Lessons

My first day back at uni and I’ve spent all day researching and writing. Enough focus and concentration I forgot to eat, I didn’t wash up like I told myself I would, and it only required a single cup of caffeine. Funnily enough, we weren’t really given any work today, besides watching a news bulletin. After 6 weeks off for Christmas, I have to admit I was a little nervous about going into my second semester, of my second year. Half way through one of the biggest commitments of my life. Right in the centre of my most transformational decisions. Intimidating and kind of over whelming in the most exciting way.

Now it’s late and my eyes are blurring enough that the words I don’t recognise are starting to look more like hieroglyphics than any category of linguistics, I figured it was time to move on from research, but my brain hasn’t quite turned off. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot in the last semester and while I feel reflective, I’m also feeling proactive and ready to plan for everything that’s coming for me. In the spirit of taking charge and looking forward, I wanted to take a minute to put down on paper some of the things I’ve learnt lately.

Working at home can be isolating.

No one tells you that shit. Or talks about it at all really. They talk about how you have to be motivated and ambitious and organised, so when I got my current job then it seemed like something that would suit me perfectly. The problem is, I’m an extrovert through and through and I struggle to find inspiration when it’s just me and my mind. The words just don’t flow. I’m getting better with making sure I leave the house even when I have no reason to and I don’t rely on having the same conversations with the same people on my phone day in, day out. Other than that, I have no answers yet, but I know there will be a way for me to get out of the slumps somehow.

Sometimes good enough is good enough.

I have a bad habit of not starting things, then starting them and never feeling like they’re done. If I put a draft down for more than about 0.06 seconds then I never pick it up again for fear of accidentally rewriting every word. Sometimes I need to accept that maybe 90% is good enough. On a bad day, maybe 10% is good enough. That doesn’t mean I’m not capable, it just means I am human and have more in my life than just the work (I absolutely need to get the fuck on with). In the same breath, taking risks is everything. Giving something a go is more important than getting it perfect and I’ve learnt that there are people that will appreciate my work, at every level.

Everyone has a story.

Studying journalism really gets you to see people in a different way. Hold up, I’m aware that could sound exploitative but bare with me. I’ve clearly always been interested in people and how they think, but studying journalism has brought a new insight into the way I interact with them. Not everything, or everyone, can be pathologised, sometimes all they need is a voice. No answers, just words.

Read. Everything.

Read the news and features and fiction. Find facts and opinions and have one of your own. I dredged through most of the readings for last semester. Then the break happened and I went away by myself for a few days and read for fun for the first time in 6 months. Okay, sure, most of what I enjoy reading is research and non-fiction, but the intention was there. It brought me back to understanding why I write in the first place. Keeping informed and getting the real story is important. Small talk has it’s place too, but when was the last time you wrote something for the world to see without really thinking it through? Besides tragic Facebook status’, words in writing mean something consequential and are worth consuming. Words are the key to connecting and without them we are lonely souls in a silent hell filled with nonsensical, ill thought out nothingness.

Now is the time for ambition.

I’ve defended all the times I gave up, or quit or just fucking slept instead of thinking big and I don’t regret a single decision. I’ve had my lie ins, I gave myself time, and even though I have my moments of weakness, I know that I’m stronger for all of it. I’ve built my foundation, now is the time for my skyscraper.

The sky’s too limiting for what I’ve got ahead of me.

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How To Not Write

In the last two weeks I’ve started about 5 posts, I’ve had sparks of inspiration for many more and I have finished a big fat zero of them. When I write, more often than not, I have a rough idea of what my points are but the words just tend to flow. I let the idea develop in my head for a few days, or if it’s a full on flame, then I get straight down to it and edit as I go. Recently, I have a maximum of one sentence planned out, sometimes it’s just a vague idea I can’t even get down on paper. So, where do I go from here?

Maybe my brain is too full. Uni is pretty full on, right in the middle of the semester with those deadlines creeping close. Personally, I have people in every corner of my life being confusing and messy as people often are. I’m trying to have fun, so I’m planning in gigs and comedy nights whenever I have a spare second. Amazingly, on top of all that, I’ve just been offered the perfect job for me right now (humble brag. More on that later, I’m sure). Life is pretty full on. Great, but full on. 

