Monthly Archives: December 2011

Nine Things I Love About Being A Freelance Journalist

There is a part of me that can’t believe this. A big part. Last week I wrote, ‘Don’t worry, “9 Things I Love About Being A Freelance Journalist” will follow next week.’ And look: here it is. Now that never happens, that’s a first. Whenever I’ve promised to do something on here before I’ve never done it. Until now. Perhaps I’m turning a corner. Well, not turning a corner, but certainly building a corner that I can turn into at a later date. Turn into? Turn down? What do you do when you get to a corner? This is tough: I’m writing this in a bar where there’s the shrillest, cackliest Christmas party ever going on, so you’ll have to bear with me. Anyway:

1. Telling People What I Do For A Living. People immediately perk up when you tell them that you write words for a living. If I ever find myself talking to a woman in a bar, or in a park, or on a premium £1.80 per minute phone sex line – and I often do find myself in precisely those situations – just prior to chronically, hilariously, boring them to death, I’ll casually drop in what I do and they’ll seem bowled over for a bit. I say casually, although it’s anything but. The whole conversation will be carefully engineered by me into revealing what I do. Pathetic, really. And slightly brilliant. In fact, my whole life revolves around trying to tell people what I do. That, and occasionally doing it.

2. Double Pay. A few years ago I wrote 1,200 words for The Guardian for which they paid me £500. On the morning it ran, someone from the syndication department rang me up and said something like:

“The Daily Mail are interested in buying this piece.”

“I’m sorry, but having my work published in the Daily Mail goes completely against my principles. Tell them I’m not interested.” I said.

“They’ve offered £1,700 for it.”

“I don’t have any principles. Tell them I am interested. Tell them I’m interested in everything.”

About two weeks after that a magazine accidentally paid me £1,000 instead of £500 for a feature. Shortly after that someone else double-paid me for a feature and I went through a brief, heady period of being syndicated like fuck. If you’ve never been syndicated like fuck before, you really should try it. Since that time, I haven’t been syndicated like fuck. In fact, I haven’t been syndicated at all.

3. Seeing the Images That They (Whoever They Are) Have Chosen or Created to Illustrate Your Copy. I still get incredibly excited by this, and about seeing my work in print generally. I wish I could write more about this, but I’m wondering why I don’t get syndicated like fuck anymore. Have the gods turned against me? Do I need to start making sacrifices to them again? Gods, please let me know.

4. Getting Commissioned. It can be thrilling, still. It’s most thrilling when you’re commissioned by a publication you’ve always wanted to write for. These thrills can quickly evaporate if you really, really try to make the feature sing and it ends up doing no such thing. Still, this is a positive entry – perhaps only my fourth ever positive entry – so let’s not dwell on this point. (Don’t ever try too hard though – that’s my one piece of advice)

5. Editors, some. Some editors are a treat to deal with. They respond promptly to pitches, are polite, helpful, commanding, and say lovely things about your work. Dealing with editors like this makes your professional life a lot easier and more pleasant. I would name names, but don’t want to be accused of sucking up to anyone in order to get more work (Mike Rampton’s fucking brilliant).

6. The Freedom. It’s four o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. After finishing this, I could carry on working until midnight (I won’t), take myself off to the cinema (I won’t), stay in this bar and drink until I’m drunk (I might) or even stand on a roundabout masturbating at passing traffic (I definitely will). See? How many other jobs offer such freedom and opportunity?

A roundabout, earlier.

7. It’s Brave. Not as brave as being a fireman or a dictator, perhaps, but working for yourself takes guts. And sticking to something – and I’m talking about Pitching the World here – that has proven to be the downfall of your health, career, marriage, hairline, etc. etc. is even braver. No, not stupider. Braver.

8. You Can Spend the Whole Day Messing Around and Call It Work. When I was married I would spend all day watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and pretend it was work. “I may have to interview Larry David one day,” I would tell my wife. Or I would just stare out of the window. “I’m thinking of writing something about windows. Or about staring out of windows,” I would yawn. Once, I spent a whole afternoon seeing how many kick-ups I could with a tennis ball. Again, work.

A window (and some other stuff), earlier.

