Interview: Gabby McMillan, Writer

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Gabby McMillan is a force to be reckoned with. Successfully marrying her creative spirit with a lucrative writing and editing career, Gabby currently holds a coveted position as staff writer for Weight Watchers magazine, while dabbling in creative writing in her spare time. Aspiring writers, take note: Gabby is an inspiration for those of us who hope to make writing our full-time vocation. You can follow Gabby's career via her lovely blog, which showcases her eloquent prose and sparkling wit, and her uplifting tweets (@gabbymcmillan). Here is Gabby's delightfully unabridged interview with Doorways.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? Also, please describe your writing trajectory.*
My first piece was published in Pursuit magazine. Seeing my byline in print was spine-tinglingly delightful, so I bragged to friends and flapped copies of the publication in relatives’ faces. Did I mention the piece was a two-sentence book review? And I was in Year 8? And the magazine was about 10 pages long? Still, a girl has to start somewhere.

Fast-forward five years and I ended up knee-deep in a journalism and creative writing degree. Ever the teacher’s pet/gold star student/class geek, I flaunted my writerly wares around Canberra in search of a magazine that would publish an 18-year-old student with no experience (I’d realised my Year 8 byline wasn’t too crash-hot). I began writing for Canberra’s street press title, BMA. It was unbelievable, offering surreal moments like chatting on the phone with Regurgitator in my Ressies room while friends skulled beer bongs in the hallway. By the end of university, I had three years of writing for BMA under my belt – as well as contributions to Lip, Forte, Monitor Online, This Is Writing, All Write and Vive magazine.

After graduation, I nabbed a chief sub-editor job at two Disney tween titles. After two years of subbing features on Zac Efron’s latest haircut, I became the deputy chief sub-editor/health writer at DOLLY (where Zac’s hair still got attention). I also chased freelancing opportunities and was lucky to score commissions from Cosmopolitan and Weight Watchers Online.

A stint as the deputy editor of three parenting titles was a memorable rollercoaster ride. It reminded me of my true passion: writing. So, I moved away from managerial editorial roles in to my current – and more creative – position of Weight Watchers magazine’s staff writer, where I pen stories on everything from nutrition and fitness, to fashion and beauty. Upon seeing my first feature in print, the spine tingles started again.

(The wonderful Australian author Andrew Humphreys, who I was lucky enough to work with, told me successful careers don’t need to be a steep upward climb: they can have many ups and downs. I credit him for bringing me back a notch and encouraging me to do what makes me happy.)

I’m also a passionate creative writer, but I haven’t quite figured out how to balance fulltime magazine writing with working on my short film script, vignettes and novel ideas. I’m sure I’ll master it eventually but until that wonderful day comes, fulltime magazine writing is my priority and creative writing is my playtime.

* I bet you wish you asked for the abridged version. I’ll step off the soap box now, well, in a moment.

What is your writing routine?
It varies. I tend to save a methodical writing routine for my staff writer position – keeping to-do lists, beating deadlines, staying on track etc – while my creative writing is a whirlwind of 6am bursts of inspiration followed by days of nothingness, rounded off with four-hour marathon sessions. (Confession: I can’t write at home without my desk lamp and back pillow but there’s nothing sexy about that, is there?)

What inspires you?
The ridiculous. Walking. Eavesdropping. Fish-out-of-water scenarios. People in my life inspire snippets of stories every day... they just don’t know it yet. I adore meeting new people and finding what makes them tick. Brilliant writing also motivates – and terrifies – me (think: The Book Thief, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, just to name a few).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
My advice is simple: if you want to be a writer, write. Write, damn it, write. Get that pen out, turn on your laptop, use chalk for all I care – just write.

Now, I know it’s harder than it sounds, so allow me to share my creative writing confession: I often get ahead of myself – daydreaming about book tours and my short list of book cover illustrators – before I’ve even typed a sentence in Microsoft Word. Nuts. My best work is done when I stay in the moment, focusing no further than a chapter or two ahead, occasionally jotting down ideas for the ending. Once my brain drifts in to ‘Gabby accepting the Booker Prize’ dream sequences, I’m doomed. It means I’ve let the story get away from me and I’ve projected myself to the (unrealistic) end without enjoying the experience of writing.

