Justin Sloan went from being a government worker to making a living as a video game writer, novelist, and screenwriter by asking questions and lots of them. This week I chat with Justin about his books, podcasts, and how he built a creative writing career for himself.
Justin had already served in the U.S. Marines and was working a government job, but his goal was to become a writer by the time he turned 50.
Justin did everything he could do to position himself for life as a writer. He worked on his craft in the John Hopkins Writing Masters Program, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, and The Writing Center in Bethesda. He reached out to people online, asked lots of questions, developed relationships, and conducted interviews about their own writing lives, eventually including those interviews in his books Creative Writing Career, Creative Writing Career 2, and Military Veterans in Creative Careers. He also did an internship with a literary management company, then later as a reader for a literary magazine.
Justin thought he could do both the career track and the writing, but it soon became apparent that the day job was getting in the way of The Dream.
“At a certain point,” Justin says, “I was realizing that, you know, there were eight hours a day I was not writing, and that was pissing me off.”
So he decided to stop working his day job and start writing full-time by May 31, 2014. By June 9, 2014, he was hired as a video game writer at Telltale Games.
Writing for Video Games
At Telltale Games, Justin worked on Game of Thrones and Minecraft: Story Mode. He notes that video game writing and screenwriting are similar, but the hours can be insane. Also, game companies have a high turnover, he says, so it’s good to take on different projects to avoid pigeonholing.
Justin goes into great detail about working in the video game industry in his interview by his fellow podcasters: Military Veterans in Creative Careers: “Realities of Working in Video Games.”
All of Justin’s question-asking eventually evolved into the three podcasts he’s currently involved with: Creative Writing Career Podcast(with Kevin Tumlinson and Stephan Vlad. Bugaj), Military Veterans in Creative Careers Podcast (with Trevor Scott and Jennifer Marshall), and Self-Publishing Answers Podcast (with Kevin Tumlinson and Nick Thacker).
Podcasting has been a great way to meet interesting people, learn new things, and network, Justin says, though it’s difficult to predict what will take off and what won’t. Although the Military Veterans in Creative Careers Podcast garnered 500 likes on its Facebook page the first day it went up, versus the current 50 likes for Creative Writing Career Podcast’s Facebook page, the broader topic of Creative Writing Career picked up 30,000 listens versus 3,000 for Military Veterans in Creative Careers.
Justin is now the author of 11 published novels, including Allie Strom and the Ring of Soloman and Falls of Redemption. Many of his novels are adaptations from his screenplays and are intended for the Middle Grade or Young Readers audiences.
He also has non-fiction titles out, including Creative Mentor series.
The Next Big Thing
Justin is currently working on the sequel to his award-winning children’s book Back by Sunrise (a tie-in to his Bringer of Light trilogy), and the third book in his Falls of Redemption series. He’s also got a literary novel due out soon, as well as a slew of under-wraps projects.
- Write outside your usual box. “Don’t limit yourself,” Justin advises. Try everything. You never know what will pick up first, and this approach will make you a more well-rounded writer.
- Reach out and say hi to a new someone every day. It only takes a few minutes, and it can lead to serendipitous moments down the road. Whether it’s a favorite podcaster or guest, a favorite author, a photographer on Instagram you admire, just take a few minutes each day to send someone an email or message just to show appreciation and maybe ask a question.
What serendipitous opportunities in your career have come about thanks to a surprising connection with someone in your network?
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