Wordsmith Interviews

Interview: Gemma Crisp

Going freelance can be a pretty tough thing if not done right. I mean, I tried it, and within three months I was unbelievably bored and uninspired. Staying in my PJs all day was not good for my mind or my motivation levels, but I could have learned a thing or two from former Dolly Editor turned CLEO editor  Gemma Crisp, who proved that maintaining contacts and motivation levels by working around (and with) others could take you far in freelance world. In this interview, Crisp tells us how she got her start in magazines and how it feels to be back in the editor’s chair for one of Australia’s iconic women’s lifestyle magazines.

Interview: Gemma Crisp, The Show Pony (and newly-appointed Editor of CLEO)

How did you get your big break into magazines?
It’s a long convoluted story and a lot of it comes down to being in the right place at the right time… but the defining moment was scoring a three-month unpaid internship with the features department of British Marie Claire while living in London a decade ago. I made friends and contacts who helped open doors in the publishing industry when I moved to Sydney.

Did you always want to work in magazines, or did you just want to be a writer?
I wasn’t one of those people who knew what they wanted to do from an early age – I flirted with the idea of being a radiographer (despite not having a scientific bone in my body!), a French teacher, a diplomat and a hotel manager… It took a career crisis in my early 20s to make me realise what I really wanted to do – and that was journalism, specifically magazine journalism. I devour newspapers both in print and online, but I don’t think my tone and style of writing suit that particular medium. 

How did it feel to score the CLEO Editor’s gig, and does it feel like you’re coming full circle now that you’re going back to the magazine after being their Features Editor and then moving into the Dolly’s Editor’s chair?
Being offered the CLEO editorship felt a little surreal yet also completely normal – I’ve always had a soft spot for the magazine, even before working there as Features Editor and Associate Editor, so it almost feels like it’s fate, as disgustingly cheesy and clichéd as that sounds. Walking into the office after three years’ absence didn’t feel weird at all, so I guess you could say things have come full circle – although six months down the track, I could be warbling a different tune!

You left Dolly not long ago to try your hand at the freelance life. How does a lifestyle of being your own boss compare to working for a company or magazine?
I spent eight months freelancing and was really surprised at how much work fell into my lap – I was lucky to get booked for a couple of lengthy in-house stints at two of the celebrity weekly magazines, which was a nice change having previously only worked on monthly mags. I was also fortunate in that I didn’t have to send out endless story pitches and hustle for work – although that may have changed if I’d spent more time in the freelance world.

Freelancers tend to comment about being able to work their own hours, or work in their PJ’s all day. Is that something that appealed to you, or did you structure your day around a routine to keep you more productive?
I told myself I’d get into a routine and stick to it, but I have to admit the snooze button on my alarm clock was utilised more often than not! I’m not great with my own company, so I rented desk space in a communal warehouse office so I had somewhere to go and could be around other people, as opposed to slobbing around the house in my pyjamas while talking to the walls!

What are you looking forward to the most about editing CLEO?
I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty, adding my own flavour to the magazine and being part of a team again, which is something I missed while freelancing.

Most bloggers find that, at least initially, it’s very hard to get your writing read by a large audience. Do you think that your work on the glossies made it easier for The Show Pony to work?
The Showpony was more of a “baby” for me to work on while freelancing – after two years of editing a teen magazine, I wanted to write about things that appealed to me – so it was never meant to set the world on fire. I did have ‘send PR release to magazines’ on my to-do list, but I never quite got around to it! Erica at Girl With A Satchel was kind enough to link to my site a few times and it was mentioned in Sydney Confidential and Mumbrella, but I didn’t take advantage of my contacts as much as I could have.

What were some of the difficulties you first encountered swapping from a very senior editing role to blogging? Was it hard to establish an audience, build up the site, find your niche etc?
The major difficulty was trying to balance freelance work with blogging – I totally underestimated how much time blogging chewed up so it was hard trying to juggle my personal writing with paying the bills. Unfortunately my life got a bit hectic towards the end, and I began to find blogging more of a chore, so the Pony is officially out to pasture… but who knows if it’s forever?

Did you consult any mentors or magazine girls turned freelancers to make the process a little easier?
Nedahl Stelio, who was my editor at CLEO when I worked there from 2004 to 2007, has become a good friend and she helped out with advice when I was thinking of leaving DOLLY to do my own thing. She had also jumped from magazines to an online venture (
http://www.cocolee.com.au, a fashion site that has weekly online sales) so had plenty of advice and tips – thanks Ned!

Do you have a goals list that the Wordsmith Lane readers can have a sneak peak at?
Not really – apart from making CLEO as successful as I can! I’m not really a goal/mantra/affirmation person, mostly because I haven’t needed to be…

Do you have any particular direction you’d like to take CLEO in now that you’re in charge?
I definitely have a lot of ideas and plans for the title, but that’s for me to know and you to find out!

What advice would you offer to aspiring bloggers, freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?
When it comes to becoming a journalist, there are so many different roads and paths that lead to the same place, so don’t feel like there’s only one way to break into magazines or become an editor. Never underestimate the importance of having a good attitude, a willingness to do anything you’re asked (no matter how menial it seems at the time) and the power of great ideas. 

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Can I have two? Pretty please? Go on, you know you want to… I can? “Pocket rocket.” Thanks!
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: Having a successful career in the magazine industry – if you’d told me I’d become the editor of two iconic Australian magazines back when I was a teenager growing up on a sheep farm in Tasmania, I would have thought you were on crack. (Not that I had any idea what crack was back then…)
  3. You wish you wrote:  For my personal satisfaction – People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. Such a great story, I wanted to re-read it as soon as I’d finished the last page.For my bank account – Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy.
  4. Can’t leave home without: Getting dressed!
  5. One thing you are currently writing: Answers to these questions.
  6. First thing you wrote: Professionally? An article for British Marie Claire that involved travelling to the Northern Territory to spend a week on a remote cattle station, interviewing the jillaroos who worked there. I had NO idea what I was doing…
  7. Addicted to reading: Vanity Fair and the Bureau of Meterology website – I’m obsessed with the weather forecast.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: To survive the next three months – for some reason I thought it’d be a great idea to start a demanding new job, spend a month in Europe, sell my apartment, buy a house and get married, all by October!
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Little Miss Lucky.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Learning something new every day.

Interview: Zoe Foster

Zoe Foster was so nice to me when I did work experience at Cosmo. I tidied her beauty cupboard (I love tidying anything) and was given a tonne of beauty products to keep for my hard work. Which is why I feel especially guilty for not being able to get those two dots on top of the ‘e’ on her name. Sorry Zoe. Everyone else, I hope you enjoy the coolness that is Zoe Foster, and her wordsmith journey.  

Tell us about your wordsmith career path so far: For the sake of brevity and reader fatigue, I’ll nutshell it: Over the past eight years I have worked at Mania, Smash Hits, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s BAZAAR magazines, had a beauty blog (fruitybeauty), edited a beauty website (primped.com.au) and written two novels and a dating book. I write a dating column for Cosmo and an opinion column for The Sunday Telegraph, and occasionally I eat and sleep.  

You’ve gone from being a Beauty Editor on major magazines [Zoe has worked in senior roles on Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar] to beauty editing online, with extra writing supplements to boot. How has it been juggling the change?

It’s been great, especially since recently moving to editor at large (I lobbied for editor at small) and working from home. I’m one of those psychopaths who doesn’t feel ‘right’ unless they’re doing 389 things, so taking on multiple writing projects at once feels natural, in a perverse way.  The different topics and mediums add to the delight.

You also freelance as Cosmo’s dating guru, and have written a book on romance with Hamish Blake. Is having additional writing work outside of Primped a big appeal for you, a necessity, or something that keeps you more productive?

My passion for dating and relationships equals (possibly surpasses) my passion for beauty so it’s less that it keeps my brain whirring, and more that I would be unhappy if I wasn’t doing it. I derive such genuine joy writing on the male-female dynamic, especially when I receive emails from readers saying what I have written has helped them in some way.

What is a typical day in the life of Zoe Foster?

6.30-7am wakeup, and straight to the computer. My brain is at its best between 6 and about 9.30 so I keep most intense writing for that time slot. (eg my opinion column.) By 10 am my brain is doing cartwheels and forcing me to read  and dreaming of frothy caffeinated beverages.  

10 – 12 Primped blog, emails, tweeting, blogging. Maybe a launch/appointment.  

12 – 3.30 Thumping keys at my desk, grazing on nutritionally devoid food and trying to refrain from constant email send/receiving.  

4 – 6 More writing, emails etc. This is usually the panic stage of the day, where I realise I was, as usual, spectacularly optimistic about time, and have to scream through to finish and submit columns/jobs.