My boyfriend, who also dabbles in creating writing, is patient with my mad-woman tendencies. He reminds me to let ‘Gabby the writer’ get the words down first, then let ‘Gabby the sub-editor’ fix them later. Until those words are down, ‘Gabby the sub-editor’ needs to be far away, caged in a basement if necessary. If I let her hang around for too long, she confuses matters with her ‘Is this sentence tight enough?’ and ‘I don’t think the intro works’ feedback. ‘Gabby the sub-editor’ is fantastic to have around for editing, but she’s a pain in the butt if she pokes her nose in beforehand. So, that’s it: write first, edit later. You can’t edit a blank page, folks.

Last but not least: enjoy what you’re writing. Good ol’ Robert Frost (and my boys from Boston Legal) once said ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’. Translation: If you’re not feeling it, no one else will. Take pleasure in words – they’re cheeky little buggers. Play with them. Show them a good time. Have fun.

Oh, the Irony (or, Writers Block as a Greek Tragedy)

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I am always a little scared to use the word irony in a sentence. People who know the true meaning of irony seem to get awfully angry – or at least sickeningly patronising – when somebody uses it the wrong way. Poor old Alanis Morissette. So I generally try to avoid it altogether.

Nevertheless, I am feeling a little brave today. Irony, according to the Oxford dictionary, is the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect; a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result; and a literary technique (dramatic or tragic irony), originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions is clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character. I think my situation falls within the realm of the second definition. Maybe. To be honest, I don’t really know.

Anyway, what I was going to say, and please don’t crucify me if I have this wrong, was that isn’t it ironic that the day I sit down to write a post about the nonexistence of writer’s block, I have writer’s block? Well? Is that the correct usage? Hm. Actually, don't tell me. I'm sensitive like that.

My intended denunciation of writer’s block was inspired, in part, by Phillip Pullman’s damning dismissal of it:

Writer's block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber's block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?

The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don't want to do it, and you can't think of what to write next, and you're fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don't feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn't find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.

Writer's block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren't serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they're not inspired as when they are.

He’s not the only one. Cyrese Covelli says: Writer's block doesn't exist...lack of imagination does. Warren Ellis opines: Writer's block? I've heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn't a writer anymore. I'm sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living. My favourite tweeter Steve Martin jokes: Writers block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.

Harsh, yes? I think I needed to hear it, though. "Writer's block" evokes the idea of a kind of ailment; one which is out of the writer's control and can only be overcome with time or, as Pullman says icily, inspiration. I think these writers are right when they say that writer's block is an excuse concocted by failing, depleted wordsmiths, whose self-doubts are quelling their creative spirit. Clearly, it is something that needs to be conquered, if I ever want to succeed as a writer.

As superficial as it may seem, however, I suspect that I would feel a whole lot more inspired to write if I were being paid for my troubles. If writing were, as I hope it one day will be, my vocation. Maybe if I were, if not financially compensated, well-regarded. Honestly, I think it would be enough to be instilled with some sort of confidence that I was on the right path. Some assurance that my efforts are not for nothing; that they are leading somewhere worthwhile. 

That is why, I think, aspiring writers tend to be at their best when they are locked inside a little bubble, spurred on by a sudden spark of inspiration that envelopes their being, shielding them from their self-doubts. As much as I write for the love of writing, it often seems fruitless. Which doesn’t make me want to stop writing altogether, but does hinder my completion or commencement of things because, let's face it, it is scary to think that I am expending all my time, energy and passion going about things the wrong way (if there is such a thing). So that is why I continually search for inspiration, trying to look for a sign, attempting to find something unique and brilliant inside of me, which will set me apart from all the rest.

And here I can use the third definition of irony, which is that of a Greek tragedy. I am the character, you are the audience. Reading this, you are all thinking, "So, aspiring writer, here is your problem in a nutshell: You cannot write, because you want to be a writer, and you are not." The solution is, obviously, to write. Argh! 

I think the best advice I have ever received is from Susan Maushart, in an interview I conducted for this blog. Her advice for aspiring writers: Write as if it were a job, not a hobby (or it always will be). There it is: the key. Whenever I feel myself becoming paralysed by writer's block, I should place myself under a delusional spell. Imagining that writing is my job. Imagining that I don't have an exam tomorrow or a shift at work in an hour. Imagining that people are reading my writing. Imagining that I am being paid hundreds of dollars to write a column. And maybe one day, my imaginings will come true.

