Planting Seeds


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There is something demoralising about openly identifying yourself as an aspiring writer. It is a little humiliating, in all honesty. "Aspiring" indicates falling short of reaching dream, attracting questions about talent or drive. "Writer" is often perceived as dreamy, silly, unattainable, impractical. In constantly striving to prove yourself, trying to convince others that you do have talent and you will succeed, it is easy to get mired in the rejection, disappointment and silence. The question is: how can we overcome the low points to achieve the high ones?

I have figured out a system of my own. Of course, it may not work for you, but I'd like to think that it is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. I call it planting seeds. Put simply, it consists of maintaining a continuous cycle of sowing future opportunities for myself - the idea being that I will always be spurred by the unremitting hope that my next opportunity could be just around the corner.

The seeds can take any form, big or small. Pitching to magazines. A request for an interview. An email to a writer I admire. A new blog post. A comment on someone else's blog. An offer to do a guest post. Reaching out to a fellow aspiring writer. A synopsis to an agent. A tweet. Buying a book on the Book Depository. An article to an editor. The list goes on.

Of course, the nature of the game is that not all of these ventures will be fruitful. In fact, most of them won't amount to anything. Some may offer hope, only to be dashed. Some may involve a long, drawn out, excruciating wait, only to fade into nothing. Some may be met with resounding silence. But that's okay. Because every so often, there will be a flower waiting for me. One which instills my confidence and validates my dream, gently setting me back onto my writing path. Like the time one of my favorite writers endorsed my blog. Or when a prominent book agent encouraged me to send her my manuscript. Or when a beauty writer I admire invited me to do a guest post on one of my favourite sites. Or when some of my most beloved writers agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Or all of the amazing messages of support I receive from my friends and the people who read my writing. All of these things are incredibly uplifting, and often surface at the most opportune times. Which helps to give me the strength to go on, and not give up.

I'd be dishonest if I didn't divulge the disappointments I have faced. The numerous articles I have submitted to my favorite magazine to no reply. Or a magazine editor telling me that she would love me to write for her but never responding to my follow-up phone calls or emails (carefully spaced to minimise annoyance, of course). Or when a piece I had spent weeks writing went completely unnoticed on my blog. Or the multitude of correspondence which has been ignored, sometimes by my idols. These hiccups may seem small and petty but, as much as it pains me to admit, they are met with a jolt of devastation. We would all like to think that we are special - that one day, somebody will recognise our unique talent and give us our big break. But sometimes it's not luck or birthright that builds our success. It's perseverance. Practice. The art of failing - falling flat on our faces and dusting ourselves off, getting right back up and running straight toward the brick wall again. Because, one day, it may magically transform into an open door. (You know, like Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters.)

So, in conclusion: plant seeds. No matter how few of them blossom, keep going. Persevere. As long as we do, we can nurture the hope of achieving our goals. The second we lapse, we expose our hearts to self-doubt and fear, hindering ourselves. The truth is, all the strength and endurance we need can be sourced from the dream itself, as long as we are clear enough about it. Published articles, a newspaper cadetship, an internship at a magazine, novels... whatever our aspiration, it can only be ours if we don't give up. And so it is the promise of the next flower, just within our grasp, that keeps us moving and climbing to reach the top of the mountain. Until we reach the beautiful garden of our dreams.  

(Picture via Pearled)

October 29: Weekly Wrap-Up


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Ira Glass on Storytelling | YouTube
Ira Glass talks about the building blocks of a great story, how to find a story, good taste and common pitfalls: Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 4. Thank you to Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) for the link.

A great New York Times article about quirky niche web site The Awl. (An awl is a pointy tool used to make marks on wood, in case you were interested.) As Carr notes: "If you were going to assemble a business plan for a Web site, you would look closely at everything The Awl ( did and then head in precisely the opposite direction". Nevertheless, against all odds, the "little digital boutique" has found an audience of half a million, purely by embracing idiosyncrasy and creating "the kind of site that people we know would like to read". Coincidentally, one of my favourite article on writing, Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or How to Make Vitamin Soup, originated on The Awl.

A brilliant piece by one of my favourite Australian journalists, Annabel Crabb, who made this speech at Melbourne University on Wednesday. She talks about the difficulties facing journalists today (namely, that people no longer want to pay for quality content), the importance of human contact and the unique opportunity for young writers to be rewarded for their talent, imagination and intrepidity within the new media paradigm. 

In light of my daily rituals post, this free eBook by Zen Habits writer/blogger Leo Babauta may be useful. It is about "finding simplicity in the Age of Distraction; finding the focus you need to create, to work on what’s important, to reflect, to find peace". Thank you to Rachel Hills (Musings of an Inappropriate Woman) for the link.

