On writing on writing on writing on writing.

by Maddy Myers

I never think my opinion matters. Who is my audience? Who am I explaining anything to? Who do I imagine?

Me. I write for myself. A version of myself from a week ago that hasn't played Beyond Two Souls yet, a version of me who wants to know what it's about. I imagine me in the past, or in some alternate-reality present, and I tell "me" what I would want to know.

I'm trying to imagine another way to review a game. If I wrote a review "for" anybody else I know, I would say completely different stuff. I would write down the aspects I believed that person would enjoy, according to what I know about them. Ordinarily, I write for me. But that's kind of beside the point, right? Or maybe that is the exact point.

Is it worth writing a review that is only “for” me? What do other people get out of that? Does it matter if the answer is “nothing”?

I'm so sick of believing that my opinions and experiences don't matter, or that I shouldn't bother writing at all. I'm so fucking sick of that feeling, but it won't go away. I don't know how to turn it off. It feels like strangulation, like a darkness that hugs my chest and tells me to keep procrastinating. What is even the point, it says. What is it for?

I don't want to be famous; my definition of "success" never includes fame. I actively dislike it when people read my work because their responses so often terrify or overwhelm me. I can handle a handful of “me, too” responses; I always like those best, because they make me feel less alone. But if I get too many compliments, I start to wonder if I'll ever live up to people’s future expectations. If I get too many criticisms, I wonder why I'm even publishing my work publicly at all, given that XYZ number of people hated it. Too much of both, and I curl into a ball and hide out until the storm passes, hoping that everyone forgets the whole article in a week or two. The longer it takes for people to forget something I've written, the worse I feel. Strange. I know. Very strange.

The writing will keep coming, though. I'll keep pouring it out somewhere. Maybe I'll pour it out in a potted houseplant when no one's looking, or out a window into an alley, or down a sink drain. But it'll come out regardless, like a stream of vomit that can be swallowed hard for only so long before it spews forth. Maybe it'll happen while everybody's watching ... by accident, or because the bug has struck so often that it feels like just another Tuesday, so who cares who sees? And it might be such a good show that some website or other wants to start paying for the privilege of hosting it.

But why is this a good show? Why is my "writing" compulsion entertaining for anybody else?

I don't know the answer to this. I also don't get why other people couldn't produce the same result. What makes my work special? Why does it matter?

Sometimes when I'm stuck on a piece, I get caught in a spiral of thinking about all of the other game critics I know. Always the critics who aren't men – because we're all inherently competing – or so I have internalized. It’s not wrong, either. Until you see a publication that just so happens to have a majority of not-dude writers, and no one remarking upon its strangeness, we are all competing. We are all getting thrown into a Not Men bucket, regardless of our ages or races or beliefs or experiences or identities or writing styles or, y'know, whether any of us even like each other.

So-and-so could write this better than I can, I think. Such-and-such has already done this, or will do this tomorrow. So-and-so deserves this more than I do. Such-and-such needs the money and is a better writer to boot. I don't deserve any of this. I should just stop talking. I'm taking up a space someone else could fill, accepting a paycheck someone else deserves. I'm not adding anything to the conversation ... the conversation that no one is listening to, the conversation that could use all of the visibility it could possibly get, the conversation that needs EVERYONE POSSIBLE to join in? That conversation! Come on!

It doesn't help that some games critics I know will admit, to me, that they feel resentful of other writers’ successes or prominence (and, it's often implied, they feel resentful towards me as well). I feel this way about other writers sometimes, too, when I see a friend getting an accolade or a job upgrade. Why wasn't that me?, I wonder, in spite of myself. But as soon as I ask the question, my brain supplies: Because I don’t deserve it. Or … do I? Don’t I? Do I?

It's a game of telling myself that I do deserve more money, more recognition, more consistent work, while also telling myself not to be too haughty, not to believe that my success has had anything to do with my own talent, that it was all just luck or privilege or right-place-right-time, that my own hard work isn't good enough (or that it is?), that I don't write enough. Stick up for yourself! But be humble! Everyone is watching you walk the tightrope, and judging the one tweet you wrote that seemed irritatingly self-deprecatory ... or overconfident. Unfollowed.

