In 2015, the Association of Accounting Technicians commissioned a study into working lives which showed that 46% of their sample (around 2000 workers) would quit their jobs and occupations and retrain completely. There is no shortage of reasons a person might do this: more job satisfaction, financial opportunity, the fear of being made redundant to automation, a better work-life-health balance, exciting new sectors being created. In our Career Changers series, we look at individual stories of people who have made that switch.
Meet Olivia Wood
After several years as an editor, Olivia forged her own path into narrative game writing and editing, spotting an opportunity in the market for using her skills to invent a new role. Although it took determination and persuasion to get where she wanted to be, now she is in a more comfortable direction for herself she has risen higher and higher – even attaining a prestigious spot as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2017.
Name: Olivia Wood
Current position: Videogame writer and editor (narrative)
Previous job: Freelance editor (publishing)
When did you make the change?
Late 2014-early 2015 (was part time, a foot in both worlds for a bit)
What prompted you to stop what you were doing?
I was working freelance as an editor. While I was getting regular work, the amount I had to do to live comfortably meant I didn’t have a full weekend off ever, and I had to do work in the evenings even when I was on holiday. And, sometimes, the stuff I was working on wasn’t great quality, so even while I could improve it, I couldn’t get the satisfaction of having created something great. On the whole I enjoyed it, but it was too tiring for the level of enjoyment. I didn’t get paid holiday or sick days, and while I enjoyed the flexibility, I missed (to an extent) having immediate colleagues.
Did you know what you wanted to move into?
I wasn’t certain I wanted to be in videogames till I was in it and enjoying what I was doing and who I was working with. But I wanted to be a part of a specific videogame, and knew it because I’d played that game for a couple of years and really like the writing style. I had also temporarily worked in games when I was 18, to fund my gap year – so I knew I enjoyed aspects of the environment, if not all… (my first experience had involved me being the only woman in the office – it was fine, there were no issues around that, but it was odd being the only one).
I first applied to the company making that videogame a year before I got the job – I applied for a job I was unqualified for, and another fan of the game (who was much better suited for the role) got it. But applying and interviewing showed them that my enthusiasm wasn’t just fan-based naivety, and helped for when I spoke to them a year later.
I didn’t require formal retraining, but I did have to learn a lot on the job – how to use the content management system, how writing needed to change because of various constraints (and freedoms) in games. Most significant is transferring my enjoyment and years of playing games into an understanding of how they are designed, how the stories fit with mechanics and so forth.
I also had to learn supplementary skills and use ones I hadn’t in my previous job – to handle support tickets, to do some community management and liaison and to manage freelancers and the timing of work. I think, even when in a specialist role, videogames requires an ability to understand enough of other roles that you can communicate effectively with people in them.
Did you face any obstacles along the way?
Yes – in that no one knew what ‘editing’ was, in videogames. Quality writing has only started being properly valued in the videogames industry in the last ten years or so, and editing is largely a mysterious thing to people who have never been inside publishing to discover what a crucial role it is. As it stands, I think I’m the only specialist editor in the UK videogames industry.
So, to get my job, I offered to freelance for the company for a couple of days, to show what I could do. They’d known me as a fan, I’d interviewed a year previously, and they’d just started writing a new game and were involving more freelancers. I spun my experience as a freelancer as something that meant I could help work with freelancers. That, on top of my insistence that they needed an editor, meant they gave me two days’ work.
On the first day I produced 29 pages of notes. They agreed: they needed an editor. They took me on for a couple a days a week freelance, raised that to more days, and then soon after employed me.
Do you feel like you made the right decision?
It was the right decision. It’s been a role that’s taught me a huge amount, put me in contact with my kind of creative people, and thanks to some political unpleasantness has bonded large groups as friends and industry colleagues. It’s a field that is incredibly inventive, and I entered at a time when things were not set in stone – there is no one accepted method – meaning it absolutely was a job I can learn while I’m doing it, and experiment with what I can bring to it, rather than requiring one particular formal training.
If I had stayed freelance in publishing, I’d have been poorer, more tired and have stayed just one good editor among many. In the games industry I’ve already been acknowledged as groundbreaking – by BAFTA, even, although I have not got a BAFTA (yet…) – just for being a good editor that speaks out about the role’s importance. By moving to a profession where I was a lonesome unicorn, I had a chance to stand out and took it. The downside is that it feels like I’m making up my path as I go – there’s little career guidance. But it is *my* path, and possibly one others will follow.
Have you changed as a person since you changed career?
Yes – but I’d put it down to a bunch of other things, as much as job related things. The job gave me access to incredible people, some of whom I’m close friends with, which is always a bonus to mental health. I’m more confident (doing talks and public speaking which I used to hate) and happy, but I’m also throwing myself at increasingly challenging creative things, and that comes with the risk that I’m more likely to fail, which will cause doubt and anxiety. I do feel that now I have a career and can plan increasingly terrifying-good creative things, I’ve a lot more of a direction. Even if it sometimes feels like I’m reaching too far, it’s nice to have something to reach for.
Are you using any of the same abilities for both careers?
Yes – people management, soft skills re: teaching people to accept edits, planning and tracking skills for managing workflows. And my editing skills are a vital component of the role.
Do you have further career goals?
Become better and faster as a writer. To become known and sought out for my writing rather than my editing. Currently editing is my known skill, I’d like to be known for my writing and narrative design too. But I’ve learned that ambition isn’t everything – and success isn’t the thing that’ll make me happy. So a real goal – balancing a career, a demand for success in an industry that has a high burnout rate, with long term health and happiness. Which sounds cheesy, probably because not enough people get to have this, making it an idle dream rather than what it should be – an achievable goal for everyone.
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Author: Katherine Stephen
Katherine is a qualified careers advisor and a member of the Career Development Institute. She has just begun a PhD programme to research meta-skill development in the workplace, and is a fiction editor and publisher in her spare time. You can find her on Twitter at @katobell.