I know it’s been a long, long time since I’ve updated here (it became impossible, what with the comments being irreversibly broken and all) but apparently some people still check in from time to time.
I’m also still tweeting and I spent the last two months blogging for Bitch magazine, typing over 20,000 words about single dads, stay-at-home dads, mannies, and gender stereotyping in popular culture. Fun!
Kim Brittingham begins Read My Hips by talking about a photo of herself taken when she was fifteen.
When she saw this particular picture, she was so revolted by the way she looked, in particular the size of her hips, that in a pre-Photoshop solution to body hatred, she used a black marker to drew herself a whole new shape.
Then, fuelled by self-disgust, she put herself on a strict new diet and exercise regime, which took up a huge amount of time and started an obsession with food and weight that continued for many years as she yo-yo-ed between skinny and not-so-skinny, peaking at 310 pounds.
In 2008, looking through a box of photos, she found her “fat picture”. She wiped off the black marker with a cloth and was surprised to find… she looked fine. Perfectly proportioned.
She just hadn’t been able to see it at the time.
Boy, do I relate. I hated every photo of me taken in my teens and early twenties… until years later.
I was thin, too. But I couldn’t see it, either.
At the time the above photo was taken, I was obsessed with the size of my hips. (If someone had told me that tapered jeans, calf-length skirts and flat shoes were making them look out of proportion when they weren’t, it would have helped a lot. Still: how fat could I have been and still fitted into a UK 12 (US 8)?)
I didn’t diet as a teen, but I had short-lived fads: I read my mum’s Weight Watchers books (she joined to lose 10 pounds) and tried to follow Rosemary Conley for a day, until I realised her exercise regime was punishing and she didn’t even allow for margarine. (I’m still not convinced that she doesn’t hate women.) I did step aerobics every week but always had a bag of Maltesers afterwards. My weight stayed more or less the same.
Then I went to university and lost my puppy fat: my face slimmed down as if by magic. A year later, I got a chronic illness and had to drop out of uni. Without regular access to alcohol, I dropped two dress sizes. Was I happy with how I looked?
Hmm. Let’s just say that when this next photo was taken, most of my clothing was UK 10 (US 6)… and I thought my thighs were unforgivably huge:
I was delusional.
When I actually started to put on weight in my late twenties, it took me a while to realise it. I’m still surprised by it, the fact that my body doesn’t look the way I expect it to when I look in the mirror.
I hate my stomach, my thighs, and my hips. But what’s new?
I’ve felt the same way about my body since puberty. Like its this lumbering beast I’m forced to drag around. The thing that keeps my brain going. A side effect of my mind.
I’m much fatter now, but I’m only marginally more disgusted with my body than I was at 13 or 15 or 24. I’ve always thought I should be ashamed of how I looked.
But what if I shouldn’t? What if none of us should, no matter how much we weigh?
That’s the bold message Kim Brittingham wants us to take from her book. Read My Hips (subtitle: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large) is a call to arms — actually, a call to accept our arms, flabby bits and all.
She wants us to wake up to our conditioning, to the messages enforced by the media and everyone around us, and to realise that we can love ourselves regardless.
She also has some great (and alarming) insights into the diet industry, not least from her time working at “Edie Jejeune”, a weight loss company that sounds similar to Jenny Craig, and which was much (much!) more concerned with the bottom line than the size of its clients bottoms (thighs, hips, bums…) and even less bothered about their psychological well being.
Brittingham invites us to understand that the diet industry is just that: an industry, a conveyor belt. If it worked, it wouldn’t be an effective business model. (Luckily for those in the business, it fails at least 90% of the time.)
Brittingham’s anger is justifiable and her passion is really well communicated (there were times when I found myself shouting “Yeah!” and “Damn right, too!” as I read) but I felt a hint of bitterness creeping in to some of her stories. Although she was certainly jerked about by a website who changed their stance on covering dieting in order to get advertising and she was treated horribly by a PR firm who discriminated against her because of her size (despite loving her writing) these anecdotes felt more about score-settling than storytelling.
