Our 1st Birthday! | Sweet & Spicy Quarterly Review #4 | Jan – March 2022
If you’ve read my weekly progress updates on Patreon, then you’ll know that I’ve had a pretty rough start to 2022. A combination of health problems and personal life situations has meant that I’ve had a bit of a ‘time and energy’ shortage, meaning a bunch of plans I had for this website had to get demoted to the backburner while I sorted it all out.
However, I didn’t want this celebratory anniversary post to end up as a 3,000 word whinge, so I sat down and forced myself to look beyond my recent struggles and see the past twelve months as a whole. I reflected on how far I’ve come since we started out and – at risk of sounding conceited – I’m actually really proud of myself, both as a fledgling writer, and an absolutely amateur website online reviewer person (the technical term, I assure you).
I thought back to where I was when we started Sweet & Spicy Otome Game Review, and this post quickly went from a generic, “yay for 12 months of otome, let’s get pumped for many more months of hot 2D men to come”, to a much more personal, sincere expression of gratitude for a year that has actually changed my life significantly for the better.
To put this website into context: Two years ago, in February 2020 – after several years of working in positions that didn’t suit me – I quit my day job.
As you’re likely aware, 2020 was the year the dreaded virus turned everyone’s worlds upside down… so it wasn’t exactly an ideal time to quit my job and embark on a shiny new career path. But, lockdowns hadn’t started in my country yet, and most people were still in that stage where they dismissed COVID as ‘just another flu’, so it didn’t necessarily strike me as a “bad decision” at the time.
Plus, I’d already been planning to quit this awful string of day jobs for a couple of years, by that point. I’d already made a deal with my partner: I would continue to work jobs I hated, but only until he finished his degree. Then, once he had a full time job and could support both of us, I would finally quit and pursue a new career – one that actually suited me.
So, as the world began to crumble around me, I sat down in my obliviousness, armed with a laptop and a cup of coffee – ready to write stuff and get paid for it. Alas, it wasn’t quite that simple. For the life of me, I couldn’t convince anyone to hire me and, to top it off, I was having trouble working out exactly what it was I wanted to write about, anyway.
It took me several months to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be a ‘professional writer’ any time soon. I even got so desperate that I signed up to that LinkedIn Premium service to do a bunch of online courses in the vain hope that it might make my CV and portfolio that little bit fancier.
I applied for several jobs, contracts, and agencies every day. Consistently, I pushed aside my mounting anxiety at the lack of even an automated acknowledgment email, and tried not to indulge in the creeping doubts about whether or not I was even any good at writing at all.
I applied to work for a few different copywriting and content writing agencies, but every time I received a brief that wasn’t about a topic in which I had a particular interest, I’d find myself nodding off before I’d even read the instructions. It took me several attempts to actually work out what they wanted me to write about, and even then the idea of actually writing it made me want to scream.
It was during this desperate attempt at employment that I realised it wasn’t enough to aim for this vague concept of a ‘writer’. I couldn’t just put words on paper (or a screen, in this case) and hope for the best. I needed to pick a type of writing – a topic, and a style. However, I hadn’t done any professional writing for several years, so I had no recent practice, no recent references, and no recent feedback. I desperately wanted to write – but I had no idea what I wanted to say.
By this stage, nearly a year had passed since I quit my job at the beginning of what was now looking suspiciously like an apocalypse, and I was getting a little panicky. But, I still didn’t want to give up, so I sat down, took a deep breath, and narrowed down my concerns to two main areas: I didn’t have a recent portfolio, and I found it intensely difficult to write about something when I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in the proposed topic.
So, I decided to fix both of these problems by starting a website. A Sweet & Spicy website. In doing so, I could produce recent works for a portfolio, and all these works could relate to a subject about which I’m actually passionate: otome games. In essence, the idea for Sweet & Spicy Reviews was born out of a desperate combination of lockdown frustration and a growing despair at my lack of success in becoming a ‘writer’.
But, as I sat down and began to flesh out this ‘desperate’ idea, I was surprised to find that it became much more meaningful. With this website, I would finally have a way to force myself to write regularly, so I could get some much-needed practice and improve my skills, rather than procrastinate and succumb to the overwhelming anxiety about whether or not I actually had what it took to get paid to write stuff.
Plus, If anyone actually read my thoughts on otome games, and – heaven forbid – wanted to read more, then I’d also have external accountability to keep me motivated and disciplined… and hey, maybe I’d even meet people who shared my interests in romancing 2D men. The more I planned it out, the more this ‘desperate’ idea began to feel like an actual, legitimate, good idea.
I pitched it to my friend, GirlPixelated, and with her enthusiasm, support, and professional marketing skills (seriously, she’s really good at this stuff) we came up with the name, imagery, and overall “brand” for the website. We had google docs and social media accounts and actual images to work with. The idea was becoming a reality. And I was pretty excited about it.
Come March 27, 2021 – around 13 months after I quit my day job – we finally launched the website: Sweet & Spicy Otome Game Reviews. And let me tell you, I was so nervous I thought I was gonna die. The only reason I actually went through with it was because I genuinely thought no one would read what I wrote. I convinced myself it was fine to post my reviews, because even if they were trash, no one would read them, so it was fine. Right?
