You know what 2009 was? A big bloody tease, that’s what.
I’m aware a few new people might be reading this blog due to the one-a-day project, so here’s a bit of Denby history. At the start of 2009, I’d been writing for several years, but never been paid for it. I set up Resolution Magazine with a few people in 2008, and in the early part of 2009 began working on a feature on the notion of death in videogames. People seemed to like it, and a few blogs picked up on it. Off the back of it, and presumably other stuff, I ended up getting a bit of work at Eurogamer, a freelance contract with Future Publishing and a regular slot at GameSetWatch and Gamasutra. The foot was very firmly in the door.
Then everyone seemed to run out of money.
Editors started asking me to re-pitch later in the year. Which I did, only to find out they weren’t as interested in running those particular features at this time. I had a couple of pitches accepted but ending up getting kill-feed during the writing process, either due to a lack of funds or, well, my having not quite written the thing well enough. The latter’s obviously my fault, the former not so much. I ended up getting slightly dicked around with payment from one place I very intentionally haven’t mentioned. By the end of 2009… well, put it this way: the last thing I wrote, I got 20 quid for, and was glad of it.
Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful for. I’m grateful for any work I can get at the moment. That’s kind of the point. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this nagging frustration that, at the start of 2010, I seem to be almost back in the same place as I was at the start of last year. Man.
Basically, I have to up my game. I know that. I don’t pitch enough, and I’ve noticed myself becoming lazy with my writing. Idly clicking through my portfolio for a few samples to send to an editor with a pitch, I read one thing I’d done for Art Fist Magazine way back in 2008. And really liked it. One of the strongest things I’ve written to date, probably. I compared it with some of my latest output, and there’s a reasonable difference in quality. That shouldn’t happen, and I’m aware that’s something I need to fix. (It’s also worth pointing out that it may have been a fluke, as some of the stuff I wrote a year ago is bloody terrible.)
2009 also seemed to be the year when a few really bloody good games journalists turned up. It’s true that someone like Quinns has been doing this for a while, but his meteoric rise to becoming an absolutely astonishing writer (pay me later, Quinns) happened last year. Phill Cameron’s stuff at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Gamasutra (and at Resolution Magazine, which I’m grateful for) has been consistently of the highest quality. Fraser McMillan is only 18 years old, and already has a really strong voice. Jaz McDougall arrived on the scene. Rich McCormick got more work. Anyone who says games journalism’s quality is fading must be completely deluded. The rise of WordPress may have led to a whole heap of rubbish, but there is no doubt that the top end of the quality scale is… well, it’s never been higher.
Those bastards. I’ve been utterly overtaken.
I suspect I became a little complacent last summer, when the work was rolling in nicely. When someone happily nods and says “yes, of course I’ll give you money in the hundreds to write about your favourite game,” that’s always a risk. It’s only when you find yourself in a position when you have to really work for something that you realise how much room for improvement there really is.
Games journalism is an odd gig. It’s a relatively low-paid and entirely unglamorous job. Very few people are games journalists. Yet it’s probably one of the jobs people most want to do within writing. Where in other jobs competancy would serve you nicely, in games journalism you have to be the best. If you’re not, why the hell would anyone pay you to do it, when others are countlessly lining up to take your place, and others have years of experience to offer? No one owes me anything.
This one-a-day project, then, should be a perfect opportunity to try to hone my writing skills, and importantly, to write about lots of different things. Jim Rossignol has a tip for aspiring games journalists: read other forms of journalism, then try to steal their tricks. Hopefully writing a heap of different stuff will allow me to experiment with these tricks, too.
In the meantime, you should all totally give me work. At least two of you you one-a-day lot work full-time on a magazine! I even have a contract with the company you work for! Put in a good word, eh?
(I mean, is it really so much of a problem if I don’t own the console your mag specialises in…?)
Quick addendum: this has all been a bit ranty, but I do feel it would be rude not to end this post by thanking Simon Carless, who’s been the most supportive editor any start-up writer could ever dream of working with. I mean, he gave me a regular gig off the back of one article! And basically said “yeah, just write about whatever you want twice a month”! That’s astonishing! I really should make sure I’m not a month late with my next GSW/Gama piece.