I’m of the (possibly outdated) belief that the best memoirs make the author look as bad as anyone else, because we all need to own our roles in stuff that happens to us, because a little self-deprecation is endearing, and because it’s more fair to the people you’re writing about (however mean they are) as they can’t answer back.
But on the whole, I found this an interesting read, and think it’s a very important one. It presented me with a point a view that is out of the ordinary, so different from anything I’ve heard before.
Yes, we can
It really made me think about things like how often I and other women say we “can’t wear” something. What we really mean is we think we’d look too unattractive if we did. And what that really means is we’re worried other people will think we’re too unattractive. End result: we don’t do the things we want to do because of what other people might possibly think or say about us.
The idea of wearing something or doing something and not caring about what other people think is something I understand in theory, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really grasped the reality of it.
And I don’t think this is an individual neurosis. I think it’s something we’re encouraged to feel. Even thin women are constantly monitored by society and in the media, to make sure they don’t transgress aesthetically, by sweating or not plucking their eyebrows or gaining a few pounds.
But the more people who question this status quo, the better.
In case you’re twitching with panic at the thought of this fat woman encouraging us all to sit around stuffing our faces, laughing as we watch the weigh pile on, that’s really not the point.
The point is that as women, we talk about food and weight so much (seriously, everywhere, all the time). This book is an escape from the same inane chatter. It’s not about losing weight. It’s not about not losing weight. It’s about loving yourself either way. And it’s about choosing for yourself, not letting society dictate how much you weigh or what you’re “allowed” to do because of it.
I want some more
I’m not a fan of the idea, often seen in TV shows and films, that someone can let go of long-held hang-ups or deep buried emotions just by changing something superficial, so I was a bit wary of the bits of the book where it seemed like Brittingham was suggesting this was possible. (One where she channels Marilyn Monroe’s sexuality and confidence and people stop to notice her for the first time, and one where she takes a sexy photo of herself, to appreciate her curves.)
But she goes on to talk about self-acceptance as a long process, and it becomes clear that these anecdotes are just two of the many suggestions Brittingham has for overcoming self-hatred. As hard as it was for me to read some parts of this book, to accept how much I relate to them, I feel more confident that I can get there one day, with people like Brittingham leading the way.
There are a lot of books about self-acceptance, whatever your weight. But a lot of those books seem end with the author losing weight, or encouraging the reader to, as if self-acceptance was a schtick, not a goal in itself.
What Brittingham preaches is truly radical, in both senses of the word.
(Shorter) book review: Keris Stainton writes fast, funny, feminist YA romantic comedy fiction, and her latest book Jessie ♥ NYC is so makes-you-want-to-go-to-New-York yearny, I would have hated it if I didn’t enjoy it so much. Yes, she’s my friend and putting me in the acknowledgements didn’t hurt her chances of me talking it up, but I’d recommend it anyway. (I paid for my own copy and everything.)
Thanks to Three Rivers Press for my review copy of Read My Hips and to my overdraft for Jessie ♥ NYC.
ETA: Sorry! Forgot to mention: comments are still broken. More about that in my next post, but I have a solution, just need to implement it. It’s gonna take some time/energy…
Earlier this week, while I was putting my feet up and trying to shake off a multi-day migraine, my Macbook Pro mysteriously refused to charge. I unplugged it and plugged it back in a couple of times, but …nothing. It ran out of juice and went to sleep.
I have no idea if the problem is my charger or the (skin-clawingly-irritating) magnetic port it plugs into.
So I thought – wait for it, this is a good one – that I’d go to the Apple store later in the week and – hahahahaha – they would help me.
The idea of making a Genius Bar appointment did occur to me. But last time I made a Genius Bar appointment, when I went to buy my laptop, I was treated really dismissively and had to wait around, standing up, for 15 minutes while other people who came in after me were served first. (I had to practically beg them to let me spend almost a thousand pounds in the end and found it a totally demoralising experience I vowed never to repeat.)
Plus, I read too many American blogs where people in New York sometimes do things like go to the Apple Store late at night when it’s empty and a nice Genius fixes their compy there and then.
