What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?
I get up at probably seven or eight to be at work for 10:30, latest, for the weekly editorial meeting. This is when it is most excellent to work at a place where I can dress up as Slutty Snow White or a pre-teen degenerate or whatever. I’d say that half of my Thursday mornings are in the manner of “off the floor, out the door.” Anyway: at the meeting the editorial staff (editors, writers, designers, interns) goes over the upcoming issue of EYE and talks about biznez, new ideas, cover images, whatever. After that I grab a coffee or lunch, either by myself or with my friend Chris, who is the other staff writer at EYE, or with a few editors. We’re a small staff; the atmosphere is very “Bros.”
Then, I write Required Reading, which is my daily blog that covers anything of interest that day: this week I put together all of the most relevant stories about the movie The Social Network; wrote up an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer about vegetarianism; talked to Margaret Cho about being kicked off Dancing With the Stars; and wrote about the “Duke Fuck List.” It’s always about something that’s going viral online, or some nutty celebrity news, or something random but worthwhile. Anything that’s both newsy and interesting to me might go in. I have no time to write in a journal or do much on my own blog, so I like Required Reading as a place to play with voice and style. It’s also interesting to see what kinds of posts really take off and what posts just float into the ether.
For the duration of the afternoon I might do phone interviews (I typically talk to actors, musicians, comedians, and writers who have a new thing or are touring) or work on a feature for the Arts or Film or Music section, or work on my weekly column, called My Life, My Fault, or if I’m doing my monthly Love and Sex page, I might work on that. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and texting and on Gchat. Thursdays and Fridays are really busy writing days, because the paper is in production on Tuesdays, which means my stuff is due on either Friday or Monday. I don’t usually do any freelance work at the end of the week.
I stay at the office until 6 or 7. Then I might go out for dinner and/or see a movie and/or go to a show or party or whatever. Usually this isn’t for work: I have mostly stopped reviewing concerts because I find it hard to work late and then be productive the next day, and because typing notes while you’re watching a band sucks. Still, sometimes there is something like TIFF parties to blog about or an interview subject to meet with or a publicist I like is doing an event. On a really good, dreamy day, which ends up being about once a week, I go home and play music and dance around and read and fall asleep before midnight.
What was your first job out of school?
After I graduated from U of T I moved to California to do an editorial internship at OC Weekly. I took three different buses for two hours each way, from where I lived in Laguna Beach to the office, which was almost in east L.A. When I came back to Toronto for my first real-life grownup job, I was the (barely qualified) editor of a website that was mostly a city guide to Toronto. It was a weird job for a 24 year old music writer to fall into: I had seventy-five freelancers working for me, an assistant, and was technically a manager so I had to go to strategy meetings and stuff. I stayed for one year and learned a lot about office culture and how a property like that works; I would work this straight, serious gig until about five or six, and then stay at the office until ten or eleven or later, working on my zine or doing freelance stuff or reading stories online. When I quit after thirteen months, I had built up a legitimate freelance practice.
What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?
You have to be intelligent and be willing to flex that intelligence. I’ll put the typical self-deprecation of female writers and artists aside to just say that you have to really accept and understand your intelligence and abilities. You have to ensure that other people, your colleagues and potential colleagues, know that you’re smart. Being curious about a variety of things and studying up and reading everything and being critical of and engaged with the world is a constant for a writer. Perhaps the only constant: I don’t write every day, but I definitely read every day.
You have to hustle. That means getting up and working, usually all alone in a room, and being rejected and told that what you wrote wasn’t right, and having to do it again and again and again. And again and again and again. And then when you’re being told that you’re really good and special you still have to get up and hustle more, every day. You have to chase down editors and cheques and interview subjects and photographers and publicists. You have to be extraordinarily comfortable with using the phone, with asking for things, with people not liking you, with saying no to fun and your friends when you have shit to do, with saying yes to the ridiculous demands of famous people, to rewrites at the 11th hour, to everything. Especially at first. For the first couple of years as a freelance writer or journalist, you should expect to work basically all the time.
You have to be dreamy. This is the fun part. The kind of writing I do especially allows for me to insert my writing voice and sensibility into basically everything I write, and sometimes I hear it reflected back at me and it’s super exciting. But developing that voice means thinking hard about what you like and don’t like and what you respond to and what you want more or less of in the world. I tend toward writing that is fun and silly and casual but with a baseline of intelligence and provocation, ideally all at once.
What do you love most about your career?
I love almost everything about it. Getting to “be a writer” like I wanted to be since I was five or six. Getting paid for an idea I had and executed is always and constantly thrilling. I like that I’m not part of anything that I don’t believe in. I looove sleeping in, and working from hotel rooms that look out over oceans, and meeting people that impress my parents, and getting a shit-ton of free stuff. I also selfishly and slavishly love that I have an opportunity for my opinion and outlook to be heard and considered. That’s very rare and very valuable. It’s also why I take seriously the emails and feedback I receive from readers, because getting to be in other people’s heads every week is this giant responsibility and I treat it as such.
Do you have any warnings?
I think that a lot of people enter into freelance writing and journalism under-prepared. I was stupidly under-prepared. I didn’t know how to work the recording equipment, I didn’t know anything about house styles, I blew deadlines a lot, I put myself in some incredibly dangerous situations to get a good story, and I didn’t learn about the actual process of publishing until about a year ago. While I don’t really believe in journalism school as a way to develop good writers, I do believe in asking questions and doing research and practicing and finding a mentor and being the intern who is always hassling the editors for something else to research, write, fact-check. There is a giant disconnect between how many people tell me they want to do what I do, and how few of them are willing to do the work it involves. Like, if you’re 22 and want to be a writer, you have no business lying in bed watching TV because you’re hungover. Go hustle.
Something I didn’t do when I was starting out, and continue not to do, is write for free. In the beginning, an unpaid internship and unpaid contributions are an excellent way to learn and get bylines and build professional relationships: my unpaid internship at OC Weekly made me a writer, straight-up. The issue is if you’re trying to make a career of it and you’re agreeing to work for free for more than, say, the couple of years when you’re working non-stop to establish yourself. The absolute worst thing about publishing is that people are asked to write for free, and that people agree to it. Even professional writers are notoriously shitty about asking for money and under-valuing themselves. As a sensitive writer type who is also a type-A Capricorn, I do not have this problem, and can fairly evaluate what my time is worth (which, for freelance, is between 50 and 300 dollars an hour, depending entirely on the project and publication) and ask for it, and can fairly evaluate the market and the publications I work for.
If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?