Rejection... from The Age - Part 1

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Hello readers, thought I would scare you with a little photo of myself and to make a connection with the post below.
Everyone will tell you when applying for jobs: you have to be prepared for rejection.

I have had my fair share of rejection. I've not made the cut for jobs I've applied for at The Geelong AdvertiserQantas MagazineMarketing MagazineThe Adelaide Advertiser, The Echo (Byron Bay), The Herald Sun, Channel 7 and even Cosmopolitan - just to name a few.

Most recently, I received a rejection e-mail for a traineeship at The Age. They were looking for people with both journalism and photographic experience, which I have a lot of (along with a journalism degree and various other experience), so I was hopeful that I would make it to the interview round. I even stretched my contacts far and emailed Caroline Wilson, because my Grandma's hairdresser knows her and said it would be good to get in contact with her. 

Researching some old famous journalists for this blog, I've noticed that many got their good start with a cadetship at The Age, Herald Sun or any other capital city daily newspaper. Knowing that they had received over 400 applications, I rang The Age every second day for two weeks, trying to talk to the HR person so that I could show my interest and beg for an interview. Voice mail seemed to be a common echo as I never actually spoke to the HR person I asked for.

Eventually I spoke to Colin McKinnon, who is the Editor of Training and Development at The Age. He said that, as the email confirming that my resume had been received had said, I would get a response some time in November and we were still in November so I must wait.

Last Thursday the rejection email came through:

"Thank you for your interest and application for the role of Editorial Trainee with The Age. We received many excellent applications. The process of shortlisting and giving each candidate proper consideration is a process that we attach great importance to.

Unfortunately on this occasion your application has not been successful.

We would like to thank you for your interest in Fairfax and take this opportunity to wish you every success in your future career search. Please do not hesitate to apply for any of our future positions that may be of interest to you."

Immediately I felt a rush of motivation (I have a typical left handed person's trait of being quick tempered) that I just must must must call this Colin McKinnon man and try begging for an interview again, ASAP. I really didn't know how to go about this whim and probably went about it the wrong way. When I got through to him I said what first came into my head, something along the lines of how passionate I am for the media, how I've had a lot of experience and love The Age and could I please have an interview even though the rejection email just flew in?

And he said... NO! On this occasion, HR had conducted a thorough examination of the resumes and mine did not make the cut. Try again next time. If I wanted more specific feedback on my resume, call back at the start of December.

So then I tried to tap into my creativity as my mind flew at a million miles per hour. Could I think of a statement right now that could somehow convince him that if I was given an interview, I would prove him wrong? Hmmm... nothing coming to mind. Should I offer to buy him a box of chocolates? He didn't really sound like a chocolate box kind of person. Is there some kind of fantastic lie or truth I can say about myself, like knowing some golden news story information that I could use to trade in for an interview? Hmmm... I am from Essendon but the whole Underbelly scene has been fairly quiet lately and, reality check Sarah, I don't know anything! Do I put on the waterworks and cry? Better not.

Instead, I verbally vomited, "I promise that if I was given an interview and made it to be trainee at The Age, I will be the best trainee you have ever had and work extremely, ridiculously hard and put in huge hours." It was quite possibility one of the worst things I could say as he responded rightly, "Well, yes, I am sure you would but we tend to hear that from a lot of people." He was very right and I felt stupid for saying such a ridiculous thing but I was honestly lost for words.

Does any one else have any ideas of what they think I could have said? Or what they think I should have done?

Nevertheless, what will be will be. Thought I would share that experience with you. There could have been a plenty of reasons why I didn't get an interview. Perhaps more intelligent people applied. Maybe when they went over my resume they psycho-analysed it and thought I wasn't appropriate. There could have been a spelling errors somewhere I didn't know about. Maybe I just wasn't what they were looking for. After all, a piece of paper on a resume is so much different to meeting someone in person - hence why you hear about a lot of CEOs these days tearing up resumes and hiring people based on their instincts. I believe the best thing to do now is just go back to the drawing board and reassess my resume and cover letter, which I will definitely do.

I won't let the rejection bog me down and make me feel terrible. I will get back on my bike and continue to apply for jobs in journalism. Hopefully, time and place will coincide and I will meet a kindred spirit that I will work with in the future.

Part 2 on Rejection will come soon.

