“Hey again Cheri! Just had a few questions about your freelance writing. I know you have said that most of your income is from freelance writing, and I was just curious how you got started. I know you have said you did not go to school for art, so is it the same for writing? Are you just naturally awesome as usual? :D haha.
Also, did you just bug the shit out of G4TV, and whoever else you freelance for, like how you posted about bugging Rich on IGN for the Zelda thing? Or did you just email them or something? I definitely enjoy writing, and I would love to do it for a gaming site, as that is another one of my passions. Thanks as usual for your help!
I get this question a lot, surprisingly! I’m hoping my reply will answer it for the many other people who’ve written in with basically the same thoughts. Also, I tend to use the emails that readers send me as anchor points for blog posts I’ve been wanting to write anyway, so I hope you don’t mind if I ramble a bit about anything and everything. But if you want just a straight-forward answer, skip to the end of this entry and you’ll have it.
No, I did not go to school for writing. And to answer a followup email I believe you sent me (or did you send me a Facebook message? I forget), I also did not go to school for photography. Nor did I go to school for art, or for any other mildly creative thing I might be doing to hustle for rent-money in San Francisco nowadays. Everything that I’ve done freelance-wise, hustle-wise, self-starter or entrepreneur-wise has stemmed from a genuine passion for whatever medium I am working with.
Regarding Art: I remember childhood, practicing art with my Lola (that’s Grandma in Tagalog, my family’s native tongue), doodling flowers with ballpoint pens over the script of newspapers. I remember preschool, mesmerized by a teacher’s aid who complimented my unskilled doodles and showed me how to draw the sun. I remember Kindergarten, selected by my classmates to draw the Apostles, St. Mary, and Jesus for a banner that would be displayed on the wall of our classroom for Parent-Teacher day. First grade, where my art was given blue ribbons by the Haggin Museum and won contests for creativity and originality. Second and third grade, where I began hustling my art in class by taping a price-sheet to the side of my desk with a list of things I could draw (I recall teddy bears being $0.25), then donating half of the proceeds to our church, and using the rest for candy out of the vending machine.
I could go on.
I grew up wanting to be an artist. It’s all I wanted to be. I drew every day, scribbling in the margins of my homework, finishing early on tests so I’d have more time to doodle on the back of the answer sheet, sketching comics with panels and epic story lines to pass out to my friends for their critique and feedback — I was so innocent then.
It sounds like sunshine and rainbows, I’m sure, but I definitely dealt with a lot of bullying because of what I did. Girls, for instance, didn’t seem to like me very much in elementary school. I was picked on a lot, called a brat, and basically shunned by my peers. I didn’t have very many friends. Even in high school, I’m sure I gave off a very “nerdy” or “withdrawn” vibe, and I was never one of the “cool” kids.
My parents were very protective of me as well, so that didn’t help very much. And because they sheltered me so extremely (I couldn’t even watch the kissing scene at the end of Beauty And the Beast), I was easily shocked by things that would typically make my classmates roll their eyes. Which, of course, made me seem like a total freak to everyone who knew better.
No wonder no one really liked me.
I was also not very well-socialized as a kid. I didn’t have the freedom to go to very many sleepovers, or school dances, or go to the movies, or birthday parties. My parents always said no. They said I’d get raped or something. They said someone would kidnap me. And I was a perfect little kid, so hey, I believed them. The few friends I had at the time eventually grew sick of asking me to come out with them because the answer would obviously have been no (a habit I seem to retain to this day, as I am always hiding in my apartment and drawing, writing, or doing something from the confines of my home rather than out raging with buddies here in the city).
It’s not all bad, though. As sad as it might all sound, I don’t look back at high school and wish that I had been cooler or had more friends. In fact, it’s because I was such a loser that I ended up putting all of my energy into creative pursuits, and am the weird but I-guess-somewhat-interesting person that I am today. It is because I was such a loser that I ended up being as “cool” and “different” as I am now (or so my more devoted readers like to claim).
You should see my diaries from childhood. I wrote and filled the pages of those things with years of emotional teenage angst and bullshit from the happenings around me, yelled and screamed into the pages with pen and pencil, unleashed the things that I so reservedly was unable to release in my actual life. My sexual fantasies and dirty perversions, my thoughts of growing up and being this major hottie who everyone wanted, dreams of success and popularity, of prince charmings and faraway places, of schoolgirl crushes and bitches in school who I hated — I wrote it all.
And then the internet came.
And I discovered roleplaying.