6 -7 Walk with a girlfriend or gym. Exercise is an absolute NECESSITY when writing all day. Otherwise Zoë go loopy. Right loopy.

Most people pick a niche and stick to it. You have two (dating and beauty). How does sticking your fingers in two pots help out your career? 

It’s terrific! I have been afforded so many marvellous opportunities (speaking, writing etc) by having a few different hats to wear. Also, it works well with my career ADD; if I have several different content schools and a multiple of mediums and publications I write for, I have less chance of getting antsy.

Before primped, there was fruitybeauty.com.au. How did the idea for your blog come about? And why did it fade away?

It came about because I had been working at Cosmo for a few years and was competent at my job and needed a new challenge to sink my fangs into. Also, because I was frustrated at having all this awesome beauty information in my head and only three dot points to condense it into each month. Blogging felt like the perfect forum to write long, in-depth explain-its on beauty and also, my writing style is by nature very long and waffly, and I just wanted some more space, you know?

What were some of the difficulties you first encountered swapping from a very senior editing role to online beauty editing?

Because I had already been blogging with fruity for years, the transition as smooth as… that little piece of skin behind your ear. It was incredibly liberating to move wholly online, and I feel like I made the move at the perfect time for both my career and for beauty online.

We have seen the Beauty Writing industry really take off in the last two years or so. These days, we have the likes of beauty portals, beauty manuals, and beauty websites, which means that the beauty pages on the magazines are not as in demand as they once were. What is your take on the issue?

I don’t think it’s a case of them being less in demand, but rather that they have to focus on what they can deliver that we can’t. For example, beautiful, lush photos, or really in-depth, meaty beauty features. Online is, by nature, better at serving up extremely timely beauty news and on PRIMPED in particular, how to videos. Both mediums are relevant, and so long as we each remember our strengths and focus on them, we all win.   

A lot of people dismiss beauty writing as airy-fairy, but there’s obviously a lot of work involved in testing a whole load of product, looking at new research, writing about it in an accessible form for varied audiences (because obviously everyone has different skin tones, hair types etc) – and continuing to do so in an engaging manner. What do you say to this?

Obviously there is far heavier and more important content in the world than the latest mascara or fragrance, but I must defend my brethren by saying that it does take a certain skill to make shampoo or pimple gel sound fascinating, and that now, with all of the science and technology (stem cells, melanin inhibitors, ultrasound waves etc) going into skin care and salon treatments, we have to A) Have a reasonable understanding of science, genetics and cell behaviour and B) Be able to translate all of that sciency gobbledygook into simple language for our readers in order to be a good beauty writer. 

Tell us a little about how you went into book writing.

For the same reason I started fruitybeauty; I had too much creative energy bubbling within and thought jotting down all my beauty anecdotes might be a good idea, because beauty editors work in such a fantasy world, and I was fatigued with fashion getting all the attention. From that Air Kisses was born. 

Do you find it hard to juggle your various projects?

It all comes down to discipline and time management. Otherwise it just won’t get done. For me this is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world.

How do you promote your book (with tours etc) with a full-time job?

I’ve been exceptionally lucky at PRIMPED – my boss(es) have always encouraged and allowed me time to go off and promote my books. That said, the amount of publicity I did for Playing The Field was one of the reasons I decided to pull back to Editor at Large… there just wasn’t enough time in the day to get it all done.

Do you have a goals list that the Wordsmith Lane readers can have a sneak peak at?

I don’t, actually. I am living very much day to day. I feel very positive about my new novel, which I will start writing in July (while on sabbatical in Greece/Italy for a few months… oh man… it’s the dream, it really is…) and am genuinely thrilled with all of the work I am doing presently. It was always my gaol to have columns and write books, and I am living it. I am extremely grateful that I have achieved this goal, and it was such an enjoyable, abundant journey that brought me here, too. BIG picture, I’ve love to write a film script one day.

Give us one good reason why we should all become members of Primped?

Because you get SPECIAL PRIVILIGES! Like being a VIP prodz tester for us.

What advice would you offer to aspiring bloggers, freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?

Find your point of difference and hone it: why would people want to read your blog/work over everyone else’s? What do you offer them they can’t find anywhere else? And then, obviously, work hard. I am a firm believer in working your full time job then supplementing it with your passion project (blog, book, photography etc) on weekends or after hours. Eventually (ideally) you’ll see the full time work start to slip in importance, and the passion project build momentum, until you no longer need the full time job and can earn all the money you desire from your passion. And then, as if that weren’t enough: it doesn’t even feel like work!

Ten in the Hot Seat:  

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Positive
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: Three books published by 30
  3. You wish you wrote: That bloody Twilight series…
  4. Can’t leave home without: Keys, BlackBerry, money, lipgloss.
  5. One thing you are currently writing: Just finished proposals for two new books.
  6. First thing you wrote: ‘Dangling Hoplessly’ (sic) A tale of danger and terror! And school teachers! And mean dogs that chase! Age 10.
  7. Addicted to reading: Emails, test messages, tweets.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: For one of my books to be made into a film.
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Grug.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: The ability to communicate with so many people. And, if you’re lucky, make them smile.

Interview: Sarah Wilson

My first forays into magazine land were not always great. My fellow work experience girls and I experienced low self-esteem in the elevator, judgement about background or dress sense, and the devastation of finding out that some of our favourite editors were not that nice in real life. Someone who was nice in the midst of all that was Sarah Wilson. The then-editor of Cosmopolitan had a reputation among the workies for being nice and upbeat, so it’s no surprise that she has sat down to share her career journey and her plans for the future…

Tell us about your wordsmith career path so far: Funnily, English was my weakest subject at school. I l loved maths and other things of certainty. But with most things in my life, I’ve always done best with things I’ve struggled a little with. My first gig was writing restaurant reviews for Sunday Magazine in Melbourne. While I was there at News Ltd, I started writing some opinion pieces for the Herald Sun, which led to a regular weekly opinion column. Opinion writing is what pushed me in my writing. I had to find a voice and a rhythm and I spent months (years?) experimenting with techniques. From there I went into editing other people’s writing (as editor of Cosmopolitan), then a column in the Daily Telegraph and now a column in Sunday Life. My “Better Life” column is my 11th column in my career.

You went from being a foodie reviewer for Sunday Magazine, and straight on to editor of Cosmopolitan Australia. How did it feel to accomplish what many writers (or mag girls) take years to do so quickly, and by passing many a step? At the time, it happened too fast for me to really reflect on the whys and hows of it. All my energy went into surviving the learning curve. But I very much felt like a fraud! Looking back now, I can see I was lucky, but that luck is about working hard to be in the right place at the right time. And the right things happen when your intention is in the right place. All I wanted to do was communicate. I’d worked hard focusing on that intention…and it got noticed at the right time.

What was your time at Cosmo Australia like? A whirlwind. I’d just moved to Sydney when I got the job, so it was a condensed introduction to the industry. The job was mostly about juggling 20938409 balls at once. It was a pretty refreshing change as it forced fast decisions and dynamic creativity. A big part of the job is about branding and marketing which is so important now for any writer – you have to be a brand and know what you stand for.

I remember you for being nice to the workies, in comparison to other editors I worked under. Was that important to you? Why? Oh, that’s lovely of you to say!! There’s a saying in newspapers: “always be good to the copy kid (a junior admin assistant)….because one day they’ll be your boss”. Me, I was hyper-aware of how the magazine industry bred some very overly entitled young women. It’s the way the industry works and propels itself. But I abhorred it. I think coming in from the outside gave me perspective and I tried to stamp out instances of this hierarchical behaviour. Also, I took on the job because I really did feel I wanted to help and inspire young women. And as a leader you should always “be your message”.

I once read that most Cosmo editors spent on average, almost a decade in the editor’s chair. Yet you left before the five year mark (if I am not mistaken). How did it feel to be breaking the trend? I left when I’d done all my original ideas. A publisher in the mag game once said to me that after 3-4 years editors regurgitate ideas and should move on. I tend to agree. I’d hit a point where if I’d stayed it would have been for title (of editor), not for what I could contribute. I’ve seen a lot of editors who’ve become too attached to the title. I never want to be stuck in that kind of attachment – it’s very unhealthy.

I remember hearing/reading it was because you missed writing. And then, I saw a lot of your articles in Good Weekend, covering all sorts of things from New York etc. How did it feel to be back in the writing game? Did you know you made the right decision straight away? Actually, I didn’t really want to be solely a freelance writer as I’d already been a feature writer (for 5 years on Sunday Magazine). I was more interested in trying new ideas, with writing being one component. I don’t think anyone can be “just a freelance writer” any more.