I can be a perfectionist, that’s for sure. My natural state of being means that I would rather do nothing that do something badly, or halfheartedly. However, because of that subconscious response it means that I have to push myself to do things I know won’t be perfect sometimes. I’m pretty good at that now, once I get going with something I normally get my head down and do a good job. But occasionally, just every now and then, I get stuck. I’m one for being authentic and following you’re own unique path, in your own specific time, so forcing myself is difficult. If I force myself to do things, I tend to obsess and it becomes a monster that picks at me and makes me feel worthless when I inevitable can’t live up to my own ludicrous standards. This time it means that I have 5 unfinished posts. Just sitting around. Gnawing at the back of my brain. Then there’s this post, which of course, is basically a rambling of nothingness to break the silence (well done if you’ve made it this far). 

I think this is when my well intended friends would suggest the whole self care piece. You know the drill, face mask, book, bath. Not my vibe today. So, here’s the plan. Tomorrow, I’m going to get up, put on my favourite I’m-a-badass-boss clothes, go find a coffee shop and write about all my favourite things. My new fantastic job, what I’m studying at uni and of course the wonderful people around that have infiltrated every moment of my thoughts. Maybe I’ll post it, maybe I won’t, but I need a refocus and I need to get my brain space back. Wish me luck! 

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Masterclass with Mark Nichols

I was lucky enough to attend a masterclass today with Mark Nichols, an award winning feature writer, war corespondent and travel writer. He has years of experience, spanning a variety of different roles within the news room, so his advice was invaluable. Mark’s tips for developing and pitching a feature was simple, but to the point and honest. Here’s a run down of what I took away from the class on how to make it in the feature business. 

 

  • Volunteer For Everything

Mark ended up picking up the military pages because of the lack of volunteers for the role. It was in 2001, before 9/11, when stories were fairly mundane. Then a few months later the war broke out and there were opportunities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mark was the one at the centre. All because he took the job no one wanted. 

 

  • Be Prepared to Go Where the Action Is

When you are on the ground researching a story, you come away with first hand knowledge. You know what the situation is, because you witnessed it. Interviewing people directly and seeing situations for yourself mean that you can report with confidence and authority that you can’t get without that experience. 

 

  • Harness All the Tools At Your Disposal

Technology is invaluable, and we have more resources than ever as journalists to be able to get the job done thoroughly and to a high quality. But Mark made a great point about the resources that we’ve always had. Acknowledging your senses when you’re out in the field and using that to draw your readers in can be a unique angle. How many people can describe the sounds, tastes and smells that you got to experience? He asked who knew shorthand and I don’t think anyone raised their hand. He said it would be our best friend. “Do you ever write something you don’t understand? No, but do you ever record a conversation that you don’t understand? Yes, and it drifts away from you”. I better invest in some new notepads. 

 

  • Know Your History

This point, I have to admit, I was a little sceptical about. Mark shared with us several pieces he had done which hinged on dates or history of the area, and related that back to current affairs or topical subjects. He said that if you really know your history, then you can pull a story out of anywhere and seemed to prove it with his body of work. 

 

  • Take Your Life Experiences With You

Sometimes you know more about a subject than you think. Sometimes knowledge that you thought was unrelated will crop up as useful. Sometimes someone you knew, from way back when, will come in handy. It’s especially useful when you’re looking for a unique angle. Keep an eye on your peripheral, that’s where obscure angles come from and that’s what people want to read. And always be on the look out for a story. 

 

  • Hone Your People Skills

If you can ask the right questions, in the right order, then story practically writes itself. People are almost always the centre of the story, even if it’s because they hold the information. A lot of the time, they don’t even realise it. Not everyone has a journalism nose. If you can get people to tell you what you need to know, that’s half the battle. If you plan a story properly, and ask things in a constructive way, then you’ll have done the hard part. 

 

  • Most Of the Time It’s Luck !

Be resilient, be confident and put yourself out there. You’ll fail and people won’t want your story. But get up and try again. It’s a tough industry, so build up a tough skin! 

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