Nope, it turns out plenty of people read them. Since that launch day, I’ve watched as Sweet & Spicy has grown from hosting only three reviews, to over a hundred – from tens of views, to tens of thousands of views. At first, I was terrified. Who were all these people, and why were they reading my posts? I kept thinking: I’m not a professional, I just really need an excuse to write before I give up on my dreams entirely – and I just think otome games are kinda neat, you know?
So why was I meeting so many cool people online, and why where they complimenting my writing?
I know numbers and stats shouldn’t matter, but the fact that people were actually interested to read what I had to say has had an invaluable impact on my self-esteem. By the time we launched the website, I’d spent over a year failing to convince people to hire me as a writer, and I’d spent many years slowly accumulating anxiety and doubt, until I was too overwhelmed to write anything at all.
I’d started to believe that I wasn’t even that good at it, and that my dreams of writing as my day job were over before I’d even had a chance to try. I was considering going back to the kind of work I’d been doing before, even though the mere thought of that made me so devastated I couldn’t bear to picture what my future would look like, let alone try and live it.
That may sound dramatic (and maybe it is), but I’ve dreamed of being a ‘writer’ – I’m aware that’s still a vague word – for as long as I can remember, and I genuinely thought this was finally my chance to achieve those dreams – only to have made absolutely no progress, whatsoever, in over a year.
And I’m not talking “I wrote a novel but I haven’t published it yet”. I mean I couldn’t get people to even respond to my job applications, let alone pay me to write a 500 word article – and I had way too much anxiety and doubt to make it through the first draft of anything I might be able to write on my own, like a novel. The voice in the back of my head that told me everything I wrote was garbage had simply gotten too loud for me to ignore.
But, seeing the success of Sweet & Spicy – even in those soulless stats and numbers – rekindled the hope and passion I thought I’d lost. With each like and new follower (and especially complimentary comments), I could feel my enthusiasm return, and suddenly it didn’t feel like a battle of wills to get up in the morning and write stuff. I could pour out a couple of thousands of words without having to bully myself into painfully adding one sentence after another – and I finally felt excited to put my thoughts onto paper again.
Before, the voice in my head told me that everything I wrote was garbage, and that I simply shouldn’t bother anymore. It told me that I’d failed at the one dream that kept me going through that awful string of jobs, and that I had nothing left to look forward to. After months of positive feedback from readers of Sweet & Spicy reviews, that inner voice had become brighter, and kinder. It said: if people are enjoying reading the things I write, then maybe my dreams of being a writer aren’t lost, after all.
I wanted to focus on the website in this post. I wanted to say how grateful I am to everyone who reads my reviews – to talk about the website’s achievements and plans for the future. But, whenever I tried to say thank you in an impersonal, professional way, the words just wouldn’t come out right. They didn’t feel deep enough to convey exactly how much this past year has meant to me…. so I wrote this essay instead (sorry!).
But, in all seriousness, even though my 2022 has gone off to a rough start, I’ve still come so far since I quit my job at the beginning of 2020 – both as a person, and as a writer. That being said, I clearly have a long way to go, because I can’t quite find the words to express how deeply grateful I am… despite having just written about 2,000 words on exactly that.
If you’ve read my weekly progress updates on Patreon, then you’ll know that my partner and I just bought our first house together, and we’ll be moving in at the end of April. I’ll have my own home office (with a desk!), which I’ll be able to deck out with a library big enough to fit in all the books that have inspired me since I was a child who dreamed of writing her own book one day, and of having a library like the one in Beauty and the Beast.
At the time of writing this post, over two years have passed since I quit my day job, and I’m finally upgrading from my laptop on the couch to an actual home office. With a desk. And a library! To reiterate, I had two dreams as a child: to be a writer, and to have my own library. By the end of next month, I’ll have achieved both of them. Maybe not to quite the same scale as I intend to aim for in the future, but still – it’s progress.
I may not be earning enough yet to say that I write to ‘earn a living’ (I have had to pick up a part time job in admin to cover expenses), but this website has not only given me a reason to write every day, external accountability to stay motivated, and something to put in my portfolio – it’s also given me back my faith that I can actually achieve my dreams… and that maybe I’m not too shabby at this whole writing thing, after all.
I know this may be a bit emotional and personal for a site about reviewing otome games, but it didn’t feel right to just post a generic thank you when this website has meant so much to me over the past 12 months. So, at risk of being melodramatic, what I sincerely want to say is: thank you. Truly, deeply, from the bottom of my heart – thank you to everyone who has read what I have to say, and thank you in particular for the kind words you shared with me, that continue to chip away at the overwhelming anxiety that – twelve months ago, to this day – very nearly stopped me from writing altogether.
As for the future, I’m looking forward to many more years of writing about romancing 2D men – and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy reading what I have to say, too. Happy 1st Birthday to us!
Next week, I’ll return to the regular, otome-focused schedule – so thank you for your patience while I indulge in something more personal, and I hope you enjoy the next review! See you then~
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