I now realise how ridiculous this is, but I actually thought that if I went to the store where I bought my computer (nowhere near NYC) in the evening then it wouldn’t be too crowded and someone would help me.
As soon as I entered the shop last night, laptop bag weighing heavy on my arm, I knew I was going to be thwarted. There was a massive crowd of people sitting on stools at the G-bar and lined up in two queues on either side of it, most of them sighing, rolling their eyes, or studying their watches. I knew I had no chance of being served that day. I walked out of the shop and took a few deep breaths.
There were a lot of men in blue Apple t-shirts wandering the store with iPads, occasionally stopping to talk to shoppers then moving on. I walked back in, went up to one of them and explained that my Macbook wouldn’t charge and I wasn’t sure if if was the charger or the port that was at fault.
He listened and nodded, then told me he would help me in a few minutes and I should take a seat by the iMacs. A couple of minutes later, he came over and said he was sorry to mess me about but his colleague, S. would help me instead, if I could just walk over to the front of the store where he’d be waiting for me. (Of course I should walk to him. I am being paid to be there, after all. Oh, wait.)
So I went over to S, and he said “What’s the problem? Mac?” So I said yes. And he kind of grunted and pointed to his iPad and asked when I could make an appointment to see a Genuis about it. (Is this what you would assume someone meant by “S will help you?” ‘Cos I have to say, I found it a let down.)
I said, “When have you got free?”
And he said, “Nothing ’til Sunday afternoon.”
Let’s just pause in the narrative for a second here. It would take what, five minutes, max, for one of these blue-t-shirted men to try plugging in my computer, to see if it is the charger at fault. They could then sell me a replacement, and be rid of me, or arrange to make an appointment to get the port mended. But no.
They can’t even deign to talk to me about my problem for three days. In the meantime, staff are literally doing nothing but wandering around tapping on iPads, looking for new customers to talk to. That’s what the Apple store is really all about: delivering their scripted spiel to potential customers while ignoring anyone who’s already ponied up for a product.
I’m no expert, but doesn’t it make sense to at least try to make existing customers happy so you can retain their business? Isn’t that easier than finding new customers all the time?
Yes, Apple’s hardware is so much more impressive than every other company, but I still wanted to run screaming to PC World.
It doesn’t take a genius…
And no. Sunday afternoon doesn’t work for me. My mum is meeting her friend so I can’t get a lift. (And I don’t want to miss the Wimbledon men’s singles final for the first time in 20 years, OK?)
I have a medical appointment on Tuesday, which means I can’t go anywhere Monday or Wednesday, because going out two days in a row always knocks me out. And no, that’s not Apple’s fault. But the fact that they couldn’t make time for someone to speak to me – not to fix my laptop, just to listen to a word I’m saying about it – for three days is incredible.
I know. There are a lot of tragedies in the world and this doesn’t place anywhere in the top billion. But spending so much money on a computer is a big deal in this economy, and customers shouldn’t be treated like something Steve Jobs scraped off his shoe. If so many people need help that it takes three days to get a Genius Bar appointment, they you need more tech support staff. It doesn’t take a… er, genius, to see that.
I don’t really want to play the “disabling illness card” here, beacuse I think this would be awkward and inconvenient for anyone. And there are people who aren’t lucky enough to be able to borrow a computer when they need to check email or impugn Andy Murray’s skillset after another dispiriting defeat.
But it is that little bit harder when you can’t get out of the house easily, and your computer is an essential part of your day, the one thing that keeps you in touch with the outside world and with your Dad on the other side of the world. The place you get your news and entertainment, and the thing you need to do business on those days you’re up to doing business.
I felt too weak and wobbly to try to argue my case, and I already knew that saying all this to S. would be useless. That his implacable disinterested hipster facade would just nod and say “Hmm,” and about Monday instead of Sunday? So I made an appointment for the only day that seemed possible: next Thursday. A week away.
As I left the store, S. called out to me, “Have a great week!”
It took every bit of restraint I have not to shout back, “How can I, without my computer?”
Comments are closed because… they’re not working right now. Long story. (Short story: me + tech = sadness.)
