Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Brain soup: writing + ADD + adulthood

In Writing on February 14, 2015 at 7:32 am

I don’t believe in god, but when she was wiring up my brain she obviously took some creative licence.

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I’ve just been diagnosed with ADD, about 30 years after it would have been helpful (but better late than never, I guess). I also have an anxiety disorder – fairly severe at times – plus OCD and a few other things thrown in (synaesthesia and sensory processing disorder).

On paper I sound like a bit of a basket case – but funnily enough I am, in others’ eyes at least, pretty successful, in-control and happy (I’m clearly not a bad actor either!). I’m also lucky to be gifted with a natural talent for writing, drawing and a knack for quickly mastering most things I try… when I can be bothered, which is almost never. I have noticed that, when I put in 10% effort, I get a 90% return – it’s probably why, despite my particular challenges, I’ve sailed through a lot of things with minimum commitment – but the occasions when I put in that 10% are very, very few and far between. And it’s getting harder, and more stressful, to pull off. As most ADD-ers would relate to, I feel like I’m in a permanently suspended state of ‘potential’, without ever achieving anything of any real substance.

The ADD diagnosis came at about the same time I received a literary grant to complete my first novel, and the time I found out I was pregnant. I have some large, immovable deadlines looming. As I run my own business as a writer and editor, and have a young family, I have layer upon layer of deadlines and responsibilities to manage.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to do this year. I am anxious, angry, and immensely fucking frustrated. Finding out there’s a reason why my inner world is so splintered is a relief, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to be different, but I’m completely struck by the enormity of what’s in front of me. I can’t focus for more than a minute or so at a time (oh, how I thought that was normal…), yet I am going to be attempting a 60,000 page novel?

Right now, I’m thinking that I might aim for 333 words a day (that’s the OCD in me). I have also started reading other ‘ADD’ writers’ experiences, and they are inspiring. I will let you know how I go.

So, You’re a Writer and You Want to Move to Tasmania?

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

Longing for a Tasmanian seachange, treechange or farmchange (for those agrarian types)? Ah yes, the dreamy life of the Tasmanian writer, tapping away at a laptop in a cool little café on the docks, or on their deck under the eucalypts and the big island sky, free from the stresses of the modern world…

I understand this picture: I almost live this reality every day, and I still dream of it.

There’s no doubt that Tasmania tempts creatives with an enviable and affordable lifestyle, inspiring landscapes, some of Australia’s best produce, the world’s cleanest air and water, and a strong artistic community. We grow and nourish some of the world’s best writers. It’s also a wonderful place to have a family…

BUT.

It is also challenging place to be a writer (whether for love or money). It is not impossible to be a successful writer in Tasmania, but my experience has shown it to be a very different kettle of Devils to what working as a writer in Sydney is like.

If you’re keen, here are a couple of things you’ll need to think long and hard about.

Where to live

If you need beach, peace, coast, bush, space and solitude, you’re spoilt for choice. Raging nightlife and up-to-the-minute trends – hmm, not so much…

Of course, whatever your taste, I can’t tell you where you should live. I will happily recommend certain areas (and unrecommend others), because I know this island pretty bloody well.

However, there is one unifying fact: Tasmania does not yet have the internet capabilities of the ‘mainland’. And the places that writers generally love most – out-of-the-way havens – are the least covered by the web.

We will presumably eventually catch up with everyone else, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, although I live 10km and 10 minutes from the capital of Hobart, my broadband connection drops out on a regular basis. I had to swap phone carriers when I first moved, as the service was so sketchy I couldn’t carry on professional phone calls.

In another example, I’d pack my bags tomorrow and move to one of our family shacks, but there’s no WiFi at either… and oh, how I love WiFi!

How to work

Since moving to Tasmania, I’ve had to reassess my work style. The way I move between jobs. The way I (yuk) network. The way I charge for my work and chase payment.

In Sydney, I was spoilt for choice in where I worked and what I did – so many magazines, newspapers, book publishing houses, websites, PR companies… should I be a columnist this year, or a book editor???

Tasmania has three ‘newspapers’ (I hesitate to call them that), a couple of indie book publishers, and about three magazines (only one of which I would recommend).

Work for any of these, and you will get paid a fraction of what you receive elsewhere. Which is fine if you’ve downsized your lifestyle and you’re not fussed about money – but a bit of a slap in the face if you’re an established professional and expect to be paid as such.

(Try not to make the same mistake I made on moving here, which was to get myself into a situation of having to work so hard, that I couldn’t enjoy the lifestyle that Tasmania should have offered me.)

It’s also unfortunate to have to say this, but certain individuals and businesses in Tasmania suffer from a debilitating chip on the shoulder. There’s an inverse snobbery directed towards outsiders; it didn’t matter that I’d grown up here – the fact I lived and worked in Sydney meant that I wasn’t one of ‘them’.

