Tag Archives: Writer

Everything I Did When I Wasn’t Here

28 Apr

IMG_0723

  1. Applied to do a postgraduate degree
  2. Became a venue press officer during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
  3. Had eyes opened
  4. Worried constantly about postgraduate degree application
  5. Got accepted onto chosen postgraduate course
  6. Freelanced for a charity
  7. Started going to university
  8. Felt really fucking old
  9. Freelanced for an online marketing company
  10. Slept
  11. Didn’t sleep enough
  12. Stayed up too late
  13. Went to bed too early
  14. Drank too much
  15. Felt out of place
  16. Felt normal again
  17. Realised my priorities were different to those of my new university chums
  18. Got through the first semester
  19. Staggered through the second semester
  20. Thought of a dissertation topic
  21. Neglected my house
  22. Neglected my partner
  23. Arsed about on Twitter
  24. Saw some theatre
  25. Saw some more theatre
  26. Stressed about essays
  27. Wrote essays anyway
  28. Designed a book
  29. Started walking more
  30. Lost 14 lbs
  31. Wondered what life would be like if everything were different
  32. Doubted my abilities as a mother
  33. Worried I was failing my child somehow
  34. Continued to doubt my abilities as a mother
  35. Withdrew, isolated myself
  36. Lost track of time
  37. Procrastinated
  38. Cried
  39. Cried
  40. Cried
  41. Learned little about my chosen course, and more about the people on it
  42. Became theatre editor at The Skinny
  43. Danced
  44. Went to London
  45. Went to London again
  46. Found myself in Yorkshire
  47. Wondered where the time went
  48. Thought about blogging
  49. Worried that I had nothing to blog about
  50. Ate some pizza
  51. Danced
  52. Lived in my head
  53. Didn’t get out my pyjamas
  54. Thought about eating pizza
  55. Drank too much coffee
  56. Got annoyed when they put a Starbucks on campus with no warning
  57. Got introduced to Indesign
  58. Immediately hated Indesign
  59. Accepted that Indesign exists
  60. Danced
  61. Interviewed great people
  62. Wrote more features
  63. Remembered who I was
  64. And I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Not a damn thing.

Letter to a Young Journalist

5 Oct
Letter to a Young Journalist

Image by A.K Photography, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Dear Young Journalist,

I want to talk to you about journalism; the path you have chosen. I don’t want to talk about theatre criticism, arts reviewing or news, but journalism as a career. I want to talk to you about the life that you might lead and the people you will meet.

I want to tell you about the nights you will spend alone, writing, editing, researching. The nights you will miss out on because you will be busy, or the evenings you will lose as you edit yet another blog post.

The first thing I want to tell you is that you have to read to be a journalist. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read, and you can’t pitch to publications if you don’t read them. Get subscriptions to the publications you want to write for, and read books whenever you can; on the bus, on your lunch break, in the bath and just before bed.

Secondly, I must tell you that unsurprisingly, (well, it was somewhat of a surprise to me) we journalists aren’t always the most respected, or well-liked people on the planet. We are doubted, questioned and dismissed. You will have your integrity challenged and your writing ridiculed, but you will get used to it.

If the there is a ladder that leads to journalism success, then it’s a very long ladder. I like to imagine that it’s made of wood, that it looks sturdy and strong, it’s the kind of ladder your parents might use to go up to the attic, it’s familiar and seemingly friendly. But appearances are deceptive; this ladder is treacherous in places, and it may be risky at points to climb.

In fact, you may have to go down a couple of rungs before you are able to go further in your career. And some rungs on the ladder are unforgiving. Some rungs are old and not fit for purpose. Be wary of these rungs, they will set you back, and if you put too much weight on one of them it will break and you will fall.

You will not fall far, because you will reach out and grab something, anything to steady yourself, but you must remember falling is inevitable. Falling is what I call failing, such as a job rejection, a missed deadline, a misunderstood brief, etc. I’m going to tell you something that will sound strange to you, but not only will you fail at some point as you attempt to climb that ladder, you are going to fail, and I want you to fail.