I know — it sounds so fucking nerdy, doesn’t it? But roleplaying was a huge part of my childhood. And I don’t mean roleplaying like, frivolously pretending to be someone else or claiming to be a character from my favorite TV show.
I used to para roleplay. Which, in my experience, consists of these long, episodic and turn-based moments of almost competitive story-writing where I play the part of whatever character I may have invented or chosen to assume, and my counterparts play their own characters. Think of it like Dungeons and Dragons without the dice. Together, we wrote and crafted this make-believe world (everything from outer space to medieval fantasies) where whatever we said would happen happened, and whatever we wanted to do, we fucking did. And I mean everything.
Most of my perversions, I’m sure, stem from early access to the internet. And if I wasn’t this tiny and cute little Asian thing, I’d probably be a fat fuck with hair growing out of my back, jerking off to porn all day and slurping back sodas, never leaving my apartment because I’d rather be in my own little world than exposed to how boring or shitty it might be out there.
… Oh wait.
I already do all that.
Naturally, my roleplaying contributed to a lot of my writing skills today. Being exposed constantly to other roleplayers and writers who were just as gung-ho about improving our own written style (especially with all of the competition going on between us to see who was the better writer) was incredibly beneficial to me. I didn’t see it back then as, “Oh my god, I’m improving so much!” I saw it as fun. I saw it as relaxing. It was my favorite hobby — constantly creating another world, another life, living as someone else, doing things that I wanted to do here in the real world but couldn’t because I wasn’t allowed outside of my house.
I began writing fictional stories. Then fanfictions. And I think somewhere in that mess, I discovered someone’s blog and thought, “Holy shit, we can put our diaries on the internet now?!”
So I began blogging. I turned the daily occurrences in my life into funny anecdotes that I could share online with what was, at the time, an incredibly small following. I remember when only one or two people really paid attention to what I was saying. It’s amazing how things have grown since then.
I remember when I started paying attention to other bloggers or writers online who’s work impacted me in some way. Specifically, writers who made me laugh. They laid the foundation for what I hoped to achieve with what I shared online; If someone could spread such a positive feeling to other people, someone who made me feel good about myself and about what I was reading, then obviously I wanted to emulate them.
Back in the day, receiving something like an “LOL, that was hilarious” in my comments section was seriously the most fulfilling feeling in the world. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with entertaining other people. Making people happy. Inspiring them to react to whatever it was that I put out there. To this day, I hope to earn a smile with most of my writing. And if I could spend the rest of my life making people laugh or inspiring some sort of positive reaction, I think that would be enough for me. … Well, combined with eating, sleeping, fucking, and drinking, of course. … And uh, sprinkled with a little illegal activity here and there, and maybe some porn, maybe some video games, maybe some general havoc making — you get the idea.
The beginnings of my narcissism online actually began when I stumbled onto the work of George “Maddox” Ouzounian, the writer behind The Best Page In The Universe. His website remains one of my favorites since childhood and is, seriously, one of the most hilarious things I have ever read and continued to read. Maddox’s work, although not exactly an award winning collection of stunning literature, is, to me, absolutely fucking brilliant.
It’s not so much what he writes about, but the style he writes it in, and how unafraid he is to just say whatever-the-fuck he wants. Even the way he deals with hate mail (and trust me, when you write about the things that he does, you will get a lot) has influenced the way that I deal with my own trolls and haters. His blog reeks of personality, and reading it, you really feel like you know him (or at least, feel like you know the part of him that has a sense of humor).
I am attracted to strong personalities. The type that either offends or inspires other people. I hate the two-faced bullshit where someone pretends to be one way, when we know how fucked up they really are beneath the surface. Which is why I am so inspired by writers who really say what’s on their minds, curse openly, bemoan their shitty lives, or admit to the moments of self doubt where they’ve resorted to drinking heavily etc — there’s such a realness in their writing that I just can’t find anywhere else, and because of that, I latch onto them. I latch on to their thoughts, I latch onto their feelings, laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, get turned on when they get turned on — I feel connected to them.
Maybe Maddox was a bad example, ha.
I mainly point him out for his unique sense of “fuck you” humor so that you get how not-seriously you should be taking my blog when I say dumb shit that makes no sense.
It is writers like Maddox who have managed to influence both the way I think and feel about my writing, as well as how to handle the backlash that comes from being so open or raw with what I say. Other satirical or comedic writers I enjoy reading include Tucker Max, Aaron Karo, and Jenny Lawson (though this isn’t counting any of the heavy reading I do). And I hate to bring gender into all of this, but of course, being a woman also has a lot to do with the subjects I choose to write about, or how deeply emotional my blogs and entries tend to be.