As a freelance writer/columnist, do you agree with (some) other freelancers who tend to comment about being able to work their own hours, or work in their PJ’s all day. Is that something that appeals to you, or do you tend to structure your day around a routine to keep you more productive? I love working for myself. But the hardest bit is creating structure for yourself. In an office, someone else does all that for you. It’s taken me a long time to work out my structure, but it’s been a really important journey to go through. I’ve learnt so much about myself in the process, and it’s steered me to where I need to be. I get up at 6.30am and spend 2 hours getting ready for my day (exercise, meditation, reading). Then I work from an office outside my home and try to stick to 9am-7pm hours. I find it super hard to maintain this routine, but it’s also my freedom!

What is a typical day in the life of Sarah Wilson? No day is typical! I juggle 4 regular media jobs, as well as my blog, MC work that takes me around the country and I’m about to start writing a book. Oh, and I’m studying Integrative Nutritition via a school in New York. I literally set aside chunks of time each week for each activity. I have to be very organised with my diary!

I am a big fan of the niche that you have covered yourself – that idea of ‘wellness’ and living a holistic, healthy life. I feel that has done great things for you career-wise. What’s your take?  Thank you. Yes, I think it’s important now for writers to have something to say. Gone are the days of working on a newspaper for life, writing about whatever comes up on the news desk. Now we have to come to the different media – newspapers, mags, TV, online etc – with something to say, to share. We have to have opinions, a brand. Readers and consumers expect the message to come with relevance and care and experience. I think this is a great thing. Again, it’s about being our message!

How do you get on the topics that you do when you write your columns? Is it mainly things about your own life that inspire the themes? Yep! Each week I aim to be as authentic as possible with the themes for my Sunday Life column. That was how I structured it – to be an account of a period in which I make life better. I read a lot on the topic and talk to lots of people, but also, many opportunities come to me. I was invited to meet the Dalai Lama, for instance, because the publicist for his visit liked my column.

Tell us a little about your work for Lifestyle Channel and the program ‘You’. What’s it about and what is your role as a producer on the show? I describe the channel as “a chat over the back fence with the neighbour” – it features content that’s about understanding how we all tick. I’m a presenter and host and am working with the channel to develop new content – shows and instituals.

What are your biggest inspirations?  Radio National’s Life Matters program (it has been since I was 12), the ocean at 6:30 in the morning and, yes, the www.

Do you have a goals list that the Wordsmith Lane readers can have a sneak peak at? Ohhh, I don’t.

Give us one good reason why we should follow your work. If you have a yearning, too, to understand life a little more deeply and to have a sweeter experience of it, than you might connect with what I’m committed to exploring.

What advice would you offer to aspiring bloggers, freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path? Simply write authentically and then the right things will flow your way.

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: intense
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: interviewing the former PM John Howard and PM Kevin Rudd for Cosmo
  3. You wish you wrote: a wonderful new book The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It’s my kind of book
  4. Can’t leave home without: my glasses!
  5. One thing you are currently writing: a book…the details of which I can’t share quite yet.
  6. First thing you wrote: my name on a painting I did for my little brother Ben.
  7. Addicted to reading: Salon.com
  8. Top spot on your goals list: to be more grounded
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: the little girl in The Lovely Bones
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: being able to write emails quickly, with confidence. I feel for people who find writing a chore.

Interview: Sandi Sieger

Tell us about your wordsmith career path so far:

I started writing when I was six years old – I’ve always loved it. I used to write poems, songs, musings, stories – I still have quite a few of my old journals – most importantly the one I wrote when I was six that declared, ‘When I grow up I want to be a writer.’

It wasn’t until I hit high school that I pursued the idea further – working on the school newspaper and the end of year poetry anthology. When I was 15 I started writing for my local newspaper on a fortnightly basis – reviewing films and books and writing opinion pieces. In Year 12 I entered a competition being run by The Age. It involved writing a piece on maintaining balance throughout Year 12 and the winner would have their piece published in the newspaper. I got home from school on the Friday at 4.15pm and remembered that the competition closed at 5pm that day, and, even though I had every good intention to submit something, I had not written a word. In fact, I completely forgot all about it. So, I sat down, wrote and then submitted my piece without even reading back over it. On the Monday afternoon I received an email, from the Editor of The Age, saying I’d won the competition and that I had, ‘The gift of words.’ And that was it. From then on, I knew writing was exactly what I would do, because I loved it, and because someone else out there did too.

From there I wrote for university newspapers, print publications, street press, blogs and online publications. I was offered the position of Editor for Mink Magazine when I was 22, and stayed with them for two years. I then launched my own publication, Onya Magazine, on June 1st, this year.

Writers that work from home tend to comment about the merits of being able to work their own hours, or work in their PJ’s all day. Is that something that appeals to you, or do you tend to structure your day around a routine to keep you more productive?

My days really do vary. Some days I have a brilliant routine – rise early, exercise, healthy breakfast, work, lunch break, work, cup of tea, work and switch off. Other days, I roll straight from my bed to my laptop (or sometimes have the laptop in bed) and am in my PJ’s until 3pm, having worked all day straight. Some days I’m in meetings, dashing from one meeting to another all over Melbourne’s CBD. Some days there are interviews to conduct, places to visit, things to see. I like the variety. I like being able to take a couple of hours out of my day to visit an art exhibit, or roam the streets, or catch up with a friend, or see a movie. In saying that, if have a fairly luxurious day, I usually pay for it by working late that night and on weekends. But I’m happy with the trade.

In addition to having a general media degree, you also have a postgraduate diploma in media production. Was it always important for you to have an additional qualification in production so that you can work with various technologies/opportunities that could take your writing to new heights?

I have a Bachelor of Arts from Melbourne University, with a double major in cultural studies and cinema studies. Throughout the course I also studied history, politics and creative writing. I loved it. Arts was, despite some people’s preconceptions of it being a course people head into when they don’t know what they want to do in life, exactly what I wanted to do. It was my number one preference. I initially thought I should do Journalism at RMIT University – I even completed the entrance test and got accepted – but the thought of studying short hand and interview skills and analysing media issues for three years made me want to tear my curly hair out. I wanted to do Arts because I wanted to know more about the things I loved; history and politics and popular culture and film, and I wanted to debate and research and be immersed in it. Journalism was so restricted, and I felt it better to be more educated, rather than more qualified.

The Diploma in Media Production was, honestly, my way of staying at University for another year (without having to do Honours) – because I loved Uni, and the lifestyle (good training for a freelancer) and the people. The environment is hard to let go, and being at Melbourne Uni was honestly a dream – the lecturers, the resources, the best place for what I loved. The Post Grad course I did included some hands on photography skills – which is another passion of mine – as well as more of the hands on side of media – tech and computers. It was something I was interested in, but knew little about, and it has been invaluable – particularly in this era, when online and digital media is not just the future, but also the present.

Why did you create Onya Magazine, and how have the first few months since its launch been like for you?

There were many reasons as to why I decided to create Onya Magazine, the main ones are because:

  • I wanted to do something that was mine. That I controlled, and drove, and could do as I felt with. Something I was passionate about. Something that I loved.
  • I was sick of perceptions, from abroad, that we’re a country of singlet wearing bogans that have kangaroos hopping down our city streets.
  • I was sick of reading about clothing designers from Denmark and shampoo from the US and shoes from Spain, when there were people and businesses here making the same things and getting no exposure.
  • I was sick, and still am, of picking up item after item and seeing them all imprinted with Made in China.
  • I was over mainstream Australian media that constantly over exaggerates, people bash and saturates everything – I wanted to create, and portray, a slice of Australia that was positive, whilst still being honest.
  • And mainly because I was sick of Australians themselves – for thinking that Australia Day is just an excuse to get drunk. For not supporting our artists and designers and creatives. For thinking that to be somebody you’ve got to hop on an aeroplane and go somewhere that matters, because Australia doesn’t. For thinking anything that’s associated with Australia is cringe-worthy. You see, I believe, and my Australia is one that’s filled with class, and humour, and intelligence, and beauty and a hell of a lot of talent. And I wanted to showcase and support that.

On December the 1st, Onya will celebrate its sixth month as an online publication. We are still so young, but I often think of Onya in much the same terms as Australia – a country so young, bursting with talent and ideas, but with such a long way to go. The first few months of being at the helm of Onya were great – and they still are now. Each week we’ve grown, and each week, each day, I’ve learnt something new. I’m so fortunate to have such an incredible bunch of writers to work and collaborate with, and to be able to provide their work a platform to be published on has been one thing I’m very proud of.

What were some of the difficulties that you encountered when working on such a big project? And how did it feel to complete it?

