Tag Archives: freelancing

2015 Writing Year in Review

 

Happy New Year!

*Throws champagne, drinks confetti*

The last few hours of a year always seem to bring on reflection, and this year’s no different. The last 365 presented many changes for me–I left the Escapist,  had a book chapter published, landed some new outlets, and went to work at a writing tutor. Added to that, I started doing podcasts and video scripts for the first time.

So before the clock turns, here are some of my writing highlights from 2015:

Favorite Piece: “H.P. Lovecraft, Master of Environmental Horror” (Slate)

My primary writing goal this year was to branch out, and nothing exemplifies that better than this piece about Lovecraft’s increasing relevance in the age of environmental destruction. No video games here–just literature.

Biggest Achievement: Shooter

Shooter was a big point of pride for many reasons. It’s my first book publication, first off, but it also scored a couple of nice reviews and has some gorgeous art.

Largest Growth Area: Podcasting

When I began 2015, I’d never taped a podcast. As of today, I’ve appeared on the ChattyCastThe Freelance Game, and Covert Contact from Blogs of War. I’ve come to really enjoy it and hope to do more in the future.

Favorite Interview: “Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future” (Playboy)

P.W. Singer’s a fascinating guy, and his book Ghost Fleet provides a scary look at a future where games and military tech are increasingly merging. It’s a topic I’ve followed for years, and I’m glad public consciousness has finally turned to this crucial, and sometimes worrying, development.

Favorite New Outlet: Extra Credits

I’d admired Extra Credits long before I began writing about games, and I couldn’t be prouder that I’ve leant my hand to two episodes this year. The first was on how games can re-approach WWII, while the second was the crucial question of where our consoles come from.

Weird and Wild

I also had a couple odd ducks this year, both at Playboy. The first was an article about visiting the Resident Evil haunted house at Universal Studios Japan–and all the weird Japan-ness that ensued–while the second tracked the real history behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate‘s ghost stories.

So that’s it for 2015! I’ll have some more news on the way early next year, so watch this space…


WARNING: This Update Includes Oceans, Podcasts and Soviets

Got a few updates here, a few personal and one big recommendation.

First, old business:

I wrote a piece for Mission Blue about what world leaders accomplished at The Economist World Ocean Summit.  You might not’ve heard about that because, you know, celebrities are getting divorced and stuff, but last month several governments sent representatives to meet in a Davos-like conference on how to fix the enormous damage we’re doing to the ocean (aka the thing that keeps all of us alive).

I also published a Critical Intel on how Tom Clancy used tabletop wargames to research Red Storm Rising.  That’ll be interesting to you author-types or anyone who’s fascinated by the Cold War with Russia.

Heh, sorry, the last Cold War with Russia.

Now for new business:

If you’re someone who writes words in exchange for government currency – or want to be one – check out THE FREELANCE GAME, a new podcast about freelance game journalism.  Hosts Nathan Meunier and Andrew Hayward are both veterans of the ink-for-money trade and dispense advice in a tone I can only describe as “water cooler casual.” The show’s helpful without being dictatorial – it’s emphasized early that every freelancer follows their own path – and provides pleasant shop talk in a profession that can occasionally feel isolating.  Discussions tend toward the frank and humorous, without the bombastic personality jousts so common in gaming podcasts. I’ve listened to one episode so far but there are three out now (including one with IGN editor Mitch Dyer).  Check it out.


8 Things That Are Not Writing

1.     TALKING ABOUT WRITING IS NOT WRITING

2.     READING BLOGS ABOUT WRITING IS NOT WRITING

3.     DISCUSSING WRITING ON TWITTER IS NOT WRITING

4.     THINKING ABOUT YOUR ARTICLE/NOVEL/EPIC FANTASY MASTERPIECE IS NOT WRITING

5.     MAKING PLANS ABOUT HOW MUCH WRITING YOU’RE GOING TO DO THIS WEEK IS NOT WRITING

6.     DEFENDING THE LEGITIMACY OF YOUR GENRE OR MEDIUM IS NOT WRITING

7.     RESEARCH, WHILE NOBLE AND NECESSARY, IS NOT WRITING

8.     MAKING A LIST OF “THINGS THAT ARE NOT WRITING” IS NOT WRITING

WRITING IS WHEN YOU PUT NEW WORDS DOWN ON THE PAGE, NOT WHEN YOU THINK, TALK, OR BLOG ABOUT IT.

THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE TEMPTED TO DO ANY OF THE ABOVE, ASK YOURSELF HOW MANY WORDS YOU’VE WRITTEN TODAY.

YOU COULD PROBABLY WRITE MORE.


Welcome to the Pitch Jam

Hey there, guess what?  I’ve got a rare opportunity for you.  No, it’s not discount snake oil –  those bottles are in my attic pending FDA approval – it’s a way to help you improve your pitching skills.

So you’ve tried to get into game journalism for awhile.  You’ve read a few blogs, pitched some stories, racked up a few polite rejections and a handful of clippings – the usual.  What if I told you that as soon as next weekend you could get substantive feedback on not one, but two pitches, along with a series of blog posts and Google Hangouts focused toward polishing your skills?

Welcome to the Pitch Jam, brought to you by the fine folks at Good Games Writing.  You can find all the nitty gritty details here, but here’s the main rub:

  1. Follow @GoodWritingVG and the hashtag #PitchJam on Twitter for updates.  (Or if you’re allergic to Twitter, keep checking GoodGamesWriting.com)
  2. Read blog posts about improving your pitch skills written by established editors and game journalists.
  3. Watch the judging panel and expert guests discuss pitching and ask them questions during a forthcoming Google Hangout.
  4. Submit up to two polished pitches between September 20th — 22nd (submission details forthcoming).
  5. Get substantive, tailored feedback from the expert panel.

That’s it!  Get advice, submit pitches and get feedback, all from the comfort of your own home.

Who’s on the expert panel, you may ask?  Well I am, for one.  So is Brian Shea of Videogamewriters.com, Susan Arendt of Joystiq, Andrew Groen of Penny Arcade Report and Richard Moss, content editor for Archive.vg.  In other words, people who can give you good advice and who directly benefit from seeing better pitches.  GGW will announce more panelists soon, too.

But we need one thing to make the Pitch Jam a success – your pitches!  So follow the event on Twitter, ask questions, and send us your best article pitch you can write.

If you do all that, who knows?  You may have a viable, editor-ready pitch before the end of the month.

Watch this space for further updates and “how to” blog posts.  Got questions or need advice about pitching?  Feel free to ask me in the comment section or on Twitter @RobWritesPulp.

Good luck, PitchJammers.


How to Pitch a Panel

You may have noticed that I speak on panels every once in awhile.  In total I’ve done five at PAX, three of which I pitched myself and served as moderator.  I’m pretty good on panels – I can throw out a joke and chew on a topic with acceptable skill, and usually don’t enter a fugue state when I see the audience (usually), but by that time, my most valuable skill has already been used.  See what I’m really good at is pitching panels.

So with the Escapist Expo opening its doors to panel submissions, I thought this might be the perfect time to talk about how you go about it.

Pitching anything isn’t that hard as long as you put some thought into it.  Really you’re just trying to convince someone to give you a room and a couple of open microphones.  It’s similar to applying for a scholarship or grant, or even a job.  Everything will work out fine as long as you bring an interesting and unique topic and show that you have your act together.  Check your spelling and grammar.  Be professional.  Don’t use curse words or too much slang in your submission.  Use on email address that isn’t CocaineSatan@BabySealExecution.com

You’re not just selling a panel here, you’re selling the idea that the con staff can trust you with a PA system.

1. Do you Really Want to Pitch a Panel?

First you have to decide whether you want to pitch in the first place.  What are the parameters?  How long would you have to talk?  Are you comfortable speaking in front of several dozen, or even several hundred people?  Do you think you can get enough people to come out and do the panel with you?

