The Joys and Difficulties of Creating your Own Assignments

When you first start out as a digital journalist, one of the things you most enjoy is being in full control of your hours and of your work. This seems especially good if you have come from a full time place of work, working for someone else. There are ups and downs or both but I would say that creating your own assignments is one of the things that has the most up and downs.

Firstly, it is a wonderful thing to create your own work. As a writer, you are probably a highly creative person and find it relatively easy to generate writing tasks for yourself. People often say that starting is the most difficult thing in life. Once you are on a roll, you keep going until you get to the end. This is certainly true in writing, which is why I have written in a previous post about the need to ”just write’. As long as you get something down on paper and churn the words out, you will be fine.

Creating your own assignments gives you a literary independence that gives you creative freedom. This kind of freedom is important as it runs to the crux of why you are doing what you are doing in the first place. You are in charge of your own work, what you do and what you say.

However, as time goes on, it can be surprisingly difficult to create your own assignments, day in, day out. Often, writers will have a freelancer plan, which can be added to over time. This plan will list out all of the possible work that you have for that coming week or month. It will be packed full of your ideas for what might be good to write. However, you will always have days when you are completely stuck and not sure what to do. Expect these days to come along and do not worry if and when they do.

When you come up with an assignment you should think about why you are writing it? Who is the audience? What is the structure? What happens? Who is involved? There are a load of questions that need answering. Often, if you are stuck for something to write, questions are a good way of starting out. Answering your questions will grow into a piece, which will grow into a title and then you have an assignment.

Good luck!

What should I write about?

what-should-i-write-about

This is one of those questions that you will ask yourself at the beginning of your writing journey. You will also probably ask yourself the very same question every day afterwards. The ‘what’ is perhaps the most important thing in terms of drawing content together. When you begin your digital journalism journey you will probably have thought about what kind of writer you want to be. After all, there are numerous writing styles out there and potential subjects that you could write about. Everybody needs a niche to some extent, even if that niche is quite broad. Many of the most successful bloggers or vloggers write or talk about a wide range of material under the banner of ‘lifestyle’.

So, you need to decide if you are specialising in a particular field. If you do indeed have a niche then you can begin to research that niche in detail and your articles or posts can be based broadly around that subject area. Online search engines are a great tool for an online journalist. You should particularly think about trying out the ‘news’ section of these search engines, as they will provide you with really interesting, often local, examples of topics. This might provide you with inspiration.

Personal experiences are usually the best thing to write about. After all, you know what has happened to you and what you think about it better than anybody else. Accounts of personal experiences tend to be popular with readers because they seem to be more engaging for some reason. Why not write about somebody you met or a place that you visited? If it links to a broader theme or something topical that is going on in the world at the time then all the better.

You should be careful not to overthink when you are considering what to write about. If you overthink then it is likely that you are going to have too much material to write about and end up writing an essay rather than something suitable for a piece of online journalism. It can be tempting to write longer pieces and some readers do enjoy going through them. However, these readers are likely to be a minority and you are much better off writing shorter pieces that people can engage with quickly and easily. People seem to have a very short attention span on the internet and it doesn’t really need to be said how much competition you have out there in terms of other writers vying for the attention of a wider readership. Keep it short and to the point and you are more likely to have success.

More than anything, write about stuff that you are passionate about. This will come across in your writing if you have a passion for the subject. Nobody wants to read something that is dull so why bother writing about it in the first place. A good writer should be able to make the driest topic interesting.

The Cost of Being a Digital Journalist

As a digital journalist, I have costs associated with my job just like anyone else who works from home. Of course, there is the computer, the tablet, the iPod, supplies, smart phone (latest model), phone bills, utility expenses, and more. There is the initial investment and ongoing upgrades and additions. It is pretty low cost as businesses go, but I always look for shortcuts. I use my phone a lot and initially got what I thought was a good data plan, but over time I have found this not to be the case. I run over every month and incur fees and charges. It was time to make a change. I found a better plan easily from a new mobile provider because the industry is so competitive. It takes some looking to decipher all the details about memory and data storage, etc. but it can be done.

I will also be looking at cutting costs by renting a room in my house to a suitable tenant. I want someone who is rather quiet and low key as I am often working through the day and also many evenings. When I get inspired to write, I want it to be possible on the spot. Another journalist might be a good idea. We can share space, although not equipment. I can do this for a short time to garner some funds with which I can do some remodeling in the office and add some new sound equipment. I have been wanting a home theater of modest sorts as well and maybe that will be possible. It is all because I am often home. Friends have to come over since I don’t always have time to go out. If I have an entertainment center, we can spend some no-work time. The tenant will allow me the option of a nice system. Why cut corners on something like this when there are other areas that are expendable.