Interview: Jason Whittaker, Crikey Deputy Editor

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Jason Whittaker is a big deal. He is deputy editor of Crikey - the online news website published by Eric Beecher, Chairman of Private Media (Crikey, Business Spectator, Smart Company, Eureka Report) - who has previously edited The Sydney Morning Herald and The Herald Sun. Crikey is now one of the most popular Australia news websites around. While I was at university studying journalism, my lecturers always spoke very highly of Crikey and it was seen as a bit of a renegade publication.

Jason has had an interesting career that has seen him work for a number of different publications within the print and online media spectrum. A friend of mine did work experience at Crikey and described Jason as "a very cool guy and really nice with a good sense of humour".  Enjoy this fabulous interview. 

Why did you decide you wanted to work in the media?
I never know how to answer that question. Truth is, I never wanted to be anything else.

You were previously the managing editor of Trader Business Media, a division of ACP Magazines, what was that experience like? And what kind of things did you have to do in that position?
The experience was eye-opening in many ways. There’s nothing very romantic about working on business publications for specific industries. But what you learn very quickly is how important it is to know who you’re writing for and how to cater to their needs. And as a journalist that’s vital, no matter where you work.
I started as a sub-editor on one title, become more of a reporter, a news editor, a product editor and finally the managing editor of a number of titles across print and online.

What has been the best experience you have had in your career so far?
I would say the opportunity I’ve had to travel. My last job allowed me to visit cities around the country and even around the world, which I was able to exploit.

What is it like working for Crikey? And what is the difference working for an online publication? 
Crikey is quite different to where I was working previous, and in other ways very similar. It is an organisation that isn’t flush with resources and so the job becomes doing the best with what you have. I certainly had experience in that.
Crikey works around the clock in the online environment, but our day is still built around a lunchtime product with a daily deadline. So the pressure is always on. 

You have done a huge amount of writing for a diverse range of publications. Where do you find your motivation and drive to write? 
The drive? Deadlines, pure and simple. They drive us all to get done what we have to get done. But certainly I love the craft of journalism, I’m curious about what’s happening in the world, and communicating that with the best product is always the goal.

Do you think aspiring journalists should be thinking more about print or online media? 
I think aspiring journalists should be thinking about being great journalists, pure and simple. There is absolutely a need for journalists to understand the online space, to be across the latest communication tools (social media, etc) and have a basic understanding of producing multi-media content. Your employability will depend on it. But great journalism is great journalism and great writing is great writing.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers and journalists? 
Write. Write passionately. And, most importantly, write prolifically. Getting a job in journalism has become a self-marketing exercise – it’s essential students and young journalists are volunteering their services on as many forums as possible to build a great portfolio, promote their name, and stand out from a crowded field in a market with fewer and fewer jobs.

November 12: Events and Opportunities

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This post is one of a weekly series, which will share various events and opportunities available in the writing and journalism industry. If you have an event or opportunity that you believe will be beneficial to young people who love to journalism and writing, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Please rest assured that there is no conflict of interest; all of these suggestions are made independently.

Photo by Tamara Voninski


The Walkley Foundation
Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra
The Walkley have a new series of digital training courses coming up in November and December in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. The course are focusing on social media, digital media, and multimedia storytelling. For more information, look here.

bwired’s SEO/SEM, Mobile, Social Media & Analytics Seminar 
Melbourne
November 17
bwired’s free website strategy seminar covers web trends and online strategy that will set your website up for success. Understand what these hot topics are all about, and how to incorporate them into your website plan. More information here.

This event is ideal for the aspiring novelists amongst us. Spanning the month of November, National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel in one month. Writers wishing to participate should register on the project's website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including synopses and excerpts. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting. Laura will be participating as of November 14; please feel free to add her as a "writing buddy" (laura_valerie).

Interview: Laura Greaves, Freelance Writer

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I came across the lovely Laura Greaves just a few months ago, when I read her interview with Sarah Ayoub on Sarah's wonderful writer's blog Wordsmith Lane. Laura's inspiring talent and generous nature shined through her words, which prompted me to reach out to her via email; I will be forever grateful to the kind encouragement she gave me in return. Laura is an accomplished writer, editor and journalist, with over 10 years of experience and multiple awards under her belt. She is currently working as a sought-after freelance writer for such publications as Woman's Day, Good Health and Studio Brides; as well as completing studies in screenwriting and posting on her delightful new blog, which you can find at her website, Laura Greaves. Laura's answers to my interview questions were so comprehensive that there is not much more to say - so enjoy! 

