Aaaaand we’re back!
BUT WES, IT’S ONLY BEEN, LIKE, A WEEK SINCE YOUR LAST NEWSLETTER
Well, yeah. I guess you’re right.
I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BI-WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
Bi-weekly, or bi-monthly?
VERY FUNNY. EVERYONE KNOWS THOSE TERMS ARE CONFUSING
I’ll pass your feedback along to the management .
THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I DEMAND MATADOR BLOOD
Whoa! Maybe cut back on the coffee.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In this issue:
A writer’s first steps
Unit 44 #5 preorders still open!
But first, since we’re starting to get a flow together…
WHAT HAPPENED LAST ISSUE?
In issue 4 I talked about the return of my sci-fi/comedy comic book series Unit 44 and how you can preorder a copy and support my comic-making endeavors. Those preorders are still open!
LET’S GET ON WITH IT
Okay, okay. While working on the last newsletter, I was copy/pasting my bio line… you know, this one:
I’m Wes Locher. I’ve been writing professionally for a decade. I write comic books, video games, fiction, and nonfiction. I write whatever seems fun, cool, and inspiring. I also love helping other writers to demystify the process of making a living through words. This is my newsletter.
And as I did the ol’ Command-C/Command-V dance, what struck me was that whole “writing professionally for a decade” part. It’s crazy because it’s true. I’ve been writing (for money) for 10 years now. It’s a huge milestone that I reached in 2022 but essentially allowed my brain to gloss over.
But really, that’s a huge deal for me, because as far back as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
My father was a career journalist. My mother was an English teacher. I guess words, grammar, and sentence structure have always been in my blood. I even remember Career Day in sixth grade—where students were required to dress up as the career they wanted to pursue. I attended school that day in plain clothes and a pair of sunglasses and told everyone I was an author. I wasn’t being lazy, I genuinely thought writers were transcendent human beings who wore comfy clothes and sunglasses all day. (I was half right, as I’d later find out.)
The major difference is, on that career day back in 1996, I thought “writer” was synonymous with “author.” I didn’t yet realize that people got paid to write other stuff like comic books and video games and newsletters and articles and whatnot.
As I held on to that dream of positioning words and punctuation into sentences, paragraphs, and pages in exchange for money, as I got older it became clear that I couldn’t just write books and have people throw money at me. If I wanted to make a living, then I needed to focus on scribing those things which people wanted and needed.
Every writer, much like the babies they once were, must take his or her first steps toward their destiny. My clumsy and uncoordinated first steps took place 10 years ago, waaaaaay back in the year 2012. That’s when I got my first professional writing gig.
That first gig wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t lucrative, but boy, was it fun. While scouring job ads online I applied for a freelance copywriter position with a company called SweetJack, a daily deals website owned by the broadcasting company Cumulus Media. SweetJack was bolstering its ranks in an attempt to take on Groupon, and similarly offering deep discounts on local activities across the United States.
Along with my application I was asked to submit sample ads—fake ads, essentially. While I never aspired to work in copywriting, and didn’t feel confident in my abilities to craft such copy, I didn’t see the harm in giving it a shot. in an effort to set itself apart from the competition (again, Groupon), SweetJack employed a very, very (very) snarky tone in its written marketing, almost daring the buyer to purchase a deal to go rollerskating, to enjoy a round of miniature golf, to join a gym, or or score a bundle of beauty products for one low price.
I may not have been confident in my copywriting abilities, but my skills in snark were (and still remain) top notch. Writing the three sample ads took less than an hour and I fired off my application. I probably didn’t think much of it and went on looking for other open writing gigs. But SweetJack knew snark when they saw it, and my application garnered a response by the following morning. I was hired. Enthusiastically.
From there, I spent the next seven months writing roughly four ads a day, 3-4 days each week, getting paid $20 per ad and basically feeling like I was on top of the world. However, as the months wore on, the work became inconsistent, repetitive, and around the start of 2013 I used the tagline “New Year, New You” more times than I care to admit on beauty and health deals.
Eventually, I stopped hearing from my supervisor altogether and my emails went unreturned. Soon after, her email address disappeared, bouncing back my calls for new work. It was only through hunting her down on LinkedIn that I learned she had been fired as the company looked potential failure in the eyes, downsized, and had moved on to a role as a copywriter with Home Depot. The bad news was that I too was out of a job (though no one had thought to tell me).
