If you spend all day thinking about writing but never put fingers to keyboard, spend hours typing without adding to your wordcount, or spend all your time writing but never publish? You just might be a BAD WRITER.
That’s the name of a new indie PC game by Paul Jessup, who’s also an author with publication credits at many of the biggest, best science-fiction and fantasy outlets around. BAD WRITER is a cozy little role-playing adventure where you play the role of a struggling writer.
Perhaps inevitably, the game raced its way through Writer Twitter and soared to the top of the Itch.io charts:
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 write.
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.
The going “professional rate” in SFF markets is just eight cents a word. We can’t all be Taffy Broadesser-Akner, refusing “to get out of bed for less than $4,” but as someone who has actually paid all his bills with his writing output, $0.08 doesn’t cut it—and most don’t pay anywhere near that much. Fireside Fiction, one of the very few who paid more (12.5 cents!), just announced they’re closing forever.
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:
Twitter, apparently tired of people taking too-spicy-for-Twitter conversations to private Slacks and Discords, dropped something called “Twitter Communities” on us this week.
I’ve got lots of in-progress plans for Gimme Schalter this spring and summer, hopefully making it even more useful and worthwhile. But I’ve noticed that your reactions, suggestions, and comments get back to me a lot of different ways (including Revue’s own one-way “reactions” feature).
A Twitter Community, I realized, could not only be a place to tell me what you thought, but talk to each other—and share content ideas, cross-promote each other’s work, rave over faves, etc.
So, here we go: The Gimme Schalter Twitter Community!
It’s set to private for right now, but I’ll approve anyone who subscribes to or reads this humble publication (or follows me on Twitter, or just generally seems cool).
One of the reasons I didn’t publish Gimme Schalter last week was that I simply could not bring myself to deal with the preposterous and infuriating NYT Opinion opinion that GOP politicians banning books, discussion topics, and even whole people from public life is equally troubling as progressives expressing frustration about those bans.
Natanson, whose Twitter account I will link despite having deleted all her tweets, reveals that conservatives’ nationally coordinated attempts to remove Black-, brown-, and LGBTQIA affirming stories from libraries are having the intended chilling effect. Administrators are going behind librarians’ backs and removing books from shelves before parents even challenge them.
And that is prompting some librarians to remove wonderful books that marginalized kids need—before either cowardly bosses or reactionary parents come to do it for them (or, possibly, get them fired).
Just as one can draw a straight line from “just asking questions” about trans rights to legislation rolling back those rights, disingenuous garbage like the NYT opinion board’s piece leads directly to actual censorship, and actual harm.
I first became aware of the Professional College League when I interviewed co-founder Andy Schwarz about “Envelopes Of Cash,” his college-football recruiting board game.
Schwarz, along with sports-entertainment lawyer Ricky Volante and former NBA player David West, have been trying for years to launch a pro basketball league for college students—one that would operate outside the auspices, oversight, and hypocrises of the NCAA.
Hruby (a friend, colleague, and former editor of mine) has been tracking this story for years. This deep dive into where the PCL went right, went wrong, and established itself firmly on the correct side of history (if not firmly in the present) is a fascinating read.
Nevzorov is the first prominent Russian journalist to be investigated by prosecutors for spreading quote-unquote false information about what the Russian Army is doing in Ukraine—specifically, the shelling of a maternity hospital in Mariupol—on his Twitter account.
But he’s also a former member of Russia’s Parliament, and in this video [H/T: @michaeldweiss] he shows an impressively prescient and deliciously funny understanding of what would happen (and has happened) in the case of a Russian invasion of Ukraine:
As GenXers, Xennials, and Millenials take turns replaying the games of their childhoods (and creating new games in the styles of their childhoods!), video-game console makers and game publishers are somehow no less hostile to the new communities celebrating their old work than during the 1990s advent of emulation.
But gaming is now much more mainstream. ELDEN RING is somehow both the definitive game-for-capital-G-Gamers title of 2022 and a runaway mass-market success, blowing past 12 million copies in the first two weeks. That’s three-quarters of a billion dollars in sales, equalling the box-office haul of the year’s biggest movie so far (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”)!
But more and more genre-defining games of the 8-, 16-, 32-, 64- and even 128-bit eras are sliding into unplayable obscurity—and their IP owners are taking capricious, avaricious, and sometimes adversarial approaches to those who want to preserve them. Parrish did a wonderful job detailing the efforts of the historians, curators, and enthusiasts trying to keep these creative works accessible for all the people who don’t have a Dreamcast, GameCube, and TurboGrafx-16 hooked up in their entertainment center as I write this (RIP, but I’m different).
Yeah, so I pretty much gave this update already. I am finishing a novel critique for a CP, then hope to cobble together a readable Draft 1.5 of CODEX 17 for a friend who offered to help brainstorm what I should do with the project…hopefully that all happens by next week’s issue, but we’ll see.