Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's Wrong With The Writing Industry

Writing: A profession that's not respected
It has taken me a while to muster up the courage to write an article as in-depth as this one, but I feel like my most recent adventures as a writer have made it clear to me that I need to start speaking up about some of the issues that I am encountering. It appears obvious that some people (clients/employers) in the field of online freelance writing simply don't understand all of the variables that go into what writers are looking for. Maybe these clients are truly clueless as to what writers are looking for, and maybe they intentionally don't want to know the truth of this profession and they want to stay firm to a certain set of rules that a writer must follow.

I make it no secret that I try my best to be a visionary for certain topics like this one. Writing is a gift of mine and it's a profession that I take seriously. Writing is what I'm good at and it's something that I don't want to take for granted. Unfortunately, many employers in the field of online freelance writing do take a writer's worth for granted, and they make it no secret as to what their stances are on any given writing projects.

I am trying to establish a foundation of a writing career that I can call my own. I am trying to create a long-lasting relationship with a trade that I know I'm good at and that I know I love. I know I can write and I know I can write well. Now why is it that when I apply for writing jobs online, my accomplishments are taken for granted by many employers?

Don't get me started on the prospects of writing for small scale video game projects because those aren't even a dime a dozen. These kinds of opportunities are more like a penny a thousand, if that makes sense. Whenever I do come across a job listing that asks for a writer to help out with a game project, that writer MUST have previous experience working on video game writing. Otherwise it's pretty much a guarantee that a writer, such as myself, will never get a crack at writing scripts for video games, as far as online job listings are concerned. No matter how much passion I have for writing custom game scripts and no matter how much love I have for that practice, as I have described to you in the past that I write my own custom game stories on the side, it will never factor into a job listing. So here I am, still waiting to get my first crack at writing a script for a video game, even if it's for a small scale mobile game that may be obscure to the masses. I've had this dream since 2008, and now 2015 has just started, and still, nothing to show for it.

I loved reading Calvin & Hobbes back in the day
I have heard of the term "content farm" before but I never really realized how strong that term appeared to be until recently. When you have been on freelance websites like elance.com, odesk.com and guru.com for as long as I have, and we're only talking 6+ months here, you eventually get warning signs that some things about these websites just don't feel right. Depending on the criteria that these websites use, you can either be making a lot of headway with writing jobs or you could get screwed over before you even blink.

By saying "content farm", I mean it in the plainest way possible. Some of these freelance websites mainly feature job listings where they seek writers to produce specific content that they want. Churn out content like it's butter out on the prairie, if you will. "We want this content done within 3 days and we need you to write around 1000-1500 words. Please use the specific information that we give you. Write it in this tone. Blah, blah, blah..."

For game writers who aren't exactly familiar with this system, let me just say that you wouldn't find many of the topics that you would write about to be all that interesting. I mean, I managed to write 10 articles on hospital-related topics, mainly healthcare, and these are topics that I'm not thrilled about at all. I'm not a healthcare expert by any means, but I took this job because I believed I could do the job. I did the job well, thankfully, but my point still stands that if you're looking for something that even somewhat interests you, be prepared to be at least somewhat disappointed.

If I had things my way, I would make ghostwriting illegal. Period.

I put the above sentence in bold on purpose. I am highlighting an opinion of mine that I know is going to anger some people, particularly people who love to be ghostwriters.  Let me explain my reasoning for this opinion first before tomatoes are thrown at me. If you are trying to firmly establish yourself as a well known writer, what is the most logical way to obtain sufficient recognition? You would rather receive credit for the writing work that you do and get a pat on the back, rather than to write an article for a person or a company that will intentionally take your work, spin it around to fit their liking, and then call the final product theirs when it's painfully obvious that they have done nothing to deserve any credit for that written article that YOU worked hard on.