2. No Seriously, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO PITCH A PANEL?

You’ll be sitting at the front of the room and everyone will be looking at you with their scary eyes.  They’ll expect you to say things without stammering incomprehensibly.  No hysterical gibbering or onstage breakdowns allowed.  If you’re moderating you have to manage your fellow panelists.  If you’re not comfortable with that, then seriously don’t pitch a panel.

3. Choose Your Topic

Figure out what makes you unique and pitch to that strength.  Maybe you’re a veteran D&D GM and can chew the fat about how to control wild players.  Alternately, you may have a day job that has an interesting angle on geek culture, think “Actual Lawyers vs. Rules Lawyers” or “Stim Pak Fallacy: Medical Professionals Talk Healing Systems.”  Life experience could come into play too – the year you spent abroad observing Korean game culture or how military FPSs relate to your own service in the armed forces.  Panels can literally be about anything, I saw one at Rooster Teeth Expo that was just members of the 501st showing off their costumes and taking questions about how to join the group and make armor.  Range far and wide for topics.  If you want to get ideas, look at what got accepted at the last PAX.

4. Choose Your Panelists

Panels live and die at this step.  If you and your friends are going to an event locally, this isn’t always a big deal, but if you’re traveling it can foul up the whole thing.  One of your panelists might not have the vacation time, or be able to afford the flight, or he might want to stay home with his pregnant wife to see the birth of his firstborn, the selfish bastard.  Point is, whatever your topic you need to lock down 3-4 people other than yourself that can commit to going to the event.  I try to invite four at the least, so if one drops out I still have a relatively full panel.  In all cases though, never ever list someone as a panelist until you’ve cleared it with them first.  They need to willingly consent to the appearance – don’t put them down just because the topic is in their wheelhouse and you don’t think they’ll mind, that’s a pretty big faux pas.

5. Recruit More Panelists If Necessary

Maybe you’re lucky and have 3-4 friends all willing to speak on a topic immediately.  That’s probably the case if you’re a game journalist and have a good network, but if you’re just an average joe who wants to do a panel, you may have to cast your net wider.  When I built my recurring panel “Borders, Bigotry, and Body Dumps: International Videogame Controversies” I only knew one person who I wanted as a panelist who was able to show.  The next panelist that I added I knew only from his articles, and the final one was through a recommendation.  That particular panel came together so nicely we reunited twice, but I only got those last panelists because I cold emailed a lot of people, some of whom said no.  If you have to do that, look for like-minded people that you think can handle their own in front of a crowd.  If they’re already coming to an event, that’s better than having to convince them to travel.  Just make sure you’re polite and clear in your dealings with them – remember, you’re soliciting their participation, not the other way around.  Don’t treat them like a job candidate, you’re courting them.  Be nice, be helpful, and respect their boundaries, especially if you’ve never met them in person.

6.  Herd the Cats

Two to three weeks before the submissions window closes, start making people give you a concrete “yes” or “no.”  If someone’s waffling, start researching replacements in case they drop out on you.  Get the vital information for each panelist, which usually includes their name, their work title (if necessary), where they work (if necessary) and their email address.  You’ll have to enter this on the panel submission.

7. Keep an Eye On the Deadline

(ZZZZZzzzznuzzle, snort.)  Gaaah! Wait, what? What do you mean the submission deadline was yesterday?  Damn it!  I should’ve put it in my calendar or something.  Also I should buy a calendar.

8. Choose a Title

I’m going to be honest here: I hate titles and I’m bad at them.  Titles are hard.  The first panel I pitched was called, as I mentioned, “Borders, Bigotry and Body Dumps: International Videogame Controversies.”  The eye-grabbing language definitely roped in some audience members, but it was too long to print on the banner or in the schedule, where it just appeared as “International Videogame Controversies.”  Try for something punchy that gets the point across, or put the punchy name upfront and a subtitle after the colon.  If your panel is, “Demons in Your Pocket: How Japanese Folktales Became Pokémon,” it’ll probably show up in the program as the catchier first half.