Age six. I’m in the car with my mum, having been to the shops or something, when she gets the idea to go to her friend’s house. I completely freak out at the thought of having to talk to her friend and play with her friend’s kids on a day I thought I could just relax. I become hysterical, crying and begging her to take me home until she gives in. I feel relieved. Reprieved.
Age nine. We’re on holiday at a campground/caravan park in France. Our caravan shares a field with one other, and the family staying there has a daughter around my age. I expect we’ll start chatting at some point during the week (probably after I pluck up the courage to smile at her and she comes up and starts a conversation).
But my Dad bounds over and starts talking to her parents before we’ve even unpacked. I’m in the tiny caravan bathroom, composing myself after throwing up 14 times on the journey from Plymouth, when my Dad calls through the plastic window, “Diane, there’s someone out here who wants to meet you.”
“Oh no,” I think. I look in the mirror and take deep breaths. “It’ll be over soon,” I tell myself, faking a smile as I walk outside.
Age 29. My stepsister tells me she’s going to have a big reception when she gets back from her wedding abroad. I dread it for a year, can hardly sleep for a week beforehand and keep crying from dread. On the day, I don’t introduce myself to anyone, hide out in the toilets for a long time, gulp down vodka, and sneak out as soon as the cake is cut.
Later, my stepsister decides to cut off contact with most of her family, including me. Then her mum and my dad divorce and I know for sure that she and l will never speak again. My hurt feelings are undercut by indignation. I mean, this couldn’t all have happened BEFORE the big party?
Age 31. My friend invites me to her book launch. I’m thrilled for her and excited to be invited. I love the invitation. I adore the book. But as the launch gets closer, I start to metaphorically shit myself at the thought of having to meet a ton of people I only know from the internet.
I spend months trying to calm myself down and tell myself it will be OK. I plan to hide behind my mum, leave after an hour, and drink heavily. I literally worry myself sick: two days before the launch, I get a virus that makes me sneezy and wheezy and more lethargic than usual. I’m not faking, I’m really too ill to go. But I’m ashamed to realise it’s a relief.
It’s not about “shy”
Let’s get this out of the way early on. It’s not about me being an introvert. A lot of introverts feel nervous before parties; they don’t all hyperventilate. It’s not that I have Asperger’s, either: I don’t find it hard to read other people — more like I read them too well.
Don’t call me PC
On a semi-regular basis, people describe me as “politically correct”.
And I haaaaaate it.
But “PC” has too many negative connotations for me.
But the connotation that PC was always meant to have is suspect, too: political correctness is founded on the idea that we have to watch every utterance in case it might offend someone, somewhere, whether they’re a member of a discriminated-against group or not.
“Being PC” suggests that instead of engaging with changing attitudes around gender, race, and disability, it’s enough for people to keep thinking offensive thoughts and retaining outdated notions, as long as they don’t say them out loud.
Not saying something because “it isn’t PC” just means you’re toeing the line of accepted behaviour. It doesn’t mean you actually care.
And political correctness actually makes it harder to discuss genuine issues of inequality, because any attempt to bust the kyriarchy can be shut down with “Oh, stop being so politically correct.”
Nor am I the language police
It’s not about political correctness for me. It’s about inequality. Yes, how people feel about women, gay people, transgender people, people with disabilities, and people of races other than their own is often a problem: words come from prejudice, not the other way round.
But they definitely perpetuate the problem.
I consider myself a person with disabilities (PWD). Is it coincidental that I’ve experienced a lot of ignorance, and that the ways language around ill-health and disability are used in our society is often ignorant? I don’t think so.
Still, my aim isn’t to slap down a mandate saying “You must not use these words!” The line between free speech and hate speech is a tricky one to walk and I’d rather err on the side of civil rights.
What I’d like to do instead is to offer some suggestions I hope will encourage you to wonder whether you’re using language in a way that contributes to ignorance and oppression, and to think about reducing your use of these words in future.
