Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hibernation.

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.

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Paragraphs Jeff, paragraphs. Apparently paragraphs are the first skill to go...

Troy Goodfellow said...

I get the same questions about writing, and I can't even support myself with what I'm doing. But yeah, the only way to get better is to do it.

So I'm thrilled to hear that you are being used at EA for your writing skills. Not that you couldn't do QA or flash programming or zoological research, but why would anyone hire Jeff Green and not use his writing ability? That would be like hiring Ryan Scott and not asking him to stand around looking pretty.

Brain Blurbs said...

Glad to hear something again, as it is always a good read and somehow I do care on how things are turning out for you. Not that we know each other at all. But after reading your articles in CGW and GFW and listening to your podcasts, I got to like you. It's not breaking the law anywhere as far as I know ;)
Must be hard not to be able to fall back on your experience anymore when you're being put in a different area. So everything will need more energy and is a struggle. 47 Is not being dead though and far from it! Well, I will watch you and see if that is really true ;) Glad you are enjoying the work and that you make smart, but hard, choices when needed.

Now, can I have my free and signed Sims 3 copy? I was being nice to you just now.... j/k

Anonymous said...

Aww, I kinda liked the beard :(

Jeff Green said...

"Paragraphs Jeff, paragraphs. Apparently paragraphs are the first skill to go..."

Lolz. Hey, I'm reading Dostoevsky right now. That guy has 8 PAGE paragraphs. Still, I broke it up a bit now JUST BECAUSE I CARE.

Karl Rosner said...

I'm glad to hear you are doing better Jeff, its always great to read one of your blogs.

I recently just started writing about games, mostly revives, and agree that it is a difficult task. If I didn't have spell check I would be absolutely fucked.

Anyhow, best of luck and keep trucking and all of that.

-Karl Rosner

Radek said...

Sounds like you were put to work on some scripting stuff...

Well, glad to hear you've found a spot where your writing talents are better utilized.

Adam said...

Glad to have you back, Jeff. :D

Chris O'Regan said...

Nice to see EA have put you back into your comfort zone. Writing is a much underestimated skill that I still struggle with to this day. I do continue to write however, int he vain hope of improving.

Welcome back to the bloggosphere...did I just type that?

Peter said...

Yay Jeff is back. Good to see that you're going to be posting on your blog a bit more often now and hopefully stop eating that thai food. It can't possibly still be ok to eat that, it's over a month old! *has images of Jeff behaving like Homer and his sandwich*

Rob Zacny said...

I hope at some point you're allowed to peel back the curtain a little bit on the nuts and bolts of what you're doing. Mostly, I'm curious to know how much freedom you have to create a voice for your characters. Because while they aren't yours, and neither is their story, plot doesn't matter much unless characters can convince you that they're fully developed, and that they're interesting. That happens in dialogue, usually.

alternatecourse.com said...

Thank gawd. It's hard enough not having my beloved "hello and welcome" Jeff to keep me company on my commute but to lose your writing, too? That was too much.

I can't wait for the laughter that's sure to follow. Welcome back five times over.

Jon said...

Jeff, why oh why would you need to be subjecting yourself to reading Dostoevsky. I hope I have never have to read Crime and Punishment ever again.

Great to see that your writing talent is being used for the project you are working on.

Brandon 'Vander' Cooper said...

You've really made me think about my own writing in a new way. I have been flirting with creative writing and level design for a long time now and have married myself to neither. Perhaps it's time to set aside one in favor of the other...for a time at least.

Ajguy said...

Welcome back, Jeff! Glad to here you're doing something more to your liking at work. I personalky can't wait to finally learn just what you've been working on.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're back. I knew child support wouldn't work out anyway. You're not good for it. ~Hamilton

Macroe said...

Glad to have you back! I safely assume that most of your readers/followers/listeners keep visiting your blog because your writing actually "draws you in" (yeah, I'm no writer so I need my cliches!). Your writing style, its directness and honest sense of humor, has easily managed to develop in at least this reader a personal sense of relationship with you.

