How to be a writer

When I was young and poor and having sex with women round the back of supermarkets in bins I used to harbour dreams of becoming a professional writer. Very occasionally, I’d try and do something about it. Once I tried to write a book, though at the time I didn’t – and still don’t – really know what it was about. Another time I wandered into a bookshop in Bournemouth and read a book called something like (and the title may well have been this pedestrian) ‘How to be a freelance journalist’.

After reading ‘How to be a freelance journalist’, I realised that being a freelance journalist was the last thing I wanted to be. That, frankly, is saying something. There were lots of things at the time that I didn’t want to be (skinny, bald, mad, poor, sexually frustrated, an alcoholic) which I was, so to put being a freelance journalist at the bottom of this pile must have meant that I really didn’t want to become a freelance journalist.

Yet I’ve become one. At least I think I have. I’m not sure if I’m a freelance journalist or a freelance writer but I’m certainly a freelance something. Whatever I am, it’s freelance. What I do isn’t normal work, I’m convinced of that much. What annoyed me at the time about ‘How to be a freelance journalist’ – and what continues to annoy me about it – is that the advice contained in it was largely meaningless and the whole thing seemed as if it was written by a fool. Which it was.

So I thought I’d like to write my own advice for writers. Barely a day goes by without the empire that is Pitching the World being asked: “How do you do it? Become a successful writer, I mean. You’re a success, although, if I’m being honest, you’ve gone downhill a bit since your wife left you – or did you leave her? You never did clear this up – but that aside you’re doing okay. How did you get to be relatively successful at this. Feel free to leave out the part where you became an almighty fuck up at this. Oh, and why is it that Pitching the World has turned into a blog that consistently fails to deliver any useful advice about pitching and has steadfastly strayed from the original objectives?”

To that, I say two things. First, if you don’t like my apples don’t go shaking my tree. Second, I’ve been working for some time now on my tips for becoming a successful – if arguably unbalanced – writer. Unfortunately I can’t put said tips up quite yet. This afternoon I’ve taken to spending an unhealthy amount of time in my big tower in Dubai drinking neat whisky, with the curtains closed and sunglasses on. This means both that I’m a bit heady and can’t write, and that I can’t really see too well. It also means that I want to get out of my big tower and bowl around Dubai harassing people, which I’m about to start doing. In the meantime, here is a glimpse of what you can expect from my ‘How to be a writer, part two’ post which will be up on this multi-award winning fucker in the next day or two:

Tip 1: Watch Fletch lots

Tip 2: Don’t write regularly, only when inspired

Tip 3: Be bold

Tip 4: Don’t familiarise yourself with the market. Or with anything else.

Tip 5: Don’t keep a journal of your ideas.

Tip 6: Do a succession of shitty jobs in your twenties.

Tip 7: And maybe in your thirties, too.

Tip 8: If you’re writing an important cover story for SoldOut magazine (a magazine aimed at estate agents; now defunct) and you have to interview the CEO of a company on a Monday morning, spend the whole weekend getting off your tits and then turn up on Monday without really sleeping for days and not knowing a single thing about the company, the CEO or yourself. You probably won’t know what words mean. In this situation your first question should be: “So, pretend I don’t know anything about you. What do you do?”

Expect all the above tips do be fleshed out in the next day or so. Bet you can’t wait.

Someone watching Fletch lots, earlier.



7 responses to “How to be a writer

  1. Pitchy,

    This week I started my first freelance writing job. I was terrified when they asked me how much to pay me. I have no idea what freelance writers are paid… and this job is for a charity in London.

    I’m sure there is great variation in pay (per word? per hour? and depending on who it is for of course)… but can you give your readers an idea of a range? My work involves a lot of upfront research before writing… and it seems what they are willing to pay could end up equating to about 4 pounds per hour if do a decent job. That might buy a decent amount of cigarettes in Dubai but probably not help with rent in London too much….

    I’ve come to an agreement with the charity this time around because I didn’t want to ask too much and I hope to do future work for them. Hopefully if I get the chance I’ll be armed with more knowledge about reasonable pay.

    I’d appreciate your thoughts!

  2. There’s no doubt you’ve come to the right place for advice. And you’re right: four packs of cigarettes an hour might sound good in Dubai, not so good for London. You might be surprised to hear that a lot of charities do have a fair budget for this kind of stuff, though it’s up to you how you stand morally. I’m rambling: I’d charge a day rate in future and aim for something in the £150-350 per day range.
    I don’t know if that helps.

  3. Thanks Pitchy, that is very helpful. This time around I’m getting 350 pounds for what they project to be 2.5 days of work (scholarly research and 4,500 word report… bare minimum research alone has taken 2 days so far). Sounds like I should up my rate! They are a very large charity so hopefully can offer a bit more for my time or readjust the requirements for future work to fit their budget, whatever that may be. (And for a charity that is meant to empower women, I would feel morally fine with them paying this woman a more livable wage!)

  4. Back when I was freelancing for a VERY large charity that empowered women, I usually did around 2 and a half days’ work (which would normally end up being 5 days’ work for a 4,500 word report) for 350 pounds. Normally, for charity stuff I reduced the daily rate I charged (good cause and all that), but when I realised that, hour-for-hour, I was earning about as much as a Chicken Cottage employee I realised I had to increase my writing speed and efficiency. I achieved this by blanket dismissal of any kind of research and making sure that at least 4,400 of the required 4,500 words was copied and pasted directly from the first two pages of Women’s Weekly. I found that by doing this, I could get the work done in under an hour, thereby raising my hourly wage to that of an average Waitrose employee. I now earn a smidge over 15 million pounds a year, which I find I can stretch to nearly 3 weeks’ worth of cigarettes and roast beef flavour Monster Munch. Something you’ll learn with time, Newbie, is that freelancing isn’t so much about working hard as working smart.

  5. Working in the management of a charity is high on the list of `sit around, don`t do a lot, get well paid` jobs.
    Gone are the days of collecting a few coins on the street, buying a bag of corn and transporting it to Umbongoland on a donkey.
    Charities are rolling in cash, the vast majority of which never gets into the hands of starving kiddies..Why would a do only good organisation need executive officers?
    Drop the dewy eyed view of charities. Put your rates up, take `em for all you can get.

  6. Hey Pitchy, I’ve read all your tips 1 to 8, put them into action and am waiting for the next bit you promised. I am hoping for success yeah?
    If I don’t get published I’m going to be most disgruntled, yeah?

  7. Pretty certain OldBloke is my dad!

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