9. Official Description

This will take you the longest because it’s what goes in the program and there’s usually a character or word limit.  Start by writing your panel description in a word processor – not the submission field – and just see where it takes you.  Write down the big idea of the panel first, whether it’s a statement or a question you plan to answer.  Next go onto the smaller topics you’ll cover, then list your panelists with their titles in parentheses   Now run a word count and cut down.  Then cut down again.  Then leave it for awhile, come back, read it, add what you need and cut it again.  Most submission forms give examples of successful panel pitches, so look at those and steal their structure if you want.

Here’s an example of one I did recently:

Borders and Bullets: Global Game Controversies

As videogames become an international hobby, games increasingly run into problems of representation and localization.  Military shooters often use international conflicts or real locations as their backdrop, igniting controversy in the countries they portray as well as raising questions about the portrayal of foreign people and the impact of violence in digital space.  This panel will explore the more worrisome aspects of this trend and discuss possible solutions the industry can use going forward.

 

What’s the favorite game of Hezbollah militants?  What are the ethical questions we need to consider when designing violent media? How’d Castro feel about getting shot in Black Ops?  This sequel to PAX East’s “Borders, Bigotry, and Body Dumps” will take on Oliver North, The Red Cross, and whether Spec Ops: The Line represents a new breed of ethically-centered shooter.

This is actually pretty long for a panel description.  If I had to do it again, I’d probably cut out the Castro line.  Note that this is a more academically-centered panel as well – don’t use so much jargon if you’re pitching, “Warhammer Conversions 101.”  Keep it light and bouncy.

10. Additional Information and Technical Information

The “Additional Information” field is where you make your case if you’re not sure of yourself.  For example, if you’re not a game developer or writer and feel like you need to justify why you belong up there, you can list achievements that would make you a good panelist (speech and debate club, for example, teaching experience) or drop links to your blog or podcast.  Get creative if you want – upload a video of you and your panelists to YouTube showing that you’re fun to listen to.  Another great use of this space is to list alternate panelists if one of your primaries wasn’t able to give you a solid answer by the submission deadline.

“Technical Information” on the other hand is what you need from the con.  Microphones, chairs and water are always provided, but if you’re going to use a PowerPoint you need to request a screen and projector.  Also, if you have any panelists with special requirements – wheelchair access to the stage, for instance, it’s best to enter that now.

11. Submit the Panel and Wait for a Response

If it gets accepted, congratulations!  If not, well, everyone tends to fail at this sort of thing before they succeed at it, so don’t get discouraged.  Resubmit next year.

That about sums it up for pitching.  If you have any questions, be sure to ask them below.


10 Tricks to Balance Game Journalism With Your Day Job

Ever since I started writing a weekly column, I’ve gotten one question over and over from aspiring game journos:  How do I balance a full-time job and a weekly column?

Well now that I’ve left the full-time job I can reveal my secret.

I didn’t balance them.  Not nearly.  For the last six months I’ve been harried, under-slept and feeling three steps behind on everything.

There’s no such thing as Work/Life Balance.  Hell, I had a hard enough time with Work/Work Balance.

But despite all that, I survived.  Critical Intel has done well, gained an audience, and kept a high level of quality.  I got good reviews at my day job and was considered a don’t-know-what-we’ll-do-without-you asset when I left.  Despite burning every drop of midnight oil I had, I was at least functioning at a pretty high level.

So can I tell you how maintain Work/Live Balance?  Hahahahahaha no.  Yeah, nope.

What I can do, though, is tell you what makes putting out that much work  possible and a whole lot less painful.

