Sunday, February 07, 2016

Losing the Dream Job: Writing and Recovering

I've been a writer my entire life. It is a lifelong vocation. It comes easily to me, I like doing it, and I can do it just about anywhere. Part of the reason I've seen it as a vocation rather than a job is because I never expected to find a job writing. Sure, I dreamed of writing the Best-Selling Book that makes a million dollars - but that dream rested on the same shelf as winning the lottery (both dreams end with me typing away in a well-appointed English cottage with reliable Wi-Fi).

I suppose I could have gone into journalism or freelancing, but (perhaps immaturely) I always preferred living in fictional realms rather than the real one. I never wanted to chase down elusive leads, I was terrified at the idea of contacting strangers and asking about their stories, and even more terrified at the idea of living, financially, like a desperate trapeze artist swinging from opportunity to opportunity, always one leap away from tumbling down into Ruin. 

Perhaps I was spoiled. Perhaps I was a coward. But that's not really the point of my post.

Anyway, last November, I won the lottery. No, I didn't sell another novel. No, I didn't pick the winning numbers. Instead, I landed a writing job at BioWare. 

Lightning Strikes

Back in September, BioWare put out a posting for a contract Assistant Writer position for their new IP. They were willing to look at applicants with no game writing experience, provided their practical writing experience and writing sample demonstrated talent and a willingness to learn. I sent in my application, was called in for an interview a month later, got a job offer the next day, and officially started with them two weeks later.

It really was the perfect job. First of all - I adore BioWare games. Dragon Age: Origins got me back into gaming, and I've played the Dragon Age and Mass Effect trilogies multiple times. Sure, the gameplay was fun, but it was BioWare's storytelling that hooked me. I loved the characters, I loved the choice-based narratives, I loved the worldbuilding. Whatever I would be working on, it was bound to be amazing.

Secondly, their office was located in Edmonton, right where I live. I wouldn't have to move to another city and miss my friends and family. Thirdly, it was that rarest of rare ducks - a pure writing job that was nine to five with a salary (and a fairly good one!). 

So you can imagine my joy: I'd found a job writing what I loved for a company I loved that allowed me to stay in a city I loved that paid enough money to buy more things that I loved. I learned a lot (and fairly quickly), I was super excited about the IP and the creativity I could bring to it, and I got to share a writer's room and trade ideas with legendary BioWare talents. I bought an embarrassing amount of BioWare merchandise with my employee discount and had a blast at the insane BioWare Christmas party. 

I planned to dye my hair blue (since BioWare has no dress code). I planned to get a tattoo of the IP's name (once it was finalized). I daydreamed about the merchandise and the fan art people would make about the character I would write. 

And Then...

BioWare terminated my contract two months in. The project was going in a different direction, they had to make cuts, and as the newest writer with the least amount of experience, I was the obvious choice. I held it together during the exit interview and the taxi ride home, barely. 

You know that feeling when you miss a step on a staircase? That feeling of disorientation when your foot meets empty air when you expected solid ground? Imagine feeling that for a week. Just total, empty shock, with no idea where you're going to end up. I knew my position was a one-year contract. I knew there was a possibility they wouldn't renew. It had come up in my interview, actually, and the interviewer had said, "Even if we don't renew, you'll have a year with BioWare on top of a published novel under your belt. You can get a writing job anywhere with that."

But what can I do with two months at BioWare?

Losing my job at BioWare is probably the closest I've ever come to experiencing a breakup. I didn't go full Miss Havisham and turn all the clocks in the house to 11:00 am (the time of my final HR meeting, but who remembers such petty details?) while replaying the Suicide Mission from Mass Effect 2 over and over in my BioWare 20 T-shirt and Tali hoodie. But I came close. I placed an inordinate amount of significance on diary entries and receipts and even credit card charges that happened before January 19th, 2016 - I bought this before I knew what was going to happen. I went to this restaurant expecting to have a job this week. I had no idea what was in store for me when I made this appointment.

What Now?

And once you've found and lost your dream job, how the hell do you find another job? Game writing positions are dearer than pearls - finding a game writing job in Canada was lucky enough, never mind one in my own home town. And convincing an American video game company like Tell Tale Games or a British one like Failbetter Games to sponsor me for a working visa based on a novel and two month's game writing experience? What are the odds of that? 