Sure, the new mobile broadband plan for my mobile phone helps, but it isn’t enough. I have to get creative now if I want a new TV and surround sound system. This would be a treat and a luxury for someone like me. My home can be the focal point of activity in the neighborhood. I like the idea of attracting people to my abode. You can’t be too social, especially when you are often confined to home. I will need some advice about where to place it and what to include initially. I can add to it over time. You can spend a bundle so I will have to be judicious in my selections. I am about to go online as I always do when I need information and resources. I can ask the vendors as well and any friends or family with such a home theater set up. I am really looking forward to it. I love having saved money on my cell phone plan. It all goes into the pot for the new home theater.

Feast or Famine: Too Much or Too Little Work

You will soon find that, as a digital journalist,you will suffer from quite a significant problem. No, don’t worry; it isn’t some weird disease that only journalists are prone to. It is the problem of having too much or too little work.

It is the nature of the writing business that work tends to come in dribs and drabs. Depending on who your client base is or who your audience is, you might have a lot of work or you might not have very much. If you are doing a lot of work for free and rely on advertising for your income then it is not so much of a problem. This is because, depending on your subject, there is usually loads of material available to write about. You just need to get it down on the page and advertise it widely enough to make sure that your readership is sufficiently high to keep the advertisers happy. However, if you rely on piece by piece work, this is more of an issue.

Generally, clients have a habit of giving you lots of work at one time, but then you might not hear from them for several days, weeks or maybe even months afterwards. This is why it is important to have a range of different writing platforms and clients so that you should, in theory at least, always have someone to turn to for work. However, this also has its down sides. By having lots of potential clients, you open yourself up to having lots of potential work. Occasionally you will get several clients asking you to complete a task to a tight deadline at the same time. You know that you cannot possibly complete all of the tasks by the deadline and so you are going to have to say no to someone. This is incredibly frustrating, especially when you think of the times that you don’t have any work at all and you wish that someone would just give you something; anything! However, this is just the nature of the digital journalism journey. You need to realise that this is the reality.

It can be tough living through the times of the writing famine. It does happen and you should expect it. There are sites available where you can always find work. However, these don’t tend to pay you very well so you are probably going to have to work twice as hard. However, they are still worth having a look at to get through those times of literary famine.

The most important thing for you to do is to keep positive and make the most of those writing feast times. Rather like making a budget, it is always important to create a contingency fund. During those glut times of writing good times, remember to put a little money aside, to make sure you can get through the times of writing dearth.

The times of writing famine can however also be a good thing. You could use the time to look for new contacts, do some networking, work on non-online work, or catch up with other tasks that you have had to put to the side because you have been working so hard on your writing.

There are good sides and bad sides of everything. There are also times of work and times of play in life. Make the most of all of your time and keep positive and you will be absolutely fine.

How-To Journalism

I like to chronicle the comings and goings of life, however mundane. After all, the world is full of mundane experiences so we can all identify. For example, most of us have a kitchen sink with a faucet. Most faucets get pretty old. We tend to ignore them until they stop working entirely. They do corrode and get clogged, so there is a time when you need to install a new faucet. Most people want to upgrade to a more modern unit. You might want cold and hot water appendages. You might want a flexible model so you can move it around the area for better rinsing. You might want a water filter attachment or an extra-long neck so you can put large pans underneath for washing.

If you go to a hardware store or a fancy appliance depot, there are a lot to choose from to suit your needs and taste. Think about how you use a faucet and it will become an easy decision. Then there is the cost factor as well. For myself, I prefer to select a top-grade model and install it myself to save money on labor. If you check out YouTube, you will find multiple examples of explainer videos that provide how to instructions. As a digital journalist, I also suggest reading an instructional piece. I have written them on many subjects including installing faucets to educate my readers. I hope they are helpful and are the go to material to help do the job quickly and efficiently. I don’t suggest you go the trial and error route. You might get to a dead end. If the faucet is installed incorrectly, you may resort to a plumber to fix your bad handiwork.

So listen up. In my instructional piece I describe what tools you need to get ready in advance. I also include diagrams of the latest trend, pull down kitchen faucets in addition to the more traditional style models. I suggest that if you write similar documents, you include a variety of types so the reader doesn’t have to search and search for his or her particular faucet. Then you go step by step and guide the installer in making the connection with a wrench. There will be no welding involved. It usually screws on to an obvious place. It may take a little strength but most people can do it. In your writing, including tips and tricks that the reader should understand before starting.