I realise it may sound like it, but I’m not suggesting I’m exempt. (See the “we” in this post’s title?) I use words I should probably question, too. I don’t use all of the following, but I’ve said most of them at some point. They’re all pretty prevalent, and thus ripe for further examination…
One of the worst things you can say about something is that it’s “lame”. Lame is like, the worst.
Why is that, exactly?
Because lame is weak. Lame is stupid. Lame is not strong, or normal, or cool.
Lame is disabled.
This is an irregular (and intermittent, ha) series of posts about letting go of stuff (and nonsense) in order to be happier, healthier, and etc. Previously I’ve lost my clothes and my apologies and waited for the universe to whoomp me. (Any day now.) It’s all unabashedly inspired by Bindu Wiles and her Shed Project of 2010. Thanks Bindu!
It’s only fitting that my first post back after an unintentionally long blogging break is about perfectionism, because one of the reasons I’ve been away so long is that I’ve been struggling not just with what to write, but with whether I have anything interesting to say at all.
And the longer I left it, the more I kept thinking I needed to find some really special topic to write about. And I couldn’t. So this one will have to do.
Take that, perfectionism.
Yeah, I’m still working on this one… But I have made some progress already, even if it wasn’t by choice so much as necessity.
Call me Monica
I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. You know that episode of Friends where Monica leaves her shoes flung about in the living room to show how spontaneous and relaxed she is, and then lies there unable to sleep because the thought of her shoes not neatly lined up is killing her? That’s how I always used to be.
I’ve rewritten cards, letters and school assignments on several occasions (and each one more than once) because they weren’t neat enough or needed one word changing in order to accurately convey the right sentiment.
I’ve spent hours shopping for perfect outfits, primping in front of mirrors (three hours before I went out was standard), feeling virtuous when my room was dust-free, my pyjamas ironed, my towels folded so that the ends were touching in perfect symmetry. If I’d thought of having a Monica-style ribbon drawer, I would have. (I did once catalogue my films on index cards, as Harry mocks Sally for doing.)
Colour me messy
But when you get a highly fatiguing illness, you get a few other things as well: you’re forced to live with the inability to do things like shower every day, tidy up whenever you want, and be organised to an anal retentive degree. You have to lower your standards. Then lower ‘em again. And again. Finally your standards will be floating about half an inch above the floor, feet dangling on dust bunnies.
Now you’re talking.
In case you missed it, here are the posts that brought us here:
How to become a freelance journalist (maybe) part 1: Is it for you?
OK, on with the finale.
Some of these are questions people have asked me, others are things I needed to know when I started out, clueless and confused…
Where do I start/how do I structure it/how the hell do I write this thing?!
This is one of those “how long is a piece of string”-type things. It depends on the piece you’re writing and whether it’s supposed to be objective or all your own opinion. Really, the only way to learn is by doing it and seeing what works. Expect your first features to take longer than later ones, as you don’t yet have the confidence or skills to do a great job quickly. But practice really does make
perfect you improve.
Reading some good books on structuring your work (see anything involving Wynford Hicks, below) can expedite the process and it goes without saying (well, almost) that reading the publication you’re writing for should give you some hints.
How do I find people to quote?
Most articles need quotes from someone apart from yourself — one interviewee per 500 words (and maybe one more for luck) isn’t a bad rule to write by — but finding people to talk to can be a challenge. I wouldn’t recommend pitching real-life stories (“My boyfriend ran off with my Dad”-type stuff) until you have a bit more experience or you know loads of chatty people with weird and wonderful true stories. (Although this can be lucrative, it’s difficult to find genuine people who are willing to talk.)
If you need people to quote for a story (whether “ordinary people” or experts/academics) Twitter and Facebook are now great ways to put feelers out (tag tweets with #journorequest in the UK) and use Response Source (UK) or HARO (US) to find contacts. Careful, though: you can expect to be flooded with emails (some of them completely irrelevant) using this method — many writers set up a separate email address to deal with the volume of responses.
For experts to quote, you could try Response Source/HARO again, or try Expert Sources, a directory of people happy to be contacted by the media. (The US equivalent is probably Profnet.) Universities are also a good source of potential interviewees: Just Googling a topic can often get you a shortlist, or you could even search the “invisible web“.
