Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘House & Garden’

Crafting a Creative Tasmanian Life

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania on February 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

How to succeed as a creative in Tasmania? Get creative with how you present your message…

Recently, I worked on a story for House & Garden, featuring some good mates – Nick and Kerry – who’ve moved to Tasmania to renovate a minimalist-in-a-cool-Danish-way, 1960s weatherboard cottage. They love their food, so I love them.

They also live in a totally out-of-the-way place: in the beautiful, sleepy village of Middleton. Yet their careers are not suffering. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nick’s a sought-after blacksmith and Kerry’s a talented creative director, and they both enjoy an amazing country lifestyle while maintaining their impressive creative careers. Kerry divides her time between their farm and Melbourne’s CBD for work, and Nick spends his days in his forge (on their 23-acre property on the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux).

They’ve also launched a blog, The Tassie Menagerie, which documents life on the farm, and how they juggle creative pursuits with herding ducks…

While their current arrangement seems idyllic to most, they are aiming even higher. Their goal is to live sustainably and independently – not just in terms of producing their own food, but also in working where and how they choose.

They say their move to Tasmania has enhanced their creativity – has given them a real point of difference in their work (which their clients are noticing).

To me, they are an example of how you can have your Tasmanian lifestyle while not compromising on the quality of your creativity. How you can use Tasmania as your USP (unique selling point).

To do the same, you have to:

1. Be flexible in how you deliver your message and product (think laterally);

2. Make sure you’re visible online (blog, website, guest posts…); and

3. Keep speaking to your audience as if they are global (not just local).

Too many freelance or independent creatives in Tasmania make the mistake of thinking and acting insular, of feeling they can’t compete with interstate and international creatives.

Clearly that’s not true – and it always pays to check out what other successful creatives are achieving. Be inspired and informed.

(Pics by Kerry and Nick, of their farm and forge)

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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.

Writing Freelance Features

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania, Writing on January 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

Want to write a great magazine or newspaper article? What does it take to discover that one unsung idea, pitch the piece to an editor, produce the thing and see it through to published completion?

It’s a hard-to-pin-down process; when I wrote my first published article, about 13 years ago, I stumbled blindly through the whole thing. But despite having written thousands and thousands of published words since, seeing my byline in a publication still gives me a little kick.

Note: Although my focus this year is less on being the messenger (ie. documenting the achievements of others) and more on being the message (creating my own achievements), there’s no doubt that when you come across a great story about someone/something/somewhere else, it’s empowering to be able to tell it.

I’ve just finished two stories about Tasmania – one for House & Garden magazine, and one that has no home as yet (but will likely end up in a national food magazine).

One of these stories I pitched directly to the editor, the other was done ‘on spec’ – purely because my photographer, Nick Watt, and I were entranced with the story and had a couple of days free to shoot it. (Local Tasmanian stylist, Charlotte Bell, below, lent her aesthetic skills for both shoots.)

I do not take the opportunity to write these features for granted: interviewing interesting people, in beautiful locations, while working with some of the most talented people in the business… it certainly beats sitting at a desk all day!

So, I thought I’d do a few posts on the process of freelance writing for magazines, or newspapers, or websites (or whatever takes your fancy). I know instinctively how I do this, but I’ve never put it down in black and white.

I’d like to look at things such as:

  • How to unearth the untold stories around you
  • How to pitch a story to an editor (including how to find the USP – the unique selling point)
  • How to produce the story (interviewing, logistics etc)
  • How to structure and write a story
  • The business side of freelance feature writing

If there’s anything you want to know about writing freelance features, let me know!

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