Always on the Side of the Egg | Hareetz | Haruki Murakami
Last year, Haruki Murakami was awarded the Jerusalem literary prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society. Pro-Palestinian groups attempted to dissuade him from attending the ceremony, claiming that doing so would demonstrate his support for Israel's role in the Gaza conflict. Murakami considered their argument, but ultimately decided to accept his prize in person. His beautifully moving speech explains why he made that decision and the underlying message he wishes to convey through his novels. 

(Picture via Memi the Rainbow)

Event Review: mUmBRELLA Question Time, Melbourne



This morning, I spent the best $80 I have in a long time. My motivation for media was re-instilled - I was filled with excitement and ideas by the time I walked out. The event was the mUmBRELLA Question Time breakfast that featured these key four speakers, moderated by the site's publisher Tim Burrowes -
John Thompson

Peter Biggs
John Thompson - Senior manager for road safety and marketing at the Transport Accident Commission (TAC)

Peter Biggs - Clemenger BBDO Melbourne’s Managing Director (Advertising agency)

Eric Beecher
Eric Beecher -Crikey co-owner (He has also worked as a reporter on The Age, The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Washington Post. He has been editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and editor in chief of the Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times newspaper group.)
Frankie Ralston Good

Frankie Ralston Good - Naked Communications’ Melbourne Managing Director

Tim Burrowes
Tim Burrowes, mUmBRELLA Publisher
There were many pre-organised questions read out by audience members and, finally, it came to my question. Earlier in the week, I had made contact with the lovely and clever Tim Burrowes who, after a conversation about my current career position in life, he kindly suggested he would help me reword my question to this one -

"I've worked as a journalist, and in media sales. I'm about to get back into the job market. Which side of the fence does the panel recommend will lead to the most satifying career?"

Here are the short versions of the panel's answers, which I believe could apply to anyone who is trying to decide on a career, even if it is not in the media:

Frankie's advice - How do you define job satisfaction? Find out what satisfies you and run with that.

Eric's advice - Journalism schools are full. You have got to love it and get the job satisfaction out of it.

Peter's advice - Follow your bliss. (Funnily enough, it was randomly pointed out that he started out studying to be a  Catholic Priest.)

John's advice - Follow what you love, don't take the easy path.

It was an absolute thrill to hear their answers and I was quietly stoked to be amongst such important and influential media people. For someone who is passionate about anything to do with newspapers, online news and media industry news - it was quite exciting.

Interestingly, for young people (and aspiring writing and journalists that this blog is aimed at), Beecher talked about the online publishing content industry growing enormously - however, their challenge is finding bright, young graduates who can be moulded into online journalists. (note to readers, this is something to think about!)

The panelists also talked about the innovation being stirred in the world of online media. Eric Beecher pointed out that, broadly, print media needs reinventing but, if they can get an app for a tablet or mobile device right, they are onto a winner.

To be completely honest, I felt a quite out of my depth at the event, as their were many high fliers from the media and marketing industry there; yet I was also grateful that I went along, as it is not often that the opportunity arises to hear from such brilliant media minds in person. For me, my buying a ticket was the equivalent of someone else my age treating themselves to a ticket to a music festival. It was a highly interesting experience that has left me with lots to think about in terms of online media. I would recommend the mUmBRELLA Question Time event to anyone along with having a look at the media and marketing orientated, fabulous website - I find there is always something interesting and fun to look at on there even if you are not extremely interested in the media industry. 

Their next event is in Sydney on Wednesday, November 10th - you can find further details here

Interview: Susan Maushart, Writer


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I have a Saturday morning ritual. I wake up, make myself a cup of tea (T2's French Earl Grey is a current favourite) and ravenously devour The Weekend Australian Magazine, front-to-back, back-to-front and side-to-side. Without a doubt, it is one of my most beloved Australian publications, along with frankie and The Monthly, never failing to satisfy with its cutting-edge, high calibre feature articles by such journalistic greats as Caroline Overington and Richard Guilliatt (speaking of whom, Guilliatt's latest, Justice in Black and White, is a brilliant read) and ever-thoughtful, ever-pertinent opinion columns by Philip Adams, Ruth Ostrow and, my favourite, Dr Susan Maushart. So you can imagine how pleased I was when Susan so generously granted me a lovely interview, especially for this blog.

Susan has been a columnist at The Weekend Australian Magazine for over a decade. She also holds a PhD in Media Ecology from New York University, has written five award-winning, best-selling books (the latest, The Winter of Our Discontent, will undoubtedly speak volumes for young social media addicts like me), hosts Multiple Choice on ABC radio and is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at UWA. Susan writes about feminism, technology, Australian culture, motherhood and marriage, among countless other topics pertaining to the tricky navigation the modern world, from a fresh, female perspective. For those of you unfamiliar with Susan's work, some of my favourite of her recent columns include It's a Visionary Thing, Green Haze, Rose-Tinted Bifocals and Boys Will Be Girls (the latter even features my "genial" former high school principal). As you will be able to tell from reading her interview, Susan has a warm, engaging writing style that is easily identifiable and always entertaining. 

