I’m a second year student at Victoria University studying law and biology.
Today, I’m actually writing to you in that hopes that you might have some advice - I’ve been following your blog and social media accounts for a little while and I really admire the content you’re producing and the journalistic niche you’ve found here.
I’ve been in love with writing since the day I picked up a pencil. All through high school, I was a science student - my parents were insistent that I was going to go to medical school in Auckland, but instead I chose law in Wellington. It was a safe option that my parents were happy with and I thought that maybe it would provide me with an outlet for writing, even if it was just about the law. I’ve come to realise that this is just not the case, and I’ve spent the last two years feeling lost and ungrounded. Just recently, I have rediscovered the passion that I had for writing. I'm looking to turn that into a side hustle/hobby that I can make into something I’m proud of, and hopefully something that gives me some kind of purpose again.
I’ve been wanting to start a blog for quite a few years now, but have never found a topic that interested me. I was actually hoping you could give me some advice on how to kickstart my blog and turn it into interesting, readable content that isn’t like anything that everyone else is doing. Eventually, I’d love to be able to use some of the content I’m writing to land an internship or job with a small media company in Wellington.
I realise that you’re incredibly busy (a true power woman!) but I would really appreciate any advice you have to offer - from one twenty-something Wellingtonian to another… :)
Hey Wellingtonian-21, (this sounds like a super cool alias which I think you should consider continuing with - don’t we all want our name to sound like we’ve dropped out of the Hunger Games?? Ammiright?)
The first thing to know is that I have been EXACTLY down the same road you are currently walking down. I even went to Victoria! I even studied law!! Are we the same person?? Depending on how far along you are, I’d say you need to remember some key truths.
As far as writing something ‘new’ goes? Everyone has done it all before. Yep. It is true. Everything has been said. We live in a post-modern age. This is the sad reality of life. The end. Think of our greatest stories - often these are just retelling of the same stories, but in a different or original way. But that’s okay! Humans like the familiar. There is a great book about this called ‘The Seven Basic Plots’. I have also read good things about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Big Magic’.
However (and it’s a big HOWEVER!): No-one has yet said it the way YOU would say it before. Had people interviewed Wellingtonians before The Residents? OF COURSE. But no one had done it from a local-local perspective yet, what I like to term “Grassroots”. The world needs that special voice that only you have. Keep going for your dreams!
Law is constantly sold to English enthusiasts as a good ‘smart person’ degree which will basically be like writing. It is not. However, you can learn some interesting stuff from it so appreciate your chance to learn. It will help you later on if you want to be your own boss. For instance, I can read a contract and email like a sentient being because I learnt how to use my brain from law (albeit reluctantly - I am naturally a person who prefers to rely on my talents than sweat it out).
Only you yourself know what makes you happy. If you decide you really hate what you’re doing, you can quit. It isn’t too late and only gets harder the longer you stay on the path you don’t enjoy.
There is more than one way to skin a cat: the world has so many careers you just don’t know about yet. Many journalists are pivoting and starting their own channels to build and audience, because they see that the old school way isn’t working for them anymore - consider Emma Guns and Nadine Baggot (both journalists for women’s magazines turned social media influencers). Neither are in their 20’s anymore, but that hasn’t stopped them from re-inventing themselves! Wouldn’t life be boring if we were the same person all the way through?!
Writing does not pay the way it once did. This does not mean that there are no opportunities but it does mean that the pool of talent is bigger and that people are fighting harder to get on the ladder. I am a great believer that in a digital age, you make your own opportunities: so many women have now turned their passion into a media empire; Grace Bonney of Design Sponge; Anna Newton of The Anna Edit; Lucy Williams of Fashion Me Now. Formal experience will never hurt but don’t think you can’t write your own path. There is no shame in a day job. You can still be a writer, and even a successful writer, with a well paying day job. Money does make life a heck of a lot easier!
We are living in a new age where people are more likely to have multiple strands to their career - what podcaster of Ctrl Alt Delete Emma Gannon has termed ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method’ (buy her great book about this here). I think this has a lot of truth to it. We have to diversify as technology changes how we communicate with each other and the world. Embrace being more than one thing.
So this is a question which I get asked a lot so I thought I’d make this some kind of open letter (AMA style) so that you aren’t the only one. Let’s be honest, if you listened to some you’d think these are dark days for blogs: James Nord, founder and CEO of Fohr (an Instagram based marketing platform) thinks online browsing will die a slow death, much like magazines have over the last 20 years. He doesn’t think that a URL will be where we seek information in the future: and do you know what? He may have a point. Things have changed so much in the world of social media. Once, in a Galaxy not so far away, we were writing on each others walls openly with our plans “See you tonight at Cuba Castle!”; “You are the funniest person I know Sarah - you’re so cool!”. I must say - I laugh out loud when I think of this time and how it now sounds very strange indeed in a world of What’s App and where we mainly use Facebook (ten points if you guessed it) for its messenger function. Social media usage sure is evolving at the speed of light.
However, I’d like to point out to Mr. James that many thought email wouldn’t survive the social media apocalypse. Yet, in fact, in a time where Facebook controls most of what we put online, email has remained a peculiar stalwart. It’s stuck around far longer than we expected and many entrepreneurs place more importance on having a strong email list over having dozens of social media followers, who can leave you at any point. If anything, if my feedback from you guys is anything to go by (coming soon in a blog post focused on why we are falling out of love with Instagram), we’re all a bit sick of social media and especially the superficiality of Instagram.
But back to the main question: why am I ranting like an Italian son who’s been told that their Mamas lasagna is not the correct lasagna recipe?