From a young age, we are taught to believe that failure is a bad thing, that failure is the worst thing we can ever do, but I disagree. It is only when we fail that we can truly learn from our experiences. I’ve failed at this many times; missing job deadlines, not staying in touch with contacts, etc, but it’s how we deal with out failures that really matters. The trick is to go with it, so if you feel sad, allow yourself to cry, if you’re angry, then find a way to healthily express that anger.

Do what you have to do, just pick yourself up and move on with new knowledge, and safeguards to stop yourself committing the same mistake again.

Next we need to discuss money, because if you’re going into journalism for the wage, then you’re going to get a shock. We don’t make a lot of money, because journalism isn’t very well paid, and it’s getting even harder to make money from it. So, you’re going to do a lot of unpaid work in the beginning to build up your portfolio and have something concrete to show an editor. Once you have experience and once you’ve started to get pretty good and reliable, then start asking for money.

No one is going to pay you for the hell of it, you will have to prove that you are worth paying. Never undersell yourself, know your worth and know the law. There are many internships in journalism, some of them are really great, but others won’t lead anywhere; be hungry, but wise and know the law.

The current law on internships in the UK is that all interns are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, so those internships that offer travel expenses, lunch expenses, or offer expenses at the end of a three-month internship – avoid them like the plague. Your time and your future is worth so much, so again, read, be aware of your rights and stand up for yourself. Intern does not mean ‘subhuman’ never forget that.

That’s all I can say for now, I’ll see you on the ladder.

Cheers,

Trash

Lianne Spiderbaby Didn’t Plagiarise Me, But I’m Angry Anyway

20 Jul
Lianne Spiderbaby, Plagiarist

Lianne Spiderbaby, Plagiarist

There is a very, very special place in Hell for people who plagiarise other writers’ work and pass it off as their own.

Recently, Lianne Spiderbaby (real name Lianne MacDougall), a well-known figure in the horror industry, who wrote for many horror publications, including FEARnet, Fangoria, Video Watchdog and was one of the hosts of the Fright Bytes YouTube channel was revealed to be a prolific plagiariser by Mike White of Impossible Funky.

Following an anonymous tip, White compiled a detailed and damning report into MacDougall’s body of work, which revealed that most of her articles, including her popular Spiderbaby’s Terror Tapes column on FEARnet, were not her own work, and had been largely ripped off from a number of other writers. Following the publication of this blog post, and the media attention surrounding this story, (MacDougall is, according to reports, dating Quentin Tarantino, himself no stranger to plagiarism controversies), more examples of MacDougall’s habit of passing off other people’s work as her own was discovered.

I’m not going to waste time and energy trying to work out what MacDougall’s motivation was for plagiarising other, and often unpaid writers, because, I don’t care about why she did it. I don’t particularly care about MacDougall, or her alter-ego, or who she may or may not be in a relationship with. I care about the writers she plagiarised, I care about the horror community, and I care about journalism.

When a someone is caught plagiarising, it’s not usually a first time offence. They could have been getting away with it for weeks, months, perhaps even longer. And when their plagiarism is uncovered, they are only sorry that they have been caught. Plagiarism destroys a writer’s reputation, it damages the reputation of the publication that writer worked for and it brings the journalism industry into disrepute. When someone decides to plagiarise someone else’s work, everyone loses.

In MacDougall’s case, each of the publications she has written for has been damaged in their own way, especially those that tried to defend her when the news of her plagiarism went viral. It’s embarrassed the horror community, a community where women aren’t as well represented as men. It will have affected the people who read her work, and her editors, but it’ll have hurt the unpaid or underpaid writers that she stole from, it’ll have hurt the bloggers that write because of their love of writing and film, and those that write in the hope of furthering their careers.

Plagiarists don’t deserve to be defended by publications, or have publications running scared about reporting the news of their lack of journalistic merit or talent, they deserve our condemnation. Plagiarists can’t plead ignorance; it’s well-known that plagiarism is deemed by many industries to be highly unethical. It’s not allowed in schools, colleges, or universities, in fact, it can get you expelled from all three of them. It is, essentially, the theft of another person’s intellectual property; it’s lazy, it’s selfish and it’s a very, very stupid thing to do.

