I wanted to get out of the city last weekend so I went down to Kampot, an old colonial town near the coast and the Vietnamese border. I left Saturday morning and would be meeting friends from work who had arrived there the day before. I took a Sorya tour bus that left at 8:15 AM for $7. It was to be a four hour drive. The seats were spacious and well-cushioned, with a generous air-con and Khmer music was played only intermittently and at a fair volume.
I was anxious to get out of Phnom Penh. It is an odd thing for me to be gainfully employed in an Asian country or to put it another way, to be immobile in one. Had this been China a year ago I would have seen the whole south coast by now. As it is, I’ve barely been able to explore Phnom Penh.
Beijing and its endless streets and expanse of concrete desert, where it can take a lot of effort to arrange social affairs.
It’s coming up to three years since I arrived in Beijing — three years in which I’ve made friends and lost friends, through the simple drift of life.
In this time I’ve been broke numerous times, have had to scrape and meander. I’ve had starry nights and schemes come to fruition, and moments seldom preconceived.
But what am I doing now? Am I moving forward — is misery just going through the motions?
You might not understand the dilemma and that is fine. I shall put it plainly.
I could never have realized just how hard it is to succeed as a writer.
I could never have imagined what a crossroads sometimes life can be.
I do not want to work to earn money so I can pay the rent, so I can buy more things I do not need.
My instinct tells me I should move out of Beijing and head to some other places in China and stay with friends. Read, write, sleep. Convalesce.
Try to write more — that’s more important than anything. And yet why torture myself? I could do a job that’s enjoyable and worthwhile, and write on the side.
Many writers have had multiple lives. I feel like I should have those lives, because in the end it will make me better and more varied.
There’s no one telling you what your next move should be. There’s no path to follow or predetermined step. Always thus.
Money is and will always be an issue. When you’re younger you think –you’re sure of it in fact– that at some stage you will be wealthy and have enough money to do the things you want to do. But at some stage, it becomes clear that those riches might not become reality.
But that’s fine?
I should go somewhere awhile and figure things out.
Some years ago, when I was in my last year of university, there was a house party. At this party I got talking to a French girl, who was eloquent and charming. I reached a point where I got talking about journalism, my ambitions, who I’d already written for, and all the fine journalism pieces I’d written — the kind of things you might say when trying to impress a French girl.
She listened with interest but after I had finished my spiel, she looked at me and without a pause said simply: “But what do you write for yourself?”
This memory and those words have stayed with me ever since.
This is the first in a series examining publications and their accessibility to freelancers. If I have written for said publication then I will draw from my own experience. If I haven’t I will find other freelancers and ask them. Click on the Pitchable Outlets tag to follow this series as it continues.
Status: high / 1st tier
Reach: The Guardian is one of the most respected news organizations in the world. Its headquarters are in King’s Cross, London, and it has offices in the US and Australia as it seeks to transform itself into a “global newspaper”. It vies with The New York Times for the world’s second most popular English-language newspaper website (The Mail Online is the most popular).
Accessibility: For a freelancer, The Guardian is actually relatively accessible. Yes, you have a lot of competition, which is why some of the bylines I’ve gained have been in smaller sections such as the online-only Careers blog. I mostly write “around the sides” for The Guardian, although I plan to pitch more to the “World” section.
To reach or find an editor at The Guardian isn’t too difficult. If you pitch an idea to an editor, make sure you have the right section editor. For example, you might Google “guardian comment is free editor”. And then you’ll find some names. Twitter is your friend too. You only need the name as The Guardian follows a standard email format: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ease: I usually get a response from whichever editor I have pitched to, and they are kind and fair responses. Never expect an in-depth email about why they might not use your pitch. Editor emails tend to be on the terse side. The Guardian is a big name so there’s a lot of competition, and editors only have a limited budget for freelancers. So don’t take it personally, persevere.
Pay: The best rate I’ve received from The Guardian was actually for my first ever article for them, back in 2010. The published article was 311 words and I received £151.41, which works out to about 49p per word. This is a pretty good rate.
My most recent article for them came in May 2014. It was for the Careers Blog, so I doubt it appeared in the newspaper, just online only. The article was 649 words and I received £248.54, which works out to about 38p per word, which is still decent.
If you don’t know who Jerome Jarre is, he’s a French 25-year-old entertainer who rose to fame using mobile apps Vine and Snapchat. Here is an example of his work:
He has over 8 million followers on Vine, 1.2 million followers on Snapchat, the same again for Twitter, and over 900,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.
That’s a lot of people who enjoy what he does, and a large audience he has unmediated access to. This has, of course, made him a huge attraction to advertisers and brands.
Last year, he was offered $1 million to spend a year in NYC, working for an advertising campaign. He turned down the offer, saying that money was not his priority, and he made an inspiring video from his decision.
This is my third summer in Beijing, and the first one where I want to work.
Looking back to last summer, I spent 20 days in Thailand, and I wrote a post in June entitled “What should a freelance journalist do in the summer?”
In that post I said it should be the season to unwind and get rid of stresses, but this year I feel differently.
I want to work and do productive things. And this isn’t about money. Yes, I don’t have enough of it to travel. And I still feel the urge to go somewhere where I can swim and frolic.
But I wouldn’t want to do that for an extended amount of time; a weekend would suffice.
Why this might be, I am not sure. Perhaps it is natural that appetites change and the propensity to knuckle down and set to should swing by at different life-stages.
I have various approaching deadlines and quite a lot to do. And new opportunities have cropped up.
Friends of friends have started up a food company that is doing very well, and they invited me to come up with an advertising campaign. This is a fun challenge.
I am also in the process of designing a course on journalism skills and better writing, which I will be delivering to a multinational company’s Beijing office. This is well paid.
I need this money, it will pay for the next three month’s rent, which I have to pay in a lump sum, and the money from freelanced articles will contribute to food and other living expenses.
The plan is that I will hopefully have enough to do something travel-related in September.
A few weeks ago I had a very hard time — I was not in a good place. But everything has perked up again. Living abroad is often about overcoming those dark days, and trusting in the eventual good times. Optimism must sustain you.
These are six things a freelance journalist rarely can afford, and so she or he would love to receive them as gifts. This summer why not treat your friendly freelancer to one of these items, any of which would make him or her very happy.
Sony a7R II, £2,063 (body only)