Hello again friends. Or welcome! This is my blog, Susie Does Life. I like to tell my stories and stories of other people. This month, I am pledging to spread motivation and inspiration. January is a marathon month if you ask me – it goes on and on and on and we are cold and uncomfortable and poor. I find myself drifting off into my imagination a lot, dreaming of the things I could achieve with a little determination and hard work. And so, I have reached out to people for them to share their stories of turning their hobbies into their careers. I am always inspired when I hear stories of such achievements and I hope you are too!
This time I speak to Sam. Sam has both a day job AND his hobby job (greedy). He’s a huge success and I wanna know his secrets. Mainly I wanna know HOW THE HELL HE HAS ACHIEVED SO MUCH AS SUCH A GODDAMN YOUNG AGE. Here it is where I dig a little deeper into his career and try my very best (I fail) to keep my raging jealousy over his youth in check.
Right. First things first, what’s this hobby that you have and how/when did it start?
I am a male born in 1991 so, naturally, I Iove (and sometimes hate) video games. My parents were always pretty strict with what I could and couldn’t play, up until I was of a decent age – I like to think that was when I turned 11, but in actuality it’s most likely when I turned 18 or something. Video games get a bad rep for being a hobby for virgins and nerds, and while that’s 95% true and I can vouch personally that almost everyone I know/work with is a virgin and a nerd, it’s a remarkably clever/artistic/amazing form of entertainment; writing about it is really interesting, super fun, and also an excuse to continue sitting in my pants for hours on end.
Sorry Sam, I am momentarily overcome with jealousy that you WERE BORN IN THE 90’s and yet already somehow a Legitimate and Proper Adult. OF COURSE YOU’RE STILL A VIRGIN YOU ARE BASICALLY A CHILD. Okay sorry, I am over it, you’re not, I am sorry. This is piquing also my interest in video games.
So when was it – or what was it – that made you decide you wanted to make it a source of income?
I started writing (at least, professionally) way back in 2011 when I was but a dickworm. I had been in a band for a few years – we were touring and playing a lot of gigs, but they never paid particularly well and, split 5-ways, they paid even worse. I love being creative and the feeling of making something has to be a constant thing in my life, and despite gigging 3, 4 and sometimes 5 times a week it was important for me to start doing other things for fulfilment, so I decided that I’d try my hand in writing.
The obvious subject choice was games, simply because I had a huge knowledge of that field and it was something I had enjoyed for so many years. I had, against all expectations, done quite well in literature and language subjects at college so it wasn’t like I had to learn a skill from scratch as I did with music, but writing is tough, sometimes painfully so, but when it’s something you love it feels a lot, lot easier.
As for my actual setup right now, I’m a bit of a strange one. I’ve had games writing as my full-time income before, but right now (and for the foreseeable) I have it as a secondary income which I prefer for a multitude of reasons. It’s a considerable top-up on top of my full-time job at an advertising agency, which is hugely beneficial, but doing both also allows me a constant stream of stuff to do. I love being busy, productive and always turning around commissions and projects, so it’s the perfect balance for both self-fulfilment and financial security. I avoid that problem a lot of creative freelancers have of living paycheque to paycheque, even if it does occasionally get a little too much to handle.
That makes sense – kind of like the best of both worlds. How did you go about doing it?
I pitched a lot. A lot of people wonder how the hell you end up being a writer. Or a creative of any kind, for that matter. The answer is always: pitching. It’s a hard thing to do, but the first hurdle of sending an email to an accomplished stranger telling them you want to do work for them is absolutely the hardest to jump over. For me it was a little easier as the first lot of unpaid work I did to build up my skills was through my mate’s brother, who was an editor of a small indie newspaper.
Once that was done and I understood how to put across good impressions and good ideas in a short, snappy email, it became a far easier process, and you’ll build up rapport with a load of people. That’s how it was for me, anyway. After that, I pitched for a placement at Official Xbox Magazine and they took me under their wing. It was a great experience – the guys there showed me the ropes in terms of producing a magazine on barely any budget/resource and it was an eye opening period to see just how chaotic and often unpleasant mag production can be.
While I was there, I ended up pitching a couple of features to the website across the room just to get some ideas onto paper, and they ended up buying some work off me. I turned it around and they liked it, so I ended up with a regular stream of work and that simply grew and grew –– I met other editors and chatted to more on Twitter, and that gave me the confidence to consistently pitch and pitch and pitch. I’ve been doing it 5-years now, and am a GQ columnist and regular contributing writer to The Guardian, The Telegraph, Empire, and a bunch of others.
Impressive stuff. What setbacks did you face (if any?!) and what did you do to overcome them?
I’ve had very few, but they’re always disagreements or snags you have with certain publications. Or when I jokingly call someone a cunt on Twitter. I’ve not been paid by some places, or had fallings out over miscommunications with embargoes and all that stuff, but these are par for the course in any industry, I think, especially if you’re a freelance agent who’s got to balance being amenable and approachable, while also looking out for yourself and your own income stream. Overall it’s been plain sailing –– great friendships have come of it, and it’s something I can never see myself stopping simply because of how fun it can be, while also making my free time truly productive and creative.
Do you feel you have made a success of it?
Absolutely. I would never have thought it possible when I started, but I’ve managed to create a self-sustaining freelance career with some of the best magazines and websites out there, all while keeping up a job that I love. Every year I do more and more freelance work – over 100 individual bylined pieces of work this year plus many other pieces of advertorial and corporate copywriting that goes on top of that –so it’s a constant sense of progression.
Confidence is occasionally an issue –– even now it’s still a bit daunting to pitch to a completely new publication, but then other things pop up and take you by surprise. GQ approached me to be their sole games critic and columnist, so I’m hoping that will grow into something as I put out more and more games related stuff for their audience in 2017, and it’s also a great sign that I’m doing something right?!?!?.
You are absolutely doing SOMETHING right, Sam! Any regrets?
None! Everything is a learning exercise, and in my opinion something is only worth regretting if you don’t learn something from that experience. Thankfully, I’ve not yet had that problem.
Now, can you give me some words of motivational wisdom please!
Pitch, pitch, pitch. It’s really that simple – have a great idea and then send it to an editor, and don’t take it to heart if you don’t hear back or they don’t commission it. It’s almost always that they don’t think the idea is right for them, not that you are a bad writer. Also, I’d say never feel pressured to make your hobby your full-time career. That’s a lot to ask of anything, and there are great benefits to not having the overarching pressure of being a freelance agent who’s always thinking about the next paycheque. For me personally, I’ve a great balance of security and freedom and it’s fucking great if you want to buy a flat or sit on a beach for 4-weeks of the year.
Sign me up, that sounds bloody great. Thanks so much for your time Sam! If you’d like to chat to Sam, you can find him on Twitter here – @
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