9. The Work. Freelance journalists do important and heroic work. Some of them. Sometimes.

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9 Things I Hate About Being A Freelance Journalist

Don’t worry, “9 Things I Love About Being A Freelance Journalist” will follow next week. It’s good to get the muck out of the way first though, isn’t it? Of course it is. In fact, this could potentially be my last downbeat post. It’s all going to be smiles from now on.

1. Telling People What I Do For A Living. Whenever I’m at a party, or on a plane, or lying under a park bench drinking super strength cider and someone asks me what I do, I hate saying: “Actually, I’m a freelance journalist.” I hate that “actually” – what’s with that “actually”? I also hate the image that “freelance journalist” conjures up. It seems weak and creepy and privileged all at the same time. That I am weak and creepy and privileged all at the same time can be overlooked for now.

2. Telling People Who I Write For. “You know,” I say, “The Guardian, The Independent, lots of men’s magazines. Property stuff. You know.” I’m such an inarticulate plum. And a lying one, too. I haven’t written for any of those fucks for years. I don’t know who I’m writing for these days, but it’s certainly not them.

3. Shrinking rates.

4. Shrinking pagination.

5. My shrinking penis. I honestly think it’s getting smaller. Is that supposed to happen at 36? I might look it up. Regardless, if it is – and it definitely is – it’s definitely down to being a freelance journalist.

6. Listening back to my voice on a dictaphone.

7. Especially if it’s apparent that I’m clearly bored by the questions I’m asking and the interviewee is completely bored by the answers they’re giving.

8. Knowing, as I transcribe this semi-mythical interview, that my editor will be completely bored reading it, the subs will be completely bored subbing it, the printers will be completely bored printing it, the people who have to put it on the shelves in newsagents will be wondering where their lives went wrong and the readers – well, you get the picture. They’re going to think it’s shit, too.

9. Sketches, rather than photos, of columnists.

10. Photos of columnists.

11. Columnists.

12. The bitterness that being a freelance journalist fosters.

13. The waiting. Waiting to hear about whether a pitch has been successful. Waiting to hear if your copy is successful. Waiting for payment.

14. I can barely go into how much late payments annoy me. I was paid seven months late once.

15. That It’s Nothing Like Fletch. I only became a journalist because I honestly thought it would be like Fletch, but it turns out that it’s very little like Fletch.

16. You can never switch off, can you? It’s constant. For example, I’m writing this in some plummy cafe and have been looking around for inspiration since the moment I arrived. I’m all “Tea? Has anyone ever written a feature about tea? Or walls – ‘Why Walls Are Okay'” Maddening, isn’t it?

17. Going to Stoke Newington farmer’s market and seeing some plum in his mid-thirties wearing a check shirt, with a Guardian tucked under his arm, and a bag of organic sausage made out of Bangladeshi cotton or something and thinking ‘Hahaha look at him, look at that fool – bet he’s a freelance journalist’ and then realising that you too are a plum in his mid thirties with a check shirt made out of organic apples and you too have a Guardian under your arm and you too are a freelance journalist.

18. Knowing that your life can change in an instant – you might get to spend six months in the Arctic; you might be offered a column in the Financial Times – but also that it never will.

19. Pretending To Interviewees That You Can Do Shorthand. Then not being able to file decent copy because it turns out you can’t do shorthand and were just showing off.

20. Letters From the Editor that are full of grinny, upbeat, whimsical bullshit.

21. Wishing that I were an editor so I could write a Letter From the Editor full of grinny, upbeat, whimsical bullshit.

22. Being completely overwhelmed by the number of fellow freelance journalists out there at the moment and terrified by the numbers who will be pouring out of universities, colleges, prisons etc. over the next ten or twenty years.

23. Fuck, 23. I honestly only meant to do 9.

24. Getting your photo taken 80-90 times by a photographer from the Daily Mail for some shitty feature that you never wanted to write in the first place.

