Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘blogs on freelancing

The secret anxiety of being a freelancer

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I am not the world’s most prolific freelance journalist. I tend to report and write fairly slowly. I don’t pitch all that often and I’m not insanely busy with assignments. These are all great faults that I need to improve. And yet even with this somewhat leisurely state of affairs I find myself feeling stressed, anxious and under pressure.

This boils down to one thing and something perhaps unique to the freelance trade. And that’s you always feel like you should be doing more. 

I find myself constantly worrying about story ideas, about the fact I haven’t written enough pitches, or that I haven’t pitched enough, or about new ideas. In bed, at cafes, at diners, my mind is abuzz with activity, always whirring, constantly active. A lot of the time it’s cycling through trivial, arcane bits of matter, pop cultural references and connections, things people said and the songs that are for some reason stuck.

And yet this constant activity is conducive to making the sorts of connections and curiosity that can be a freelance journalist’s source of power: that ability to generate story ideas that people have not yet identified previously.

But it can be tough on your sanity to be living with such an always-on state of mind. I know other, better, more experienced, more meticulous freelancers will be more organized and have routines that best manages their workflow. I guess I still need to fumble and reach toward that ideal.

April. It’s a transitional month. It’s still fairly cold at night here and the days are sometimes warm enough for a light jumper. But it’s windy and everyone is expecting real warmth to arrive. I feel April should be the month you spend, if you’re a freelance, on those tasks, some of which may be leftover from the previous year, that are important but not urgent.

Any creative will have those ‘just-started’ or ‘half-finished-but-haven’t-looked-at-it-for-months’ projects that they know are important. Even if it’s just something they want to produce, create, get out into the world, they know it’s important to finish such projects because the value of these things can be great.

I’ve been working on an essay (nonfiction memoir) for a while now and I have no idea if it’s even halfway complete, but I know that once it is complete it may be worth more than those urgent journalism pieces. Why? Because it’ll capture something important for me personally, and for others it may be a piece of writing that leaves a more memorable and longer lasting impression than a news report. But I hope the anxiety of living, working, doesn’t leave me bereft.

Freelancing in Istanbul: the breakthrough – by Samantha North

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For this newbie freelance journalist in Istanbul, July 1 was a day of celebration in more ways than one.



It was the day I received a much-awaited delight by mail. My residence permit, (ikamet in Turkish), the document that has been the bane of my Turkey life for the last two months. This, at last, makes me a fully legal foreign resident of this country.

But that was not the only good news. July 1 was also the day I got published by a UK national newspaper. It was the day I felt like I’d finally arrived in journalism.

Ironically, it was the bane of my life that produced the winning story. I wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph about the difficulties expats have been experiencing in Turkey as they struggle to obtain residency.

The ikamet situation seemed too serious to go unreported. Expats, including myself, were unable to leave Turkey while waiting for their permits to arrive. Any situation where expats are stranded in a country through no fault of their own, but due simply to poor bureaucracy, surely merits reporting.

During my own limbo period in Istanbul I saw numerous foreign travel opportunities slip through my grasp, including one which would have been my first ever visit to the United States. This left me feeling frustrated and on edge.

I got in touch with other expats on various forums and Facebook groups, searching for a solution to this problem. I discovered that an awful lot of people were in the same boat, many of them Brits like me.

That’s when the idea of pitching to the Telegraph came to mind. This kind of issue would be a perfect fit for their Expat section.

A fellow freelancer gave me the editor’s email address, and I pitched the idea to her. I had no clue what to expect.

But a couple of days later, she replied with enthusiasm, asking me to go ahead with the story.

I spent the next couple of weeks trawling through the Turkey forums, interviewing expats by Skype and Facebook, trying to wheedle out the truth from among the many rumours and red herrings.

It was a challenging story to write, mainly because the truth was so hard to pin down. The Turkish residency rules literally seemed to change on a daily basis.

My first version of the story came back from the Telegraph asking for a lot of edits. So I chased further information, verified as many things as possible, and added extra quotes. The Telegraph’s standards are high, and it was a great learning process for me.

Finally, the piece was watertight and ready to go.

On the day it was published, my story was most-viewed on the Expat section. It was shared all over the Turkey online forums and Facebook pages. I received plenty of comments and, so far, no abuse. There’ll be enough of the latter, no doubt, once I get something published in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section…That’s one of my next goals.


Read Samantha North’s previous guest post: Why I moved to Istanbul

Samantha North is a British freelance journalist based in Istanbul. She specialises in city branding, and also writes about travel, culture and expat issues for Time Out Istanbul and the Daily Telegraph. Her website is and her Twitter handle is @placesbrands. 

30th blog post anniversary: The Top Seven Posts

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Hello all! This post marks the 30th post on this blog (not including the ‘About’ post). So I thought now would be a good time to mark the seven most popular posts in this blog’s existence.

Before that, a brief history: this site was originally created as a simple holding page for my portfolio and bio – an online CV basically. But it soon morphed into an idea – I was going off to China soon, to once again grind at the freelance coal pit, an addictive and unhealthy pursuit with world-beating highs and irredeemable, squalid lows.

I thought I should also write a blog on my experience of trying to make it overseas, as a ‘freelance foreign correspondent’ as I termed it. I started blogging at the end of September, 2013. The first post on this site is ‘Welcome: mission statement’.  Since then I’ve made new contacts, people who are on a similar journey to me, deciding to up sticks, move to a new country and try their hand in journalism in a foreign land. There are new plans developing for this site, with writers from other countries who I hope will become regular contributors. There might even be a redesign and rebranding at some point. But anyway, I waffle. Without further ado, these are the top seven most popular posts.

The seven most popular posts on this site to date:

7. How I Got My First Ever Paid Freelance Gig

This post tells, in detail, the story of how I got my first ever byline in The Guardian when I was a first year student at university. It took me two years before I got in that newspaper again…

6. The Illusion of Journalistic Success

One of my personal favourites.

5. Life in Beijing as a Journalist – Retrospective 

An instructive lesson in how someone without journalism experience got to be The Guardian’s China correspondent.

4. How does a journalist make a name for him/herself? Part 1. 

I analyze what ingredients make up successful journalists who are not only professionally successful, but also lauded, renowned and can claim some degree of fame. There is also a Part 2. Other parts have yet to be published.

And here are the Top 3 posts in ascending order. 

3. Wishlist: 4 gadgets I’d love to do journalism with 

One of the earliest posts on this site, this has been a perennial favourite.

2. What happened last time I tried to be a freelance foreign correspondent 

Another early one, this post is highly recommended to those new to the site. It relates my adventures and mishaps of the time when I decided to move to a new city, where I knew virtually nobody, had no job and no accommodation planned, but wanted to do something vaguely journalism related. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life (although it often didn’t feel that way, but I learnt a lot in that short space of time).

And the number one most clicked on, most visited post on this site since it began, but may change in the future, the most popular post so far is………

1. So I got a job with a Chinese TV company 

Thanks to those reading! And if anyone is out there who wants to contribute, please hit me up – my email can be found here.