Yeah, you make us feel as one of your buddies, an insider that you trust as if we were long time friends. It's not fair to reduce you to the characters of a well written TV show, but it's a parallel situation to the empathy one feels for a great weekly show that you identify with (maybe with the exception of Gilmore Girls!). Imagine you could engage in a verbal sparring round with Dr. House, or have a guy like Hurley talk some nonsense back to you.

So, thanks for dusting off your home keyboard. I appreciate that you write for yourself, to keep that escape valve open, but also in a way to keep us hooked on Greenspeak.

Hopefully the comments on your blog also give you something back, be it feedback, encouragement, bitching about not enough Greenspeak production, or even just a little humankind warmth!

gunsakimbo said...

Sometimes you entertain me. Sometimes you inspire me. This one was the latter. Thanks!

Foodstuff said...

Growing the beard, eh?

Graeme said...

It is a joy to love ones job, I am glad you are feeling renewed.

James D. Bausch said...

"that has also prevented me from fully succeeding in my new job"

This line hurt.

I was over here hoping that you were really doing well, but just putting in tons of hours.

I really hope things are going better for you now.

And it was great to hear you on the new podcast!

aaronamh9 said...

i love you jeff.

tomsamson said...

hey man, i´m glad you´re back and also to hear you´re doing something that fits more to your experience and passion. I was getting worried seeing that one picture of you on the blog in between with the beard and all (thinking: Hm, Jeff is not becoming one of those coder types where its visible he spends all day coding, is he? :) Btw, who am i kidding, i´m one of those guys myself, i just don´t grow a beard yet ;-) ).
I know how it is with the writing, i have no expertise like you but i thoroughly enjoy writing, too; haven´t even written a blog post in ages though all the time focussing on dev work. Hm, maybe i should start blogging again, too :)
Or maybe its just time for me to grow a beard :)
Take care :)

Jin said...

YAY JEFF!!!

hello and welcome back?

i think the problem isn't just with gaming, there's a lot of crappy books, it's just that there's lots more great books then average gaming stories.

Felix said...

So, is anyone else buying this hibernation excuse?

I'm positive the real reason was that he had forgotten his password for the blog and just now found the piece of paper he had written it on (it was "12345" btw).

:)

Budo said...

I blame Jeff's absence on a massive drop in blood sugar from gorging on Thai food.

Anonymous said...

Hurray!

Anonymous said...

1UP basically turned into a stack of top five lists and videos of the writers playing games, laughing, and not doing much else over the last year. And James Mielke's grossly inflated ego. You got out at the right time.

Anonymous said...

It's weird I felt lost today, until I opened my old journal and started reading some of my entries. And it struck me "Hey, so that's why I'm majoring in English, I can actually write". Its why I've been able to coast through this year without really doing any work, relying on nothing more than my basic ability to construct a solid argument on paper, the night before its due.

To come check out your blog(I stopped for the longest time because of your hiatus) only to find a new entry that spoke to me on the exact topic my brain has been depressing itself over for the last school year, really put everything in a new light.

Your right Jeff, the sun is shining, but my beards staying on(I look like the gerber baby without it). I'm glad EA has finally got you doing something that your actually proficient at and maybe one day Jeff, down the road those characters that your just coloring in between the lines, will be something of your own creation; from the drawing board at EA to my monitor at home.

houston3000 said...

Great to see a new blog entry, I was scared you were leaving it behind... but I still kept the RSS feed up on my browser homepage! Hope you succeed in your new path at your job, definitely sounds fun and hopefully we'll be hearing you on the next Out of the Game!

Isaiah Taylor said...

Not going to lie to ya, I secretly hope there is something that pulls you back in to games journalism, but honestly I know a Captain doesn't go back to the trenches. Plus a lot of these soldiers don't look dependable.

