Tag Archives: Writing

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

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.

The Scaredy Cat’s Guide to Blogging

9 May
Photo by owenwbrown, used under a Creative Commons License

Photo by owenwbrown, used under a Creative Commons License

My Ultimate List of Fears [UPDATED]:

1. Heights

2. Bigger Heights

3. Flying Through Turbulence

4. Blogging

It took me three years longer than it should have to start blogging.

Let me explain; when I was at university, and training in arts journalism, the internet was still seen by many in the journalism industry as less of a standalone publisher, but more of a support to traditional printed journalism. By the time I graduated, it was becoming clear to many in the industry that online journalism had taken on a new dimension, and was seriously threatening traditional print journalism.

Back in those heady days of higher education, graduation and working in a job with no prospects and a weekly pay packet that paid just-above-minimum-wage-but-not-quite-enough-to-live-on, a lot of people I knew started to say things like, “You should have a blog. People like blogs.” I understood their reasoning; blogs would make my work more visible, a blog would give me an online presence, where I could write and hone my craft, and it might even get me noticed by some big time publisher/editor who’d send me an email starting with “Hey Kid, I like your style, here’s a writing job and a comfortable wage.” As if.

But for all the benefits of blogging; networking, work, the unreachable goals, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The thought of blogging led to questions, big, horrifying questions that I couldn’t answer. Every time I thought about blogging, a little voice in my head would raise all sorts of questions. What would I blog about? What if nobody read my blog? Which platform should I use? How would I design it? What will I say? What if everyone thinks I’m an idiot when they read my blog posts? What if I am an idiot? What if I’m a terrible, terrible writer?

These questions went on and on, terrifying me, putting me off blogging, and so, the little voice would fall silent, until I started thinking about blogging again. After all, who was I? I was a theatre critic, just another underpaid and undervalued arts journalist. Why would anybody take me seriously? Why would anybody want to read what I have to say? Why should I bother blogging when I can’t get regular and paid writing work anyway? Sometimes, I would be brave, I would make vague commitments to creating a blog, like the time I registered a domain that I ignored until it expired. I set up various Tumblr accounts and even a lonely Posterous account that I promptly forgot about. Then, last year, I decided the fear was holding me back; it was time to have a blog, at least to showcase my work, and use in job applications.

I set up my blog in April, but didn’t write my first post for a month. I was so overwhelmed in the beginning; I didn’t know what to say, and that little voice kept telling me I had no place blogging was sometimes unbearably loud. After that, I used my blog to republish my reviews from other websites. It wasn’t an impressive blog, so I fannied around with free WordPress themes to make it look better, and added new widgets, categories and tabs. But, I still felt like my blog wasn’t working, it didn’t inspire me and I knew I wanted to write about more than theatre. So, I did. I wrote about the government, I wrote about abortion, I wrote about libel, I wrote about pseudonyms, I discussed disappointment, I lamented the lack of money in journalism and rejection in the industry. As I wrote, I grew more confident and that little voice that liked to tell me that I had no right to publish my work online grew weaker.

It’s been just over a year since I started this blog, while it has been difficult at times, and I’ll admit that the little voice of doubt hasn’t gone completely, I’m glad I started blogging, I only wish I’d started earlier. I wish I’d known that blogging doesn’t have to be so scary, I wish I’d known that the only way to be comfortable blogging is to blog regularly.

If you’re thinking about blogging; don’t think about it, do it. The more you blog, the more you will find your voice, your angle and an audience. Listen to feedback – if you get it – but don’t be afraid to share your opinion, to keep writing, researching and finding stories that you want to write about. Your blog is your space, where you can express yourself freely, and conquer your little negative voice. My blog definitely helped me get over my fear of blogging, next up; I will conquer my fear of flying through turbulence. Maybe.

Journalists, Watch Your Language

19 Jan

Rosie DiManno

As ledes go, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno’s “She lost a womb but gained a penis” is pretty awful; it’s sensationalist, unclear, and laughably insensitive. However, the next sentence, “The Former was being removed surgically – full hysterectomy – while the latter was being shoved into her slack mouth” reveals just how inappropriate the lede is for the story.