Please describe your career trajectory.
I had my first journalism job while I was still at high school in Adelaide: I was a student reporter for News Limited's short-lived South Australian youth newspaper, Y. After finishing high school a year early, I skipped uni and instead landed a three-year journalism cadetship with Adelaide's The Advertiser newspaper. It was such a fantastic grounding in journalism - I covered everything from car crashes and murder trials to sports and business news. I became the paper's first ever dedicated Youth Affairs Reporter and in 2001 was named Australian Young Journalist of the Year for my coverage of young people and youth issues. I also worked as Fashion Editor at the same time! In 2002 I moved to London and worked for Conde Nast magazines, not as a writer but on the production side of things. To be honest, I was awful at it - but it did provide a valuable insight into the 'business end' of putting out a magazine. After that I moved to a major suburban London newspaper as Entertainment Editor, which was a blast - I interviewed some big names, including Jack Nicholson, Reese Witherspoon and Halle Berry... but the real highlight for me was interviewing Matt and Luke Goss from the 80s boy band Bros (my first true loves!) Then I moved to another London paper to launch their entertainment supplement, and also did a load of freelancing for UK magazines and national newspapers including the Daily Mirror. I moved to Sydney in 2007 and briefly worked as a book publicist, then became Deputy Editor of ACP's Slimming & Health magazine. I became Editor a year later, but sadly the magazine closed not long after. That's when I made the leap into full-time freelancing, which I absolutely love.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Without wanting to sound all hoity-toity, writing has always felt like a vocation rather than a career choice for me. I honestly can't recall a time when I wasn't writing and never actually decided to 'become' a writer - it was always just a given. I still have my grade two report card, where my teacher wrote that she thought I'd be suited to a career in journalism (perhaps because I'm so nosy?!). I think that was the first time I understood that it was possible to write stories for a living and from that moment I was set on being a journo. I do remember, in my teens, briefly flirting with the idea of becoming an occupational therapist (!) and my dad telling me not to be so silly - that I was a writer and that's all there was to it! (Thanks dad!)

What is your writing routine?
For whatever reason, I write best in the afternoons so I use the mornings for 'admin' stuff - going running, walking the dog, errands, emails etc - and then chain myself to my desk from about 1pm to 7pm. (Of course, this changes when I have a lot of deadlines!) I also do the odd bit of in-house sub-editing work, so occasionally I may find myself commuting like the rest of the world! At the moment I'm in the process of restructuring the way I work. I'm also studying screenwriting part time and found that juggling my film school workload with my 'proper' work left me feeling a bit creatively adrift. So I'm now trying to condense my freelance work into three days per week so that I can have two days to work on screenplays, novels, paintings... whatever takes my fancy, really! I feel that when you do a creative thing for a living, it can actually suck a lot of the creativity out of it - so it's important to make time to let your imagination loose!

What do you read?
I don't seem to have a lot of time to read proper books these days (unless I'm on holiday!), but I adore biographies of interesting and inspiring people and I've recently been rediscovering some of the all-time classic novels. My absolute favourite books are Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre; I read them over and over and discover something new every time. I'm also a total magazine junkie: I love WHO, Real Living and Shop Til You Drop (I'd love my mag list to include some more high-brow titles, but it's just not going to happen!) There's also several blogs I check out daily, including Erica Bartle's Girl With a Satchel and Sarah Ayoub's Wordsmith Lane. Another favourite is my genius interior designer friend Ange's Wicker & Stitch (http://wickerandstitch.blogspot.com) and a whole host of vintage clothing blogs. And of course I have my own blog at www.lauragreaves.com!

Which writer do you most admire and why?
Wow. Great question! I honestly don't think I could choose just one. There are so many fab freelancers in Australia, I wouldn't even know where to begin! In terms of novelists, I think the UK writer Dorothy Koomson (www.dorothykoomson.co.uk) is fantastic - she's a working journalist but somehow finds time to write very readable, incredibly moving stories about love, friendship etc... all those important things. But I would have to say my all-time writing hero is Tina Fey. She's a brilliantly sharp and funny writer and is able to turn her hand to seemingly anything. I kind of want to be her!

What inspires you?
Goodness, where to begin?! In no particular order... sunny days, great TV (every time I watch Mad Men or Love My Way, I'm literally breathless with how amazing the writing is!), my dog, terrible 80s music, stories of triumph against the odds, my go-getting friends, travel, sleep, my lovely husband, running, my frighteningly clever eight-year-old god-daughter, people who live their dreams, New York City.