I find the general principles of ghostwriting intellectually dishonest from their roots and I don't condone the practice. In my brutally honest opinion, if you want to become a respected writer in the world, then you need to start respecting yourself first and foremost. You need to keep things in proper perspective. How are readers ever going to know about you if you hide behind a different name, or worse, behind the names of different people whom you know never put in the work that you did? I am yet to see an official long-time ghostwriter ever put his or her name out there for the mainstream media to report on, and guess what? There's a reason for that. Why do they call it ghostwriting to begin with? As a ghostwriter, you are basically invisible and your name is locked away from receiving the true credit of the articles you write.

I'm not a fan of ghostwriting, and the more I read about what goes into ghostwriting the more I have grown to hate the idea of ghostwriting. In the grand scheme of things I don't believe ghostwriting helps writers because credit is being taken away from them, and writers are allowing this credit to be taken by their employers and by other people.When you give away credit to a company, you are basically giving them the license to micromanage your workload, undermine your representation as a writer and to put it bluntly, treat you like dirt.

Need a writer who will work hard? stevenvittewriter is one of those guys!
Either pay me $20 minimum for a writing project and give me credit for it, or NO DEAL.

The above sentence in bold is as concrete as my stance will get. Either I get paid at least $20 for a writing project and I receive some credit for that project, or I will NOT work on that writing project. It's just that simple. I would certainly never allow a gaming company to belittle my standing as a writer and throw me a job where it pays only peanuts ("We pay only $1.25 per 500 words! Aren't we so economically understanding? Hee! Hee!") because I have more respect for myself than that. My words are worth much more than peanuts and insulting lowball offers. It's WAY too often that I come across online job listings where writers get paid only $5 here or $3 there for a job that's worth more than those prices. Where's the long-term gain in any of these peanut-paying jobs? Can someone please answer that for me?

The Writing Industry Within The Video Game Industry

I briefly mentioned this earlier, but it is becoming a fact that unless you have any official experience in game writing, you will probably be waiting an incredibly long time before you ever get your first chance in writing even a part of a script for a video game. You do have to prove that you can do the job, of course, but even after you have proven that you can write in various other forms, you are still sitting on the bench waiting for your first time writing a small script for a game. Even after you ask numerous questions as to what it takes to be a game writer and after you do your best to apply that new game writing knowledge to your custom projects, the waiting period is right there.

Being brutally honest again, it appears to me that some companies in the Video Game Industry intentionally set up this barrier for writers where even though you have the passion to learn how to write for games and develop your skills for game writing, it will never really be enough to impress these companies. You will be cast aside by these companies with the idea that one day you will write for them, but then years go by and nothing ever happens.

You gotta have the right connections. You gotta be able to properly network with people who are associated with game development companies. You have to convey your messages as a writer the right way to your contacts. You have to let game companies know that you are in it for the long haul and that your love and passion for game writing are genuine and sincere. That's pretty much me in a nutshell. I know what my intentions are as a writer. I am writing various obscure articles right now but I don't want to be doing just that for 20-30 years straight. I know where my ultimate goal or finish line resides, and that is in the Video Game Industry, inside (and outside) a game development company studio where I can freely express my ideas at appropriate times and also taking in the input that my bosses give me. This is where I want to be in the long run. I don't intend to contradict this message. I want in on the game writing action.

More Calvin & Hobbes again
Game writing is challenging but it isn't the Calculus of writing, and game companies that treat game writing as such need to lower their expectations just a little bit. Game writing is an extended branch of expression, aimed at giving gamers more freedom when they play games. Game writing should be an extension of the ideas that are presented by game development companies. All game stories excel in different avenues. Some stories are emotionally driven. Other game stories are simply unique joy rides in adventure. Some game stories are completely comedy driven and make gamers laugh. Other game stories take themselves seriously and send important messages to gamers when the gameplay experience ends. Whichever kind of game story that you write, you need to be consistent with the messages that you send and you need to make sure that the narratives fit in with the gameplay mechanics. Be mindful of the interactive experience.

Do I sound like someone who doesn't know anything at all about game writing?