I feel like I can't trust anybody, like nothing is certain.

It was my working for a place that I thought I’d work at forever (not that I necessarily wanted to – just, the assumption that it was possible) and having it go out of business without warning. The sudden hunger, on which I could only blame my own lack of foresight. The multiple attempts throughout my 20s to found my own company, all of which went up in flames because of the betrayal of friends ... frenemies. All of the games writing cliques that I’m not in, whose blood-sprayed interior walls I have glimpsed from doorways. Why would you want to go in there? Because there’s money in that room.

There are so many somebody elses already, already writing, and doing so with greater ease, with less self-doubt. They're funnier, more lucid, and less terrified all of the time. They're also meaner. To each others' faces, and behind each others' backs. They're stronger than I am, working out new and terrible muscles that I never knew existed. Do I have what it takes?

Probably not. I'm often late. I don't prepare enough. Sometimes I get obvious facts wrong, crappy little errors that anybody else would've caught or remembered. Errors that maybe, maybe if I hadn't been writing the piece at 2 AM on the night it was due, maybe I would've gotten right. What a hack.

I can almost never produce anything under "good" conditions. If the work I do comes out badly, I can just blame it on myself, on past-Maddy fucking up current-Maddy’s plans. On my own self-sabotage. And if anything I do comes out well, that’s an excuse not to change my system. "Procrastinate until you can't anymore" works great, except for the part where it’s a miserable nightmare.

 I'm probably producing my worst work because of my own self-sabotaging conditions. I could be doing so much better, right? I have so much potential. Envision my high school self, narrowing her black liner-rimmed eyes, and slouching in her seat. Fuck you, she says. I'm doing the best I can.  Oh, Maddy. We both know you're not, that you've been running in these same circles for decades.

The irony is that the work I've produced in the past six months is my best, in the sense that I've produced it at all. At the Phoenix, I would write one Paste-sized column per month, and only if I was having a particularly slow month. At Paste, I have to do it every two weeks regardless of what else is happening in my life, and I try to do game reviews for Paste every month or so, too. Plus my full-time job. Plus my rock band. Plus maintaining a relationship that I think I might not be fucking up, for once. Plus trying to have real friendships outside of all of that. Plus going to the gym at least once a week, or even twice. Plus keeping my apartment clean, cooking for myself, living by myself, sustaining myself on my own income, alone.

I'm actually doing all of that. So why I do I still feel like a miserable failure? Because I haven't also finished any of my half-started Twine games? Or my book? Or my album? And why, why, whenever I have to file a story, or pitch a story, or anything, do I feel like I need to shut up before I've begun? Like my words don't matter? Like everything I've done is a repetitious, redundant, far-shittier version of a piece that I imagine somebody else has already written (not that I've read it, but come on, it's probably out there)?

It doesn't help to see folks in the games press biz offering “advice” about how the only way to succeed in games journalism is consistent mediocrity. The advice usually goes like this: be industrious, produce as much as possible, spell everything correctly, double-check your facts, file on time. What, rewording press releases as quick as you can doesn't sound more fulfilling than data entry to you?

I've heard from other writers that you only need to have two of these three characteristics to succeed: timeliness, quality, kindness. Most games journalists seem to have gotten away with only having the first one down … but that’s the only one of the three that I can’t manage.

I'm an irresponsible shit when it comes to writing. I spend most of my “process” second-guessing every single one of my sentences -- my ideas -- my career. Is this what I really want to say?, I think. And then I scroll back up and edit it all again, for the sixth time, for the tenth time. Twelve hours later, the piece is not "done," but it is so far past my bedtime that I have to give up. A few days later, after receiving edits, I look at it again. It's never as bad as I thought it was. The edits go easy. I even feel proud, relieved. But within a week or two of the piece getting published, I'm back to hating every word of it again, back to wishing I'd never even written the damn thing, or at least that I'd never shown it to anybody.

I'm not sure that's normal. But I can't do "normal". All I can do is my best.

I have to figure out how to live with that.