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I remember writing a passionate declaration of my intention when I was 12. How I wish I could see that now. But I didn’t really do much about it til I found myself a single mother with three kids under five. I made a leap of faith out of academia, and the safety of imminent tenure, to try my luck as a freelance writer. And it turned out I was lucky.

What is your writing routine?
When I am writing a book, it’s every day from 8 am til I reach 1000-3000 acceptable words. (It’s a sliding scale based on how close to deadline I am!)

What do you read?
Lots of stuff online; The New Yorker, religiously; I love science writing – currently reading a book about parasites by evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk - and read across a wide range of journals; impatiently awaiting my copy of Franzen’s Freedom at the moment … like to revisit classics and keep up with literary fiction.

Which writer do you most admire and why?
I always say (because it’s true) that Walden is my favourite book, because it is like a well that, no matter how buckets you draw from it, never runs dry. The contemporary author whose books I get most excited about is probably Anne Tyler, for her humour, humanity and utter lack of hubris.

What inspires you?
Lots of stuff. My kids. My reading. Animals. Photos. Eavesdropping. WNYC. Hunger …

What do you love about being a writer?
Freedom. I have enormous freedom - intellectually, creatively, organizationally, even geographically - as a writer. I treasure that.

Do you have an over-arching message that you would like to communicate through your writing?
I see myself as a critic. I am always working to get underneath. And if I believe passionately in anything – and these days being passionate is de rigeur … - it is in fallibility: my own included.

What are you working on at the moment?
I have three book ideas jostling for attention right now – one about home, one about hair, and one about reading.

What are your writing goals for the future?
To keep making a living at doing work that engages me and speaks to others.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read like nobody’s watching (‘cause they’re not). Write as if it were a job, not a hobby (or it always will be).

(Pictures courtesy of Random House)

Interview: Kiel Egging, Journalist and Entertainment Reporter


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At 23, Kiel Egging considers himself a very lucky guy.

He has rubbed shoulders with many of the celebrities he has looked up to, including Jennifer Hawkins, Kasey Chambers, Paolo Nutini and even Powderfinger.  He works for the Shepparton News - a daily newspaper - as a journalist and entertainment reporter. Shepparton is located in the North East of Victoria with a population close to 50 000. One thing that stands out is Kiel's passionate dedication to journalism and music - as you will read, Kiel put in a lot of energy into doing plenty of volunteer work and networking extremely well while at university (although he also admits to getting very little sleep!) In the end, all his dedication paid off and it has seen him secure a job that he loves. Kiel has also made the top five for the Optus Sound Scribe competition - you can read his posts here.

Why did you want to become a journalist?
shepparton news front page image

I just had some sort of natural knack for it and finding out what's going on in people's lives. I was pretending to commentate sports matches when I was younger and was always into writing. Later down the line I thought how awesome it would be to find out people's stories, meet all my favourite bands and review their music etc. - which is exactly what I'm now doing! Plus it wasn't going to ever be a boring mundane job either.

Where did you study? Do you think much of what you learnt at university was useful in relation to your job today?
I did a Bachelor of Media Studies (Journalism) at La Trobe Uni in Bundoora. Uni was good to get my qualifications and learn a few writing skills, but a lot of it was a bit useless - especially the media theory subjects. The practical experience and hands-on volunteer work got me to where I am today - but don't get me wrong - uni also helped.

What other industry experiences did you have while at university?
While I was at uni I tried to do heaps of volunteer stuff on the side to compliment my degree - partially because I wanted to get a job and wanted experience, but partially because I genuinely enjoyed doing it too. I started off at SUB FM - the uni radio station - in 1st year. Then I started doing stuff for the uni newspaper - just writing heaps of music stuff because it's what I enjoyed! I then got offered to be the entertainment editor and got to go to the 2008 Logies through the uni mag which was pretty amazing.

Along with the practical stuff - I also did work experience placements in the holidays with WIN TV in Gippsland, Sport 927 AM, Inpress and Network Ten. After my week with Inpress, they asked me to be a contributor for them - so I started doing CD reviews, gig and festival reviews and the occassional feature whilst juggling my 3rd year studies. I still do gig reviews with them today every now and then - mainly so i can get in for free ;)

And finally there were my internships - I spent two weeks at The Herald and Weekly Times, and two weeks at the Bayswater office of Fairfax Community Newspapers.