I still don’t feel like I’ve completed it. It’s a constant work in progress. The ideas are never ending. But, when it went live an hour before our launch party on June 1st, I felt incredibly proud. Because whatever it was at that moment in time, it was good. And it could only get better. And it has. And will continue to.

One thing I’m very insistent on is quality – because I believe, particularly in online media, there is too much rubbish around. I will not publish something of terrible quality, or something that I do not believe falls in line with Onya’s values, just to get website hits. My stance on quality has proved challenging at times – I’ve not accepted work from writers because it’s under par, and Onya doesn’t do under par. I’ve knocked back more businesses (for content and advertising) than I can remember because their company may be Australian owned, but their product is certainly not Australian made.  It’s about ethics and values and I won’t budge on those.

The other challenges are time and money. There never seems to be enough of either. I do most things at Onya and I am most people. I’m the advertising sales manager, and the editor, and the director, and the online content manager, and the receptionist and the list goes on. My inbox seems eternally full. My to-do list never ending. And just when you get on top of it, it fills up again.

You can spend all day working on something, but see very little in terms of results. You can have a lot of brilliant ideas, but not necessarily the money to bring them all to life.

Doing so many things is what I wanted though – I wanted to captain the ship. I wanted to steer it. And I’m learning so much, and meeting so many amazing people.

You also do a little bit of blogging, and write columns for various print and online publications. How important is it for you to stay abreast of other editorial opportunities despite having created your own in Onya?

Oh, it’s incredibly important. I’m trying to balance it further, to ensure I don’t spend every moment on Onya, because it’s not healthy and you can lose sight and focus very quickly. There is so much more I’m interested in beyond Onya and I still want to be able to nurture that. It’s important for my writers that I keep it up too – so I don’t become stale or my ideas stagnant. And it keeps my foot in the door with other publications, other personal opportunities. I’m the Editor and Director of Onya, but first and foremost I’m a writer, and I always will be.

What is a typical day in the life of Sandi Tighello, freelance writer?

Well, it’s pretty typical for me to not have a whole day devoted to writing anymore, because so much of my time is devoted to Onya, but a typical day (and one that I’m working towards perfecting and re-enacting more) is; kick starting the day with some exercise and then a big breakfast and coffee, replying to emails, writing or attending to Onya editing/uploading, having a break, organising future articles, liaising with writers, and then doing some personal writing for my columns, blog or future book – or even some photography.

What are some of the perks associated with your job? And what are some of the difficulties?

The freebies. Beauty products, books, tickets…the freebies are a definite perk. It’s funny, I went to see a movie the other day and I was almost slightly annoyed that I had to purchase my ticket (I’m only joking, well…half joking). Also the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. The media industry really isn’t that big and I’ve made some truly incredible friends from it. The best perk, hands down, would have to be what you can do and learn. One day you’re interviewing a musician, or a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, the next you’re creating a media kit, or brainstorming with a team of creative folk and then the next day you’re writing a review on a theatre show and having a nice dinner.

Time is a perk. When everyone is commuting, stuck in an office, then commuting again, it makes what I do seem rather luxurious. But it’s not. And that’s one of the difficulties – some people don’t take you seriously. They view your work as frivolous. It used to bother me, but I couldn’t care less anymore. A steady wage is another difficulty. And because the media industry is so small, there never appears to be enough jobs available – especially when companies are chopping people from publications left right and centre and using the GFC as an excuse.

But you don’t launch into this career without knowing that. So, I believe, if you accept it before you launch into a career as a writer, then you shouldn’t complain. Because I don’t know many other people, honestly, that wake up every morning with the same zest for life and enthusiasm that I do.

Have you consulted any mentors or guides to make the process of establishing writing career a little easier?

I haven’t had any one mentor that I’ve consulted with over and over again, it has been more of a case of collecting small gems of wisdom along the way. I’ve certainly met with various people over the past couple years – some incredibly accomplished, famous authors, like Tara Moss, that I’ve had coffee with for an hour and have drilled and had wonderful advice passed onto me, but I’ve also been just as inspired by the randoms that I have come across – the bookshop owner, the café entrepreneur. If you’re interested, everyone has a story and you can learn something from every person you meet.

What is the freelance feature writing like? Did you find it difficult to establish contacts that enabled you to get some freelance work?

It’s usually fairly easy to find a contact, but sometimes getting work from them can be hard. Once you’re in though, you’re usually in. And if you’re a good egg, you can usually stay around for a while. Feature writing is great – so many words and so much to say – but doing so effectively and clearly can be difficult.

Who are you writing for at the moment? / What are some of your current projects?  

I’m writing my column, ‘The Small Matter Of…’ for Trespass Magazine, and I’m also writing articles for Onya. I started a new blog called In The Thick Of It a week and a half ago, and it feels great to be back blogging. I’ve also got a few projects lined up with other publications – print and online – but none are set in stone as yet. And I’ve just started working on a coffee table book, which will be a merging of my writing and photography, and it’ll be incredibly motivational and pretty.

Are we allowed to have a sneak peak at your goals list?

Sure. My current goals involve completing and publishing my coffee table book, marking Onya’s place in the print world as a publication of brilliance and uniqueness, building my new blog, and writing, writing and more writing.

How does it feel to be able to take Onya Magazine to print?

I feel the best way to sum that up, because you can probably get a sense that I tend to waffle rather than be succinct, is to read this post that I wrote when I broke the news: http://www.onyamagazine.com/articles/extra-extra-read-all-about-it/

What advice would you offer to aspiring novelists, freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?

Every writer has a style. Don’t be afraid to embrace yours. The best compliment I’ve ever received was someone who told me that when they read my work it was almost like I was sitting there next to them, talking. It was uncomplicated and fresh.

And there’s my next piece of advice – don’t overcomplicate things. I’m a strong believer in keeping things simple, but that’s just my style. I’ve always thought that there’s no real reason to be overly academic in your writing unless you’re writing an academic paper – because if you’re work is not accessible, then no one will access it.

Don’t be afraid to put out a strong opinion – you’ll always get strong opinions back, but that is only fuel for a stronger fire within.

To write well, you must read well.

If you start your own business, do it because it would be an injustice if you didn’t. Don’t do it to be cool or popular or to get discovered. I guarantee you that three months into your growing business, the work will swallow you, and if you don’t love what you’re doing and if you’re not prepared to put time and effort into it, then you will be a world away from cool and popular.

Don’t expect to be a brilliant editor, if you are not a brilliant writer. As far as I’m concerned the two are intrinsically linked.

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: I take nothing for granted. Every piece I’ve ever had published makes me smile. Every time I publish a writer’s work in Onya I smile. But, if I had to choose, probably building a business on my own, from the ground up, all on my own with no backing, and succeeding so far, has been a point of great satisfaction in my life.
  3. You wish you wrote: Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Suess
  4. Can’t leave home without: My BlackBerry, notebook, pen, lip balm, keys and wallet. And sometimes my MacBook Pro and Canon EOS.
  5. One thing you are currently writing: I never leave a piece unfinished. That’s why I haven’t dared to write a novel yet. But I’ll get there.
  6. First thing you wrote: Without retrieving the journal, it would be hard to say, but one particular pearler that stands out is this line by six year old me, ‘If a kid ever beat me in a running race, I’d probably bash them up.’
  7. Addicted to reading: Yes, entirely addicted to reading. It’s safe to say I devour words, so if it’s in a book, magazine or online, I’m generally reading it.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: I have a couple, in equal place. Publishing Onya Magazine – the print version – in late 2010. It’s going to be one hell of an adventure. And getting my coffee table book completed, and published.
  9. If you were a character in a classic, you’d be: I’d love to say Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s but I’m much more like Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Being read. Every time someone reads your work you are making them think or feel or remember. You might even teach them, or inform them, or better still inspire them.

Interview: Rachel Hills

Rachel Hills does a lot of things. She writes for a number of online and print publications of both the high and low brow, blogs about life and other catastrophes at http://www.rachellhills.tumblr.com , helps to run the highly-visited NINEMSN home page in her role as Deputy Editor, speaks at festivals, forums and media events, and conducts copius amounts of research for her big thesis on sex and gender. In between, she’s working on a book, plotting her intellectual takeover over our media spheres and guiding me through many a crisis as my mentor. Hope you enjoy this interview with this goal-oriented, groung-breaking and awe-inspiring wordsmith.

Who are you writing for at the moment? / What are some of your current projects? 

I’ve worked with a pretty broad stable of editors (see here for more info), but who I work with at any given moment is determined more by the stories I want to pursue than anything else – it changes over time. This year, though, I’ve done most of my work with Cleo and the Fairfax newspapers. I’m also working on a feature for Vogue, which I’ve jokingly started to refer to as ‘the story that never ends’. And then there’s my book and thesis.

