Earlier this month I went to Invisible Wall, a games writing event for women and gender minorities! It was nervewracking but exciting.
Writing is usually solitary, sometimes teeth-grindingly so. People get chatty online, sharing their ideas and opinions and woes. And then comes the kicker: to get a job you need to get your actual face out there – go to conferences, hang out in bars, network.
I don’t have a lot of experience telling people about myself. It’s part of that self-deprecating, imposter syndrome business: am I serious enough, creatively, to be worth speaking to? I’ve published two IF pieces in a semiprozine, but everyone else is clearly more together and competent than I am. And so on.
So it was invigorating to go to an event where this problem was discussed frankly and honestly. Diffidence was acknowledged as a legitimate struggle if you feel like an outsider in an industry, and something to push through both for your own self-esteem and so your ideas are paid attention to.
Then there are the pitfalls of being “too nice” and how it can become habitual, ending up with you feeling shackled to an overly compliant, acquiescent persona that isn’t you. “If you’re can’t be confident, be bad-tempered,” Olivia Wood (editor for Failbetter Games) said.
It wasn’t all about avoiding negatives; it was also a lot about celebrating positives. The speakers spoke about their expertise in a confident, straightforward way that was both inspiring and fascinating. “What makes you great at your job?” was a great question to hear a panel of women answer because it feels like we don’t say that enough.
Soft skills, a term that I feel tempted to put a million air quotes around, were discussed in respectful terms. They’re often underestimated, but as Pip Warr pointed out, one of the major journalism skills is getting people to feel comfortable talking to you, and people are often surprised that she managed to extract some juicy tidbit or other.
Teamwork, too. The idea of The Lone Writer dashing off genius lines while standing on top of a building in a swooshy coat is compelling enough, but it’s not sustainable. Working with others feels like a female-coded skill and it really shouldn’t be, but regardless, making connections with people is important and valuable.
As for my own soft skills, I’m an especially good listener and can nudge people into feeling more comfortable talking. At the same time that can mean I end up flattening myself, especially in a very stimulating setting. It leads to a vicious cycle of not feeling so able to talk – if others don’t ask, my brain stops feeling so forthcoming.
During the Invisible Wall networking session I ended up doing that a bit: the journey, noise, busyness and having had a long day of babycare with little sleep didn’t make for an entirely comfortable experience. I had to bow out early because there was just so much going on.
My comfort zone is more in the realm of the Oxford and London Interactive Fiction Group, but it was fantastic to push myself to try something new and I hope next time I’m in that situation I’ll feel more upfront about my achievements. Being in a room where a group of women talked smartly about their jobs and gave advice, and being with a big bunch of people who are minorities in the games industry eating delicious sushi and chatting about games was stimulating and interesting.
(It was also exciting to meet and chat with people like Olivia Wood and Meg Jayanth who I’m SUPER STARSTRUCK about!)
Invisible Wall inspired me to put out some professional writing feelers that are so far going well, and to consider a writing job that previously I’d discounted because of vague creeping uncertainty. I hope there followup events in the future: it was a great experience.