What do you love about being a writer?
I love that it allows me to meet people whose paths I may otherwise never cross. Recently, for example, I interviewed a Melbourne-based mother of four who is living with depression and serious illness and has to deal with a hell of a lot just to get out of bed every morning. She was so positive and matter-of-fact and inspiring that after our chat I felt like I could do anything. There's no way I would have had the opportunity to meet her had I not been writing a feature on living with mental illness. I love that! And what I particularly love about being a freelance writer and working from home is that it gives me the ability to stop and smell the roses occasionally!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
It may sound obvious but WRITE! So many would-be writers think about writing and talk about writing and set themselves arbitrary deadlines - eg 'I will write a chapter of my novel every month for a year' - but don't actually get down to the business of putting pen to paper. I speak from experience, because I am an all-star procrastinator! But I guarantee that once you sit down and start scribbling - even if you're just writing about what you did yesterday - the words will start to flow and you'll wonder why you ever put it off. There's a writing quote that I love: 'Q: How do I get published? A: Write a great book'. The same can be said of freelance journalism - you'll never see your name in print if you don't just sit down and do it. I think blogging is a great way to start - it gets you in the habit of writing something every day. Force yourself if you have to, but make sure you get those words on that page!

Interview: Florencia Cavallo, ABC Journalist

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Florencia Cavallo is an inspiring young journalist. After securing a job as an ABC reporter in Coffs Harbour earlier this year, Florencia shows that taking risks and moving interstate is all part of the journey to being a successful reporter. Not only is Florencia a good journalist, she is kind, polite and caring towards others. Remember her name, we've got a feeling at Doorways she is going to go far.

Why did you want to become a journalist?
I have always been a nosy person, ever since I was little. I’ve always wanted to know what’s going on in the world. I like meeting people, talking to people, and telling their stories. I knew that by being a journalist; I would learn something interesting everyday. And I have.

Where did you study? Do you think much of what you learnt at university was useful in relation to your job today?
I did my Bachelor of Media Studies, with a journalism major, at La Trobe University in Melbourne. I think like most degrees, they are useful to a point, but to be honest most of what I have learnt has been on the job. University definitely prepared me and taught me things like ethics, working to deadlines, issues with law, and of course the basics in regards to news writing.

But I don’t think university can teach you to be inquisitive and passionate about news. You either have it in your blood or you don’t. I mean if you’re not interested in learning new things, and if you don’t enjoy talking to people and finding out what the story is, you’re never going to make it.

When and how did you start at the ABC?
I knew I wanted to work for the ABC, so my focus was getting my foot in the door with the company, no matter where I had to move to. After a gruelling interview process I got a call saying I got the job. I was ecstatic. I packed my life into my car and moved to Coffs Harbour three weeks later.

So far, what have been some of your most memorable experiences?
Ah that’s a really hard question. I think everyday is an experience. To say that one has been the most memorable would just not be true. Covering the federal election was good fun, definitely memorable. Such a busy time! It was the first election I had covered.

What was it like moving interstate?
It’s actually being ok. I’ve always enjoyed travelling so I was happy to move. Coffs Harbour is a really interesting place to live. Because we cover the entire mid north coast, there’s always a lot happening, and it’s an area that is growing quickly so we have plenty of interesting stories to report. But of course I miss my beloved Melbourne. I’ll be back one day.

What are some of the funny things that have happened to you?
Oh, I think being a ‘Victorian’ is really not an advantage when moving to NSW. I am still getting the names of some regional towns wrong, and it’s especially embarrassing if I do it on air. And of course getting lost during the first few weeks and being late for press conferences were not fun times.

What's been your best new piece?
I don’t know that it was my best piece, but it’s one that has stayed with me because it was so sad. I covered a coronial inquiry into a little boy who died. And the way the parents spoke about their child, and the pain they were in, was just overwhelming. I think covering things like that really make you learn how to be compassionate and sensitive to families who are going through so much pain. And because there is that level of respect and care, the story ends up being compelling to listen to.

What does an average day consist of?
Finding stories, in a nutshell. I have a coffee to start, then sift through emails and never ending press releases. Which ones are important in our area? What do our listeners care about? What do they actually mean? Then the fun starts: putting calls in for interviews, reading newspapers, listening and watching other news to see what else is happening, doing interviews and then filing stories. It’s about quality and quantity. Each journo does anywhere from three to six stories a day (two versions of each). We produce the bulletins, do live crosses to Sydney if they’re big stories, police rounds, file stories for online, and we read five live bulletins daily. They’re full-on days.