Some writers who have never written for video games previously have been given a chance to write for games, and these writers have been well established and famous for writing other media forms like comic books, novels and magazines. How am I drastically different from these writers aside from the fact that no one knows me? I want a chance at game writing and I'm going to stop at nothing to get that chance.

Professional Writers: Definition?

What can we say about professionalism in writing? We hear all sorts of stories relating to plagiarism and miscommunication regarding copyright issues, but what does it really mean to be a professional writer? Why should any company be given the license to label some writers as professional writers and others as misguided unprofessional writers? Depending on what the writer does, professionalism is an issue. In my case, I know I work hard to write articles. I know I put out my best effort to make sure that the articles I write have legitimate quality to them. I would find it insulting and disrespectful if any client of mine came back to me and told me that I was not a professional writer. I already have a portfolio to speak of, and I can show my readers on this blog the stuff I have already done, so why should anyone tell me all of a sudden that I'm not a professional writer?

I have commented on video game reviewing companies in the past, and I have commented on them for a reason. I have reason to believe that companies like IGN, Game Informer, GameSpot and the like are being intellectually dishonest and that they are intentionally swaying gamers away from games and to games. These companies make reviews on games that they themselves play, but in recent years the reviews haven't been accurate to what these games actually are in quality. It makes me believe that these reviewing companies are being paid under the table here and there by game development companies to write reviews that are not 100% accurate, and I definitely have a problem with this possibility.

When you review a video game, be honest about it. It's really that simple. I don't want to go into specifics about what is politically correct about a video game and what isn't, and neither should these big name game reviewing companies. If a game is good, then it's good. If a game is bad, then it's bad. If you want to pick apart a game in a review, then you can do so but don't do it to the point where you are trying to stretch the truth about a game. Those are the kinds of tactics I won't tolerate as a fellow writer.

Writing In General Needs To Change Soon

In closing, since I've rambled on long enough about writing topics, I believe the entire Writing Industry needs to change very soon, and the signs of needing more sufficient changes in the way that we view writers and the art of writing have never looked more obvious. Look around you. Look at writing job websites like elance.com, guru.com, odesk.com and others and tell me what's wrong with the general attitudes of clients and employers. Tell me what's wrong with how they put ridiculously low value in their writing assignments, only being willing to pay $1 per a few hundred words and then forcing people to believe that this mindset is acceptable.

Where's the respect for writers in general? Writers occupy a role that not everyone can do, and yet, writers are treated almost on the same level as your local janitor, cleaning up the messes that someone else made. Try to tell me that there's nothing wrong with that mindset. Try to tell me that the Video Game Industry is perfectly healthy in tossing writers aside on the fly, and in other cases, hiring the same writers over and over again when it's obvious that those writers haven't justified their position. Try to tell me that it's okay for a game development company to hire an accomplished soap opera writer who does a good job in that genre, but doesn't understand the language of game writing one iota. Try to tell me that a game developer would rather hire that soap opera writer than an aspiring game writer who wants to be a student of the game, so to speak. Just try to justify that.

When I was younger, I used to value the opinions of video game critics. I used to be a subscriber to the Game Informer magazine, believe it or not. I subscribed to their magazine for years, but after a while it became obvious to me that the writers who wrote the game reviews for this magazine just didn't care about what they wrote. They weren't serious about what they were talking about. These writers were very vague and helped intentionally sway gamers away from games that didn't deserve to get bashed. Once they found a game series to use as a punching bag, they would punch the living daylights out of that game series for the sake of entertainment value. It was this coupled with me just losing interest in game reviews in general that led to me unsubscribing.

Words are valuable to a writer, but as the saying always goes, actions speak louder than words. When companies intentionally shun writers from being able to do what they normally can do and force them to do the most bizarre things writing-wise, then who can blame us writers for being upset or feeling insulted? The words that I write matter to me and they shouldn't be treated as something that you can dispose of within 3 minutes. Those words are my work. Those words help symbolize me as a writer. Those words represent the time that I devote to this craft of writing. Whatever I write should belong to me.

By the way, this article was written by Steven Vitte and not by some random ghostwriter. 

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