The gig at SweetJack was short-lived, sure, but it taught me valuable lessons about writing succinctly and concisely. It taught me the importance of a catchy and accessible opening line. It taught me about marketing and calls to action. It also taught me that I never wanted to work in copywriting again (unless I could be really snarky). And wouldn’t you know? I haven’t.
And while I never added another copywriting job to my resume, the skills I picked up at SweetJack helped me score what I consider to be my first “real” writing job.
You see, in 2013 I wasn’t very happy. Despite my dreams of writing, I briefly took a different path in life. I say “briefly,” but it was really, like, almost a decade. I spent nearly all the 2000s playing in rock bands, making records, touring, and playing high-energy shows. It was an amazing way to spend my 20s, but ultimately the groups imploded as we realized we lacked the talent and sex appeal needed to succeed in that industry (that’s the very, very short version).
Without music to get me through the week, it left me toiling away at the same office job in Orlando, Florida where I’d been for nine years. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful job. An amazing job. I worked with fantastic people—many of whom I consider lifelong friends—and I’d even been promoted to a leadership position during those years. The trouble was, I’d just never seen myself as an “office” type person. I was drawn to pursue creativity. Freedom. General uncertainty. Unreliable endeavors. Sink or swim type stuff.
Not one to sit around and dwell on the past, I pivoted. I refocused my efforts on writing and enrolled in a creative writing bachelor's program, but despite SweetJack letting me snark at their customers, I still didn’t feel like a writer.
Then, while visiting my wife’s hometown in the Gulf Coast over Thanksgiving 2013, I interviewed for a reporter job at the small town newspaper, and was offered the position. After 13 years living in the metropolis of Orlando I took a 60 percent pay cut, left my job, and the wife and I moved to the tiny town with two traffic lights. For the next three and a half years, I was a reporter. I was a writer. I wrote more than 900 articles on every topic you can imagine. Under the mentorship of the newspaper’s editor, I learned a ton. I learned to be concise while stating facts. I learned to state facts while also being entertaining. I learned to establish a personal style and “voice,” and—possibly most importantly of all—I learned to hit daily and weekly deadlines.
While being a newspaper reporter looks wildly unrelated to every job I’ve held since—game writer, comic book writer, nonfiction writer—I don’t believe I could have succeeded in any of those roles without that experience.
So here, a decade into my career where I’ve written video games played by millions and comic books read by dozens, I can’t help but wonder where I would be if I didn’t take that snarky copywriting job.
Probably not where I am now.
Here’s to the next ten.
UNIT 44 PREORDER UPDATE
Unit 44 #5—my ridiculous sci-fi/humor comic with Aleksandar Jovic and Andrew Pate—is still available for preorder from Alterna Comics for just $2. That’s ridiculously cheap for the quality of the content smooshed between the covers.
I even made a book trailer for the issue! It took me forever, though, because I had to stop every five minutes to ask Google how to do stuff in iMovie.
Check it out:
Our publisher Alterna Comics collects preorders via the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo and our campaign has a goal of $10,000 to ensure enough books are printed to feed the hungry comic book masses. At the time of this writing, we’re less than $1,000 short of that goal already.
When we DO hit $10K, everyone who preorders a physical comic will also get… wait for it… a trading card featuring one half of Unit 44’s Dimwitted Duo, Agent Gibson!
I desperately want a trading card of a character that I created. There, I said it.
But seriously, if you’d like to preorder this issue (for $2!) and help me crank out more installments of a comic that I absolutely adore creating, smash that button below.
My writing advice plays nicely into the overall theme of this newsletter. It’s almost like… I planned it!
Don’t allow your career to suffer from tunnel vision.
I know a lot of writers. I’d even go so far as to estimate that a good 60 percent of my social circle is made up of writers. The other 40 percent is my family… and cats.
Each writer I know has goals. They want to be famous novelists. Famous game writers. Famous comic book writers. Famous nonfiction authors. (Why do they all want to be famous? I’m not sure.)