I will never forget the day that I experienced plagiarism for the first time. I was a few months into my role of theatre editor at The Journal when I got a call from my editor, asking about a review written by one of my writers, a girl I will call Emma, for that was her name. Emma was studying a Journalism Masters, she was attentive, always asking for more reviewing work, and often asking for feedback on her pieces. I was pretty new at this editing lark, so I spent a lot of time giving her detailed notes and editing her reviews, which were often over the word count.

One publication weekend, a sub editor discovered similarities between Emma’s review of a dance piece, and a review of the same performance which had been published by another publication a few days earlier. The sub editor then checked her other reviews, and found that they had all been plagiarised in varying degrees from a number of sources, including one national publication and a local paper. In some cases, entire paragraphs had been copied and pasted into her copy. In others, some sentences bore striking similarities to other reviews of the same show. However, luckily, in more than one case, I’d unwittingly removed large parts of the plagiarised copy while editing her ‘work’.

Emma was confronted and denied everything, despite the evidence to the contrary. Emma was fired. However, Emma continued her course, graduated and the last thing I heard was that she was working for the BBC. But Karma catches up with everyone, eventually.

While MacDougall has so far said very little on the subject bar releasing one meagre tweet apologising for the “plagiarism in my work” (here’s a hint, if you plagiarise other people’s writing, it’s not your “work”, it’s theirs) it’s not enough. MacDougall has treated these writers, publications and the horror industry at large with utter contempt, displaying an unbelievable amount of cowardice along the way.

Her failure to answer for her actions, or attempt to redress the wrongs that she has committed is as infuriating as it is disappointing. It’s only right that she should face the consequences for her actions, although some are questioning whether this will happen at all, thanks to MacDougall’s position and her attempts at damage control, which included shutting down her blog and Twitter account, blaming her intern and pleading with editors to remove articles discussing her plagiarism.

Journalism is a very difficult industry to get into, especially given the current economic climate. The industry is constantly being questioned and analysed, it has suffered from recent scandals, from the rise of print journalism, from the loss of revenue. But the industry has suffered most from the loss of trust that has resulted from unethical practises, such as plagiarism, phone hacking and other sleazy methods that hurt people and damage journalism.

Lianne Spiderbaby has been damned by her own web of lies and deceit, and so, it’s up to the rest of us to salvage what we can and start building up trust with readers once more.

UPDATE:

After I wrote this post, I read BJ Colangelo’s posts on her fantastic Day Of The Woman blog, naming some of the best female horror journalists working in the industry right now.

These lists are super awesome, and it would be criminal not to celebrate the amazing work that these women are doing in the field.

And no, none of these amazing women are plagiarists!

Part One:

http://dayofwoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/female-horror-journalists-you-should-be.html

Part Two:

http://dayofwoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/female-horror-journalists-you-should-be_18.html

 

 

Some Advice For Aspiring Writers

30 May
Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I have, on occasion, been asked for advice by a young writer looking to grow their career. However, I also am, in one form or another, a young writer looking for my so-called “big break”. I have asked established journalists questions about how they got to where they are, I have poured over countless YouTube videos of interviews with my favourite writers, looking for that one sentence that would transform me from mere aspiring writer, to professional, in-demand and well-respected behemoth of a writer.

As it turns out, there is no definite answer; everyone has a different story. Some writers trained in journalism, some have an undergraduate degree, maybe even a postgraduate degree. Others fell into journalism by chance, after doing a degree in English or another language, some got onto coveted training schemes and bagged promising apprenticeships. The lucky ones had a friend who was influential in the industry, and managed to get themselves a good job that way.

If I wasn’t watching YouTube videos, I spoke to just about every journalist I met. Almost everyone I spoke to had come into the industry differently, some said having a postgraduate degree in anything was a waste of time, while others said that they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for their qualifications. During an internship in London, at least two of the journalists I was working with advised me without any irony or malice, that I shouldn’t try to get into get into journalism, because there were no jobs, and things were only going to get worse.

In short, every answer I got, while interesting, confused me more. Should I go to back to university? I don’t have the money to do that. Should I do an NCTJ course? Should I try to diversify and start adding more skills to my CV? All the options available were so overwhelming that I felt like I was going struggling up a spiral staircase; I was moving, I was heading towards some kind of goal, but I wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was frustrating, it was tiring, it was not helpful at all.

And this is my advice; if you want to be a writer, write. Write as often as you can during the day, write in the evening, and then write again the next morning. Set yourself a goal to get up in the morning and write a specific amount of words before lunch, then smash that number.

