Would you rather work alone, or do you need a job that's part of a team to feel inspired? Lauren Razavi quizzes journalists who've tried different positions...
Declining print media has reduced the amount of work available for writers, while the rise of digital ensures there are exciting new opportunities in the rapidly changing industry. So what kind of writing work works right for you – one full-time job or a series of short-term commissions?
"Working in an editorial team is a great source of experience," says Jonny Payne, a commissioning editor for World Travel Guide. "Learning from others in the team can only improve your skills. You also learn more about processes and issues you may not necessarily be aware of as a freelance writer."
Money can also be a significant factor. "With newspaper staff levels diminishing rather than growing, having a full-time position means the amount of work you have and your job security are not dependent on an industry that's struggling and facing widespread cuts across the board," says Chris King, a sub editor at The Sun. "There is always a risk that freelance work will be plentiful one week and scarce the next two. Having a staff role offers guaranteed hours and the potential for promotion within a specific company, but it does remove the element of choice in terms of when, and for how long, you're working." Jonny agrees: "Staffed positions generally offer more financial security – although freelancing can be prosperous if you really work at it."
Lucy Grewcock is a full-time freelance writer whose clients include The Independent, TNT Magazine and Virgin Media. Her decision to take the plunge and go freelance was an easy one. "I was feeling unsatisfied and bored in my job at the time and knew I was a very self-motivated person, so freelancing seemed like a natural fit." One of the biggest benefits of freelancing is its flexibility, as Lucy points out: "You get to be your own boss, pick your own work and fit in the rest of your life around your job; if I want to take an afternoon off to do my Christmas shopping, I can do."
But in the same vein, the drawbacks and challenges can be intense. "Twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks are not uncommon, whether you're working to get a project done or are desperately marketing yourself to find new work. And certainly don't expect any paid sick days or holidays!" Lucy warns. "You have to be constantly working ahead to market yourself and network with the right people – any freelancer who sits there waiting for work to arrive on their desk without putting themselves out there won't last long." Personal qualities are an important consideration in assessing whether freelancing is a good fit for you. "Self-motivation, resilience and the ability to market yourself are all essential skills," adds Lucy.
Best of both?
Of course, it's a myth that you have to pick just one path to pursue. In fact, freelance work can complement a staffing role or, in some cases, actually lead to one, as Jonny and Chris's experience proves. "I spent a while interning at a range of publications. I then went on to freelance for a couple of them, including becoming the weekend news editor for one website. I then secured my current role, which is a staff job," says Jonny. "I've done freelance work for a number of local newspapers and sports websites. I continue to write for some of these alongside my position at The Sun, but I wanted to take up a permanent job as it offers a guaranteed salary, fixed working hours and job security," says Chris.
"I wouldn't say a staff job has more benefits over freelancing – or vice versa – as everyone seeks something different from their job," Jonny summarises. So if there's one lesson to be learnt from our experts, it's that there's no right way to build your career; if you want something enough, you'll find your own way to make it work.