Yet as horrible as these sentences are, the story itself is much, much worse: an anesthesiologist, Dr George Doodnaught, is currently standing trial accused of sexually assaulting 20 female patients whilst they were unconscious during surgery in Toronto’s North York General Hospital. The crimes that Dr Doodnaught has been accused of are abhorrent, shocking and inexcusable; oral rape, forcible touching of the breasts and ‘French kissing’ one patient while she was having hip replacement surgery.

Clearly, the story is one of a trusted medical professional abusing their position in order to exploit vulnerable female patients for his own sexual fulfilment, and the failure of North York General Hospital to protect its patients by investigating previous complaints against Dr Doodnaught. However, DiManno’s clumsy wording, which included describing one anonymous witness, known as D.D. as an “…attractive married mom” – are her looks, marital status and children relevant to the case? – Switch the reader’s anger from Dr Doodnaught to DiManno herself, crushing the real horror of the story and creating a different, and much more vitriolic kind of outrage.

Whether DiManno intended to sound ‘edgy’, or dramatic, or she was simply having an ‘off day’ remains to be seen. However, this isn’t her first questionable lede: in a piece published earlier this month on the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, DiManno gleefully cried: “Give Lance Armstrong this much: The guy’s got, um, ball.”  Jokes about Armstrong’s anatomy and integrity aside, journalists, whether they’re writing a column or a news story, have a responsibility to write objectively, and in the case of writing about sexual assault with care and compassion.

However, as recent articles, such as THAT Julie Burchill article, and the furore surrounding Suzanne Moore have revealed, words have power, they can be simultaneously uplifting, informative, destructive and damaging. Burchill’s dismissal of transsexuals as ‘trannies’ amongst other hateful words and Moore’s angry tweets on transsexuals and feminism serve only to make people angry, and further feel alienated. Whereas DiManno’s over simplified description of oral rape as “…gaining a penis” minimises one woman’s horrific tale of sexual assault. After all, would you ever say to a rape victim, “Hey, don’t worry about it, remember, you weren’t horribly violated, you gained a penis”? No, you wouldn’t, because that’s not what rape is.

Words carry so much weight, they influence and teach the reader. So when DiManno describes oral rape in the way she has, when Burchill dismisses transsexuals as “chicks in dicks clothing”, when a 12-year-old gang rape victim in Texas is described by a defence attorney as a “spider”, “who lured the boys into her web” and when the gang rape of two 12-year-old girls in Reading is described by a “park orgy” and the victims as “schoolgirl Lolitas” then we have a serious problem. Not just in journalism, but also in society in general.

Words move worlds, they have the power to enlighten, destroy and corrupt, and it’s time to face the reality that what we say and write can move people in all the wrong ways.

What I Learned About Theatre Criticism in 2012

27 Dec

The Critic

This year has really flown by. It seems like last week I was preparing for the Fringe and now, suddenly, here I am, sitting in my living room, surrounded by Christmas chocolates, wondering what the Hell happened this year. So, in the spirit of reflection, procrastination and a slice of goodwill, here are the vital lessons I learned about theatre criticism this year.

You Will Never Be Popular

There’s one thing I can confidently say about being a theatre critic; you will have  a very interesting relationship with those around you. Directors, actors, the public and even theatre FOH staff may not like you. Unless you’ve done something really personal to offend them, don’t sweat it, this is part of the job. If you write something people agree with, they will celebrate you; if you write a piece that they disagree with, then they will probably dismiss you. Your name will be celebrated by some, but unfortunately, it will become mud in some circles – accept it, wear it as a badge of honour, but don’t let it get you down.