You sold your first article when you were 22, an age where most young people are still trying to figure out who they are. Not even four years later, you have had over 100 articles published, all while juggling various part-time jobs, expansive speaking gigs, and most recently, a postgraduate research degree. How has this experience been for you? Does it seem surreal, or fast? And how are you able to stay focused on your major career goals and objectives while, in a sense, diversifying your avenues of getting there?

If anything, it’s seemed too slow. Too slow when I was figuring out how to get published, too slow when I was first starting out and couldn’t get the major mags to pay any attention to me, and too slow now that I realise this bloody book is probably going to take me another three years to finish (but when it is finished, I’m sure people will think it was fast, too)! There have definitely been some crises of confidence. That said, I still get a real thrill whenever I get a pitch accepted, and over the past year and a half especially, it’s been really wonderful to reach a point in my career where even editors who haven’t worked with me will usually take on my ideas, on the strength of my portfolio and reputation. That’s what this whole thing is about, really – being able to get your writing out there, and get it read. As for staying focused – obviously it’s hard sometimes when you’ve got so much going on, but overall I’ve found it’s reasonably easy to stay on track if your end goal is consistent.

How did it feel to head up and participate in projects such as election tracker [which sent four journalists aged under 25 on the 2004 federal election campaign], interface and the Media Bistro events? Do you think that your creative community building efforts aid your career?

Fantastic. I was absolutely in love with electionTracker – at that point, it was the most exciting thing I’d ever done in my life – and Interface was my baby. I was incredibly passionate about both of them, and there’s nothing like working on a project you care about that much. They were also a great opportunity to meet some really talented young writers (if I hadn’t done electionTracker, I wouldn’t have started freelancing until much later) and learn ‘how things work’: things like how to negotiate access, how to get a panel up at a writers’ festival, how to get media coverage, how to manage people and be managed, and so on. That said, they were also exhausting – I was burnt out after both of them. When I was editing electionTracker, I had to be available to my writers between 8pm and 2am each day. I was also working another job four days a week, so I was editing ten articles each day and coordinating seven staff in the evenings. I was working so hard that I managed to come down with a different illness every week.

I got involved with Media Bistro when I met Laurel Touby, the company’s founder, on my first trip to the United States in 2006. She mentioned that she’d always envisioned her events as “salons”, a concept I’m quite passionate about, so I ended up volunteering to co-run her Sydney events. It was a great way to get to know a few more people in the industry, and to get to know those I already knew better, but I had to give it up when I started my thesis last year.

These projects were really good experiences in and of themselves, but they also introduced me to a lot of really interesting, inspiring people. Vibewire [the organisation that ran electionTracker and Interface] has always attracted very talented people, and I think this was particularly the case at the time that I was an editor. A lot of the people I worked with on electionTracker and as editor of Vibewire.net’s politics section are now doing really good work in the media and arts. I didn’t do the work for the purpose of networking, but the networks I developed through doing it were probably the best thing I got out of it.

What was it like to be an ambassador at the Emerging Writer’s Festival in Melbourne this past May?

It was great – one of the most flattering things I’ve been asked to do (and following on from the last question, I later discovered that it was someone I’ve worked with at Vibewire who recommended me to do it). I love meeting people and talking about writing, so it was pretty much heaven. I’ve been involved with four writers’ festivals, and the EWF was definitely my favourite: all the panels were really insightful and well-targeted, and it created an environment that was very conducive to interaction between the audience and participants, which is very different to most festivals.

How useful do you find networking, and how would you recommend Wordsmith Lane readers network for their career potential, without coming across as pushy or annoying?

That’s a tricky one. I suspect most people would say I’m great at networking (whether they mean that as a compliment or not is another matter), but I don’t own businesscards, and I tend to get quite shy and stick to people I know at networking events. That’s what was great about the Media Bistro events, actually. As hosts, we were told our role was to help meet each other – introducing people, checking to see that they were okay and so on – which I think makes it easier for most people to strike up conversations. And as host, it was my job to approach strangers, which made it much easier for me to do than it would have been otherwise.

In a professional sense, networking is about two things: letting people know who you are, and hoping they end up liking you. A good networker, in my opinion, is not someone who shoves their businesscard in your face, or someone who is only talking to you to get a job or freelance work. Good networking is simply good social interaction with people who happen work in your industry – it’s about being personable, passionate about your work and interested in other people. It’s literally about making someone a part of your “network” and becoming part of theirs. Its professional payoff also hinges, I think, on doing good work – people won’t think of you or recommend you for a role if your work isn’t up to scratch.

If you want to network without being pushy or annoying, my advice would simply be to reach out to people you genuinely admire, and whose work you connect with – whether they’re editors, authors, bloggers or whatever. I do it all the time – not for personal gain, but simply because I want to be in touch with people I think are cool. Most writers love hearing from people who appreciate their work, and passionate, sincere, talented people will stand out every time.

You seem to have carved up a little niche for yourself in the areas of sexuality and gender, and also write quite a bit about politics and social issues. At the same time, you write a lot for magazines such as Cleo, which are obviously a different kind of publication for a different type of audience. How do you think you are able to tailor your writing topics and style to a variety of varying publications, without actually compromising on your interests or areas of expertise?

Quite easily – most of my writing falls under the broad umbrella of social and cultural analysis, and I just tweak it to make it interesting for different audiences. You do need to make an effort to learn the voice of each publication you write for, but even so, I think my individual writing “voice” comes through. And all my work is shaped by the same basic motivation – to write about the intersection between the personal and political in a way that challenges conventional wisdom.

How does your academic research and writing differ to your freelance work? /What are some of the similarities and differences between the two, and do you find it difficult to switch between them?

I think academic research can make you a better journalist – it’s made me think more carefully about how I approach interviews and phrase my questions. On the other hand, because I’m so accustomed to writing in a journalistic voice, it can be hard to turn off the colloquialisms when I’m writing academically – but then, that also makes your work easier for the markers to read. Overall, I think both use a very similar set of skillsets: talking to people, making sense of information and writing it down.

What were some of the difficulties you encountered when trying to establish yourself as a freelance journalist? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help?

The main difficulty I faced when I first started out was the same as the one most budding freelancers face – building relationships with editors who have no idea who you are (and because I had no contacts in the industry, they literally did have no idea). I think I was equally held back by my own fear and inertia, though. The first 9-10 months I was freelancing, I only wrote for the Fairfax papers – I understood how they worked, and I was afraid to pitch elsewhere. How did I overcome these difficulties? By asking freelancer friends for advice, by devouring websites like Mediabistro.com (not a plug – it’s how I got involved in the organisation!) and The Renegade Writer, trial and error, and good old “time”.

Writers that work from home (part-time or full-time) tend to comment about the merits of being able to work their own hours, or work in their PJ’s all day. Is that something that appeals to you, or do you tend to structure your day around a routine to keep you more productive?

I’m not a very structured person by nature, and when I was freelancing fulltime I would work all sorts of odd hours. I would also procrastinate a whole lot, reading blogs and the like for “research”. It wasn’t all bad – it meant I was incredibly well-informed about the issues I wrote about – but it also meant I could never switch off from work. I still don’t have a very clear delineation between work and non-work (I’m writing the answers to these questions at 11pm the night before I’m due to go on holiday), and I still don’t have a set routine, but I’m more organised now because I have to fit so much in. I recently downloaded a ‘to-do list’ application to my iPhone, and I love it. It’s a really effective way to keep track of everything I need to do, and it’s also really motivating – much more so than a paper or online to-do list, because I take it with me everywhere.

What are some of the difficulties that you encounter when working on a big project such as a book/doctoral thesis?

Staying focused. And not being swayed by the temptation to work on projects with more immediate gratification, like freelancing or blogging. I haven’t quite mastered that one yet.

What are your primary reasons for blogging? Does it get your ‘juices flowing’ in a sense?

I started blogging because I wanted to connect with people who read and enjoy my freelancing articles. The way in which I’ve done that has evolved over time, and will no doubt continue to evolve. As Erica Bartle once told me (quoting Jeff Jarvis), “do what you do best and link the rest”. So, I’ve learned that my “comparative advantage” as a blogger is in writing slightly longer, more considered posts – although still much less considered than my paid writing. I’m not about publishing 10 posts a day, or providing an immediate reaction, or post non-stop photos of myself and my life, although I’ve tried all those things from time to time. I’ve also learned that the audience I reach through my blog is quite distinct from those I’d reach through my mainstream media work – they might not buy the publications I write for, or happen to pick them up on the days or monthsI write for them. If I’m honest with myself, blogging definitely cuts into my paid and thesis work, but I also see it as a vital part of my vocation.