25. Subs Tinkering With Your Copy. When I was the north London section editor for Square Meal and reviewed 115 bars and restaurants I was writing a review of a wine bar and said something like, “Although the emphasis is on grapes, you won’t feel the pleasant owners wrath if you order something else” which, okay, is a bit rubbish, but the whole Grapes of Wrath thing I thought was pretty sweet but the sub changed it to, “Although the emphasis is on grapes, the pleasant owners won’t mind if you order something else” which is even more rubbish.

26. Actually, that whole Grapes of Wrath thing was terrible. No wonder they changed it.

27. My mood being almost entirely contingent upon the approval of editors.

28. Writing this post.

29. Writing this blog.

30. Toby Youngs’ massive bald head.

31. Danny Wallace’s column.

32. My massive bald head.

33. My lack of column.

34. This is getting a bit laboured now. Okay, one more. Commissioning editors saying, “Let me think about it” to a pitch. Nothing good has ever come from “Let me think about it.” I’ve never had a pitch commissioned after an editor has thought about it.

Ain’t Nothing But A G Thing

Oh dear. It turns out that I’m back in Boscombe. That in itself isn’t too bad. I have a lot of family here. I have friends here. There’s a big beach here. But there’s also my copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook here. There’s a lot wrong with that. Firstly, after a three and a half month hiatus, it continues to mock and humiliate me. Secondly, it means that I have to flick through it and pitch. I hate having to flick through it and pitch. Once this fuckhead of a project is over (2013? 2049?) I’m never going to flick through something and pitch ever again.

Still, persistence. Dogged, ill-judged, character-weakening persistence. This morning, I thought that I’d persist with the G’s. The G’s looked an approachable, relatively untapped bunch. Sure, I’d pitched Grazia (and been ignored) and Greetings Today (who didn’t ignore me, but then did) but other than that, the G’s had always seemed untouched and promising.

A mistake. Never think that anything is either untouched or promising. Nothing is ever untouched or promising. The G’s are hard. Here are some G’s.

1. Go Girl Magazine. According to the blurb, this is a ‘Magazine for 7-11-year-old girls including fashion, beauty, celebrity news and gossip.’ I don’t know anything about fashion, beauty or celebrity news for 7-11-year-old girls. I’m not prepared to find out. I’m not prepared to walk around the streets of Boscombe asking seven-year-old girls where they got their jeans from or if there’s any good gossip going around at school that I should be writing a feature about. Go Girl Magazine is a non-starter. For now.

2. GQ. I used to buy GQ five or six times a year. Now I buy it no times a year. Recently, I somehow ended up reading an issue and it seemed to consist of the smuggest writers in the world writing about the most boring things in the world. In the fashion pages, there were a few pictures of men in expensive coats looking demented. That was it. They pay well though.

3. Green Pebble. Green Pebble is a ‘Magazine dedicated to contemporary visual arts in East Anglia.’ I can’t think of anything to say about this.

4. Grow Your Own. This is a publication for ‘kitchen gardeners of all levels of expertise.’ At first, this seemed promising. And interesting: kitchen gardeners. But then I realised that I don’t have a kitchen. And not only that, but it looks like I will never have a kitchen. This is a shame. If some quirk of fate led to me one day having a kitchen, I would definitely plant loads of stuff in there and write about it.

5. Guitarist. ‘Aims to improve readers’ knowledge of the instrument, help them make the right buying choices and assist them in becoming a better player.’ Although I have a better chance of one day owning a guitar than I do a kitchen, I have never owned one previously and certainly have very little knowledge of the instrument and no idea how to turn a bad guitar player into a good guitar player. At a push, I could perhaps squeeze out a few hundred words on buying one, but it would primarily consist of, “Make sure it looks cool, make sure it looks cool, whatever you do just make sure it looks fucking cool. Buy one of those ones that is one guitar on top of the other as they’re well cool,” and I don’t think the people over at Guitarist would go for that.

You might think that, as I haven’t threatened to quit since June, that I would do so right about there. You’d be wrong. Some of the G’s are actually okay, and I’m planning on spending the rest of the evening cooking up ideas for Granta, Glamour, The Good Book Guide and Golf Monthly. My next post could well be about this, if things go well. If things go badly, my next post will be about trying to explain to a policeman why I’d been walking around town trying to find out where the local seven-year-olds got their jeans from.