What is interesting about working for the ABC? 
Their training, ethics etc. I just love how diverse it is. There’s so much room to work on stories that interest you, and every day is a challenge. We don’t just work as journalists, but we are news readers, producers, online journalists and twitterers.

What advice would you give to others wanting to work for the ABC? And whats the best advice you were given along the way?
Journalism is a really competitive industry, everyone knows that. I think it’s important to be sure of yourself (without being obnoxious) and know your potential. I think whether it’s the ABC you want to work for, or any other company, it’s important to keep your head up and keep applying for positions. Don’t take no for an answer, and if you get turned down for a job, think about what you learn from it, and how you can utilise that skill to ace your next interview.

I think the important thing is not to give up. A lot of people graduate having a passion for news and current affairs and it slowly dies off because they are exhausted by the process they have to go through. But everyone goes through it.

The best advice I could have gotten was to do work experience and volunteer work while at uni. No one cares if you have a degree – anyone can graduate with good marks. But have you tried to get published? Have you put in hard work at community TV and radio stations? How much work experience have you done? What about internships? Casual work? That’s what employers care about.

And I was lucky enough to have a husband who really supported me, and pushed me to keep pursuing my dream.

What are your long term goals? Where do you hope your career to go?
I’ve always known that I want to focus on TV reporting. I enjoy the creative side of TV news, working with pictures and audio to create a story people enjoy watching and remember even after they have turned off their TVs. And I would really like to be part of a team who is focused on live news coverage.

But as a really wise person once told me “a career is a marathon, not a race”. And at this stage, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Overcoming the little voices that tell you that you can't write

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Sometimes the writer's mind can feel like a sleepy and slow place
This week I have been a spring racing carnival junkie - I didn't just go to one race meet, I went to four of the big ones including Cox Plate, Melbourne Cup, Oaks Day and Stakes Day. So it is little wonder, after a few champagne filled days, that I am struggling to think of ideas for what to write a column on as my brain cells restore themselves. 

You know the feeling where your head feels empty and you start to feel cranky and stressed because you are frustrated with yourself that you can think of any ideas for a post? Or let alone motivate yourself to write something? 

I have plenty of ideas on what to write about flying around my head but the stress is dealing with a negative mentality that says, 'No I don't think you know enough about that..' or 'That needs way more research if you are going to write on that...' 

So how do you combat that sneaky little voice in your head telling you that you can't do it? Where do you find the confidence to overcome the negative inner chatter and basically... just write? Why is it that we feel fear and irritation with ourselves just to get started? 

My personal solution to the problem: take a huge, deep breath and let it out.  I remember once reading that after all the research and remedies for overcoming stress around the world, there was no solution more effective than taking a deep breath. You then must imagine the breath blowing away the negative thoughts. I get to the point where I just about shout at the negative voice to be quiet and turn up the mental volume on the positive thinking that you can do it - millions of people have written books, articles and posts, what is stopping you from it doing it? Thus reminding yourself that you would be better off writing something than nothing at all and once you get started, you normally can go on.

Then write... write, write, write! It is a little tacky yet true, like the Nike slogan - just do it because no one really cares about your excuses. 

November 5: Weekly Wrap-Up

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Novelist Jennifer Weiner's tips for aspiring writers, in a neat 10 step life-plan. Wonderful advice!

Similarly, a 7 step plan for aspiring journalists, by successful freelance journalist (among other things!) Adam Westbrook. 

A sparkling piece of investigative photojournalism.

Literary legend Kurt Vonnegut dispenses advice to young writers. (His primary piece of advice: don't use semicolons. Oops.)

If you are a writer, you almost definitely spend a great deal of time procrastinating. This brilliant New Yorker article provides some insight into why we procrastinate and how to overcome it.

Interview: Benjamin Law, Writer

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Photo courtesy of Tammy Law (All Rights Reserved)


Benjamin Law's byline first caught my eye when I came across "Bogan or Gay?" in frankie magazine. It was hysterically funny, and I proceeded to read it aloud to every member of my family, who all loved it just as much as I did. Ever since, I have flicked straight to Ben's articles every time frankie arrives in my mailbox - they never fail to make me laugh, cry and think. His quietly provocative articles for The Monthly (particularly Saving Yourself and A Gay Old Time) are also wonderful and his debut book The Family Law, a refreshingly candid, side-splitting anthology of stories about his wonderfully eccentric (yet touchingly relatable) family, is brilliant.

