Interview: Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is a freelancer, journalist, editor, facilitator and educator. Her WriteSmart blog offers superb guidance and inspiration to newbie freelancers, including Who Should Freelance Writers Pitch to First: the Chicken or the Egg? and The Perfect Pitch. Here, Pamela offers her wonderful insights on breaking into the freelancing world.

Pamela's freelance articles regularly appear in Medical Observer, Reader's Digest and Health Smart. She has also contributed to other publications including Men's Health, ABC Health and Wellbeing, Good Health and Medicine and Ninemsn Health online.

Pamela has developed expertise in covering medical-political, health and family issues, but still enjoys writing about a diverse range of topics including travel, books, lifestyle and men's and women's issues.
More than just a writer and editor, Pamela is also one of the presenters of the Feature Writing for Magazines and Newspapers course at the Sydney Writers' Centre. She is also a confident public speaker and appears at literary festivals and author events as a facilitator.

1.  How did you discover you wanted to be a writer?

When my English teacher – who had it in for me - said I couldn’t spell even though I always scored top points in spelling tests. I became a journalist just to spite her. No, seriously, believe it or not I discovered my passion one day watching the late 1980s kids show, Wombat. The show ran short documentary-style segments about all sorts of things. One afternoon I was watching a reporter and I loved the idea that this woman got paid to research really cool things and report on them. I applied to study journalism at university, but was accepted for a newspaper cadetship as soon as I finished Grade 12 and so opted for that. Learning on the job, I very quickly discovered that my passion and skill lay in print journalism.

2.  In which other fields have you worked? How did you transition into becoming a freelancer?

Well, I figure you can’t count my teenage years as a Girl Friday at the local radiology practice or as a counter girl at a shopping mall food court. And you certainly can't count the months I spent serving food at a restaurant at the top of Whistler; I was only there to ski. Other than those jobs, I have only ever worked in the media industry. I worked as a news and features journalist in newspapers and on the news wire service, AAP, for 12 years before I began freelancing in 2002. That transition was reasonably easy for me because I already had the journalism skills. Naturally, though, it took a lot of hard work in finding great stories, pitching them to editors and then building those relationships with editors to make that transition a sustainable and profitable one.

3.  What were your first goals as a writer? For which publications did you aim to write?

My first goal as a writer was to get a page one story in a newspaper, which I did many times over during my cadetship. I also wanted to be a war correspondent. Aim high I say! Thankfully, in hindsight, I never made it to war. My other goal was to report for national publications based in Sydney or Melbourne, and that I did achieve, working at the Daily Telegraph and Australian Associated Press.

4.  What was your first paid (or breakthrough) article? How did it come about?

My ‘breakthrough’ piece in 2002 was a three-page spread on the long-term side-effects of the contraceptive pill and HRT. I waded through decades of research and interviewed about eight experts. It was a lot of hard work, but very rewarding. I got this article when a friend of a friend mentioned to the husband of an editor that she knew a freelancer who could help them out! I hadn’t yet quit my job at the Daily Telegraph, so this was the story that enabled me to test the waters and start making contacts before I launched into freelancing full-time.

5.  What is the most enjoyable article you have written?

Impossible to answer, given my 20 years in the business. But my most memorable would have to be the story I wrote about a toddler who almost drowned. Three weeks later he came out of hospital, fully recovered. But, I guess the ones I love the most are those that I personally learn something from. I think almost every health aspect I have ever changed in my life has been the direct result of learning something in a story I have written.

6.  How can a beginner writer compose a winning query letter?

The key to writing a winning pitch to an editor is to be succinct, articulate and professional. You must have done enough research on the article to know that you can pull it off and to know the angle you are going to take and the people you are going to interview. Then, it is just a case of writing a very brief email explaining to the editor the main thrust of the article in a few sentences and then telling them who you will interview and where you will obtain the information.

7.  What’s your best tip for beginner freelance writers?

Be confident and professional. If you don’t feel confident, fake it. Write yourself a little script before you call editors so that you don’t suddenly waffle, mumble and mutter when they take your call. Do your research before you call them. By this I mean research the publication so you know what types of stories they run and research the beginnings of your article so that you can ooze confidence and professionalism when pitching it to them. And always, always, always meet your deadlines.


  1. No worries Meaghan, I was really stoked that Pamela agreed to the interview. It's great to gather different perspectives and snippets of advice from the masters!

  2. Hi Becks,

    Thanks for joining me at Create With Joy and for the sweet comments you left me this morning. I have signed up to follow you as well!

    Magazine feature writing was one of my first career aspirations, so I really enjoyed this article. Keep up the good work!




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