He said, “It’s so overwhelming, trying to get a job. You have to figure out what writing samples to create and also stay in touch with people and also apply for jobs and it’s A LOT, all at once. Where do I even start?”
It’s a good question. I’ve been there. And so many other people have been there, too.
There’s so much to do.
Why does it get to us?
Well, our careers are important to us, and we want this to go exactly right. (Whatever "right" means...)
And the job hunt can trigger a LOT of difficult feelings - imposter syndrome, anxiety - you name it. Those feelings make it hard to function sometimes!
And - worst of all - we are often doing this ALONE. So we don’t have people who can offer advice or suggestions - or snacks and a shoulder to cry on, when the going gets tough.
So let’s see if we can make this process a little easier to manage.
It's a marathon, not a sprint
How about this: Think of your job search as a marathon - one you, yes you, can run.
We can break a marathon - or a job search - into three phases:
- Build your team;
- Train; and then
- Run your race.
Let’s take these phases one at a time.
Phase One: Build Your Team
Even marathon runners don’t go it alone. They get training advice from someone - a coach, a book, a website. Maybe they meet with their running group on Saturdays. Maybe they work with a nutritionist or a massage therapist. And most runners ask friends and family to be there on the big race day to hand them bananas and cheer them on.
If marathon runners need a team, you do, too. (We all do.)
So if you’re on the job hunt, in Phase One you build your team. Here’s how.
- Sit down and - without editing yourself - make a list of the kinds of help you could use. For example, do you need feedback on your writing samples? Could you use someone to help you think through your job-hunt strategy? Do you want a party-time friend to help you get away from it all once in a while? Write down everything that is a struggle or a challenge, where you could use a little help.
- Now, for each item on your list, write down who is already in your life and could offer that kind of support.
- Call those people and let them know that they are On Your Team! Let them know how much their support will mean to you as you go through this process, and tell them you’ll be there for them, too. (It's OK to ask for help. Wouldn't you be flattered if a friend asked for help? People love to feel important and needed.)
- Take another look at your list. Are there areas where you are lacking support - where no one in your life can help with that particular thing? Then you know what you need to do - get that support!! For example, if you don’t know any writers who could give you feedback on your samples, find some writers. They are out there, in classes and Meetups and all over the Internet.
- Did you put yourself on your support team? You’re going to need you. Commit to believing in yourself and supporting yourself through this.
Once you have built your team, it’s time for -
Phase Two: Train
In this phase, a marathon runner builds the body they need to run the race. They run and lift weights. They clock the miles and put in their reps.
The same idea applies to you, except instead of building your body, you’re building your portfolio.
In this phase, DO NOT worry about applying for jobs. One thing at a time. You’re not running the race yet. Right now, you’re building the body (portfolio) you need to run the race.
So here’s how we train effectively: we start with a plan, based on our goals.
Different marathon runners have different goals. An elite runner may want to run a sub-3-hour race this time; a beginning runner may just want to finish the damn thing!
There is no right or wrong goal: there is only YOUR goal.
So think about your goals. Where are you hoping to end up? Is it your dream to work on party-based RPGs? Would you love to write for mobile games? Think about what kind of jobs you want to apply for.
(Pro tip: Don’t say “I’ll work anywhere!” Be honest with yourself. What kind of games will allow you to do your best work as a writer? What games inspire you? Give yourself a bullseye, so you know where to aim.)
Do you have your goal?
Great! Now build a portfolio plan around that goal. Here’s how:
- Look at the types of games you want to work on
- Make a list of the types of writing you see in those games
- Plan to create one sample of each type of writing
So, for example, if you want to work on party-based RPGs, you will probably need a branching-dialogue sample in your portfolio, right?
And if you are more into games that DON'T use branching dialogue, well...maybe you don't need that in your portfolio.
The beauty of having a clear goal is that it helps you figure out what you DON’T need.
YES! You don't actually have to do ALL the things! Just the right things. And your plan lets you know what the right things are.
So once you have your goal and your portfolio plan, here’s what you do:
That’s right. Put yourself on a writing schedule, get the work done, and also REST. Marathon runners need rest days and you do, too.
If you follow this process, you will wake up one day and realize that you are READY. You will have completed your portfolio plan! FINALLY!!!
Now, just like a runner lacing up their shoes for the big day, you're ready for -
Phase Three: Run Your Race
Fact: you can’t train and race at the same time. You're either training, or you're racing.
So put the portfolio down. It’s done. It’ll be there when you need it. Trust.
It's time to shift your focus. It's go time.
All a marathon runner needs to do in this phase is run the race.
Simple. But not easy.
All YOU need to do in this phase is put yourself out there.
Simple. But not easy.
Your job is to have as many conversations as possible with people who can help you.
And that doesn’t mean ONLY applying for jobs (although that’s part of the process, for sure).
What it mostly means is developing good, friendly relationships with people in the industry - and letting things progress naturally from there.
Here are the things you need to accomplish on a regular basis:
- Meet people in the industry
- Apply for jobs
And “meeting people” is way more important.
How are you doing? If that feeling of overwhelm is creeping back, here's how to nip it in the bud: turn this into a numbers game.
Marathon runners don’t run 26.2 miles all at once - they run one mile at a time. They break the impossible thing down into small incremental steps.
You can take the same approach. It makes a hard thing easier.
Give yourself daily or weekly goals, based on numbers. “I need to apply to one job a week.” “I need to check in with my game-writing community twice a week.” Create goals that feel doable to you. Attach a number. And then just track your numbers. When you hit your number, you’re done for the week. You start again on Monday.
I called it a numbers game because it is. While marathons are a useful metaphor for the job search, it may help to think of the job search as a game. (You may not be a marathoner, but I bet you're a gamer.) The same resilience that helps you beat a video game will help you land that job.
Think about it. How do you feel when your avatar dies in a game? Are you crushed? Do you feel terrible about yourself and wonder if it’s even worth trying again? No! You just start over. You keep taking your shot, over and over again. The setbacks are part of the game - and it makes eventual victory all the sweeter.
A game can be challenging as hell. Right? But you know that if you stick with it, you will eventually win.
It is the same thing with a marathon - or a video game - or a job search.
If you stick with it, you will eventually reach your goal.
It's like Shea Serrano said:
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Susan’s first job as a game writer was for “a slumber party game - for girls!” She’s gone on to work on over 25 projects, including award-winning titles in the BioShock, Far Cry and Tomb Raider franchises. Titles in her portfolio have sold over 30 million copies and generated over $500 million in sales. She is an adjunct professor at UT Austin, where she teaches a course on writing for games. A long time ago, she founded the Game Narrative Summit at GDC. Now, she partners with studios, publishers, and writers to help teams ship great games with great stories. She is dedicated to supporting creatives in the games industry so that they can do their best work.