A Story of a Freelance Journalist – Industry, Experience & Advice

I am often emailed for interviews and advice from students at university in particular, eager to know the ins and outs of taking part in the roller-coaster ride that can be Freelance Journalism. So I decided to write a post explaining some of my own decisions and how I ended up in this role.

I imagine most people consider this career path due to the fact that working for yourself at least on paper appears to be the best solution for getting your own way, choosing who you are employed by and working mostly from home while setting up your own hours. In reality, although much of this can be true – chances are it won’t quite work out that way.

I have been a Freelance Journalist for roughly 10 years now and in that time I have experienced many quirks of the industry. It can be a frustrating business as even as someone who is self-employed, you rely so much on other individuals to pull their weight, all while trusting in your multiple employers to respect your work and present it in a manner that it deserves – all of course while looking after your interests.

So why did I become a Freelance Journalist in the first place?

The Fluke

12 years ago I was actually very ill and while I won’t bore you with the specific details, just understand that traditional work became impossible. For much of this time, I found it difficult to leave the house and my confidence as a result was at an all time low. I desperately needed something, in fact almost anything to alleviate my boredom and allow my mind to escape the humdrum feeling I endured at this time.

XboxRules.com
XboxRules.com

The solution in my case was to create a website dedicated to the original Xbox console named XboxRules.com. I always had a fondness of this particular console by Microsoft and enthusiasm can lead to all kinds of potential possibilities. Although I had little web design experience and the thought of writing had never previously crossed my mind – the appeal of starting a project from scratch and watching it grow really stood out to me and certainly did the trick in energising my passions for journalism without that being part of the thought process. The site evolved much over the years, with help from a wonderful selection of other writers and website creators – offering their services for free in the exchange for practising their writing skills, receiving feedback, earning kudos and of course inevitably receiving a few free games every now and then.

XboxRules.com became a mammoth undertaking as PR agencies and publishers became interested in having their merchandise mentioned on the website. The flow of news, games and media increased immensely as a result. I became more of an Editor and managerial type, making sure the day to day running of the website was a smooth one and that any issues were dealt with speedily and more importantly correctly.

All of this had the effect of boosting my ambitions and added a more positive perspective of my future. In the end, XboxRules.com closed due to the fact it wasn’t a career and although it mimicked much of the roles of what could be entailed in one, it didn’t pay the bills and unfortunately instead became a burden.

Yamaha Personal Keyboard Owner
Yamaha Personal Keyboard Owner

After this I began a Yamaha enthusiast website (Yamaha Personal Keyboard Owner), with the intention of keeping it a small hobby. As with most things in life, your original expectations can turn into a project that can catch you completely off guard and instead the website became the most active of them all, bristling with visitors and activity. Just like XboxRules.com, I earned plenty of experience from communications with various worldwide corporations and all of the time improving skills that would be useful in my career.

Discussion forums are always a tricky proposition as moderation with an active community can sap literally hours out of your day and often you feel you have little to show for it. On the best days you feel you have really achieved something special presenting a large grin on your face and on others a single nasty comment can leave you frustrated and feeling unappreciated. There is certainly a balance to be found and in this area, I certainly acquired the art of diplomacy.

Yamaha Personal Keyboard Owner evolution
Yamaha Personal Keyboard Owner evolution

Heading back again to just over 10 years ago I was left with a stark reality. After numerous tests and examinations, I wasn’t really moving forward – yet I needed somehow to get back into the workplace and get on with my life. I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly survive the daily routine of a full-time job as I was still suffering from much of the same symptoms, just not as severe. Luckily I was still young and had a very supportive family, coming to the conclusion that actually working as a Freelance Journalist ‘could’ offer paid employment, while still breaking myself in more gently into the vigour of full-time work. So you could actually say that I became a ‘Freelance Journalist’ completely down to a fluke – a necessity to move forwards and not look back.

It became a decision that would change my life…

The Passion

For the vast majority of what I do, I am actually self-taught. Writing, video editing, podcast hosting, music composing and many other activities are part of my role as a Freelance Journalist. In the past it was certainly a process of trial and error, creating great enjoyment with the simple means of experimentation.

I never really grasped the academic route early on in life and even while in school and college education, the passion just wasn’t there. Obviously I had the desire to learn and at the time believed that I had chosen the right path ahead, however it never took root within my soul to the point where any of it made me truly happy. I just went through the motions, earned the qualifications and left.

