wouldn’t. I’m no Harlan Ellison, but I know that if my stuff was terrible, I wouldn’t be getting the work in the first place.
So stop screwing yourselves over, grow a backbone, and do what I wish I did back in 2009: tell them to pay you, or lose out on your hard work and writing talent. I wish you the best of luck in your efforts, and hope to read your work in the future.
Edit: I’m aware I didn’t link to the NowGamer ad, and was going to do so, but I don’t think it deserves any more attention, and that site any more traffic.
US Congressman and poor-toupee-color-chooser Lamar Smith is the guy who authored the Stop Online Piracy Act. SOPA, as I’m sure you know, is the shady bill that will introduce way harsher penalties for companies and individuals caught violating copyright laws online (including making the unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime which you could actually go to jail for). If the bill passes, it will destroy the internet and, ultimately, turn the world into Mad Max (for more info, go here).
I decided to check that everything on Lamar’s official campaign website was copyright-cleared and on the level. Lamar is using several stock images on his site, two of which I tracked back to the same photographic agency. I contacted the agency to make sure he was paying to use them, but was told that it’s very difficult for them to actually check to see if someone has permission to use their images. (Great news, copyright violators!) However, seeing as they’re both from the same agency and are unwatermarked, it seems fairly likely that he is the only person on the entire internet who is actually paying to use a stock image (and he’d be an idiot not to).
So I took a look back at an archived, pre-SOPA version of his site.Above is a screenshot of his site as it appeared on the 24th of July, 2011.
And this is the background image Lamar was using. I managed to track that picture back to DJ Schulte, the photographer who took it.
And whaddya know? Looks like someone forgot to credit him.
I contacted DJ, to find out if Lamar had asked permission to use the image and he told me that he had no record of Lamar, or anyone from his organization, requesting permission to use it: “I switched my images from traditional copyright protection to be protected under the Creative Commons license a few years ago, which simply states that they can use my images as long as they attribute the image to me and do not use it for commercial purposes.
“I do not see anywhere on the screen capture that you have provided that the image was attributed to the source (me). So my conclusion would be that Lamar Smith’s organization did improperly use my image. So according to the SOPA bill, should it pass, maybe I could petition the court to take action against www.texansforlamarsmith.com.”
Oh dear. Luckily for DJ, there are people out there like Lamar making new laws to protect the little guy against online copyright theft. Keep fighting that good fight, Lamar!
We’ve contacted the office of Lamar Smith and are waiting on a response.
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @JLCT
Like the title says. My first idea when SOPA blipped its way onto my radar was to track down some form of copyright violation on whitehouse.gov. Looks like this savvy fellow has found something similar. Good for him. SOPA is insane.
Today, I was briefly tweeting about Halo 4, the much-anticipated sequel to a trilogy of games surrounding Master Chief, a superhuman future warrior who battles against an evil alliance of aliens. My god, it sounds corny when I put it like that. Well, I guess it is, really.
However, my tweet went as follows:
“It’d be cool if Halo 4 was the indie game Master Chief created for something to do while he drifted through space.”
Now, that was my first idea, but my second idea was a little darker, but a game I’d like to play simply because it could take the scary, impressive narrative framing device from Black Ops (man being interrogated while strapped to a chair) and run with it a little further.
The SPARTAN project, headed up by Dr. Catherine Halsey, needed children. They kidnapped these children from homes all across Reach, the planet upon which the project made its home. They replaced the children they took in the night with clones who would soon die of medical complications.
But what if one of the clones formed the basis for a player avatar? Allow me to expand, in prose, what would happen, specifically at the end of the game.
John felt himself sinking into the hospital bed. With every passing day, his wasted body became thinner, slowly collapsing it into the fresh white sheets and soft mattress.
He looked at his parents. Despite his early-onset amnesia, he recognised them with only the smallest modicum of effort. Smiling, he raised a hand, and his mother took it gently, tears spilling down her cheeks.
John looked up, and saw himself.
What if the John who replaced John-117 lay in a hospital bed in his twenties, having miraculously survived both the complications and the fall of Reach to the Covenant, with his parents by his side, as the real deal walked through the door to say goodbye? What if the fake John lay in bed watching the news channels following the ongoing war against the Covenant, only to know that with a switch of cosnciousness, he could’ve been the one to turn the tide?
I love Halo, as a series, and as a fictional universe. I love the depth that appears in the fiction. But I feel as though the games could do with a massive shake-up. The problem is that with a series that is, to be fair, somewhat generic, there’s not a lot that can be done to shake it up, lest they lose their target audience.
Who’s the bigger superhero? John-the-dying, in the hospital bed, who forms loading scenes in between the news announcements that take you into the action as Master Chief, or John-117? I’d ask how John-the-dying copes with seeing himself, but that’s the point at which I’d cut to credits. I’m mean like that.
I’d like to continue thinking about stories I like but wish turned out a little differently. Feel free to join me, and I hope this one got you thinking.
—Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story
Everyone has bad days.
