The Cult of Busy tells us that worthwhile people have full daytimers, with every minute packed. Want to do lunch with friends? I’ll have to plan that week in advance. Coffee date? Only if I can fit it in between my full-time job and my hours of volunteering. And I simply can’t agree to anything else right now, have I told you how busy and overwhelmed I am with all my important things to do?
Image: Antique German Continental Typewriter, by Valeriana Solaris
Sara writes: “I was made redundant from my job just before Christmas. I worked for several websites mostly as a copywriter, critic and editor. I am thinking of making a huge life change this year - rather than finding another office job I want to give being a freelance writer a go.
I have had several offers of work as a copywriter - one from a company who is going to provide me with their rates but others have asked me if I have a rates sheet for them to pass on to their clients. Unfortunately this has set me back - I don’t even know what decent rates are or rates I should be charging for my work. I also have no idea what a rates sheet would look like!”
Part of the reason it’s so difficult to find “hard facts” about what to charge for your work is because there is no definite answer to this question. It depends on a lot of different factors: who you’re doing the work for (you’ll get more from corporates than from not-for-profits), how difficult it is (technical writing and heavy edits cost more than light edits and fluffier fare), and how much experience you have (old hands and people with recognisable bylines can charge more than newbies).
Many of the copywriters I looked up online for comparison’s sake didn’t charge much for their work - $50/hour was the top rate I saw, and some were doing it for ridiculously low rates like $200 for 4000 words (I would respond with expletives if someone offered me such a miserable rate - especially for copywriting, for reasons I’ll explain shortly).
I’m going to suggest you charge more than that, though, for a couple of reasons:
1. Generally speaking, people don’t do copywriting for the same reasons they write, say, magazine features or fiction. Some employers use the creative catharsis (and, it must be acknowledged, ego boost - bylines! book covers!) that comes with such writing to get away with paying very little. There’s an intangible compensation as well as the moullah. Copywriting is creative, but it doesn’t carry the same complications of being creative for creativity’s sake - you are positioned very clearly as a professional offering a service to help your clients achieve their business objectives.
2. As a freelancer, you’re not going to be doing chargable work 40 hours a week. Nor are you going to get paid if you take a holiday or get sick, nor do you get any superannuation. As such, a rate that might look okay - even good - as an employee is almost always unsustainable for the self-employed.
A good place to start is to take the hourly rate you’d be on if you were an employee… and triple it. That’s how much you should be charging as a contracter. If this seems a bit too brash, double it instead. Make that the minimum rate you’ll work for (say, for not-for-profits, or if you’re just starting out) and save the tripled rate for clients who have the cash to afford it.
If you’re just starting out you might have to get by on less for a while (although Sara has experience and some pretty specific expertise, so should be able to charge more) - $25-$35 an hour is pretty standard for beginning freelance copywriters - but my friend Lily McCombs, one of the directors at communications consultancy Make Believe, says charging too little can be detrimental to your perceived professionalism, as well as your bank balance.
"I think one of the biggest mistakes writers make is under-selling themselves," she says. "When I was starting out, even though I was a ‘qualified’ writer, I felt like being good at writing was almost just another attribute, like having blonde hair, rather than a highly valuable skill which I’d consciously developed."
"$50/hour is the lowest a freelance copywriter should charge, in my opinion. Mostly I’ve seen contractors charging between $80-$150 per hour."
That said, you’ll probably have more success if you charge for your services rather than your time. $100 per hour might sound pricey, but $200 for a press release isn’t. Sarah Jansen, Communications Coordinator at Brisbane’s new arts and culture hub, The Edge, explains: “A lot of clients don’t understand how long this sort of work takes - I’ve had people ask me to edit a document in less time than it would take to read it! Costs would be based on the hourly rate, for example: $200 to attend a briefing meeting that would probably go for 2 hours including travel, $600 for writing an executive summary, $150 per page to heavy edit a document, $80 per page to proofread for spelling, grammar and punctuation.”
Obviously, this isn’t going to work in every case. Both Sarah and Lily acknowledge that in some cases, copywriters will work for less - say, if they want to get a particular break or if they’re particularly passionate about a client’s project (much like, despite my braying about writers getting paid correctly, I’ll write an article for cheap or for free it’s the right project - like this here column). But I hope it’s given you some of the detail you were after.