The Reality

Variety is indeed the spice of life and in my line of work, the best advice I can share is to diversify as much as possible. Freelancing can be a very rough pursuit as you manage multiple employers all with very different demands and expectations. Jobs can come and go, offering a single small project over in a single day right up to a long-term contract.

Working from home certainly does have perks, although it isn’t really the bliss some might expect. It is full of potential holes if you are not careful and it’s very easy to fall into any one of them. For example, although surrounded by your home comforts they can easily turn into a distraction. 5 minutes on the Xbox 360 could easily turn into hours of gaming and that project you have sat waiting on your desktop isn’t going to finish itself you know. It can also be a very lonely experience, so I tend to surround myself with music and communication tools such as Skype and IRC chat rooms. You miss out on the simple pleasures of saying good morning to someone otherwise and sharing those amusing stories from your weekend. Even with all these modern communication tools, it doesn’t beat ‘real’ human interaction though.

It is certainly not comparable to a 9-5 job. There is no going to work, coming home and switching off until the following day. Chances are that your hours will be all over the place, working evenings and weekends to make sure deadlines are met. If you are like me, you will have various ‘eureka’ moments in the middle of the night as an idea pops into your head – resulting in you needing to get up and begin work on it so you don’t forget, otherwise you can’t relax and get back to sleep.

The Future

So would I go back given the opportunity and go through it all again? Actually yes I would and even with all the difficulties it has been a wonderful career, however there are never any guarantees that it will continue and my future path may lead me somewhere completely different.

James is a difficult act to follow because his honesty and integrity will be hard to match – and it’s these qualities, combined with an expert knowledge of Internet technology, that have played such a crucial part in YPKO’s success.

It’s always a pleasure to work with you, James, because I can always rest assured that the finished product will be produced to the highest standard possible. The regular stream of positive comments we receive from our customers confirms this. Thank you… and here’s to the next!
Glyn Madden – Yamaha Club Magazine

You have to prepare yourself almost every day for the fact that it may end abruptly, especially if you can’t make ends meet and have other responsibilities to consider – yet if you can gain permanence by a contract with various employers, then you will certainly lead a very productive and fulfilling lifestyle.

Compared to ten years ago, I find myself in a far better situation. My health is great, I have a beautiful fiancée who I can’t wait to marry within the next couple of years and I can look back on a career that has showed how I can be productive, work hard and more importantly – life even with its unpredictability can be a wondrous adventure.

The Verdict

James Woodcock
James Woodcock

All in all Freelance Journalism has treated me pretty well, however the need to keep your fingers in many pies is all important. I survived by utilising all of my skills as writing alone never financially was enough on its own. I instead use my writing credentials and bolster them with other areas, including podcasting and video creation – which ties in nicely with the core of writing (scripting, question outlines and so on) yet gives me greater potential to earn extra on top.

It has served as a great way to gain experience in so many fields that today I am in a far better position than ever before, although long-term I find myself moving away ever so slowly from this career path into something more stable. Sometimes you just can’t beat a regular monthly income, which freelancing can really fall short on!

If you are considering Freelance Journalism for yourself, starting your own website is an absolute necessity. This provides an online portfolio of your work, tying in to the many social network connections you may use and also gives you a voice on the subjects that interest you.

Multiple employers are important so if you lose one, you are still earning while looking for other opportunities. Consider part-time work and part-time journalism to begin with so you always have money coming in and then as you hopefully become more successful, you can carefully consider writing full-time.

Finally don’t put yourself into a box and by this I mean don’t restrict yourself. You may have a flare for writing, however implementing other skills as part of your arsenal will boost your chances over other prospective authors. There are so many individuals interested in this career path and especially the gaming & technology area, so anything you can do to give yourself an edge would be a wise consideration.

I hope you enjoyed my article and I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

James Woodcock

Freelance Journalist, Author, Blogger & Podcaster specialising in gaming and technology. Ever since he experienced the first controllable pixel movement on the television screen, he has been entranced by the possibilities and rewarding entertainment value generated from these metal and plastic boxes of delight. Writing hundreds of articles including commentary and reviews on various gaming platforms, while also interviewing well known industry figures for popular online publications.