Alright. It’s time to explore the other side of the fence. This is not a black and white world where pious hoity-toity angels in glowing robes engage in epic battle with cloven-hoofed demons from the underworld who crap fireballs day in and day out. There are times when it makes a lot of sense to get your work out there even if you’re not getting paid for it yet – at least when you’re starting out. Doing a little freebie writing for a smaller gaming site can build clips, gain important contacts, and lead to paying work at bigger outlets down the road. But keep in mind: awesome paying freelance opportunities rarely fall out of the sky unless you’ve been launching barrages of cannon fire to the heavens.
The only way to make a go of it and push towards a full-time career in freelancing is to hustle, work your ass off, and always search out new avenues for steady work. If you’re serious about making a living as a freelancer, you’ll be spinning your wheels in the mud by taking on pro bono assignments beyond a certain point. It’s also a quick way to drive yourself utterly bat-shit crazy.
As much as you might love writing, and writing about video games, it’s still work. Have a day job? You’ll have to find other times to write. That means evenings and weekends – time you might rather spend relaxing, being with your significant other, and doing other crap that needs doing. After awhile, cranking out free copy on deadline for someone else’s benefit can very easily turn from “Yay, fun!” into “Holy crap I’m already working 40 hours a week, and churning out all these words about video games is sucking every ounce of my free time, I want to kill something…DIEDIEDIE!” That said, here are a few instances when writing for free may not be as bad as suckling at Satan’s teat.
Why You Might Consider Writing For Free
To Get Usable Clips
Most editors want to see samples of your published work to get a feel for how well you write before they’ll consider working with you. Hence the age-old Catch 22: to get published you need clips, but you need to be published first in order to get clips. It’s asinine, I know, yet that’s the system. While bigger publications are going to be pickier about who they work with, that’s not always the case with the little guys. Volunteer sites know they’re not going to be able to score established freelancers that are already getting paid gigs elsewhere, so they set their sights on the budding entrepreneurs seeking to get their first bite out of the delicious meaty pie that is video game journalism. Use this to your advantage for as long as it feels worthwhile.
To Improve Your Work
It takes time, practice, and experience to build confidence in your writing ability, and if you have precious little quantities of all three, you can gain a lot from working with an editor to fine-tune your chops. Since the vetting process is minimal, not all editors at smaller volunteer sites have much professional experience. Some may even wreck your writing worse with crappy edits, but in most cases you’ll benefit from having someone else looking at your work, making suggestions, and correcting bad habits prior to publication.
To Explore Different Kinds of Writing
Writing new kinds of pieces for the first time can be daunting. Sometimes it takes a little practice to get a feel for writing in a different style or format than you’re used-to. Testing the waters in a low-stress environment can be a great way to flex those fresh muscles without the pressure of knowing every sentence will be picked apart by thousands of readers.
To Generate Traffic For You Own Site
Rather than shelling out buckets of words for someone else, one of the best reasons to write for free is to generate web traffic and readership for your own website or blog. While you don’t have an editor helping you out along the way, you can always enlist other writer comrades to chip in and critique your work. You’re also free to tackle any subject you like, try out new things, and build a reader base all-the-while. And when you do break into paying freelance markets, it doesn’t take much to turn your blog into a makeshift online resume for sharing clips with prospective editors.
A Few Caveats…
There are some compelling reasons to dive in and write for free if you’re just getting your feet wet. However, I’d also argue that you can achieve all of these things and still get paid a little something for your work. It just takes a little more time and effort to find these opportunities. Sure, you might not score a gig at GameSpot on your first go around, but there are sites out willing to pay new writers, like About.com and HubPages. Even if these low-paying outlets don’t offer much, it’s better than nothing. You can still get usable clips, continue to improve your work, try out new kinds of writing, and build readership for your own site all-the-while.
If you’re hell bent on writing for a volunteer site to start out, it’s best to treat it as a short-term learning experience. Get what you can out of it, make connections, hone your craft, and move on as soon as you can. Don’t get bogged down with it or let these sites suck up every last drop of your time and energy. There are well-established gaming outlets out there that pay writers well and are open to pitches from new freelancers. Once you’ve got some clips and are comfortable, start aiming higher. Pitch editors. Network with other likeminded writer folk. Chase leads. With enough chops and some serious effort, you’ll land paying work soon enough. You won’t look back.
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