What is a typical day in the life of Rachel Hills, freelance writer?

Not nearly as much freelancing as I’d like! Generally I get up at around 8am, read some blogs while I eat breakfast and get ready, then write for an hour or two (thesis, blog, article research etc…), before heading into work for the afternoon – I work as a part-time editor for a major media company. I get home around 7pm, do some exercise, eat dinner, write some more and head to bed around midnight. That’s a very general outline, though – I go through phases where I get up at 6am, and others where I work until 2am and sleep late. And of course I don’t work late every night – I do have a social life.

What are some of the perks associated with your job?

Free books, movie tickets, the occasional concert (although it’s amazing how quickly journalists tire of these). Being immersed in information all day long. Being able to write and have people read what I’ve written.

And what are your career aspirations – especially now, compared to those at 22?

Well, I have most of the things I wanted at 22, now! I’d like to finish my book and for it to do really well – I’m aiming for influential international bestseller, but I’m also well aware that most books don’t do that. As wanky as it sounds, I’d like to be a kind of new school, highly accessible “public intellectual” – with a presence across books, research, freelance features and essays, blogging, and whatever other media emerges over the next 20 years.

What advice would you offer to aspiring freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path? 

Work really hard and be persistent. The difference between people who want to be writers and those who actually do it is just that: working hard and not giving up. It took me two and a half years after I finished university for my writing career to even start to look how I wanted it to, although I also had plenty of fun doing other things along the way. That might sound like a really short period of time, but as any uni grad knows, it certainly doesn’t feel like it when you’re living it. I’m also a big fan of sticking to stories you’re passionate about and publications you enjoy reading yourself – if you like a publication, that’s usually a good sign that you and the editor have similar ideas about what constitutes a good piece of writing.

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Friendly. And analytical. That’s two, I know.
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: I don’t think there’s any single one I’d single out, more a whole bunch of little ones that all add up. I think my biggest accomplishment is the one I mentioned before – that for the last 18 months or so, I’ve been able to get some pretty hardcore pitches accepted based purely on my clips and reputation. It’s a bit of a writer’s dream, really.
  3. You wish you wrote: The Beauty Myth.
  4. Can’t leave home without: A bottle of water.
  5. One thing you are currently writing: Thesis-related Vogue feature. And just submitted a review of Mia Freedman’s new book to the SMH this morning.
  6. First thing you wrote: For pay? An opinion piece on Germaine Greer’s short-lived stint on UK Celebrity Big Brother.
  7. Addicted to reading: My Google Reader.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: Finish the damn book!
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: None spring to mind. But caricatured and on a good day, I’d be Elle Woods in Legally Blonde 2 – optimistic, idealistic and tenacious. And I’d like to be Veronica Mars: smart and sassy.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Being able to communicate about things I – and increasingly the people reading my work – care about.

Interview: Katrina Lawrence

Picture me at 19. Awkward and naive, I had just finished my first year of uni – where time and time again it had been reiterated to me that getting a job as a journalist and writer was going to be a very difficult (and competitive) feat. But I couldn’t stop wanting it, and I was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen. Even if it meant swallowing my pride and approaching my fave magazine writers for advice. Enter Katrina Lawrence. When I first started reading her work, she was writing all sorts of fabulous fashion features for Shop, but prior to that she had been the beaurty editor at Cleo and one of Shop‘s senior eds.

One of my favourite pieces of work was one where she interviewed women who had either lived overseas/traveled to a particular destination extensively – writing about the best haunts in their respective cities. So, with a meek little wonder as to whether or not she’d think I was an idiot, I emailed, and soon enough, she replied. I expected her to write a few little titbits in an email and shoot it off, expecting to never hear from moi again, but it wasn’t the case. Katrina emailed me back, offering her phone number and suggesting we meet up to discuss my career plans. And I’ve admired her ever since. A few weeks ago, when I was writing about Satchel Girl Erica Bartle, I said that there might be a rare few women in magazine editing who are not as snooty as we believe. Like Bartle, Katrina Lawrence is one of those few. She invited me into her home, where she displayed a genuine interest in helping me out, and answered all my subsequent emails in the months afterward. Nowadays, she’s recently finished a maternity leave contract as Beauty & Health Editor at Madison magazine, and looking to continue work on her fabulous beauty blog http://www.beautyeditor.com.au while she has a baby of her own! I hope you guys enjoy this great interview – both for its informative titbits of a writer’s career path, and because it’s the last post for beauty writing week. Beauty writing might be all about products, even though we all want to espouse the ‘beauty is on the inside’ kind of mentality, but I stand to think that this woman has gotten her beauty from helping others out without ever taking credit or anything in return. And that is something that warrants a glow that no facial, scrub or serum can compete with. Good to see I have high hopes for this baby being in good hands…and well moisturised ones at that! Have a great weekend everyone x

You’ve gone from being an editor on a number of major magazines [Katrina has worked in senior roles on Cleo, Shop Til you Drop, and most recently, as a maternity-leave-cover Beauty Editor  on Madison] to full-time freelancing. How does a lifestyle of being your own boss compare to working for someone else?

You know, I actually prefer working full-time. I love a salary, it keeps my spending in check! And you miss holiday leave and pay once you are no longer entitled to them. The problem is, I’m at the point in my career now where I’ve become quite picky. I don’t just want a good position, I want a good boss, title, team and publishing house. It’s very rare that you can tick all those boxes. But until a dream job comes up, I’m quite happy freelancing. After almost five years, I’ve finally got my head around it. And, of course, there are the lifestyle benefits. Even though some weeks see you writing 24/7 – which is all too easy to do as you’re living in your office – other weeks see you with lots of free shopping time on your hands. Not always great if your invoices haven’t been paid on time … but that’s another story.

Freelancers tend to comment about being able to work their own hours, or work in their PJ’s all day. Is that something that appeals to you, or do you tend to structure your day around a routine to keep you more productive?

It depends on my energy levels each morning. Sometimes I’m really sluggish so I need to preen myself and power-dress in order to feel ready to tackle my work. Other days, I wake up raring to write and I literally roll in front of the computer and type away until I realise that it’s 11am and I’m still in my robe. It’s essential to have a to-do list every day – it’s just good to be flexible regarding the order in which you tick it off.

What is a typical day in the life of Beauty Editor?

I do three to four posts a day at the moment (more on Monday, when I’m uploading the weekly content). First I look through all the latest celeb events and decide on a look of the day, which I then post along with a mini how-to. Next I answer a reader question. Then, I have a look at my list of beauty releases and see if there’s anything new on counter that I’ve been testing and that I can review. I try to do product review a few times a week, but some weeks are really slow and I prefer to only review when there’s a product I think worthy of being written up. Finally, I write my diary entry, which is the bloggy bit and is usually some random beauty musing that has been on my mind of late.

The rest of the day usually sees me working on one or two freelance projects, as well as attending at least one product launch.

Are you still writing beauty, health and style for mainstream magazines, or are you concentrating on getting back into your blog?

Sure am – that’s my bread and butter right now. I won’t be able to devote full-time hours to the site until it’s making enough money from advertising to justify that. That looks to be a while off unfortunately. Baby steps …

Most bloggers find that, at least initially, it’s very hard to get your writing read by a large audience. Do you think that your work on the glossies made it easier for Beautyeditor.com.au to work?

I think having the credibility as a beauty expert has certainly helped me to keep the readers. But getting them in the first place is the tricky part, no matter who you are. This process has been really interesting. I’ve had some great support from friends and acquaintances in magazines and newspapers but there’s a surprisingly small correlation between a good magazine write-up and an increase in traffic. The key is online PR and word of mouth – you need that direct link to make sure people are motivated enough to visit. Some of my best spikes have been when I’ve been quoted say on ninemsn. I also syndicate the Beauty Diary section to madison in return for a link, so this has provided a steady stream of extra traffic.

How did the idea for your blog come about?

I wanted something that would be me in a project. I thought about everything I knew and was interested in, threw them all together, and this site just made perfect sense. As soon as I found I could get the URL I wanted, it all fell into place.

What were some of the difficulties you first encountered swapping from a very senior editing role to blogging? Was it hard to establish an audience, build up the site, find your niche etc?

So many stresses in the beginning … Finding web designers. Working with the designers. Having arguments with designers about the aesthetics or intellectual property … It’s a really costly process and, unlike at a magazine, there’s no IT department to help you out. I didn’t mind the fact that I was starting at the bottom again though, because I knew I was building something that would be mine. If I’d stayed in magazines, I would have put all of that effort and words into a magazine’s site, and in the end I think that would have been much less rewarding.

Did you consult any mentors or guides to make the process a little easier?

