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.