In the 12 months between graduating and getting the gig at the Shepp News, I did a placement with the online team at the Australian Open tennis, and did more stuff with community radio.

When and how did you start at the The Shepparton News? 
I saw an ad on Seek in July last year, saying they were after a new journo with a bit of experience. One of my family friends was working in Shepp at the time, so I thought I'd apply. 

I initially didn't hear anything from them, but in September they called up Nui Te Koha (Herald Sun journo, one of my references) and then they called me. Basically they had someone a bit more experienced for the position, from NZ, but she bailed at the 11th hour. So they started looking for a cadet instead, and came back to my application. They invited me up for lunch and an interview, and three days later, they called me to offer me the position!

In a world where most journo jobs are based on people you know and are rarely publicly advertised, I count myself pretty lucky.

What was it like moving to Shepparton? 
It was kinda daunting at first, because I was leaving behind my mates, family etc. But at the same time, I was ready for a change, and I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity. Plus, my family friend was up here working for Campbell's Soups and invited me to move into his unit, so that made things a lot easier.  And Shepp isn't a small country town with nothing going on in it either - there's close to 50 000 people living here and we've got all the main major outlets and stuff that are back in Melbourne.

What has been the most exciting story you have covered?
In terms of General News - I would say the closure of Kirwans Bridge earlier this year - it's a 120 year old bridge across the Goulburn River just outside Nagambie. The Strathbogie Shire could no longer afford to pay for the maintenance of the bridge, so it's now closed. I also had to go out to a three-car accident on a major road - six people were injured and a four year old boy eventually died in hospital. I started that day at 9am and didn't finish till our deadline at 11pm, but it was all over the front page.

Kiel with Jennifer Hawkins, Logies 2008
You're the entertainment reporter - who are some of celebrities you have interviewed?
Since I took over the entertainment mag in July, I've interviewed Kasey Chambers, Lee Kernhagan, Ella Hooper, DJ Andy Van, John Williamson, Beccy Cole, Phil Small from Cold Chisel, rappers Illy and Briggs, Muscles, former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick, Daryl Braithwaite, the Scared Weird Little Guys, Ryan Meeking, music promoter Michael Gudinski, and a stack of local bands and young performers. I've also talked to ex-star footy players including Matthew Lloyd, Shane Crawford, Ron Barassi and Kevin Sheedy - which has been great since I'm an Essendon AFL football team fan.

But prior to the gig in Shepp, I interviewed bands such as The Living End, Powderfinger, Grinspoon, Something With Numbers, Children Collide, John Butler, Airbourne, Paolo Nutini and Chris Shifflett from the Foo Fighters.

And at the 2008 Logies, I chatted to stars including Jennifer Hawkins, Andrew Denton, Molly Meldrum, Adam Hills, Nat Bassingthwaite, Eddie McGuire, Andrew G, a couple of the Chaser Boys, Rove, Shannon Noll, Damien Leith, Hamish and Andy etc.

I consider myself a very lucky dude.

What do you think makes a good community journalist?
Someone who has a good relationship with the mayor and councillors, has some solid contacts, is aware of the local issues going on around them, and can generate a couple of their own story ideas as well. Most importantly though, you've got to be hard-working, have a friendly personality, be willing to chase things up and meet deadlines.

Kiel with his idol, Molly Meldrum, Logies 2008
What advice would you give to others wanting to work as a journalist? And whats the best advice you were given along the way?
I'd say do as much volunteer work and get as much experience as you can. Sure it might not be paid, but it looks good on the resume, and if you love journalism enough, you won't be doing it for the money anyway. Also, if you think you can just walk into a metro media job with just a degree and no practical experience, you're dreaming. The only people who do that have some seriously good contacts or are related to a news director at some major outlet.

I've been given a stack of advice along the way - but Mal Walden's advice sticks out to me - he simply said "Network, and use all your contacts." And it's pretty damn true. 

Countless people including Billy Brownless have also said to me - "never give up and keep on doing all your volunteer stuff, because you'll get there eventually." I used to doubt that considering I was doing so much stuff and not getting anywhere, but hey, I did get a job in the end (on one of only four daily papers in regional Victoria) and things are really starting to look up for me now.

So I'd also encourage people to not give up if being a journalist is really what you want to do - because it will pay off eventually, whenever that may be. Just hang in there. 

What are your long term goals? Where do you hope your career to go? 
The grand plan is to take over my mate Nui Te Koha's position as chief music reporter at the Herald Sun in five years time. If can do that it will be misson accomplished. But if not, I might look at moving into radio or possibly do what most journos after more money end up doing, and going into Public Relations - it would be sweet to work for a music label or a sporting team/organisation.