Do good at EA...but not...too good.

Laughs Evilly

Cliff said...

I am so glad you are back. And to writing. On your next blog tell us what happened with Will leaving.

Anderson said...

Write more, please.

kthxbye

Defrag Complete said...

It's always great to read one of your blog posts that comes from the heart, rather than reading something that you felt obligated to post. It shows. I don't write, and I don't enjoy everything that you write, but when you spit out something from the heart it's usually one of the best things that I get to read.

Do what's best for your soul, and everything else will fall into place.

Journeys said...

okay...so this is job/team number what?...when do we move back into journalism and leave this EA experience for some podcast story?

We all have to pay bills but for a guy who has written a play and obviously loved writing with passionate people you must be suffering.

This experience has given you some time to get over the loss of the magazine and ... well ... some ego perhaps? (been there done that got the t-shirt) Once that passes and it sounding like its getting there...you will learn this new way of getting your words out. Remember those yoga classes your wife dragged you to? Let it go Jeff. :)

Look forward to what you do next...after EA.

Anonymous said...

Um, Journeys, I'm sure that Green is capable of defending himself (in fact, I know he is) - but that was an incredibly insensitive thing to write.

Based on what I've read in Greenspeak, Jeff is giving a hundred percent to his new job at EA, and sounds quite proud of what he's contributed so far - it sounds to me like he's only just getting started.

As far as the blog is concerned: one big WOOT from me. I love the Greenspeak, and it sounds like we'll be seeing entries on a more regular basis.

Green's life kind of fascinates me. I mean, he's just an ordinary guy, and yet look at all the stuff that happens to him. There he is working as an editor-in-chief of a major trade magazine one day, and there he is the next, working as a developer for EA. He passes out and wakes up in the hospital. He goes to Spain, to Italy, to France - he gets sick with ebola or some other deadly class of disease, but somehow manages to shake it off... it just doesn't seem fair to me that a person should have so much drama in his life... I mean, what the hell is going to happen next?

I'm stayin' tuned, boy - no doubt about it.

The Goose.

Mike Barrett said...

Glad to have you back blogging Jeff! It was a great article; you are so creatively gifted with your writing it's a shame when we don't get to read it for a while.

Dane said...

Good to have you back.

Anonymous said...

I've got LOST on the brain, or something, becasue after reading the blog post I couldn't help but hear this in my ear:

Ms. HAWKING: I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Jeff, but the blog isn't done with you yet.
JEFF: Well, I'm done with the blog.

Back in the CGW days we had to wait a month to read your column and articles, and if that's the way it is with the blog, I'm more than happy. The insight and honesty, written in a way that's humble and down-to-earth and funny, is something that not many people can do. Too often they come off as snooty and "isn't my life soooo awesome" that I just stop reading. But not you.

You're special. And we love your take on things.

Russ said...

I enjoyed your post and appreciate your perspective. I too have been wrestling with motive as it relates to my work life both 9 to 5 and after. Ultimately I conclude the same thing... that in the end I create because I "have" to. Its a part of who I am.

Broseybrose said...

I noticed you hadnt blogged in a while. Well, its good to have you back! And sincere congratulations on the new game-writing gig. I think you'll really flourish. Maybe become a legend in another field!

"Accepting this award is former Legendary Games Journalist and current Legendary Game-Writer... JEFF GREEN! (Thunderous applause)

Yeah, I can see that =)

Anonymous said...

The pendulum swings.

No time is wasted, only spent.

Journeys said...

Cold? Harsh comment?

Why does one blog? Perhaps to put out your thoughts and see if someone else agrees, disagrees or maybe sees something you did not?

I have read Jeff for much of his game writing career. I am also just a year or two older than him. His post struck me in a way not related to gaming but more on choices we make and what is our passions.

Frankly I admire his courage in what he has done. Not sure I could do the same. Especially at an age when you need to start making sure there is something in the retirement/college fund.

