I originally got a degree in audio production — I’ve always been a big fan of radio (top 40, radio dramas, variety programs, everything), and when I went to college, I figured that maybe I could get a DJ spot somewhere and entertain people. Unfortunately, the radio industry fell apart right around the time I graduated, and soon after I found myself working in retail, and disillusioned with the whole industry. Originally, I thought I could play pop music and pretend to be excited about concert tickets until they let me do something really interesting, but as the job offerings disappeared, I decided it wasn’t what I really wanted.
So what did I really want? I thought long and hard about it, and I figured that if I didn’t need money — if somehow everything that I wanted was all paid for all the time — the one thing that I would still wake up every day to do was the one thing that I really enjoyed doing all throughout high school and college (and that I still enjoy doing today!).
I would write. I started a website and decided that I would write something, anything, every day.
The first site I started had reviews of all kinds. I wrote about movies, books, music, or whatever I was doing as a young, post-college student. It was a lot of rough opinions, and it’s probably better lost in the archives.
The second site I started, around 2004 or so, was this one, mikeschramm.com. I posted here every day, writing all kinds of things, from opinion to fiction to short form stuff (like lists, scripted bits, or just whatever was bouncing around in my head that day). I tried to sell some of it to literary journals and magazines, and got flat out rejected every time. Eventually I did collect some of those pieces in a self-published ebook that I called “The Shape of Teeth” (which some people did buy), but I don’t have it up for sale any more.
Some of those pieces did get me a job, of sorts. I was working retail in Chicago (and feeling pretty glum about my lack of career prospects) when I noticed an ad for an internship at a local alt weekly paper. It was unpaid, but I had some spare time and an interest in doing crazy things, so I took some pieces I had written for my website into the office and showed them to the editor. “These are terrible,” he told me, “but they’ve got potential.” He said I could come in, for free, sort through all of the notices people sent in for the event listings, and choose the best ones to put in a file to be published. I did that, a couple of times a week for about three or four months. The alt weekly was called Newcity, and it’s still a great publication in Chicago. I enjoyed the work — it was fun seeing all of the event postcards come through, and it was cool to see the ones I chose get listed or even highlighted when the issue came out.
Eventually, I was invited to write something, and later, I was invited to be paid for it. I started freelancing for a few other places (including Time Out Chicago), and soon, I had gotten into a nice routine writing and selling pieces for the paper (while also posting routinely on my own site). I was still working retail during the day (and not thrilled about it), but I regularly had my name above an article in the local publications.
I had gotten very into World of Warcraft at this point, and one of the many blogs I read during my spare time was a site called WoW Insider, an unofficial blog about the game. One day, I left an angry comment on the site because patch notes had dropped and they hadn’t posted about them yet, and then when they posted that they were hiring a few weeks later, I applied with a few clips and got a job as a writer.
I’m very proud of the work I did on that site. I used clips from there and my freelance work to get a job with a small PR firm in Chicago (where I helped draft a daily newsletter and blog for nonprofits around the Midwest), and soon after that I was able to apply for and get a job with another of AOL’s network sites that I really liked, The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Doing work on both WoW Insider (where I had moved up to lead editor) and TUAW was enough money to support myself full time, so I left the job at the PR firm, and for a period of about 10 years, I was a full-time freelancer, writing for AOL and a few other outlets (The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Comedy Central, Time Out, and more) every single day.
I was able to do so many great things during that period. I helped to start another site in the network called Massively (and I was lucky enough to write the intro post there, setting out how the site would cover MMOs from all angles). I was asked to go to E3 with Joystiq at one point, and then became a writer on Joystiq as well, getting to work on big reviews and cover the Los Angeles beat after I moved to the West Coast. I went to so many conferences — CES, E3, GDC, Macworld, Blizzcon, PAX, and more. I got to speak at a few, including on a GDC panel and at iDev and more.
On TUAW, I got to cover a once-in-a-lifetime event: The launch of the original iPhone. I was one of the most vocal voices for bringing an App Store to the iPhone, and when Apple finally agreed to deliver it (remember when the iPhone didn’t have apps other than Apple’s?), I covered the space as well as I could. I will always appreciate getting the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch and tell the story of the industry that became mobile gaming.
I got to interview and talk with so many people I admired — Sid Meier, Warren Spector, Dave Perry, Steve Wozniak, Ken Levine, Todd Howard, Nobuo Uematsu, David Jaffe, and many more. I got to see the first public reveals of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Bioshock Infinite. I reviewed Call of Duty: Black Ops and other games in the series, and was in attendance at the first Call of Duty experience. I was one of the first people in the world outside of Harmonix to play Rock Band 3 (still one of my favorite games), in LA at Sir Studios. I was on Blizzard’s campus when they revealed Starcraft II and Diablo III (and the real money marketplace). I went to premieres and red carpets, I previewed and reviewed games big and small, and I covered apps and mobile games.
And through it all, I wrote — I usually aimed for about 10 posts a day, but I remember there was an E3 where I had 20 posts up during a 24 hour period. When I left blogging (to come work for EEDAR), my word total was around 4 million, over more than 5,000 posts (across WoW Insider, TUAW, and Joystiq). A lot of it is still up inside Engadget’s archives, and I have a big file somewhere of everything I wrote on those sites (they all eventually were closed), but most importantly to me, I was able to build up a successful career spent writing.
I still write daily — sometimes I journal for myself, sometimes I’ll post here on the site, or sometimes I just focus on putting things together at EEDAR (all of our work there is for specific clients, so almost none of it is public, but I do occasionally post on the company blog).