What it all boils down to is that I just fucking love words. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love discovering new words, I love hearing words used in new ways, I love the impact that words can give, and if I could cover my body in tattoos, I’d be covered in all of my favorite words. But not really because that would hurt and I don’t actually want any tattoos. But I’m saying I would if I did want them. Or something. Yeah.
Anyway, over the years I guess my blog became sort of popular? Nothing like Maddox’s or anything, but enough to make me think that I had something going for me. Enough to make me think that I could shoot my stuff over to people who might actually employ me and use what little skill I have to benefit their own websites or publications.
Like any starry eyed and budding journalist, I set my sights way high.
Cosmopolitan! The sex bible of my adolescence and late teenage years. In my lifetime, I think I’ve sent them maybe three emails in an attempt to land a writing gig with them, all of which were, of course, ignored. Maybe they don’t like my style? Maybe I just suck? Maybe I’m not meant to write for them? I don’t really know, and it’s not really something worth dwelling on.
To me, rejection means that I need to improve. Rejection means that I need to go back and stack my resume full of shit that would make a recruiter’s mouth drool, then come back and reapply. Rejection means I need to figure out a way for my work to be impossible to turn down. So that’s what I did. And not necessarily for Cosmo, but for my dreams of being a writer or creative type in general. My goal is to just keep getting better, and better, and better, and better …
My first big break came after being recruited into the Frag Doll Cadettes with Ubisoft Entertainment. Coming from a small town, the experience with the Cadettes put me in new and exciting situations where I was able to meet face-to-face with people who I felt were just like me: Nerdy, almost withdrawn, weird, different, techy, social-media loving, geeky, etc — I felt at home. I felt like I could finally connect with people who wouldn’t mind that I was a freak, and that I could now unleash all of the nerdy bullshit about me that I had been hiding away from the judgemental people that I knew back home.
But of course, bullies are everywhere. And even in the midst of finally feeling like I “belonged”, there were those who literally went out of their way to make me feel like an outcast. There were people who almost seemed to make it their life’s mission to make me feel like I wasn’t good enough, that I was a bad person, and that I didn’t deserve the Cadette title. Groups of people who would sit around talking about me, like I was this thing to be dissected instead of a human being with feelings. And even writing about this now, it scares me a little because I’m not trying to make enemies with anyone, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I’m not here to make people feel bad or feel guilty about what they’ve said or done. But no matter what I do, things are bound to be taken the wrong way or twisted against me, so … I may as well just say it. It’s not going to change anything, right?
There’s a reason, of course, that I bring up the bullying.
I do understand that some of what people say are constructive criticisms that might ultimately help my writing style or benefit my life in some way, but for the harsh or passive aggressive bullshit, I didn’t and don’t stand for it. In fact, it is because of the awful things people used to say about me (or continue to say, really) that I’ve constantly felt the need to do better. If not to impress my parents (who used to be my worst critics and are actually now my most staunch supporters), then to prove to those fucktards, and to myself, that I was capable of anything.
So during the Spring of 2010 with the Cadettes, I networked my fucking ass off. I met and spoke to and exchanged business cards with as many developers, press people, designers, PR people, whatever that I could with the idea that I could pick the brains of these successful characters, then hopefully, maybe, fingers crossed, land some sort of gig.
My name began to spread into gaming world.
At first, not really in a positive way, as I had sort of that raunchy reputation that my website used to give off (and still probably does every now and then). Understandable when you see what sort of modeling I’ve done in the past, or when you take into account the fact that I write reviews for high-end vibrator companies, or that I discuss sex openly, or that I just have one of those personalities that rubs some people the wrong way.
So yes, I was timid at first. I didn’t know who my friends were, or who was talking shit about me behind my back, or who just wanted to fuck me. I didn’t really trust anyone. Coming into the gaming industry feeling like everyone hates you is, seriously, not fun at all. And to any would-be public figure, writer, or journalist who wants to make it, know that it definitely was not (and is not) a fucking cake walk for me, and that I have spent more than one occasion locked away and curled up beneath my comforter feeling like I have no friends, like I’ll never be accepted, and that I’m better off just being the freak I am without worrying about what other people think about me.
I ended up doing the only thing that I could do at the time; I used (and continue to use) my “bad reputation” to my advantage. Only I know who I really am, after all. And regardless of what people might say about me, that doesn’t make it all true. So using that shock value to my advantage, I spiked the interest of the people who I needed to get in touch with, and smoothed out the rest of their experience with me with my actual personality: That geeky, nerdy, pretty-horny but really down to earth chick who spends most of her time writing and drawing or playing video games at home all day instead of out partying and acting like an idiot like the general gossip might suggest.