Not really, which was wrong. I was so determined to get it going that I didn’t do as much research as I should have. I’ve had two design phases though. For the redesign, which is what you see now, I did a lot more research and as a result have a more workable site.

Beautyeditor.com.au has been around for a few years, although in the past year or so, we have seen the Beauty Writing industry really take off. These days, we have the likes of beauty portals, beauty manuals, and beauty websites, which means that the beauty pages on the magazines are not as in demand as they once were. What is your take on the issue?

Consumers increasingly google before purchasing a product, which makes forums, blogs and review sites all the more powerful. I think there’s a whole new world of beauty experts out there and magazines must accept this. Having said that, I’m still very much a glossy-loving girl and I totally get why most advertisers still prefer to see their product on a pretty page rather than a computer screen. But speaking of advertisers … I think magazines need to be very careful about how much sway they let advertisers have over editorial. Of course, advertisers are crucial in these times, and they’re customers as much as readers are, but the key is keeping that balance. Magazines have limited page space and you don’t want to get to a situation as a beauty writer where all your precious space is being devoted to writing about product you might not necessarily love. One good thing to know, however, is that beauty writers are never told exactly what to say. You might know that you have to mention something, but it’s up to you how to write about it. A beauty writer should never personally endorse a product – say, via a tried & tested type execution – if she doesn’t believe in it. (I remember once way back having to write about a really coarse face scrub I absolutely hated – so I included it as a two-in-one value buy, saying it was perfect for feet). The only way beauty pages will remain credible is by getting the right mix – one of being both market-report and editor’s-favourites.

A lot of people dismiss beauty writing as airy-fairy, but there’s obviously a lot of work involved in testing a whole load of product, looking at new research, writing about it in an accessible form for varied audiences (because obviously everyone has different skin tones, hair types etc) – and continuing to do so in an engaging manner. This is obviously a challenge that means beauty writing is just a credible journalistic path to take as traditional news or feature writing. What do you say to this?

You know, I never call myself a beauty journalist, I prefer to say writer. Because it’s definitely not pure journalism. You’re constantly doing a balancing act between giving practical advice, considering commercial concerns, and wrapping it all up in a fun or pretty package. I actually used to want to be a political journalist (can you believe). And I admit, sometimes the limitations in beauty writing frustrate me. But 99% of the time, I simply enjoy it. And if you can find any job that does that for you, you’re lucky.

And, as you said, there’s a lot more to beauty writing than just writing. The testing is fun (of course!). Getting your head around the ever-changing technology of it all is a good challenge. And if you enjoy the business side of beauty, it can be very interesting to meet these amazing marketing and R&D minds working at the big beauty companies.

How do you work with your blog? Are your postings inspired by press releases and industry news, or do you rely on the questions asked by your readers to write up your bits and pieces?

The site is divided up into various sections, so that all depends. For Beauty Spot, which is where I post product reviews, I rely on my PR contacts for access to product and information. Beauty Expert is where I run a Q&A with a beauty industry insider, and Beauty Q&A is where I respond to readers. For the other sections, I mostly use my own knowledge as a basis. But for the blog specifically (Beauty Diary), I tend to react to industry and celebrity trends as they happen.

How do you think the layout and colour scheme of the blog enhance the overall writing experience?

I know that some web designers like a tricky design in order to kind of confuse readers and keep them on site for longer. But feedback from my readers has been that they really appreciate how easy my site is to navigate and that they never feel lost or frustrated. I make a point of writing everything in a quite boxy sub-headed way, so each page is also easy to dip in and out of. I also think that clean elegant font, lovely relaxing colours, and pretty pictures are essential for making the experience a nice one.

Are you freelancing for any particular titles at present?

Yes – currently for Madison, Shop Til You Drop and Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll probably take a couple of months off magazines soon, as I’m due to have my first baby in around five weeks.

Do you have a goals list that the Wordsmith Lane readers can have a sneak peak at?

Uh, does giving birth without too much pain count? Or getting my waist back? I’m really not seeing my bigger career picture very clearly at this stage in my life – it’s all getting my head around nappies right now – but I definitely want to keep growing my site and see where that takes me.

Give us one good reason why we should follow your blog.

What my tagline says – it’s all you need to know about beauty.

What advice would you offer to aspiring bloggers, freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?

Set yourself up as a credible expert first. I couldn’t have gone freelance successfully without eight years of beauty writing at Cleo and Shop behind me, not to mention all of the relationships I had established with editors and deputy editors in this time. While blogs are great for finding your voice, it’s also important to not launch one in a big way until you are seen as at least somewhat of an expert in that field. Everyone has a blog now, so the ones that will stand out in the future will be the ones that have the strongest voice. So that’s just another reason to work as a full-time writer first. Oh and save some money while you’re on a salary – you’ll need it when you go freelance, take it from me.

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Happy.
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: Finding life balance.
  3. You wish you wrote: Skinny Bitch.
  4. Can’t leave home without: My dog, Daisy.
  5. One thing you are currently writing: A piece on new pigment technology.
  6. First thing you wrote: A magazine all about Cleopatra for a primary school history assignment.
  7. Addicted to reading: Anything on Paris, France and the French.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: Right now it’s to be a good mum, followed by dealing with the post-baby body, and getting back to my old yoga routine.
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Alice in Wonderland, I’ve been obsessed with her since the age of three.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Finding new words and ways to express myself. Believe me, that’s not always easy when you’re trying to write about applying blush for the 1000th time.

Interview: Erica Bartle

I have a kind of girl-crush on Erica Bartle. I read her blog almost religiously (I check it morning and night, although now I am grateful that she has Twitter so I can find out when she’s posted to avoid checking in every 15 minutes), annoyingly probe her with emails and questions and feedback about her postings, and remind myself that contrary to what Andy Sachs (of Devil wears Prada fame) experienced, there are nice girls inhabiting the land of glossy. In fact, I don’t even need to check out her blog to be reminded of the last bit. I just think of the times she used to send me notices about junior editorial positions going at Pac Mags, even though we had never met. All she knew was that I was a 19 year old uni student who was doing work experience everywhere and who desperately wanted a job in magazines. These days, Ms Bartle blogs about glossies, media, books and girly things from her pretty and pink office in her home in Mount Tambourine, QLD. Her blog is a treasure trove of good reading that is wholesome but interesting, and endowed with an aesthetic quality of nice pages to look at, books that she is reading, blogs she loves to read and places she likes to shop. For many young girls who aspire to work in mags, she provides an sneak peek into accessing the glossy/media world, while divulging all its happenings and analysing its productions in a manner so detailed it actually becomes educational. Plus, for the likes of me, a self-confessed mag addict on a less-than-glossy budget, her blog is a reliable tool for choosing what mags on the stands are worth buying (her ratings and commentary are substantial enough to help formulate this decision). Any aspiring wordsmith ought to check out her blog, and just because she’s worth it, vote for her to win Cosmo’s Fun Fearless Female Award. Hope you enjoy this (detailed) interview!

You’ve gone from being deputy editor on a major teen magazine to full-time freelancing. How does a lifestyle of being your own boss compare to working for someone else? I really miss the frantic office environment at Girlfriend – the witty cross-cubicle banter, the celebrity chit-chat, the editorial meetings, the highly scientific cover surveys (who do you like best right now?), the positive feedback/encouragement, the “oohs” and “ahhs” expressed at the sight of a lunch-time purchase, the daily “where should we go for lunch?” dilemma… That sense of community and fellowship, of a shared passion for producing a quality publication, is just something you can’t emulate in a solo working environment.

I’m a tough task master, workaholic and perfectionist, so when I first went freelance, while also maintaining my blog, my husband literally had to pry me away from my laptop. I was consumed by an incessant need to be online. Now, I’m a little more easy-going and less tortured about my approach to work. There has to be a balance – and, if you’re going to work for yourself and not have all the benefits of superannuation, pay security and nice things like beauty sales in the office, why the heck not take the occasional afternoon off? Carrie Bradshaw certainly spent more time out and about than at her laptop – though, we all know she was HIGHLY FICTIONAL and glamourised the freelance/column writer’s life.

Twitter has been an absolute GOD SEND in terms of making me feel more like part of a work community: it’s the online equivalent to office chatter. Add to that a girlie office layout I adore, an intern who comes to help me out once a week or so and my husband co-piloting in the office (doing his own thing, mind you) and I’m much happier and more comfortable in my writing zone now than I’ve ever been. I’ve been lucky to have made some very excellent virtual friends (fellow bloggers and freelancers) and to have had the support of people in the media industry who I may have never had the chance to work with had I not struck it solo (Mia Freedman comes to mind). And when I do feel isolated and a bit stir-crazy, I head to my favourite coffee shop, Spice of Life, with my MacBook. Voila!

