Shop Talk: Beating The Freelance Doldrums (Round 2 – Kung-Fu Grip Hiyeah!)

Back for more freelance-fu? In part one of my discussion on how to kick the living crap out the ho-hum moments that can creep into the daily routine of the average freelancer I covered a few techniques to liven up your groove and dispel evil. Here are a few more methods for exacting vengeance upon your freelance doldrum foes. Wield them well, and you should be able to voodoo jedi mind trick your way out of just about any writing rut you’ve managed to trip into.

Diversify Your Areas of Expertise

Reviews and previews are the meat and potatoes of freelance game journalism. Outlets almost always need freelancers to help pick up the slack with reviews and previews. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to get by as a freelancer in this industry without taking them on, but focusing on that alone can make for dull, flavorless work over the long haul. When a dash of salt doesn’t help, try drowning it in beer. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to strike out into new and exciting territory.

Pick a gaming-related subject that you dig, and find a way to carve the hell out of that niche. Make sure it’s something you feel passionate about. It can be a lot of fun to learn about a new topic that interests you, and the process of studying up on it can yield some great ideas for articles. Once you’ve identified this juicy goldmine of inspiration, grab your pickaxe and start whacking. Pitch features on the subject to different outlets. Concoct an idea for a regular column about it. Find a way to tailor your gaming coverage so that it integrates your topic of choice. When you’ve stretched it as far as you can, find another area to poke around in.

Focusing on a unique niche has other benefits too. Establishing yourself as an expert in a specific topic by writing about it frequently makes you stand out among other generalist freelancers competing for the same work. Aside from being a great way to set yourself apart from the pack, it can be very uplifting to be tackling your subject of choice on a regular basis. Being a long-time fan of DIY culture prior to becoming a freelance game journalist, I naturally gravitated towards the indie gaming scene as my niche of choice. It’s been very fulfilling to help foster coverage of indie developers among larger outlets that haven’t always been as receptive to it. I also just love writing about these quirky, smaller projects and the folks who create them. If you find something similar that fires up your engines, grab hold of it and get your idea wheels turning.

Cut Loose Dead Weight

Hate to say it, but sometimes gigs lose their luster and become more of a hassle than they’re worth. This is less of an issue when you’re starting out in the freelancing world, but as you work your way up to higher paying outlets, you’ll reach a point where it just doesn’t make sense to continue pouring your writing mojo into smaller gigs that are too time intensive or pay very little. It can be hard to let go even when you know it’s time, but hanging on to sour work for too long can have a huge negative impact on your freelancing groove.

Let’s be clear. When I say “cut ‘em loose,” I don’t necessarily mean you should strap some TNT to that bridge you just crossed and get all Die Hard on it. You never know when you might find yourself in a hard spot and need some pick-up work to fill the void. It’s better to keep your options open, so you can rekindle those fires if you have to. Some editors won’t take kindly to your decision to move on. Most will understand. 99 percent of the time there’s no reason to be a jerk about it. Don’t be a dick.

As a freelancer, you have a lot more flexibility than if you were on staff for an outlet. Rather than ditching a less desirable gig outright, you can taper your workload down to the bare minimum needed to keep your foot in the door. Or you can just drop off your editor’s radar until you feel like getting back in touch. But if a gig turns into an outright energy vampire with drippy fangs and glowing eyes, stake it and move on before it can suck any more of your brain juice.

Socialize With Fellow Comrades-In-Arms

Few people understand the ups and down of freelancing quite like other writers. These folks are your peeps. Seek them out, swap battle stories, share tips, and help each other out if you feel so inclined. They’ve either been through the minefield that is the freelance writing life already or are going to go through it soon enough. Like-minded individuals who’ve suffered many of the same pitfalls can be a great source of inspiration and help.

For those of us who work from home in isolated areas devoid of fellow freelancer wildlife, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are good hotspots to connect with writer kin. Start conversations, follow other writers, and draw strength from the fact you’re not alone in this. If you happen to live in a metropolitan area, scope around for local writer groups, organizations, and events. Can’t find any? Why not start your own.

If you missed the first round: Rewind right here!

Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!

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Dig this article? Why not BUY THE BOOK!

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3 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Beating The Freelance Doldrums (Round 2 – Kung-Fu Grip Hiyeah!)

  1. Well hell, you touched on niche-specific subjects right here! Lesson #1: Red everything before you ask questions! Haha. Still, it does answer some questions I had, but I think my main one was if I could market myself as just a writer about that niche within the game industry, and nothing else.

    I also wonder if being niche-specific would help with sites that provide general gaming content. I mean, I know specializing in MMOs could get me in mmorpg.com, but would a general gaming website want that expertise as well?

    Cutting the gigs that take up too much of your time’s gonna be a tough one, yes. It’s bound to happen, especially when so any gigs are “volunteer”.

    Also, having a community of aspiring freelance videogame journalists banding together for support, advice and tips sounds like such a great idea. The tips an experienced writer can provide is very valuable, indeed. 🙂

  2. No worries! 😉 Personally, I think it’s a great idea to specialize in a particular niche, and depending on your subject of choice, you may very well get outlets that pick up on that and want your services. You’ll still have to pitch it to them in most cases, but it can turn into regular columns.

    I focus on indie game coverage a lot, and I’ve managed to spin that into three separate indie-related columns for different outlets. Each column had a good run. When I’m not writing related columns, I’m pitching indie reviews, interviewing small devs, and finding other ways to keep that torch alive. Another freelance pal, Andy Groen, is into science, and he did/does a regular thing over at GamePro exploring the real science behind various games. If you can find a topic you dig and come up with a good way to sell it, then it’s doable.

    But beware about picking specializations that are too limited in scope or that are too obscure to generate editorial interest. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t multi-task with your areas of expertize. I also write a lot about video game music culture.

    I’d also suggest that while it’s possible to focus solely on a specific niche in your coverage, you’re going to have a much easier time finding paying work doing a mix of niche-stuff and general freelancing. If you can get in good with a site that caters to your specific interest, that’s one way around it.

  3. Pingback: Shop Talk: Beating The Freelance Doldrums (Round 1 – Fight!) « Nathan Meunier – Freelance Writer / Game Journalist

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