And after having and losing an amazing writing job, is it worth trying again for another writing job? I didn't quit my administrator job of five years for BioWare - I'd already tendered my notice as I was planning on attending Vancouver Film School in January to study screenwriting. I withdrew from film school for BioWare, and the relief I felt that I wouldn't have to move away and I wouldn't have to empty out my savings convinced me I was making the right choice. Once I lost my job at BioWare, my desire to go to film school was similarly torpedoed. I'd opened the door to my fears of Leaving Home and Spending All My Money - and there they remain, ready and waiting for me whenever I try to revisit the idea of reapplying to VFS. 

Would you really want to leave all your family and friends and spend all the money you've saved over ten years to get into an industry that can kick you out after only two months?

So the remaining option is to go back to the way things were before - working in a stable, administrative field by day and writing by night. But once you've lost your dream job, how can you go back to looking for administrative jobs? You're supposed to apply for jobs you want, jobs that improve on the experience you have, jobs you envision being happy and fulfilled in. How do you apply for jobs knowing this will not and will never be the case? How do you keep from going crazy? 

Moving On

I'm still wrestling with what to do. I've applied to numerous jobs - mostly administrative, but I did take a shot on an Ubisoft scriptwriter position in Montreal. I haven't written off Vancouver Film School just yet. I suspect it's a choice millions of people (artists especially) have to worry over: ordinary stability or uncertain greatness? Do I go for a stable job and fight to keep up an artistically and socially impassioned home life? Or try for the fantastic artistic career and all the insecurity that comes with it? 

Out of all this, I remain certain about two things. The first is that I am not bitter towards BioWare. I realized it that first, awful afternoon when the taxi dropped me off and I collapsed onto my bed. The first thing I saw when I came up for air (and the first thing I see when I wake up every morning) is my Dragon Age Inquisition calendar pinned to my cork board. The second thing I see are my Tali and Garrus figurines on my windowsill. And the Tali hoodie on its hook on the back of my bedroom door. Dragon Age: Origins is my comfort game. The Trespasser soundtrack is my go-to secret to writing productivity. I still follow and converse with all of my BioWare writing friends on Twitter. 

The termination of my contract wasn't personal. It's a sadly frequent reality of the video game industry. BioWare has a lot of separate moving parts, and the parts I came into contact with during my employment with them treated me extraordinarily well. If I was sent back in time to choose between applying to BioWare knowing I'd only have two months, and never applying at all, I'd do it all over again without question. And if tomorrow, in a month, in a year, another Assistant Writer position becomes available, I will apply again. Without question.

The second thing I remain certain of is that I can still write, and that it will always make me happy whether or not I do it for money. Every day, after I spend the morning scrolling through job postings and sending out resumes, I open my latest journal or scribbler and the words continue to flow from my pen. Regardless of the panic I feel at being unemployed, the self-consciousness at having to define myself in every cover letter as an administrative assistant, the frustration and longing at discovering a game writing internship is only open to recent graduates who live in the United States, I can still come up with ideas that take me away from everything but my own mind. I'm still a writer. Hell, I'm a great writer, and I can always take pride in that.

I don't need to be paid to write.

But .... it would be nice.


  1. I'm so sorry. That sounds awful. And no matter what you decide to do now, job hunting can be a soul sucking experience (the voice of experience here - I considered abandoning librarianship because it was taking so long to find a full-time job). Try to keep your spirits up.

  2. I'm so sorry. I wish you all the best in finding a way to write and live well

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  4. Wow, that must have been heart braking. As a writer and someone who dreams of working at Bio Ware, this story made me very sad. But, as you said, two months is still experience, both personally, and professionally. Have you tried reaching out to some smaller, indie studios? it may not pay as well, but can be more flexible. I'm not sure where to find such offers exactly, but there must be forums and there are several fb groups for indie devs. Anyway, I wish you good luck, and please don't go for the boring, secure job!

  5. "Different direction" and "reorganization" are the most awful words in the English language. I cannot imagine how disorienting it was to have the rug yanked out from under you after two months. Take the time to process this and to come down off from the emotional roller coaster. It's hard to plan "what's next" when you're still reeling from the break-up stage of things.

  6. wishing you courage when you need it. My advice for a paying job is "Do what you are good at." If you can easily get a secure job in admin, find a place that doesn't have byzantine politics and drama-trauma. Work your 40 hours a week, and live fully on the weekends. Go everywhere, do everything, meet people, get involved. Nourish your soul.
    Sorry I can't offer encouragement for the creative life.
    People I know that followed other advice to "Do what you love" have struggled with poverty, vicious jealousy, missed opportunities, and low-wage drudgery on the side.

  7. New to the blog but I'm sorry that happened to you. I read one of your older book reviews and thought it was witty, I hope one day I'll be able to see one of your books published