Arguments on Twitter Are Never a Good Idea

I love Twitter – it’s probably my favourite social network – and while I don’t update my Twitter feed daily, I’m on the site every day, sometimes several times a day. But, like social networks, it has its downside, in fact, it has many downsides at times.  The 140 character limit of a tweet can be frustratingly limited, and we’re all guilty of leaping to the wrong conclusions because of one misunderstood tweet from time to time. So, even though so-called ‘Twitter spats’ can be very, very funny to read, they are nowhere as fun to be involved in – especially if you’re on the receiving end of another person’s unrestrained and completely unexpected bile. If you find yourself being drawn into a Twitter spat, don’t rise to anything, keep a clear head, and a sense of humour.

Nasty Critics Get Nowhere

Have you ever had to work with, or had the misfortune of being around a nasty person? Someone who thought nothing of being rude about other people in order to make themselves seem better by comparison? Well, some people seem to think that this is the way forward in theatre criticism. All too often, I have seen new critics attempt to ruffle feathers by writing very harsh, or downright rude reviews – this doesn’t get you very far, it gives you a bad reputation, and it makes you seem bitter. Don’t do this. The way to make your mark is by writing good reviews and being a reliable writer, you want to make friends and influence people, not be rude and alienate them.

Other Critics Will Irritate You

Believe it or not, critics are people too. And just like every other human beings, we are as irrational and emotional and as fallible as everyone else on the planet. This year was the year that I really managed to get out there and meet lots of critics; from established critics, to brand new critics, to up-and-coming critics, and I learned something new from all of them. However, as with every vocation, it’s almost impossible to get on with everyone, and some critics will naturally clash. Why? Because we are human; we share our opinions, we don’t always agree with each other’s opinions, and we have to work together in very confined spaces. So, accept that people will annoy you, and accept that you probably annoy other people too, and for the sake of a quiet life, try to avoid the ones you don’t get on with, they’re probably not really worth getting annoyed about.

Content is King

Sure, some publications will get read regardless of the quality of their content; perhaps the best example of this is The Daily Mail, but please excuse the cliché for a moment, because content is king for critics. We have to get our facts right first time, we must be impartial, fair, and we have to make our points with care our signature style. Everyone’s got a different way of writing, and that’s what’s really beautiful about the critical game – we’re all very distinctive in our own way. But remember, when writing reviews to research the production, question its themes and direction and write well. Believe me, editors and readers always remember the critics that write well.

Online Publications Will Be the Future (In the Future)

The people that lament the apparent death of print journalism (see below) and it is true that the industry is losing more money every year; we haven’t quite worked out how to make money from online journalism just yet. Yes, some publications, like The Times, have a paywall, and Newsweek recently ended their print edition to go online only, but the recent death of The Daily,Rupert Murdoch’s paid news app for the iPadproves that while demand for quality online journalism is high, we haven’t quite found a way to make real, sustainable and regular money from it.

Print is Not Dead

Just a few years ago, traditional print journalism was in its prime, and online journalism was seen as more of a support to the print format. Now, of course, online has overtaken print, and many commentators, pundits, journalists and writers have been quick to cry that print journalism, for the most part, is dead. I disagree, there is still a market for print journalism – a lot of magazines can only work in the print format – and a lot of people prefer them. It’s true, publishers, even some leading ones, are losing money – but the presses are still printing our daily, weekly and monthly magazines. In fact, until every company stops churning out a print version of their publication, then the medium is very much alive.

Know Your Worth

When you take your first wobbly steps on the sticky path towards becoming a recognised, respected and paid theatre critic, you will have to do some work for free. This is a great way to start building up your portfolio and getting your name out there, and the good thing about building up your portfolio this way, is that there are always lots of websites looking for voluntary writers. However, the bad thing about this situation is that there are always websites looking for unpaid writers. Like I said before, we’re still trying to find a way to make money from online journalism, and so, many websites and editors can’t pay their writers, because there is no money. This is true for a number of sites, but some sites can and do, pay their writers, but often use voluntary writers too. It’s important to know your worth, though, and don’t get stuck doing unpaid work for years and years or for the sake of ‘getting a link back to your blog’ or ‘having your name published’. Get some writing work, get some experience, and then start looking for ways to get money for your work if you can.

KNUT

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