1. Plan Your Content

Do you know what you’re writing about this week?  Sure!  No problem, right?  So ok – what about next week?  What about the week after that?  If you’re putting out content weekly, you need to develop a plan.  I never approach a deadline not knowing what to write about, because that’s suicide.  While it’s true that I’ve sometimes found myself a few days out not knowing which article’s going to go out that week, it’s always a question of which of these three articles am I going to write? rather than what am I going to write?  Ideally, I schedule content three weeks out.  I know what I’m writing this week, I have one or two possibilities I’m developing for next week, and a treasure trove of ideas I can use for week three.

2. Plan Your Week

For any article that requires an interview, I’m sending out emails two weeks out.  For anything that needs extensive research, I start reading sources and marking paragraphs at least a week before the deadline.  First draft starts several days beforehand, finishes the day before the deadline, and then a series of 3-4 edited drafts before it’s due.  And honestly, this is way too close to the wire for my liking, but I’m trying to be realistic about what actually happens when you’re carrying a full-time job and a weekly deadline.  Once you’ve hit that deadline give yourself a night off to recoup sleep and do it all again.

3. Get at Least A Week Ahead

If you don’t do anything else, do this.  I started Critical Intel with the first and second weeks of content already filed, kept an article in reserve as long as I could, and I was waaaaay saner.  Then Christmas happened and I basically lost a week – just couldn’t get anything written – and I was back to scrambling like a quarterback with no linemen.  Don’t do this.  When you’re starting a new weekly endeavor, be kind to yourself and have some extra articles in  your back pocket.  Less pressure, more chance to redraft and your writing will be better for it.  Think like a gunfighter – always have a backup in your waistband.

4. It’s Okay to Softball (Sometimes)

When I tell you the shit’s gonna hit the fan, buddy, I’m not kidding.  One week the shit will hit the fan, and it will get thrown everywhere and make everything shitty.  Also, presumably, your fan will stop working because it’s gears are caked with shit.  Maybe you’re fighting with your spouse and writing isn’t the uppermost thing on your mind.  Maybe your computer crashed.  Maybe it’s Christmas Eve and you’re spending time with family or, alternately, wandering drunk around Downtown Disney, reevaluating your life choices.  At times like this you can either use one of your backups, or you can write a softball article.  Now don’t misunderstand what I mean by “softball” – its not a bad article, or a rushed article.  It’s just an article that’s easy.  Something that’s been in the back of your mind, or draws on your own knowledge, something you don’t have to read forty pages of source material to write.  Strangely, in my experience these columns actually tend to become popular.  Desperate Housewives of Skyrim was one of these for me.  So was the recent The Perfect Non-Gamer Girl, which I wrote because my spare time was nothing but wedding errands.  Industry Secret Time: you know why there are so many top-ten lists at the end of the year?  Because game journos are tired and it’s Christmas and PR’s not returning emails.  Top ten lists are easy, that’s why content mills like Buzzfeed churn them out.  Have a few ideas in your notebook you can flee to in times of need.

5. Learn to Cook in a Crockpot

Or else learn to live off soup, sandwiches, and fast food.  If you’re writing as well as working, the writing is going to cut into your time, including mealtimes.  That often means shortening meals or, alternately, learning to cook dinners that require little attention.  I consider stews, roasts, curries, pulled pork, homemade soups, and the like writer food.  Chop some ingredients, dump them in a pot, and let it boil in the background while you write.  Also provides a good, mindless action if you need to think between paragraphs.

6. Insomnia is Not Your Friend, But it Can Be a Powerful Ally

Let’s me be straight about this one: you’re gonna lose some sleep.  You just will.  It’ll happen.  Best to come to terms with it.  I’m lucky to be one of those people who can drop off to sleep pretty quickly, so if I’m going to bed at 3:00 AM and waking up at 7:00 AM I’ve slept a half a night, but not everyone’s like this.  Frankly I could write a whole post on writing and insomnia and strategies to get enough sleep, but let’s just leave it like this: you’re going to end up pulling late nights, sometimes multiple times a week.  This will literally let you add more hours of work to your day, but if you push it too far you’ll have a breakdown or a car accident.  Be very, very careful about how much sleep you get.  Consider getting up early instead of staying up late, or starting your articles earlier in the week.

