The game’s protagonist, Emily, has just lost her job. With a month’s worth of savings to live on, she’s decided to make a go of being a full-time author.
With an RPG-style presentation and cozy background music, Emily’s house—which she shares with her supportive wife Cleo and tuxedo cat Meowphistopheles—is a homey and inviting setting in which you will replicate (and frantically iterate upon) all your anxieties and insecurities, addictions and obsessions, and, oh yes, hopes and dreams.
There’s a reason every writer who’s ever done the submission grind
and saw the game’s launch announcement quote-tweeted it with doomy statements like “TOO REAL”: the challenge isn’t in the writing itself, it’s in managing Emily’s mood so she can
Every new email (or a lack of new emails) causes her “Happiness” meter to soar or crash. Spending a lovely day in the park with her wife might be refreshing and inspiring, but it also triggers crushing guilt that she wasn’t productive. Reading books and taking walks waste precious days, yet Emily’s well of ideas runs dry if she doesn’t.
Jessup called the game “a bit roguelike,” and that’s true: My first playthrough ended on Day 8, when Emily succumbed to the utter uselessness of it all. But discovering what activities can be done all day long and which send Emily to bed, what boosts Emily’s happiness (HINT: pet the kitty), and how to optimize the write/submit/rejection grind is why this game is addictive as it is rewarding.
The soul of the game constantly shines through. Nearly every single action and interaction feels like an Easter egg, from the randomly generated magazine titles to the weird and bad experiences on social media (“an agent yelled at me for no reason”!). The first time Cleo said she knew there was greatness inside me, my breath caught.
If you’ve been following the #TyNoWriPro updates at the bottom of every issue of this newsetter, you know that despite having my own very supportive family and half a zoo’s worth of furry, scaly and exoskeletal stress-relieving companions, Ty’s Novel Writing hasn’t made any Progress in way too long.
There’s a laundry list of very good reasons for this, from the crescendo and completion of the NFL season to embarking on a tail-end-of-pandemic Mother Of All Spring Cleanings. As I approach the one-year anniversary of my ADHD diagnosis
, I’m doing better than I ever have in so many facets of my life. But I’ve been completely detached from fiction writing, and my distress is palpable
Every day I don’t spend in those worlds, every week that goes by with this edit undone or that scene undrafted, feels like the inspiration is draining out of me. Like I’ll never make it.
Like I’m a bad writer.
I have one critique of BAD WRITER: Its necessarily hypercondensed write-and-grind cycle elides the fact that there’s no such thing as a full-time short story writer.
BAD WRITER nods to this; Emily’s gleeful reactions to acceptance emails often come with jokey qualifications about how little money each sale is earning—but even so, the game dramatically undersells how hard it is to make money writing fiction.
According to Diabolical Plots’ handy-dandy Submission Grinder
, if I cranked out a 3,000-word fantasy short this afternoon, 15 pro-paying markets might consider it. But about half of them are limited either by theme (“all stories must be furry,” for example) or by author identity. And while BAD WRITER’s randomly generated markets turn around rejections and acceptances within a few days, the eight real-world markets to which I could submit a new piece have an aggregate average response time of 283 days—and a story with a chance of acceptance is often held much longer than average.
Oh, and the “chance of acceptance”? Tiny.
Those markets buy a respective 1.7 percent, 0.5 percent, 1.97 percent, 2.36 percent, 2.19 percent, 5.74 percent, 1.18 percent and 1.76 percent of stories submitted to them. If I write that story this afternoon and send it to every pro-paying market that will read it, I’ll have a 16.2 percent chance of making $240.
Since 2014, I have submitted a dozen different stories to 41 different pro-paying markets a total of 95 times.
I am 0-for-95.
None of this is BAD WRITER’s fault; the world of professional short fiction is what it is. But for a game that resonates so truthfully in so many ways, the idea that Emily could get to the end of the month with three, five, or twelve acceptances, pay next month’s bills with that money, and decide to keep doing it full-time? It’s a fantasy that even Howling Song Quarterly or Super Sad Witches Gazette wouldn’t publish.
But the heart of the game is as true as can be: That creating stories in prose and sending them out into the world is as harrowing as it is thrilling, connective as it is isolating, and terrifying as it is edifying—often, all in the same day.
And when you’ve found a way to balance it all? When that Happiness meter is full, as Jessup’s surely is after the runaway success of BAD WRITER?
There’s no better feeling in the world: