Writers write. That's what they do. If you're not writing all the time, you forfeit the label. Not permanently. You can get it back, but it's all about action, not intention. Everyone has a great novel, or even a great blog post, somewhere in them. The difference between those who do it and succeed and those who don't is, yes, of course a matter of skill and talent, but also, maybe most important, a matter of effort.
The number one question I got, by far, when I was a magazine writer/editor was, "How can I get a job doing what you're doing? How do I get to be a writer?" And the only answer I ever had was the first sentence of this blog. Yes, I could tell you what I studied (or pretended to) in college, what my first job was, what I had for dinner last night (apparently, leftover Thai food for a month, if this blog is to be believed), but the only real answer is to write, to practice your craft, to develop your own voice, and style, and confidence in your ability to communicate.
It astounds me (well, okay, no, it doesn't) how many truly bad writers are making a living writing about games. We are talking serious hack work: lazy, cliche-ridden, sloppy, near-illiterate dreck, shat out with no real thought or creativity or care. It's nothing new, and it's nothing unique to gaming journalism, but it continues to anger me (if you couldn't tell) because it's a field I left behind but still feel emotionally attached to, that I want to see be better than it is, and that I constantly find myself trying to defend, often fruitlessly, at my new job. When shitty articles are pointed out to me, there's not much I can do other than nod and say, "yeah, I know."
Of course, this isn't to say that there aren't brilliant writers out there writing about games. There are quite a few. I'm not going to name drop, because I think we know who they are. Likewise, I'm also still passionate in my belief that writing about games is not as easy as it looks, and that if you performed a job swap for a day between a game journalist and a game developer, odds are they would both suck. You might be a brilliant programmer or designer or modeler, but if you think it's easy to write an intelligent, pertinent piece about a game in 1,000 words, forming a cogent argument, communicating clearly to an audience, and inflecting the piece with your own creativity and thought without taking the spotlight off the game itself--go ahead. Give it a shot.
The point of all this--and I think I have one!--is that, if you hadn't noticed, I haven't been writing. And don't worry, this isn't my umpteenth apology for not blogging, I promise. I'm actually not sorry this time. It's been intentional. It has been a hibernation. A planned one. A necessary one. Switching careers at age 47 has proven to be just about the hardest dang thing--mentally and emotionally--that I've done in my professional life. And as I've written previously, I don't regret it. But it's still kicking my ass, humbling me, exhausting me, and, in lower moments, making me wonder what the f*** I was ever thinking. (Fortunately, those days are outnumbered by the better ones!)
I've been sharing my thoughts and feelings publicly for 17+ years now, and I still love doing it more than anything else, but I did start believing that testing myself all day at my new job was leaving me too drained, too raw to keep up my writerly self. The truth, I discovered this month, is a bit more complex: It has been my desire to cling to my writing, my "comfort zone," that has also prevented me from fully succeeding in my new job. A crappy day at work, for example, could be easily remedied by a blog post. This is, in fact, still true, and that's okay. But I realized that a forced hibernation was a bit in order if I was really going to embrace my new reality.
So that's what I did. I hunkered down. I hibernated. I grew a beard and put my head down and applied my creative energy to where it currently mattered most: to the place that is paying me. Twitter, of course, has been a nice, easy release valve, and has enabled me to "keep in touch" with readers in a small way, to at least acknowledge that I have not forgotten y'all. But obviously it's not the same thing, even remotely.
Why I am telling you all this now is because there has been changes in the past week or so, good changes that are giving me a sense of renewal. For one, after struggling mightily, on my new team, at some stuff that was seriously out of my depth (not quite coding, but damn close), it was somehow tacitly agreed upon, by all concerned, that, hey, maybe this wasn't the best use of my talents. And so I suddenly find myself doing something that may, I hope, actually justify my hiring: writing dialog and text for the game, which I am enjoying tremendously. Writers write--remember? It's still not remotely the same as what I was doing before, and it still involves using software tools, as well as parts of my brain, I wasn't familiar with before. It involves semi-selfless collaboration and compromise. It's not about me. These aren't my characters or my story. I don't get to be in charge, like I can with my own writing, and decide, at every moment, what gets to be. I'm following someone else's plan. But that itself is fun and liberating in its own way.
What it's also done, however, is remind me that, yeah, I need to be writing. Not out of duty or obligation or guilt. But just because it's what I do. Writers write. My hibernation was a necessary "down time", to regroup and focus and commit, but that time has now come to a close. The sun is out. The beard is gone. I'm stretching my limbs and blinking myself awake.
It feels good to be back.