Remember charities too: for difficult topics they often have media case studies who are willing to be interviewed, and they obviously have official spokespeople as well.
Also try journalism forums and networking groups. And it pays to be friendly to everyone you meet online and off. The bigger your network, the more access you have to interesting people to interview. Oh, and it’s nice to be nice, of course.
Linda Formichelli has more ideas.
It’s important to check if the person you’re interviewing has been featured in a magazine or newspaper recently — this is especially true for case studies (i.e. the non-experts). If they’ve been in a woman’s glossy recently, and you’re doing a piece for a woman’s glossy, that’s going to be a conflict, as they’ll want something exclusive.
Usually you won’t find people to talk to until you get a commission, but some journalists find interviewees first, and it’s definitely worth doing so if you’re covering a sensitive issue — to reassure both you and the editor that you’ll actually pull it off.
Can you pitch the same idea to more than one place?
Yuh-huh. In my experience, it’s better to approach, say, a weekly mag, a glossy, and a newspaper with an idea than to send out the same idea on the same day to three glossies — although there’s nothing to stop you doing so and then taking the first offer that comes back (although I wouldn’t make it the exact same pitch in all cases — no publication is exactly the same as another, after all).
If they’re all interested and the angles are different enough, it might not be worth mentioning the other commission(s), but it’s often better to err on the side of caution and clue in the editors involved. When I had a piece on crafting published by The Telegraph, Prima was still happy for me to write a similar piece for them, as long as I used different interviewees (which I would have anyway).
Do most freelancers make money from journalism alone? (Thanks, Kat!)
This was something I was pretty naive about at first. I joined a journalism forum and some of its members seemed to be doing really well at freelancing. I assumed their earnings were just from journalism, but as time went on I discovered that was rarely, if ever, the case. The majority of the freelancers I know make money by other means than journalism: they offer copywriting (which is much better paid), they blog for companies, and they teach writing.
Quite a few freelancers are life coaches or counsellors, too — which has to help with all the soul-crushing rejection. Getting sub-editing shifts on magazines or newspapers is another way journalists make money, and it is a great way to get your foot in the door, but you’ll need the right skills (understanding InDesign is a start). There are a lucky few who make their living just from journalism, perhaps a regular column that keeps them in three holidays a year, but it takes time to build up to that stage (not to mention a lot of luck and a fair amount of networking…).
How do I invoice?
I was so green when I got my first commission, I didn’t even know that writers sent invoices. (Thankfully my friend Keris was kind enough to email me one of her old invoices for me to copy.)
The essential elements are a reference number (I usually go with something simple yet informative, e.g. WW1 for my first Woman’s Weekly invoice), the date, your name and address followed by the name and address of the publication, plus what you’re invoicing them for.
I also include my terms (“Payment is due within 30 days of receipt of this invoice. Many thanks!”) although (in the UK, at least) this is covered by law so you don’t have to say it; it’s already implied.
If you’re being paid by money transfer rather than cheque, remember to include your bank account number and sort code. You can see examples of invoices online, but they’re mostly PDF, so I can’t link. (Search for “sample invoice”).
What if I’m having trouble getting paid?
Oh, money. The bane of every freelancer’s life. You can work your butt off for a month, happy in the knowledge you have five grand coming your way… and then wait a year for the last of it to trickle in. (Not exaggerating.)
The most important thing for anyone who’s self-employed to remember is that you haven’t earned any money until it’s actually in your account. (I know, duh. But it’s so tempting to go overboard on stuff like food and rent when know you have money due to you.)
Check the payment terms before you write a word, so you know what you’re getting into – while most magazines pay within 30 days, a lot of newspapers pay on publication and that publication can take a while. Or never (in which case you should always fight for the full amount you’re owed).
I firmly believe you should never accept a kill fee unless your story is just not up to scratch (an editor saying “thanks, this is great!” and then turning around and offering you half what you were promised? Not happening here). I’ve only been offered a kill fee once, when a piece wasn’t used through no fault of my own. (I fought against it, and won.)
