Meet Zoe : Freelance writer, video game and tech journalist
What is your job / what field are you in?
I’m now a freelance writer, although I worked for many years as a video game and tech journalist. So either way, I’m a professional writer, it just depends if you still consider me a journalist in an awesome field, or a word mercenary for hire.
Do you need a qualification for it? If yes, what and how long does it take?
I think qualifications help, but they aren’t 100% necessary. I have an MA in European Studies, with a focus on International Relations and Development. I rarely if ever use the core content of what I studied, but I use the skills I learned daily – time management, writing to a specific brief, using varied language, keeping an audience of readers in mind, etc.
How did you get into it?
Thanks to twitter, actually. I had quit my job in marketing and was doing freelance social media marketing for educational organizations. There was a gaming website that I liked and the owner/manager tweeted out that they were looking for a part-time writer. I responded and applied. 6 months later, I was helping with sales and within a year I was helping with editing and day-to-day management.
How long have you been doing this?
About five years now, if we include the journalism and freelance writing in the same category.
Do you remember when you first started? Tell us a bit about that.
It was really daunting. I had to write three articles a day, and I was worried about hitting the deadlines throughout the morning. I also hadn’t quite found my voice yet – I spent so long writing academic stuff and then PR/marketing materials that I’d forgotten how to just write as myself. Of course, once I got into the swing of things, it was a ton of fun.
Do you work for yourself or for a company or organisation?
Um, both I guess. I work for myself because I’m freelance, so I make my own hours and I can do it all from home. But I write gaming stuff for a specific website, and most of my freelance writing work comes from one organization.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
Mostly, it sounds really boring. After I get my kid to school, I sit at my desk and login to the task management website to see if I have any work to do. I turn on my timers and start writing. I try to clock 5 hours a day, which sounds like nothing compared to the 7-8 hours I used to sit at an office job, but when it’s 5 hours of solid work instead of work that includes silly meetings and coffee breaks, it’s a lot more intense. But at least I can do it in my slippers and gown if I like. When I was still in SA doing the journalism stuff, my job also included attending events, meeting with PR people and yes, sometimes playing video games all day so that I could write reviews of the games.
What has been the most memorable moment for you in your career?
Attending E3 and Gamescom. Hands down. They’re the biggest events on the gaming calendar, with thousands of attendees including all the leaders in the industry. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many gaming fans, so many professionals in the same field. And I got to go hands-on with games before they were released and share my exclusive thoughts and opinions. Yup. incredible moments for the whole week.
What moment would you like to forget?
In the whole time I worked in gaming and tech, supposedly a really hostile industry, I only faced one incident of sexual harassment, and it was a PR person. He also was up to some rather unscrupulous stuff, and eventually, I wrote about it, prompting the company to take action. It was really nerve-wracking to share what had been happening, and I was terrified that I would end up getting blamed instead, but thankfully the company did the right thing and our community of readers also rallied around me. So while I wish that experience hadn’t happened, it ended up okay.
If you could live your life over, would you still do this?
Yes! Without a doubt, yes. Dream job for me.
What are some of the biggest challenges about this field?
Finances, I suppose. There isn’t a lot of money in video game journalism, at least not in South Africa. I loved what I did, but the pay wasn’t great. The benefits were, though – getting games and some tech for “free” (review). The pay in freelance writing is better, but it’s unreliable. Sometimes I have big projects to work on, giving me guaranteed work for a few weeks, but sometimes I have nothing to work on, and no money coming in.
It’s also hard because there’s a lot of pressure each and every day to create great content, whether in journalism or freelance writing. Rain or shine, sick or healthy, inspired or not, I need to generate quality writing. It’s taught me that I don’t need to be inspired to write, but it certainly helps!
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into this field?
Do it. I know that sounds silly, but you need to follow through, to do what you say you will, and to actually just WRITE. I’ve had so many people come to me and ask if they can become video game journalists, and I always respond with, “Sure, send me a writing sample” and 99% of the time, I don’t hear from them again. It’s easy to say you want to do something, it’s a lot harder to do it. It doesn’t have to be the most brilliant piece of wordsmithing, but it has to exist. Good writing skills can be learned, as can video skills if you want to go that route. But perseverance and “showing up”, can’t be taught by any mentor – you just have to do it.
I grew up as a gamer, bookworm and film nut in New York. Moving to the Netherlands to pursue my masters and to South Africa to follow my heart did nothing to change those things. Now I’m back in the States, living in the desert of Arizona with my South African husband and our precocious little girl. I spend my days writing words for money, whether as a freelance writer, a video game and tech journalist, or a geeky, empowered mom blogger.