It was interesting that he was walking away from writing to follow an obvious passion but how he was slowing coming back to it. I was just point it out. Selfishly, maybe encouraging him to return. Guess I am guilty of that. But cruel...no. Defend himself? Why?

Jeff's writing and his podcast work for GFW showed more depth than most others in this field. The guy has a knack of getting a point across and making you laugh.

Though there is nothing wrong with what he is doing and indeed its a challenge...again selfishly...I hope he continues to work on things that he controls.

Jeff if you took this as harsh...excuse this old engineers poor writing skill...it was not my goal.

Jeff Green said...

I definitely did not take it as harsh. And if I had a thin skin, I wouldn't be able to write blog posts like this anyway. I don't mind folks discussing/advising/debating/criticizing/whatever here. I'm just happy people bother to read it. :)

Anonymous said...

Journeys, it's true that Green is probably a much better writer than he is a game designer - but that's chiefly because he's spent most of his adult life writing, and only a few months working at game design.

Green's a word guy - sort of by default. You agree with that, I agree with that. Green himself probably agrees with that.

I just thought it was a bit harsh the way you phrased it - saying that you were looking forward to seeing what he does next... after E.A.

That's harsh, guy.

(Then again, you did say that you're an engineer - electrical, mechanical? Electrical, I'll bet. That would explain a lot.)

Me, I'm looking forward to seeing what he's producing right now, while at E.A. - and maybe one day he'll even tell us which project he's working on!

That said, I suspect that Green might have at least one halfway-decent novel in him - and one day maybe we'll even see that. We'll walk into a bookstore, and there on the shelf, right beside Graham Greene, will be Jeff Green. Yes, my friends, that is what I am talking about.

The Goose

Shauna said...

Thank you so much for this post! It was exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right time. I would love more than anything to be a writer, but there is one thing that keeps me from it...I don't write.

That being said, the next time you have a difficult day, please remember the positive impact that you have on peoples lives. I started listening to you on Legendary Thread as a hopeless wow geek. I had not played any other games, only wow. I decided to listen to GFW because I thought that there might be some more wow talk. What I got was not what I was expecting, but it did impact me. Your podcast sparked my interest in these games that I would never have dreamed of playing before, the result is that I have found what I truly love to do, play games (I do not consider myself a 'gamer' as I am still working on being good at these games that I play).

Anyway, what I am trying to say, is THANK YOU! People love to discuss what you say but I'm not sure that I see enough thanks for the entertainment and so much more!

Stephen said...

So...how's that new print game magazine coming along, Jeff?

It's sad to see only three mags to choose from at the grocery store.

Brian said...

I hope you'll tell us when and in what game we can expect to see your name in the credits, when you are able.

Marc said...

[My comment clipnote: wrote paper on TF2, boring to read, I appreciate how hard you CGW/GFW guys worked, you should have kept the beard.]I just wrote a 2000 word paper on an analysis of Team Fortress 2's gameplay (mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics, etc) and the role of its game space and architecture in establishing player assumptions, such as cartoon logic (thanks Shawn Elliot... =] ).

Suprise, suprise... it was boring as all hell to read. I have never felt more empathy for the men and women of Gaming JOURNALISM. Writing about games is not as easy as it looks.

P.S> Why lose the beard?

I_Stink said...

Hey Jeff, I really appreciate great writers like your self who cover the gaming industry. There are far too many gaming journalists out there who think using a thesaurus makes them good writers. And others who just flat out can’t write.

Id kill to be in your shoes, working within the gaming industry.... However; I know for a fact that I would be truly awful at writing coherent thoughts. While my writing skills are up 100%since I began writing on internet forums, im just not a well written fellow. I’m a math and science orientated person (hence the career in engineering). I guess the point of this is just saying I appreciate your craft, and appreciate how difficult it is to excel in the journalist field.

Anyways I just wanted to say keep up the fine work, and I look forward to reading more of your blog posts!

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