7. Limit Your TV and Videogame Time

Yeah, I know this one sounds counterintuitive, especially coming from a videogame journalist.  Here’s the thing though: you’ve got a limited amount of time in your day and can’t afford to burn daylight.  So instead of watching six TV shows a week, pick three.  Instead of playing the game you’re writing about and also ten hours of another game, maybe cut that extraneous game down to a couple hours.  Personally, I like to watch a TV episode while I’m eating dinner, since I can justify the time by multitasking.  Also, just bite the bullet and get TiVo or some form of digital cable, or else just work on Netflix and Hulu.  Watch TV when you have time, not when the TV tells you to.

8. Schedule Writing Time

My fiancée knows not to schedule anything on certain nights of the week.  Those nights are writing nights.  Figure out your own time and lock your environment down.  Shut off Twitter and Facebook.  Get out of the house if you have to – retreat to a library or cafe or a bar.  Whatever you do, set a time when you need to put your ass in a chair and just write.   This time could be every week, every day, or every couple of days.  It can be as long or short as you want.  Get up early.  Stay up late.  Knock out a page during your lunch hour each day,  on the C Train, or stay at your desk an extra hour after punching out – if someone calls you, tell them you’re still at work and will call back.  The last one really works well.

9. Make a Little Progress Every Day

Even if you’re not actually writing your article, just keep moving the ball forward.  Bookmark some research, do some reading, play a game.  Waiting for your girlfriend at a restaurant?  Take out your notebook or cell phone and jot down ideas for articles or interview questions.  Outline something you haven’t started on – it’ll take five minutes and save you an hour.  Correspond with PR or interviewees.  Above all write everything down.  To put out content every week you need to become a wellspring of ideas.

10. Be Kind To Yourself

You’re going to do better some weeks than others.  That’s just the nature of writing on a weekly basis and, frankly, writing period.  One week you’re going to put something out you’re crazy enthusiastic about and the next it might just be alright.  Serviceable but not soaring. Good stuff, insightful stuff, but not a world-beater.  Inevitably, you’ll put a lot of work into something you think is really fantastic that practically no one reads, the bastards.  You might write something people hate.  That’s just going to happen and you can’t get too twisted up about it.  Try harder next week.  The fact you met a deadline and have shown the world you can publish on a regular basis – and get paid – is a form of success in itself.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Falling short of excellence isn’t the same thing as being comfortably mediocre.  It probably isn’t even as bad as you think (probably).  Just keep reaching higher each week and you’ll improve.


PAX East Freelancer Meetup

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — and if you’re a freelancer at PAX East, it might be the only meal you get.

During PAX Prime last summer, a small gathering of freelancers met in the press room and headed out into the city for drinks.  It was a chance to connect with other writers and meet people we’d only known through bylines and Twitter handles.  There were only two problems: everyone had different parties to go to, and by the time we got together, PAX was nearly over!

To solve these issues, we’re kicking things off early this year — we’ll be meeting up on Friday morning right before the floor opens, buying up coffee and crumbly pastries from the Westin Starbucks and lounging around the lobby.  Be there bright and early to meet new people, connect with old friends, and get to know the fellow press badges you might run into on the expo floor.  PAX is a flood of humanity, so we might as well put some familiar faces in the crowd, right?

We’re holding it at 8:00 AM in the Westin, so everyone has time to get to the Expo Floor before it opens for press at 9:00.  (Though remember that the PAX shuttles don’t start until 8:00 AM, so get your T passes ready.)

WHAT: PAX East Freelancer Meetup

WHERE: Lobby of the Westin Waterfront, near Starbucks (the hotel connected to the Convention Center)

WHEN: Friday, March 22nd, at 8:00 AM sharp

DETAILS OR QUESTIONS: Follow event coordinator Rob Rath on Twitter @RobWritesPulp

See you at PAX!