Installing a faucet is not genius work like fixing a toilet might be. There are certain plumbing activities that take knowledge and skill. But not installing a faucet or shower head. That’s pretty routine. Any digital writer should learn to be comprehensive and clear. Don’t leave out any steps or the installer will run into trouble. The steps must be in th4e proper order as well. If you do it right, you will help many people with this task.

Your Blog and Your Digital Reputation

When you are a digital journalist you will almost certainly have a blog as your ‘shop window’. If you don’t already have a blog, you should think about getting one. They are seen as your front door in the digital journalism world. They are the ‘go to’ place for anyone who is considering commissioning your work who may want an idea of your writing style or the kinds of topics that you enjoy writing about.

Building a digital reputation is key, both in terms of attracting readers but also attracting clients. In many ways, the two are intrinsically linked. Clients are looking for work that can attract a wider readership to their site. Audiences are looking for high quality, readable material that can inform them, entertain them, educate them or engage them in some way. The more you are able to successfully engage your audience, the more your digital reputation will grow.

As well as making sure that your content is readable and engaging, you must make sure that there is nothing around on the Internet that could be used to smear your reputation. For example, you should never copy something from another person’s site and pass it off as your own work on your own blog. This has the potential of trashing your reputation very quickly. Further, if your blog is messy or looks unprofessional, your reputation is likely to be tarnished as well. A client who looks at a website that is a bit messy is less likely to hire the work of that person, when compared to somebody who has a professional looking, smart, ‘shop window’.

So, is it possible to build your reputation and, if yes, how do you go about doing that?

Apart from making sure your blog looks good and has great content there are a number of other ways that you can grow your reputation.

Firstly, be active on social media. Make yourself well known in the digital world. Try and carve out a niche and learn as much as possible about it. If you can earn a specialism then you will be surprised how much this gains you a reputation. Once you have this niche carved out, try to write about it regularly, building your reputation as somebody who knows their stuff.

Secondly, try and write on a wide range of different platforms. There are lots of online magazines and specialist sites out there. Try and get your work published widely on these platforms and always search for new avenues to publish your work.

Finally, get actively involved in the blogosphere and make informed comments on other people’s blogs. After a while you will see your own blog visitor numbers grow, as your reputation grows.

Just Write

just-write

Just write. That’s what they always told me (by they I mean other writers who were way more experienced that I was when I first started out). The important thing to do when you sit down at your computer to start writing is to not think too hard about it, just churn out the words. After all, editing can come later; spell checking can come later; grammar checking can come later. Once you have an idea, you should roll with it and have confidence that your writing style and ability will carry you through to the other end.

When you are a freelance digital journalist, time is money, just like with any other job. With this in mind it is really important that you get through as many tasks in one day as possible. If you don’t get words down on paper then there won’t be any payment, and if there isn’t any payment then the bills cannot be paid. If you already have work lined up for the day, then get on and do it. If you don’t have any work then you are going to have to spend some time looking for it. This usually isn’t too difficult though, and once you have built up a solid client base, you can send round some emails or messages to see if anybody has any work. More often than not, somebody will have something for you.

You may have heard of a thing called writers block. This is a real thing and sometimes, the words just don’t flow. You can have a really good idea of what you want to write in your head, but you just can’t get it down on the page. Alternatively, you might not be able to think about the idea at all and really struggle to get motivated. This is ok and all writers go through it at some point. However, often the best way of getting through it is to just write. It doesn’t necessarily matter what it is about, you just need to get something down. It is always worth having a few tasks on the go at any one time that you can return to when you are struggling with one. We all have tasks that we prefer to do above others. The trick with being a freelance writer is to not waste any time, or at least as little time as possible. Even if you are working on something else unrelated to what you feel you should be doing, it is technically not wasted time because you are still writing.

So, in conclusion, when you get up in the morning, you need to get into the routine of writing. It can take a bit of time to realise that it is now your day job and it is your daily duty to get out there on the internet and write articles. However, you need to get into a routine of writing. Just write, and don’t look back. When you get to the end of the day and you look back at what you have achieved, you will feel good. Then you can go to bed and afterwards, get out of bed and do the whole thing again! It should be what you enjoy doing so it shouldn’t be a chore. Writing is what you are good at – so just write!