A lot of young professionals tend to separate work from play. It’s easy to think that our hobbies and professional goals are completely different things. But as writers, we constantly take our passions and turn them into portfolio material.
I’ve actively tried to combine my work as a journalist and my interests as a gamer, and I now work as senior news editor and features writer at Two Left Sticks, a small and growing gaming news outlet that covering everything from new consoles to e-sports to social issues in gaming. I’m not yet getting paid for my work – no one at Two Left Sticks is – and we may not be competing with larger gaming news sites like IGN or Polygon, but I get to write, play games and write about them professionally at age 23. Not bad.
So I thought I might provide some tips on how to take your passion and turn it into professional writing. Obviously, my experience is limited to games journalism, but I hope that everyone from sports writers to business writers can take something away from this.
Find a network
Networking is such a buzzword these days. But for a writer looking to fit a niche market, gaining an understanding of your media landscape is essential. Take the time to understand who the major players are in your field of interest. That can help you start having conversations that drive your interests. Understanding the edges and limits of those conversations can help you identify the gaps in reporting and perspectives in your field. Once you understand those gaps, you can make yourself more desirable by filling them with your writing. What I’ve found is that the angle and perspective of your stories are just as important as the content and reporting.
DM the pros
Finding the right network for your interests is key. I took the time to find the biggest writers and personalities in games journalism and I would DM them on Twitter with a couple questions. More often than not, writers in a field like gaming, sports or tech are happy to talk to energetic young writers. Take the time to pick their brains for where to find content hubs or places to start applying. They won’t always give you concrete leads, but just putting your face and name out there is worthwhile. Finding the outlets, writers and audience connected to your interests can provide you with a sturdy foundation.
It was tempting for me to want to jump right into the deep end, aiming for major gaming outlets like IGN, Polygon or Game Informer. But in my experience, starting on smaller sites is a great way to build a portfolio and learn a lot of the basic skills needed to cover your field. Smaller outlets are always looking for dedicated, talented writers.
After roaming through sites like gamejournalismjobs.com, I began writing both for Two Left Sticks and another site called Pause Resume. Both sites are small but eager to grow, so taking on writers with proper journalism experience is a great way for them to add quality content. Working with these sites, I’ve learned everything from social media marketing and managerial skills to how to interview game designers and review games. More importantly, working for small outlets can help you understand how hard yet rewarding it is to reach an audience.
Smaller outlets like these will always reward writers who take charge. When I started writing for Two Left Sticks, I was just a features writer. But by consistently delivering quality content and rooting my work in good reporting or interesting perspectives, I was able to take on more responsibility. Now I’m senior news editor.
If you’re passionate about a topic, chances are someone out there will want to read your work. In many fields, but especially in games journalism, people want to know that writers care about what they’re doing. Of course, backing up that passion with good reporting and writing is just as important. But if you want to write about your interests and passions don’t forget to put your interest and passion into the writing itself.
Your interests may seem too small or too niche to you, but audiences – whether they are sports fans, science fanatics, political wonks or gamers – are always eager to read something new. Explore what you care about. Critique it and constantly question it like any good journalist, but always keep that passion alive. Regardless of what you’re writing about, it’s still work and you should take it seriously, but it’s alright to have fun with it too. There are times when I get caught up in my work and forget that games – the things I’m writing about – are supposed to be fun. So why shouldn’t the writing itself be fun and interesting, too?
These are general tips that I hope will help young writers out there start to think about turning their passions into a job. Like a lot of things, it takes a mixture of luck, skill and perseverance to get to that point, but it’s a mistake to think that your work has to be all work. Passion and play should be part of the writing process.