So really, when you think about it, bad publicity is still good publicity, provided that you know how to spin it or use it to your advantage. This is something that I’ve had to force myself to learn to do in order to protect myself.
In order to reach my goals, I knew that I had to use every tool available to me. What good am I, after all, if I don’t utilize what I’ve been given or what I’ve worked hard to achieve? As a living being, I am the sum of my experiences, of my physical nature, and of my crazy little mind. Which means, I look a certain way, so I will take advantage of that. I write a certain way, so I will also use this to my advantage. I am passionate about art, so I will use this as well. And I am accustomed to being bullied, so this becomes another of my strengths. Combine this with my various work experience, people skills, love of technology and gadgets, games, social media, the internet, writing, whatever — and you have this living, breathing, go-getting “Cheri” thing that I’ve become, aggressively pursuing the things that matter to me and living my life the way that I want to, not how anyone’s told me to.
I know what I am capable of.
I know what I can do.
I know what I can bring to the table.
And that is exactly what I’ve presented to the various companies that I’ve managed to write for and work with. By believing in myself and being confident in my portfolio despite what negative feedback I seemed to be receiving, I overcame a lot of the demons that I had been struggling with.
Instead of aiming for the top , I started small. I wrote for small games press sites with a decent presence online, citing my work with the Frag Doll Cadettes as credibility. I branched out into writing for start up tech & social media companies who discovered my work online and who, impressed by my traffic-luring reputation & style, were eager to get their hands on my following.
And because I’ve always treated other people the same way I hope to be treated in return, I made some amazing friends who saw past the bullshit that people said about me and continued to support me just as much as I support them (Pro Tip For Success: Treat absolutely everyone with respect, no matter how big or small they are, and nurture every relationship you encounter).
Through my carefully-tended-to network and my constantly growing body of work, I was fortunate enough to hear of employment opportunities large and small writing for or working with popular media sites. One of them, of course, being G4TV. Cerise Webster, also a fellow Frag Doll Cadette (and my first female gaming friend who I both trust and love), shot me a Tweet mentioning that G4 was hiring and looking for Freelancers. And me being the overly-confident individual I was at the time, I was of course all over it.
I shot G4 a cocky email basically saying that they’d be stupid not to hire me, and that even if they didn’t, they would probably be seeing more of me anyway so it was no sweat off my back. I included clips to the various bullshit I’ve written over the many years, then added in more links to who I am, what makes me a gamer, and other sources that I felt would benefit my hiring case.
Kevin Kelly, now my editor at G4, loved my abrasive personality and sense of humor, and agreed to pull me onto the team.
So uh … Yeah. That’s how that happened.
I’m sure I’m a huge pain in the ass, though, and piss him off when I complain about the way my work is published on The Feed. But I’m learning! My naive hope is that all writers tend to whine a little when their work is messed with or not presented in a way that they feel best represents their abilities or who they are. But if not, and if it’s just me who’s a pain in the ass, then my bad, Kevin. I promise to try and behave.
One of my dreams is to be able to just write or say or do whatever-the-fuck I want, and have people be so familiar with me and my work that my raunchy, conversational, and raw style will just be generally accepted. No one will edit my shit before I put it up. Editors won’t stress over what my submissions say because my work is recognizably and purposefully batshit insane. And if people troll my work, that’s fine because that’s expected anyways. And hopefully, one day I’ll have enough of a readership that the majority will just accept my nonsense for what it is.
I’m not quite there yet.
Some of my more gung ho readers think I’m there, which is pleasantly surprising.
One of my readers even travels to book expos with my picture and business card in hand, passing out my stuff to published authors, thinking that this will somehow land me a book gig, ha! And I’m not so naive as to think that this will work, but the support is so encouraging that it motivates me to continue.
But blah, blah, blah.
The quick and dirty answer: I didn’t go to school for any of what I do, and learned most of my creative talents purely from self motivation. I didn’t bug G4 for a job. I got in by being myself, and with the help of friends who I’ve made along the path to success who were and are kind enough to continue sharing opportunities with me.
I hope this post was helpful to those of you who need a little push to reach for your dreams in the face of adversity and rejection. Lord knows I’m still reaching for mine despite how difficult the road there has been.
XOXO Cheri XOXO
PS! If you want to get in touch with me or have any questions, want to shoot me some words of support, or would just like to pass along a few thoughts, you can either leave me a comment or use the Contact Me Form on my website. From time to time, I like to feature the emails I get here on my blog!