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:
- Describe yourself in one word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
- 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.
- You wish you wrote: Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Suess
- Can’t leave home without: My BlackBerry, notebook, pen, lip balm, keys and wallet. And sometimes my MacBook Pro and Canon EOS.
- 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.
- 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.’
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.