Sometimes, your day is worse than most of the days you’ve had so far. Sometimes, it can rank up there with the day people died, on the scale of one to kill-me-now. Everyone dislikes feeling sad, and one of the things that make writers such different individuals is how that sadness motivates or demotivates them.
For some, feeling down can put them in the right place to write some of their best work. I tend to write regardless of how I feel (unless I’m exceptionally tired or fed up), and I use music to make sure that I’m coming at my work from the right angle, emotionally and mentally. Otherwise, I tend to find that I feel a bit false. If my characters are down, or in a dark place, I need to be there with them, or I can’t talk about the world from their perspective accurately enough to satisfy my own self-destructive pedanticism.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I’m no potential suicide case, and I’m really grateful for that. A lot of people have it far worse than I do, and I count my blessings that I lead an amazing life, full of amazing people. There are people out there - and at least some of them must be writers - that are in those dark places twenty-four-seven, and I think at that point it might be best to go and do something that will take you out of that place, as continuing down the path of the writer is clearly not helping.
Maybe it’s not this way for you - maybe you’ve come home from work, raring to go, and then your dog’s left a large pile for you on your brand new white carpet, or your kids are refusing to eat their dinner, or a thousand other things are destroying your will to live. On nights like that, you might not want to write. You might just want to go to bed, or eat ice cream (or the smart person’s choice, both).
I’m here to tell you something: that’s okay. I have those days, but with a wide variety of unhealthy comfort food.
I’m sick and tired of seeing people talk about how “you must write every day” or you’ll never do anything good and you might as well call all your friends and tell them your funeral is next Tuesday. Stuff that. Try something a little different. Try going and doing something that keeps you happy enough to want to do anything at all, let alone write. Then go and write, if you feel like it. I’m a copywriter, during the day, so when I hear someone say “you must write every day” in terms of fiction, I want to lock them in a soundproof room and destroy the key. You’re a goddamn human being, not a machine.
I’d say it’s not a ridiculous proposition that a lot of writers tend to write as a way of battling their demons, or helping themselves clear out an overactive imagination. Sometimes I write because I’m in the mood, sometimes I’m being paid, and sometimes I write because I feel compelled to. But I feel bad for people who suffer through feeling like hell simply to write another paragraph for NaNoWriMo. All you did was make yourself worse. Was that worth a paragraph and a print-out certificate?
Go eat some ice cream. I recommend Phish Food.
Avoid public debates on ‘The Dismal State of Games Journalism’. You think you’re smarter than everyone else? How fascinating. State your case through your work, not through tiresome, self-aggrandizing editorials.
Out of all his points, this is the one I disagree with as strongly as the “long-term freelancers must be weird little creatures” one. I think you’re perfectly entitled to talk about the dismal state of games journalism, it’s just a case of picking the time and the place. You can’t communicate how dismal the state of games journalism is through a review for Rayman Origins, can you? What a ridiculous approach.
The problem, a lot of the time, is that you can’t simply turn around an entire field of writing by writing great stuff yourself. It’s not going to inspire most of the problem people, and you’re just going to end up writing content that’s more preachy than good.
Colin makes some great points, and I agree with most of it - he’s just giving people who don’t do that sort of stuff already (really? You’re not ringing people up? Hand in your journalism card, please) a bit of a kick up the backside. But problems emerge when you start slagging off the freelance crowd and coming up with complaints about complaints. If people had never commented on the state of games journalism, Kieron Gillen’s manifesto piece never would have come into being. Something to think about, while Colin writes game-changing material at… IGN. I need say little else.
A friend of mine is thinking of writing a children’s book. An intelligent and talented graphic designer, he’s keen on the idea of taking his talents and applying them to a book I can only describe as seriously bizarre in concept. But it’s also the most intriguing book idea I’ve seen in a while, because while it’s for kids, it’s extremely weird.
Is this the right approach, for a children’s book? Of course it is. If you’ve seen books like Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Weird books are popular books, because children don’t want to be surrounded by fairytales and put-them-to-bed stories. How do I know? Personal experience of being a child.
Look at Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and even the bizarre art style of The Hungry Caterpillar. None of them are normal, none of them are necessarily easy to interpret or picture within the comparatively mundane world around us. Children love it because it’s often plain silly, or because it challenges common interpretations of the world in the same way they themselves do. It’s said that children have a unique take on things because they’ve got no bias, no fears, no real worries to speak of, and instead enjoy the concept of Snozzcumbers and really odd bears.
As someone who one day looks forward to having children, I cannot stress how boring it is to see media produced for children that is nothing short of sickening in its predictability, endless happy endings and tame illustration. I want a book shown to a child to excite them, to encourage them to marvel at the power of imagination, and to reject the happy endings that will just form the basis for disappointment later in life, when they swiftly realise that life doesn’t always go the way you’d like it to.
“It’s important that kids don’t think in clichés,” I said to that friend of mine. I mean it. Adults are weird, complicated people, and the world is a weird, complicated place. Thinking about it, I like the idea of taking children somewhere even weirder, where things can get a little dark, but the power of imagination and the will to laugh, even at oneself, prevails.
I can’t wait to read his book. It’ll blow their tiny minds.