Don’t forget to read, a writer needs to read and remember how to get lost in the literary worlds that other authors create for them. Reading is a joy, reading should never be a chore, if you don’t read anything, then how can you expect anyone to read your work?

And finally, here’s my golden rule: don’t ask other writers for advice. I’m serious. Every writer has a different story; every writer has a distinct background and voice. Their past is not your future, so create your own career path and carve your own journey in stone. Don’t strive to be a second-rate version of your favourite writer, be a first-rate version of yourself. Don’t imitate, create and never be afraid of doing the things that your idols didn’t do.

Surviving Life After Graduation

21 May
Trash on Taylor Street, SF

Trash on Taylor Street, SF


It’s here, graduation, it’s what you’ve been working towards for a number of years and it’s finally time for you to step outside and view the world, not as a poor student, but as a poor graduate. May I be one of the first to say, congratulations, and don’t worry, it gets so much better.

Right now, you might be thinking about hiring your graduation gown and getting your sweaty hands on the piece of paper that is your degree, but this will not automatically change your view of the world. Don’t get me wrong, your graduation will be great fun, it should give you some great memories, but it’s what happens after your graduation that really matters, and here’s some advice to get you through the weeks, months, even years after this.

Don’t Compare Your Life to Anyone Else’s

This is the rule that I simply cannot stress enough; your life is your life, so quit comparing it to everyone else’s. When I graduated in 2009, which was a very tough year to graduate – especially with a drama degree – I felt like so many of my classmates were walking into great jobs. One person more or less walked into their dream job and had numerous other opportunities thrown at them, yet I was still working at my not-quite-minimum-wage-job in the fast food industry.

In short, I was barely out of my graduation robes and I already felt like a failure; I was intimidated by other people’s progress and envious of their success. When one former classmate moved to London, I was stunned, I couldn’t imagine leaving Edinburgh, let alone Scotland. But the path you go down isn’t the same path that your friends will tiptoe along, and no path is set, you can always change your direction, and you can always, always go back.

It’s OK to Not Have a Plan

You might be one of those people who has a plan, a plan that will not be changed, a plan that they have no intention of changing in any way shape or form. This is fine, but this is not the way that a lot of people work. You don’t always need a plan, you don’t always need something that you set stone; you need that spark, that flash of inspiration, the revelation that comes to you when you’re doing the washing up, the epiphany that emerges as you’re about to fall asleep. Whatever it is, write it down, don’t forget it, and see how you can make this new dream a reality.

Have Something Else To Do

By this, I mean have a hobby. If you’re trying to become a professional writer; write, read, but also have something to do on the days where you just can’t face sitting in front of the computer for another long and unproductive afternoon.

Get out the house; see family, see friends, go to the cinema, the museum, go for a long walk to nowhere and sit and gaze at the sunset. Cook, clean, learn to play a musical instrument, volunteer, head to the gym and work with the Iron, run with no destination in mind, do something that helps you remove yourself from your work so that it remains your goal, your dream, not an instrument of torture. Creating something, working towards your future and being artistic shouldn’t mean that you have to over work yourself; know when to give yourself a break, and know when you are burning out.

You Are Not Your Degree

If I had a penny for every time that I mentioned that I have a drama degree, and every time someone has asked me if I was an actor because of my degree, I would have a fair few pennies. Yet, I would still not be a rich woman. I work with a team of very, very talented people in my day job. One has a PhD, some have degrees in art, others have degrees in history, some are in really good local bands, yet, we work in online marketing, which, we’ll admit, was not part of our plan, but it’s where we are for now. Your degree doesn’t control you, it doesn’t bind you to a certain industry or job, and remember that it can only hold you back if you let it hold you back. Your degree is a small part of your life; that doesn’t mean that it is your life, and it doesn’t mean that it will be part of your future.

Never, Ever Let Anyone Make You Doubt Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in the years after graduating was listening to the wrong people. At that time, there were people in my life that liked to remind me of my limitations, and in doing so, held me back.