Freelancers tend to comment about being able to work their own hours, or write in their PJs all day long. Is that something that appeals to you, or do you tend to structure your day around a routine to keep you productive? I let my personal presentation slide when I first went freelance and moved to Mount Tamborine (Gold Coast hinterland). But I came to realise that part of my self-esteem is wound up in how I present myself, so I now rock out a cute outfit every day, put on makeup, do my hair and even pack a lunch in a lunchbox so I’m not frittering away time in front of the fridge… though that’s still my preferred way to procrastinate.

What is a typical day in the life of GWAS? I pray and journal to God first thing in the morning and meditate on a passage from Joyce Meyer’s Christian compendium, Starting The Day Right/Ending the Day Right (just like Kevin Rudd!). In the fast-paced, fickle media world, I find my faith gives me solid grounding. Then, it’s off to the shower, outfit editing, makeup and down the stairs (my painful commute to the office takes all of three seconds: can you believe I actually miss my 40-minute bus ride to McMahon’s Point?!). If it’s a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, I’ll go to my newsagent (hi, Gavan!) and purchase the latest glossies or newspapers containing the sections I like to read (The Australian and Fin Review on Mondays for their media sections; The Sydney Morning Herald for its Essential section on Thursdays).

I try to have my first blog post up by 9am, if not earlier, then I try to get on top of my inbox (no easy feat) and reply to emails. I try to post twice more on the blog throughout the day, usually before lunch and at around 4.30pm. Of course, I’ll approve and try to respond to comments, too. When I’m not blogging, scanning or uploading pictures, I’m pitching, researching, interviewing, transcribing or writing freelance stories, chatting to blog advertisers and Twittering. While I love the immediacy of the internet, I like the balance that freelancing gives me as a writer – allowing ideas to gestate, interviewing, structuring a story… feature writing is a real craft.

I try to get out of the home office at least once during the day, if not more often – to check the post (it’s 5-minute walk to our mailbox), play with my dog, Gus, or go into town for a coffee. Generally, I try to finish up my work by 6pm, but that easily turns into 8, 9, 10pm some days. I’m trying to get out of that habit: I sleep better if I’ve wound down properly and turned my laptop off. Terribly exciting, isn’t it?!

Did you find it difficult to establish contacts in the glossies that enabled you to get some freelance work, or do you think that your blog made things a little easier? If anything, the blog has made things harder – it’s not ideal to be critiquing glossies in a public forum if it’s your dream to write for them! Thankfully, I have been blessed with a few wonderful industry contacts who feed me the occasional story. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of time for pitching these days.

How did the idea for your blog come about? It was really an extension of the work I was doing as deputy editor on Girlfriend. I was editing sections like the pop-culture packed “Get It Guide” and “Girl Crush” pages, as well as looking after the Love 2 Shop fashion quarterly, penning features and working on the Self Respect campaign. I wanted to flex my writing muscle and creativity and blogging seemed like the way to go. Instant gratification! I have been a long-time subscriber of Daily Candy, really enjoyed Mediapost’s “magazine rack” reviews and Who What Wear Daily was taking off, so I thought I could meld the concepts into one blog. And so Girl With A Satchel was born.

What were some of the difficulties you first encountered swapping from a very senior editing role to blogging? Was it hard to establish an audience, build up the site, find your niche etc? GWAS has really only hit the ground running over the past 6-12 months. Before that, it was a real mag girl’s blog, growing organically through word-of-mouth, but now the readership has grown and widened and so has its credibility as a “media blog” (or so I’m told), thanks to links from other reputable sites and traditional media. The niche came easily – glossy mags are something I’ve always been passionate about. I dubbed myself “The Nation’s Number One Consumer of Glossy Magazines” on my post-uni CV. Thankfully, all that financial investment seems to be paying off!

Did you consult any mentors or guides to make the process a little easier? No, but I wish I had. Initially, I had terrible moments of insecurity about how the blog content would be received by those in the industry, though I was confident about my convictions. However, the support did come. Rebecca Lowrey-Boyd of Wee Birdy, Mia Freedman, Zoe Foster, Sarah Oakes… they’ve all been wonderful supporters, as have other glossy editors and writers, the gorgeously loyal readers and contributors who slip me the occasional “keep it up” email and, of course, my husband and family (dad writes a “Bloke With a Bag” column and my sister contributes the occasional book review!).

You’ve established a cute little niche for yourself. How does it feel to be called upon as a speaker/expert in the field of blogging and glossy magazines? Hilarious! Who would have thought? It’s very humbling. Particularly as a journalist who interviews “experts” in their respective fields. God works in mysterious ways.

Recently, you’ve had to implement commenting guidelines on your site in response to some ‘bitchy’ or ‘nasty’ comments. In both pop culture and reality, women’s mags are notorious for rumours of bitching and gossip. Do you think that implementing such guidelines inhibits free speech, and (apart from the personal attacks on you and your family) what made you decide that these guidelines were the way to go? I’ve obviously given this a lot of thought. I think instantaneous, open discourse is part of the appeal of blogs – essentially, I’m a conversation starter and critic – but, at the same time, the blog is my online home and I like people to be respectful of it. I don’t go to other people’s homes and tread dog poo through the carpet and tell them they stink. That’s just rude. I don’t mind criticism – I dish it out, after all – but there’s a pervasive culture of snark that’s erupted via blogging (and anonymous commenting) which I think diminishes us all: nothing good ever comes from negativity and encouraging, building up and celebrating women is something we should all strive towards. I encourage articulate, insightful, elaborative and witty comments; bitchiness for the sake of bringing someone down (and thereby the blog) I do not. If you want the freedom to be outlandishly bitchy.. .start your own blog!

One thing I find very unique, and extremely refreshing, about your blog is its Christian influences. In the modern day and age, a lot of traditional, organised religions are seen to be something to be hidden because of their conservative outlooks. Did you struggle with the decision to make something that is seen to be so private, public? Or do you think that these influences and overtones help keep your work and nice-girl attitudes in check? It’s been a very natural thing for me to discuss my faith on the blog, as the site’s launch coincided with me recommitting to Christianity after years of blowing about in the wind. My faith is intrinsic to who I am and, therefore, my perceptions and opinions of the world, including the media and popular culture. I like to think that this gives me a slightly different perspective. Just about all the big editorial decisions I’ve made with the blog have come about as a result of prayer and petition. I’m sure Anna Wintour would be terrifying to work for, but being accountable to God is about as big as it gets (eek!).

How do you think the pictures on the sides of the blog enhance the overall writing experience? Blogs, like magazines, are an aesthetic (though not tactile) experience. A visit to my blog is a visual entree to my life and loves and sponsors! I’ve been lucky in that most of my sponsors are online retailers who themselves take pride in their appearance: their ads complement my site.

You write about women’s magazines and their content, and obviously give them a critical rating. Does that make you question your ability to work with them in future? Through my reviews, what I hope to do is celebrate the good while shining a light on editorial which I think is morally questionable or detrimental to the wellbeing of female readers. I’d like to think I provide a complementary service to the glossy industry. Film directors, actors, singers/bands… they all endure critical reviews of their work. Magazines are consumed by just as many people – why should they be exempt?

Who are you writing for at the moment? Cosmopolitan and Cleo, mostly – to be honest, the blog consumes more of my time every week! Do you have a goals list of other publication’s you’d like to target? Right now I’m focusing my energies on the blog, so no. But I think every writer has their dream writing gig (if I say it out loud it might not come true!)

What advice would you offer to aspiring bloggers, freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path? If it’s blogging you want to do, find a niche area to cover. If you’re freelancing, stay on top of all media – particularly those you plan to pitch to! There’s nothing more annoying for editors than to be pitched stories that they’ve just run. Be a voracious media consumer, read outside the media-sphere, explore the world and write, write, write!

Ten in the Hot Seat:

1. Biggest accomplishment to date: Writing for The Walkley Magazine was a highlight, as is being nominated in Cosmo’s Fun Fearless Female awards!

2. You wish you wrote: The Shops by India Knight. It’s like my comfort food.

3. Can’t leave home without: My satchel, of course!

4. One thing you are currently writing: A piece about cyber stalking!

5. First thing you wrote: A two-sentence short story about bunnies diligently handed over to the library lady for typing…on a typewriter!

6. Addicted to reading: everything. I am a gluttonous pig when it comes to media/books/internet.

7. Top spot on your goals list: To be an excellent mother one day, not too far in the future.

8. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Anne of Green Gables.

9. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Speaking to lovely people like you, Sarah.

10. Describe yourself in one word: Grateful.