"I want to write about games. How do I start?"

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GB User @lhcarpenter writes:

I just have a question. It's an earnest one, but considering the flood of messages you're probably getting, I wouldn't be surprised if you never read it, let alone answer it. To give it some context, I'm a 22-year-old heading toward my last year in my university's Creative Writing program. I'll put it bluntly: I want to start working towards some kind of writing position in the videogames strata. I don't have any kind of grand scheme or desire for attention; I've just been thinking about games basically non-stop since I was five years old and can't think of what else to do.

So really I just want to ask: how should I start? Do I just start a blog on tumblr or Wordpress or something? Should I look for online publications with open submissions? Try and find internships with publishers or developers somehow? Dive into the soulless wasteland that was once Youtube?

I'm not asking for any kind of step-by-step guideline to making it in the industry or some shit like that. I'd just like to hear from a strong voice in games writing where the best place to start might be.

Thanks. And welcome again.

Heya LHCarpenter,

It's so hard to give a sure-fire way to getting "in." In some form or another, I've been at it for 8 years now, and last year was the first time I really made any money doing it.

That said: The one thing I did learn is to combine "new" and "old" school approaches. I wrote for free on my blog and for d-list enthusiast press sites before finally getting Freelance gigs and then a salaried position here--that's the old school way. But at the same time, I was doing video content, tweeting a ton (and not only about games!), and recording podcasts. Doing both of these strategies meant that there was cross-pollination in my fans: My readers became my listeners became my viewers and around in that circle. That was great, positive reinforcement for me.

I was also lucky enough to find my way into a group of folks who are also incredibly talented and creative, the StreamFriends. But this was NOT my first online social circle. I went through a lot of those where I never felt REALLY comfortable, you know? And so when I finally did find a place that felt like I belonged, I stuck to it and I let the love and support as fuel to keep me productive.

The last three things I'll say are:

1. Pay attention to games criticism outside of the Big Sites. For my money, some of the best writing about games today comes from folks who get linked on sites like Critical-Distance, not from any established publication. (And the frustrating truth is that there's likely fantastic writing about games that I'll never even know exists because it will slip through the cracks.) In any case, push yourself to read things you don't agree with and to learn from them anyway.

2. Read things, watch movies, and listen to music that isn't just about/from/referencing games. One thing that good critical writing tends to do is reference the world beyond the subject of writing. It understands that a work exists a context which includes other media like it, but also media of other forms, history, politics, culture, aesthetics, religion, architecture, technology, desire, and so, so much else. You don't have to know everything there is to know in the world, but just develop some interests beyond gaming (or beyond WHATEVER it is you're writing about.) It'll help in ways you can't even anticipate.

3. Write. I spent years saying "I wanted to write about games," without ever really doing it. I'd maybe outline a piece or write down a few ideas, and if someone asked I'd say I was "working on a piece." But a lot of times, I never forced myself to sit down and really hammer those ideas into shape. Maybe this isn't a problem for you. If so, that's rad! But if it is, try hard to force yourself to do it. If that means finding a new place to sit down and write, do it. If that means de-activating your wi-fi while you write, do it.

Do what it takes, at least long enough to know whether this is a thing you really want to do. And if the answer is "actually, I'd rather write about [whatever]" or even "Actually, maybe being a full time writer isn't for me," then, that's okay! You haven't failed or anything. You've spent time learning who you are and what you want with your life. That's incredibly valuable knowledge.

I say writing about games needs to be something you "really want to do" because it's such a hard thing to make a living at, and because the reality is that even if you're great you might not make it. I want to live in a world where anyone can follow their dreams, hone their talent, and get paid decent money for exercising those skills. But we're not quite there yet. Talent and dedication are unfortunately not enough to always overcome the obstacles between a person and financial stability. I don't say this to make you not try, I say it because if we address those obstacles we can (maybe) start making it easier for new blood to enter the veins. That's my hope anyway.

In any case, good luck and godspeed. Feel free to send me a link once you get that blog up and running! I'd love to give it a read.