However, some US publications are more hardcore on this issue, and include acceptance of a kill fee in their contracts. It’s your choice whether you choose to write for them or not. The plus side is US glossy mags for example pay much more than UK ones, so the kill fee may be pretty generous. At the very least, try to sell the same idea on to another publication so your hard work isn’t wasted.
Sometimes your piece is published, you’re expecting to be paid in 30 days, and a publication is sluggish about it. Give them a couple of weeks’ grace period, and then chase, chase, chase that money. Be polite, but firm. If the editor you dealt with isn’t helpful, call and ask to speak to the accounts department. And remember for every 30 days they’re late, you can charge interest. (See the NUJ website — in the links section — for details.)
It should go without saying, but I know several people who’ve done this and paid the price (literally) so I’m saying it: don’t keep working for somewhere that owes you money. Bankruptcy might be beckoning (for them and for you, if you’re not careful).
How can I get some kind of cool regular columnist gig, so I can work from home in my pyjamas and still have some money coming in?
If only there was a foolproof answer for this one. It’s worth checking out Gumtree, Craigslist and more standard job sites, especially for web writing work, but usually the best writing gigs aren’t advertised, so contact the places you’re interested in working for with your brilliant ideas, instead.
It’s unlikely someone will want to take a gamble on a column unless you’ve written for them at least once already, so do that first, then write at least a couple of sample columns and pitch your heart out. It’s harder to find long-term work in this economy, but staying positive and trying hard still work sometimes.
There’s also (eek) networking, which deserves (but er, isn’t gonna get, ‘cos I’m rubbish at it) a whole post of its own. I know of writers who’ve got commissions via skillful (i.e. subtle, non-begging) use of Twitter, and others who’ve asked features editors to meet for coffee (instead of trying to “sell” those eds on their ideas, they asked them what they were looking for, and focused on building a relationship, instead.)
More questions? Let me know, below.
On to the resources:
Links for you
Rachel Hills An Aussie journalist in London, Hills’ website deconstructs gender stereotypes and provides awesome insights into life as a freelance writer, including answering reader questions about journalism. This post is great: Turning work experience into a J-O-B
Lena Chen Another fabulous young feminist who features (featured?) fellow freelancers on her blog as part of her Freelance Friday series, asking them frank questions about how they got started, what they get paid, and what the downsides of the freelance life can be. Check out Former Marie Claire web editor Diana Vilibert.
Allison Winn Scotch is best known as the author of books like The Department of Lost and Found (which I LOVED) but she’s a freelance journalist, too. She offers great insight into this (and other) aspects of the writing biz on her blog, Ask Allison. Some posts I think are especially great: On cracking women’s magazines | On never sending in a finished piece instead of a pitch | On the importance of understanding the places you pitch to | On the (lack of) value of writing on spec
Write You Are (by Anne Wollenberg) One of my online journo-pals, Anne is a very talented writer who has just gone back to full-time work after a really successful few years as a freelancer. Her posts are always written with passion and insight. Check out her misconception myth-busting.
Dollars and Deadlines Kelly James-Enger is a journalist, author and ghostwriter whose blog is for “nonfiction writers who want to make more money in less time”. (Sounds good to me.) It’s full of great advice, like The Best Place for New Writers to Pitch.
Diary of a Mad Freelancer I just discovered P.S Jones’ blog thanks to her post about Legally Blonde being a freelancing inspiration, which spread across the Twittersphere like wildfire. (Note to self: work on your metaphors.)
Getting Ink Sally Whittle’s blog about being a freelance journalist and copywriter, especially dealing with PR people. No longer updated, but the archives are a great source of info (and entertainment).
Freelance Writing Tips Again, no longer updated, but Linda Jones had some great insights while it was. Again, there’s also a book — see below.
Keri Smith is an illustrator but her Secrets of the Self-Employed is worth reading for writers, too.
Sian Meades’ post on what it’s really like being a freelance journalist hits the nail on the head.
Meanwhile Ruth Stokes wrote about her first year as a full-time freelancer…
Stacy Lipson gave some advice based on her experiences over the last six months
…And here’s what Priscilla McClay has learned since getting her graduate journalism qualification.
