I write because it’s a form of thinking and exploring ideas. Writing is an escape, an expression. I write because things in the world bother me and I want to change them. I write because I rarely see myself in the stories I read. I write to question the rules, to escape them and make up new ones. It keeps my imagination alive, helps me connect things larger than myself and to others. Lastly, I think one of my focuses is to investigate the struggle for us to be true to ourselves, to question what is true, what masquerades as truth in all the ‘worlds’ reflected back at us.
How did you come to writing?
I came to writing through video games and I read a lot growing up. I used to tell stories to my little sister on the Super Nintendo using a paint program to draw the stories. As I grew up, I wrote plays with my drama group, interactive fiction in online communities and I wrote my own short stories throughout high school. It was only until after university that I realised I had developed a passion for it and I wanted to focus on my craft. I attended RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course which gave me more technical writing skills and a connection to the writing community in Melbourne. I did an honours degree in writing. I kept writing, submitting to competitions, joined a writer’s group, went to friend’s book launches and volunteered at writer’s festivals. It’s strange, though, whenever I write I feel a bit like I am still ‘coming to writing’.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
I struggled to believe that writing was a legitimate thing to do with my time. The tension between our passion and sustaining ourselves while we do it is common for plenty of people and it’s still something that challenges me. I overcome it by attempting to be disciplined about the writing time I allocate in my week and thinking of it as an ongoing thing in my life. I also struggled to find my voice early on, as I think a lot of artists do. I didn’t know what I liked to write and why. It has taken time and exploration to uncover and I think I’m still working it out. Reading and engaging with stories on many medium helps with that.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
I protect the writing time I allocate myself in the week and think of it as an ongoing thing in my life. Having a reading habit helps, too, even if the writing slips for the week. I also find being a part of a writing group keeps me accountable. Having others read and critique my work encourages me to keep going. I’m also motivated because I miss it if I don’t do it – I miss my characters, creating worlds and playing.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
One considerable change is that I am doing much more now than when I started out. I have just turned from freelance writing to co-founding a company called Burning Glass Creative that offers writing, narrative design, game design and production services to game companies. My business partner and I are in the throes of balancing bootstrapping and writing in our spare time and there isn’t much spare time! I still make sure to carve out an hour or so a day that’s dedicated to writing and I am reading on the train and wherever else I get the chance. I’m more strategic with my time because I know in my bones that writing is a part of who I am: if I’m not doing it, I feel a bit lost. But that knowledge also puts me at ease: even if I am not writing a lot right now, I know I will always be writing.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I am dreadfully cliché and do a lot of writing at cafes and, oddly, in the food courts of shopping centres. I have a stand-up desk at home that I work at. My working space usually involves a laptop or computer of some sort, a coffee or tea and a good playlist.
What are your essential writing tools?
Pen, a notebook and a laptop. Music is also a bit of a must – forgetting my headphones is the worst but I can make do.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a games writer (or a writer in general)?
There are a litany of other skills that go along with writing for games and in teams. It took me a while to master the switch from a solo writer to writing in a team. This kind of writing involves documents that detail ways the story can be told. It accounts for game design, art direction and the level design. This is all story work, but it’s not writing prose. Talking about how to tell a story with other creatives, considering technical limitations and storytelling as design was a learning curve and it opened me up to the narrative strengths of other artforms.
What do you read and how do you read as a video game writer/writer for interactive narratives?
I like to read a mixture of fiction, mainly genre fiction, and non-fiction, as well as a few choice blogs and news sites online. ‘Reading’ for games is definitely playing them and playing a variety of games. My favourite games are story-driven, action-adventure or role playing games.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Writer’s block usually happens to me when I haven’t been writing for a little while. If I’m working on a specific project, I allocate a bit of time to get back into it and then maintain an hour a day engagement, whether I’m inspired or not. I might change the format and write character profiles instead or ask myself questions about the story I’m writing and then answer them. If I’m not working on a project, I’ll make a point of writing down one idea for a story a night before I go to bed, regardless of what it is. I think writer’s block happens when I get out of touch, so any activity like this helps me free me up.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring video game writers?
Take comfort in the fact that there isn’t a right way to come at video game writing. There are so many different types of games and ways to tell stories with the medium. I thought I would be writing scripts and actually, haven’t written much dialogue at all so far! Being a writer first is important. Make games if you can, with Twine or RPG Maker, to get a feel for the kinds of games you like. Get involved with the local games community – one way to do this is to go along to the IGDA meet-ups every month. Come and say hello!
Brooke Maggs is a freelance writer, narrative designer and producer working in games and writing fiction. Recently named in the top 100 most influential women in games, Brooke has talked about games and writing a bunch of panels at festivals and conventions. She loves brunch, the beach and succulents. She’s here: brookemaggs.com and @brooke_maggs