Ben is a freelance writer. He is a senior contributor to frankie magazine and his work has also appeared in The Monthly, Qweekend, Sunday Life, The Big Issue, New Matilda and The Courier Mail. The Family Law was released this year to raving reviews and has shot to the very top of the best seller list at Avid Reader (beating even Stieg Larsson). If you would like to find out more about Ben, you can visit his website, follow him on twitter and read this interview, which he generously granted us while working on his new project in Tokyo. 




Please describe your career trajectory.

I've always loved reading and wrote stupid stories as a kid. But I probably first got into magazine writing properly when I wrote the Letter of the Month at Rolling Stone as a 16-year-old. The editor sent me a Panasonic stereo for my troubles. (It’s the stereo I still use to this day.) I’m idiotically proud of the fact my first byline was a paid one — if you count stereos as payment. From there, I did a creative writing degree and started writing for every magazine that would take me on.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I'm not sure if was actually a life ambition from the start. But I do remember reading an article in Rolling Stone as a teenager that blew my mind, called The True Story of John/Joan. It was one of the longest stories I'd ever read in the magazine, and looked at a true life case of twin boys in the US where one had a botched circumcision. Scientists effectively tried to make that boy into a girl, and the resulting life story just defied belief. It was probably the first non-fiction I'd read that read like a gripping novel. That got me thinking about the stuff I'd want to write about.

What is your writing routine?

Up until recently, my routine was pretty ad-hoc. My boyfriend produces radio for the ABC and gets out of bed at 3.30am. So out of guilt, my schedule used to run like clockwork: wake up at 6.30am; roll out of bed; green tea; check email; read news; shower; housework; writing/interviewing/editing by 9am. Swim laps; dinner; write some more; sleep. But now, because my research has taken me overseas, I've had to adjust to writing on the road, in airport terminals, in bed — whenever. The concept of routine has pretty much been stolen from me now.

What do you read?

Everything I can get my hands on. Regularly, I read magazines like The New Yorker, GQ (US version), Details, Time, National Geographic and Butt, which is this terrific Dutch gay magazine. Every day, I trawl through Australian, UK and American news websites, and also a fantastic queer news portal called Towleroad. And I'm always reading book, whether it's fiction or non-fiction.

Which writer do you most admire and why?

There are way too many. David Sedaris, obviously — he's a genius and one of the funniest people alive. I adore Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith, and the way they both write about people and families in their fiction. Chris Heath and Susan Orlean are two American non-fiction writers who I think are wonderful, and closer to home, people like Chloe Hooper, Helen Garner and Anna Krien do it for me.

What inspires you?

People. I just think people are super interesting.

What do you love about being a writer?

It's great being a writer if you have a short ADHD attention span like me. Every new story is literally a new job; it's impossible for me to get bored.

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I'm in Tokyo where I'm doing research on queer celebrity culture, especially on TV here. It's part of a bigger travel adventure book that looks at queer people throughout the Asian continent. Earlier in the year, I was in Thailand going backstage with the nation's biggest ladyboy competition, and in China looking at how young gays and lesbians connect on the internet, in a country where the internet is heavily moderated.

How important do you think it is for writers to have a unique, recognisable voice, even when they are writing for publications?

It really depends on the publication you're writing for. I've been with frankie magazine since its second issue, and both Louise (founding editor) and Jo (current editor) both really encourage their writers to present themselves as a character. As a result, it's probably one of the few magazines out there where readers pay attention to the bylines and flick immediately to their favourite writer, whether it's Marieke Hardy or Justin Heazlewood or Daniel Evans. As writers, that's really gratifying.

Do you tweak your writing process or mindset when you are writing journalistic pieces for The Monthly, as opposed to your irreverent (often quietly heartfelt) musings in frankie?

All the different magazines I write for demand different things. The Monthly is usually a bit more involved and I invest more time into research and interviews, whereas frankie is often about making sure things are as funny as possible, but super-focused on a theme since the stories are usually capped at 650 words.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read anything you can get your hands on. Be curious about everything and everyone around you. And then, finally, take notes.