A couple of cautionary videos (kinda) from Xtranormal: So you want to be a freelance journalist?
Adventures in Freelancing, Part I: The Trend Story (so painfully true non-journos won’t believe it).
Women on Writing interview: Author, journalist, and writing teacher Susan Shapiro shares advice and info on getting started writing for magazines. She also had column on this topic for a while in Writer’s Digest, which I LOVED. Here’s a great one about writing opinion pieces.
Journalism.co.uk Jobs, articles about all aspects of journalism, training courses, and news. Good stuff.
Journobiz A great journalism forum frequented by some very talented people. Don’t go pestering ‘em for contacts or asking stupid questions (better to lurk for a bit before posting, in fact) and you should find them a supportive virtual water cooler.
Ed2010 NYC-centric advice, job leads, and interview help from magazine editors, aimed at newbies.
The NUJ’s Freelance Fees Guide (UK only)
Gorkana Journalism jobs, and an email service updated with journalism news (great for finding out who to pitch to). You can also send media requests for info/experts. I don’t use it much, but lots of journos swear by it.
The Renegade Writer and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters that Rock by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. UK types should note that the advice is US-based, but still hella useful, not to mention fun to read.
The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World By Linda Jones. Out of print but worth trying to get secondhand, especially if you want tips on finding sources, networking, and breaking into copywriting.
Writing for Journalists by Wynford Hicks, Sally Adams, Harriett Gilbert, and Tim Holmes. A classic guide to well, writing for journalists, focusing on how to create a really good story. Hicks is also the brains behind English for Journalists and Sub-editing for Journalists.
Interviewing for Journalists by Sally Adams with our old friend Wynford Hicks is great stuff, too. (Could save you from that awkward sense that you’re not sure what you’re doing… Not that I ever felt like that, of course. Ahem.)
McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists by David Banks and Mark Hanna. Make sure you don’t libel anyone! This is the bible of British media law.
Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from my Favourite Literary Gurus by Susan Shapiro. Part-memoir, part self-help for writers, Shapiro genuinely wants to help others succeed and her own story is inspirational.
Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights by Ariel Gore. Sometimes you need a joyous book to remind you why you got into all this in the first place. No, not fame (despite the title); the love of writing.
Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: 100 Years of the Best Journalism by Women ed Eleanor Mills. Everything from Kate Adie on War to Julie Burchill on Thatcher, with cupcakes thrown in for good measure. A great read.
The Best American Magazine Writing 2010 [or any other year]. Shows just how brilliant and important well-researched long-form journalism can be.
Writer’s Digest Great US publication with heaps of great fiction and non-fiction tips. (A lot of their old features are on the website, so search it and see.)
Writer’s Forum Aimed more at beginners (some of the readers consider having a letter published a writing goal…) and wannabe novelists but sometimes includes tips on journalism.
Mslexia The magazine for women who write. Mainly aimed at fiction writers but when it does feature journalism advice, it’s always useful. (When I started out, I had an old Mslexia article on freelancing as my sole guide, and it served me well.)
Press Gazette Monthly media news. There’s also a free email newsletter.
Not exactly a magazine, but The Guardian’s Media section is in the paper every Monday (and you can read it online).
Mediabistro I did a great course on personal essay-writing with MB and I recommend them wholeheartedly. They do all kinds of journalism-related training in New York and online.
UK journos Johanna Payton and Olivia Gordon provide training for people who want to get into freelance journalism: both one-day workshops and online courses in ideas and pitching. I don’t have experience of their teaching, but I know both of them via a journalism forum, and can vouch for the quality of their work and what passionate and successful writers they both are.
Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer runs a course on how to write for magazines. Her website has a great journalism FAQ section and details of how to get free info, like her packet of sample queries (pitches). Read and learn.
Check out Journalism.co.uk for courses, too. Or there might be a college or university offering something writing-related near you. Get Googling!
Let’s make this the most resource-tastic post possible: what websites, books, and courses do you think it’s essential for freelance journos to know about?
Image via Flickr/dbdbrobot