However, I’ve watched time and time again as many of these friends, colleagues, and acquaintances move toward their goals with absolute tunnel vision. It’s like they have blinders on, and all they can see is their final, ultimate goal—whether that be working with a specific company, on a specific project/IP, or having a specific job title. I’ve watched writers be so blinded by the light as they walk toward it that they miss opportunities where they could have built on and improved their skills, made a ton of money, worked with amazing people, or *gasp* maybe even been totally happy. They passed up jobs, gigs, favors, and contracts because they felt “above” them, or because the opportunities weren’t their “dream jobs.”
My own experience getting to where I am today (wherever that is) wasn’t a straight line. The path is incredibly crooked. It veers left to copywriting. It takes a hard right to being a newspaper reporter. It shifts left again to ghostwriting before angling back toward comic books and interactive fiction and then hooks sharply again toward nonfiction and video game writing. I had no map, so I sought opportunities where I felt I could learn something new, or practice something old, or try something for the sake of trying it. I’m one of those “do what makes you nervous” people.
But each of the angles and bends in my path added additional training that sharpened my saw and prepared me to succeed at the next thing. While I’m not one of those writers who has a definitive place I’d like to land, I’m proud of the thousands of hours I’ve spent writing, perfecting my craft, and developing my voice. Even though I was aware that many of my stops weren’t a “final goal,” I collaborated on projects I’m proud of and—oh my gosh—I met so many people. My network is just full of awesome friends and coworkers. I know people who will help me out if things suddenly take a turn in my professional life. I know people whom I will drop everything to help at a moment’s notice should they need it.
99 percent of the reason I have the job I have now is because of my coworker Miguel (that lingering one percent is because I had to pass the interview with my own wit and charm). I initially met Miguel at another game studio. I didn’t need that job, but I took it to build my skills. Had I not met Miguel there, I literally would not have gotten to work on a hit game or met those designers, artists, and producers who have pushed me and challenged me to do my best work.
If you choose to stay focused on a singular goal, a singular employer, or a singular job title… by the time you attain those goals (if you ever do) you may find yourself under-equipped and unprepared. You may feel all alone. You may have missed out on the projects, collaborations, friendships (and laughs) that, in the end, are more important than being knighted with a specific job title, or adding a specific employer to your LinkedIn profile.
Don’t allow yourself to miss out on opportunities because you’re too focused on the endgame. The opportunities you pass up could be the ones that get you to your dream job.
Don’t allow your career to suffer from tunnel vision.
THE ORAL HISTORY OF…
Due to a disturbing lack of questions this week, I thought I’d add in a new section.
CAN I HAVE SOME CONTEXT FIRST, WES?
Of course you may! I’m something of an oral history junkie. I will read oral histories about anything that isn’t sports. Music. Movies. Games. Comics. Books. Events. You name it. I love them. I love them so much that they regularly influence my writing. I’ve written two nonfiction books that were glorified oral histories, and I wrote an entire fictional novel in the format.
Why am I so into oral histories? Because they tend to give insight into interesting events while showing off the interviewee’s personalities and emotions. Because they have the ability to make an otherwise boring subject interesting. Because the story behind the story is often more interesting than the actual story. Because they’re like documentaries… that I can read.
I’ve read hundreds of oral histories and over the course of the next few newsletters, I want to share some of my favorites with you. If you’re looking for a longform read that’s both entertaining and informative, I have you covered. Maybe save these for when you’re in the bathroom (that’s when I read them).
Up first, an oral history about a video game… a game called The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
I actually bought this particular predecessor to Skyrim on the original Xbox and I had to stop playing it after several days because there was too much freedom and I couldn’t figure out what to do next. True story.
Luckily, this oral history of Morrowind is much more interesting than the tale I just shared. Have at it.
Morrowind: An oral history | Written by Alex Kane for Polygon
You never forget a place like Morrowind. It’s like something out of a dream, only you’ve actually been there. Maybe you used a mouse and keyboard, or the Xbox “Duke” controller, to visit it. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW BEFORE I GO?
Actually, yes… my birthday is next week! Each year I like to celebrate with a fun little event. Keep an eye out for a special newsletter on Sunday/Monday with details on how you can participate.
THAT WAS FUN. I ENJOYED DOING THAT WITH YOU. WHO ARE YOU AGAIN?
I’m Wes Locher. I’ve been writing professionally for a decade (Whoa! Dej́a vu!). I write comic books, video games, fiction, and nonfiction. I write whatever seems fun, cool, and inspiring. I also love helping other writers to demystify the process of making a living through words. This is my newsletter.
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