Because ever since I started The Residents, I have firmly believed that having a blog is still an incredibly powerful thing and will long outlast the coming’s and goings of Instagram, Facebook, or whatever comes along next. This opinion has been occasionally unpopular, especially when I point out the hard work that goes into writing a blog (ie you must write, edit, proofread, add links - photos are just one part of the equation) that simply isn’t the same as running an Instagram account alone (while travelling I just updated my Instagram so I have recent experience to inform my suspicions - Instagram IS much quicker and easier to run, and required less grey-matter, but much more engagement and strategic gaming of the system). Let’s appreciate though, that writing is not everyone’s passion. Some people simply do not take pleasure from it and find it painful and would rather tap their thumbs madly or spend time focusing on photography. That’s fine! We all are different and have our own strengths and weaknesses.
So, you want to write: Experts in the industry say that magazine writing is now so niche it isn’t worth getting into. They advise, like me, starting a blog.
To start - you will need a website.
Today, there are some great out of the box products which can help you. I use Squarespace and it has been fantastic during my blogging ‘journey’. You can basically work it all out as you go, it has a great support system and useful tutorials to learn how to execute its features. It costs $145 a year plus $20 if you want a custom URL (worth it!). It sounds expensive but you get great support which makes it very good value in my opinion. You also have 14 days to play around with it for free.
Design: Good design is instrumental to a blog. If you feel clueless, like I did, ask a designer friend to help you out, or pay someone young to give you some work. It is worth it to have a blog you feel proud of. Design is surprisingly hard to fake. Ask the pro’s is my advice. Or keep it very simple and crisp and white.
Once you have got a website organised you need to chose a focus or niche. Sounds like careers is something you’re interested in, so have a think about how you would frame it up: Q&A? Quick profiles? Categorising by theme or career?
Photos: Are a very important part of having a blog these days. You do need to take some photos as webstock won’t cut it in my opinion. But think of it this way: every iPhone has a camera on it now. You’re building a new skill! If you decide to invest in a DSLR camera further down the line, you can buy one second hand off an expert photographer looking to upgrade. This is what I did. Just put the word out. When you’re ready to upgrade, treat yourself to an Adobe Lightroom subscription. It will change your life and is the secret to why so many people have stunning looking photos online!
Emailing your subjects: Don’t be afraid to reach our directly to people. Theatre companies are desperate to have people write reviews of their shows; business owners want fizz around their events; ask not what the local people of the city can do for you - ask what you can do for them. And later on, when you have a bit more of an audience, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work in having build strong relationships based on mutual respect. Everyone hates a freeloader.
Building relationships; is the hidden backbone of having a blog; so start with the ones you already have. You don’t have to find famous people to interview - start with people you find interesting! Ask friends, family, old lecturers or colleagues. Email is best - keep DM’s short. To ask for the persons email is fine, but take it to the inbox ASAP. This may also help you get an internship in the future if you want one (p.s. Auckland or Sydney are probably better cities than Wellington to get work experience in media. Like the acting industry, it simply is just where the work is sadly).
Speaking of colleagues - keep work separate. Never write about work online or (in my opinion) delve into political issues unless you want to start a rival blog to Whale Oil.
The BIGGEST DILEMMA? Time. How can you find time to write your blog when life is so damn busy? You do have to insert some discipline into your life if you want your blog to succeed. I learnt about the importance of consistency from my old lawyer colleague who ran her quilting blog and was always consistent in updating it, even when she had big work on. I had never realised the importance of deciding of set days of the week to post or even down to set times.
How frequently to post? I have until recently posted Monday, Wednesday and Fridays consistently and sometimes Saturday. Last year I decided to loosen up a bit because it was doing my head in. But still, this regime gave me a good basis on which to operate for a long time. The more you post (at least initially) the more loyal your readers will become.
Don’t dismiss Facebook: Most people have a Facebook still so if you have a Facebook page for your blog and you write about someone and tag them, they can share the post. Don’t just wait though - ask them to share it with their audience. It will help more people find your blog and discover all the delights that your writing offers.
Payment and sponsorship: I was not paid for more than a year for any of my writing when I started out. Even now, I cannot control the flow of paid work that comes in. I would say be prepared to write for a year or more with no reward. When you are at a stage where you want to start asking to be paid (ie if Samsung asks you to test a phone for a week), suck it up and ask. There are market rates for bloggers but I would say even if you only have a small audience, don’t give any blog post away for less than $300 (you’ll be taxed on that too!) or an Instagram for less than $100 if you have 1,000 followers or more. You will need to shell out around $500 - $1000 dollars to start off your blog if you want to do everything I did - but you can spread it out over that first year and remember - some people have hot-rods. We all spend money on our hobbies. Just suck it up and think of the pleasure it will bring you.
Writing should be a passion and something you do for YOU first and foremost. I enjoy my blog because when I write I don’t think. I go into immediate flow. This is the big difference between Instagram and my blog. Instagram and Social Media generally stresses me out. Writing relaxes me. I write about what I am interested in and change up my subject matter depending on how I feel day to day. If I had someone telling me what to write, I wouldn’t be enjoying it. Be your own boss and appreciate you know what works and build a voice. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.
Install Grammarly. It is essential if you hate proof-reading like me.
Pick a name you like and think won’t date. I still like my blog name, but you could also use your own name which is something that PR experts recommend these days to create a strong brand.
Handles: Choose all your handles on social media to be the same.
Minimum frequency to post? Try and update your blog minimum once a week.
How to tell people? Tell everyone with pride that you have a blog. Blogs used to be cringe, but aren’t anymore. And the more you own it, the more you’ll be proud of what you’ve made.
Writing popular pieces: Enjoy the experience and write from the heart. Whenever I have written something that people resonate with, it is from personal experience and about some of my struggles. Being vulnerable helps people connect with you and built trust.
Lists make people read your blog: Either that or lists. People LOVE a list.