The usual methods of breaking through barriers don’t work here – and I might as well have not had a CV at all, so irrelevant was my mainland work – and it’s taken three years to crack the tough nut of Tasmania.

How to succeed

My advice – to begin with – is to maintain your big town connections and, as far as possible, continue to get work from those sources. Perhaps position yourself as an expert in a niche area (moving to Tasmania???)… I would also advise getting a regular gig/s that bring in regular money (for example, editing for academic purposes).

Although I currently receive a full-time income as an advertising copywriter in a very cool Tasmanian agency, I also run a freelance business consulting for Tassie clients, and I take on regular editing and writing work for national magazines (such as House & Garden), book publishers (Murdoch Books and HarperCollins, for example) and local newspapers (a weekly column on houses and interiors for The Mercury).

All of this, of course, is quite draining.

Which is why, if you want to move to Tasmania, I’d suggest thinking laterally about your writing career (which you should always be doing, anyway). Don’t stop looking at ways you can work smarter, not harder. Be open to things – and you can turn your move to the twigs into new opportunities.

So…

This year, I am finding ways to not have to be physically present with clients in order to pass on my knowledge/advice to them.

This year, I am finding ways I don’t have to be restricted to earning by the word, the hour or the job.

This year, I am finding ways in which my work no longer has such a short shelf life, and can be more sustainable.

If I’m living in Tasmania, I want to make darn sure I can enjoy the lifestyle, while  not compromising on my ambition.

Getting A Magazine Job (Part 1)

In Career, Writing on January 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

I get asked a lot how I got my first (paying) magazine job – which, incidentally, was as a junior sub-editor/production manager on the very-cool-yet-short-lived Minx magazine, designed as the female version of FHM, or Ralph etc…

I’m not sure where my idea for journalism came from – I loved reading and writing, and art and style, and I’d wanted to be Tintin when I grew up… but I think it must have come from enjoying foisting my opinions on the wider world. And feeling a bit voiceless in Tasmania. Magazines must have represented a soapbox, a way to communicate my ideas and thoughts (and a way out of Tasmania, which was stifling).

The beginning (and end) at Dolly

Unlike today’s magazine world, where cool Gen Ys intern for a bit then get offered a job, things were a little different in early 1998, when I flew from Hobart to Sydney to do work experience as a designer at Dolly. (At that stage, I had vague notions I’d be a graphic designer, as that was what I was studying – I hadn’t yet realised I was better at writing than designing…)

Although I got to hang out on a shoot with the Heartbreak High boys, my time at Dolly did not end well. The art director took exception to my proactivity or something, and told me after two days that I was not welcome back (“And you can forget about ever getting a job in this industry, in this town” – I kid you not).

The delicate Tasmanian in me went back to my rental apartment in North Sydney, had a little sulk – and then the bolshy Tasmanian in me realised two things:

a) I could fly home and foregt about ever getting a job on a magazine

b) I could disagree with her opinion, and keep chasing my dream

Choosing ‘b’

I just couldn’t bring myself to give in. So I set about totally upending my life. I rang my parents and said I wasn’t coming back. I quit my fine arts degree at the University of Tasmania, and re-enrolled in a art history and curating degree at COFA. I worked for free at Marie Claire and other magazines. I did late-night jobs to make ends meet. I applied and applied and applied for magazine jobs.

And got nothing.

When people ask me today about how they can get a job in magazines, I always tell them about the year and a half I spent going about it the wrong way. I had thought, naively, that people would just recognise my skills and talents and bless me with a job.

The break

I stuck at it, through stubbornness and pride more than anything else.

Towards the end of 1999, the chief sub-editor at Marie Claire – Jana Frawley – took pity on me and gave me some invaluable advice: do a sub-editing course, as it’s the uncoolest job on magazines but they always need good sub-editors. (I saw Jana many years later, when she was editor at Donna Hay, and thanked her for her generosity and advice).

I promptly enrolled in the editing/publishing diploma at Macleay College. My lovely Nanny paid the $3000 fee. I studied what I already knew (surely this grammar and spelling stuff was obvious???), did really well, and the day after I graduated from my uni degree, I was offered the Minx job – it was the first job I’d applied for after completing the diploma, and I bloody got it.

The reality

My annual salary at Minx was about $20,ooo. I worked a second job at night. I remember times when I had nothing to eat – and I had to walk from Rose Bay to Chinatown and back each day, as I couldn’t afford the bus. But it was worth it. The team, led by the wonderful Alex Brooks (currently of Kidspot), was inspiring, I learnt more than I could have hoped (especially the fact that I was a good writer and editor) and, when Minx sadly folded, I’d enough experience under my belt to confidently apply for another position: at CLEO, when the stylish and visionary Paula Joye was the editor.

Oh, and I asked for – and was granted – double the dollars I’d been on at Minx.

Things were starting to get interesting…

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