For example, during a conversation with a former friend last year, I mooted the idea of moving away from Edinburgh, possibly Scotland, maybe even the UK, to find work, to travel, or just to start anew. This former friend then reminded me that I own a flat, that I was very lucky to own property, and that there were so many other people out there that wanted to get their feet on the property ladder, which wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what it was that they said exactly, but their argument was that because I owned property and because other people didn’t/couldn’t, then I should never, ever think about travelling, ever. I was made to feel guilty and selfish for committing the terrible crime of Expressing a Desire to Travel Whilst Owning a House at the Same Time.

There are many reasons why this way of thinking is completely wrong, but when I thought about the conversation later, I realised that this person was talking about themselves, “I don’t think you should travel”, “I want to buy a house, how can you be so selfish when you have something that I want?” Don’t get into this way of thinking, anything is possible, even if you own property, have a small family, or a well-paid job. Don’t let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams, don’t let others have too much say in your life, this is your time, be your own person, create your own adventure.

Six Tips for the Young Arts Journalist

30 Sep

Image courtesy of NS Newsflash, under a Creative Commons Licence

So, you want to be an arts journalist. You want to write about the arts, interview influential people and perhaps even travel the world in search of all things culture-related. So, before you go out into the world, and start trying to make a name for yourself as a promising new writer, here are a few things that you need to know. I know that some of them sound very obvious to most of us, but believe me, some people need to be told these things.

Leave Your Ego At The Door

Even if you’ve studied journalism in some form already, had work experience at a paper, or even, managed the holy grail and got some money for your writing, your ego can and will be your downfall. Writing is obviously a very useful talent to have in the industry, but listening and having respect for others is too.

This means that when your editor asks you for something, you do it.

This means that if you attend a show, gig or screening, you are a representative of your publication, you need to be on your best behaviour.

This also means that you should be polite to people you deal with, such as press officers PRs, editors and other writers. Being rude will give you a bad reputation, and also make people less likely to want to work with you.

Be Persistent

In journalism, persistence is key. Editors are very, very busy people; our inboxes fill up quickly with emails, and so if you’ve emailed someone looking for work, or pitching a piece, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up email. The same goes for PRs and press officers; if you’re waiting on a response to a ticket request, get back in touch and ask for confirmation.

It once took me 17 emails and a phone call to arrange and confirm an email with a director, so if you don’t receive a response to your initial email, keep trying.

Listen to Feedback

Some editors will give you feedback on your work, others will not. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback on your copy, then listen to it. As an editor, having a writer that refuses to listen to feedback about their work, and who continues to make the same errors over and over again, is extremely frustrating.

Editors don’t have the time to keep correcting the same errors in a writer’s copy time and time again; they want writers that will listen to feedback.

Be Reliable

Like persistence, reliability is another skill that any young journalist should have. This means turning to shows/gigs/events/interviews on time, and then submitting copy by the deadline.

Turning up to something that you are meant to cover late, or indeed, failing to turn up at all destroys any trust your editor may have in you. Similarly, attending an event and then not submitting copy will blacklist you from that publication, and perhaps others.

Editors like to talk to one another, and if you behave poorly for one editor, others will hear about it, trust me.

Pay Attention to the Word Count

Word counts exist for a reason, and for print publications, they exist in order to make sure that the piece will fit into its allocated space without messing up the entire page its set to be printed on.

Although online journalism is obviously different to print, word counts are just as important for online publications as well. This means that you stick to the word count, so if an editor as for a 300 word review, the review needs to be 300 words, not 200, and most certainly not 600.

Speaking from an editor’s perspective, receiving an email that begins with the words “I know it’s over the word count but…” is infuriating. Learn how to self-edit, it’s a skill that will never leave you once you’ve mastered it. So don’t be lazy, stick to the word count.

Never, Ever Plagiarise 

Plagiarism is another word for ripping off or copying other people’s work. Plagiarism, while not illegal, is highly immoral and a very serious problem in journalism. Being caught plagiarising can and will end your career as a journalist, as no editor or publication will work with any journalist who is caught passing off other people’s work as their own.

It’s a despicable and unforgivable thing to do, and there is never any excuse for it. Do yourself a favour, and never let yourself and your publication down by doing it – ignorance is not an excuse.

Again, I realise I may be preaching to the converted here, but spreading the word about these problems will help tackle the common issues that young journalists and their editors will face.

KNUT

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