Think I’m overshooting here? Share your thoughts below.
If you have a writing/publishing/media-related question you’d like to send my way, drop me an email and I’ll answer it here.
A couple of years ago, The Sunday Age asked me to write some reflections on Australia Day. At the time, I was quite perplexed - nationalism isn’t an issue I dedicate a whole lot of time to thinking about. In any case, the resulting article ended up being quoted by Gerard Henderson (see if you can guess which phrase). Reprinted for public holiday relevance below.
Last year on Australia Day, a man peed on my foot. He was sitting on the seat in front of me on the bus into the city, where he’d been clutching a bottle of wine in a clichéd paper bag and shouting obscenities at our fellow passengers; telling the women in front of him they were “sluts” and the Asian students to his left that they didn’t know “the true meaning of Australia Day”. Then came the trickle of liquid down the seat, settling in a puddle beneath my quickly raised thongs.
A few minutes later, as I waited in the CBD for a friend, a reveller threw a beer bottle into the bushes behind me. I exchanged a grimace with the girl standing next me and we cursed our poor judgment for choosing to leave the house on Australia Day.
I’d asked similar questions of my judgment the day before at the Big Day Out in Sydney, which seemed filled with people in flag-printed attire and T-shirts reading “if you don’t love it, leave it”. They were no doubt spurred on by the media circus around the festival “banning” the Australian flag and the Daily Telegraph's urges to rebel against the organisers, but as a friend put it, there's something about Australia Day that some people embrace with “the same shithead opportunism with which they treat footy matches and racial riots”.
You’ve probably guessed that I’m not the most enthusiastic patriot around.
And you’d be right. I can’t remember the last time I watched a football game. I’ve been to the cricket once, when I was eighteen, and I took a magazine with me and asked in all seriousness why the players took so long to “pitch” (for the information of fellow non-cricket fans, the correct term is “bowl”).
Possessing the pale skin of my Irish heritage, I go to the beach approximately once each year and leave with dry, pink shoulders no matter how much sunscreen I put on. I prefer cities to the bush. I only drink beer when there’s nothing else available.
Lest it sound as though I’ve wholeheartedly and elitistly rejected the core tenets of Australian culture, I should point out that those particular tenets of Australian culture rejected me first.
I was a child too short-sighted to catch a ball, who spent her weekends borrowing out the maximum allowed number of books from the local library. Sporty, bronzed, anti-intellectualist Australia and I just didn’t mesh.
Which isn’t to say that I was ever particularly bothered by it. I learned early, as most people do, to find people who were “like me” to hang around with and block out the noise of everyone else. If the beer bottle chucking, bus seat pissing, flag waving folks wanted to claim the mantle of “Australian” for themselves, they could go right ahead and take it. I’d just sit over here and be unAustralian then, thank you very much.
But, as you’re probably thinking right about now, that’s kind of stupid. Because while the people who drape the Australian flag over their shoulders at music festivals — or who cheer “Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi” at the cricket — might be the showiest about their nationality, they don’t have a monopoly on what being Australian is. And nor should they.
The guy who yelled out obscenities on the bus last year was a self-announced Australian, sure, but so were the girls who wrote “there’s piss on this seat” on a piece of paper I’d torn out of the magazine I was reading, to warn others not to sit there. Cheek, consideration of fellow passengers, and a disregard for cheap paper binding are all very positive — and very Australian — traits. He was just the loud one.
The Big Day Out might have looked like a sea of misdirected nationalism in recent years, but the flag wearers were well outnumbered by music lovers dressed in fairy wings or band T-shirts. They were just the more visible ones.
Conservative commentators have been harping on for years about how the so-called Left “elite” need to make room for the voices of “ordinary Australians” — such as themselves. I would suggest that we similarly need to make room for versions of “Australianism” that deviate from the same old book of myths.
No doubt, there are a lot of people in this country who take pleasure in and identify with the larrikinism of Steve Irwin, the athleticism of Cathy Freeman, the girl-next-door-made-good quality of Kylie Minogue or the beachy beauty of Jennifer Hawkins.
But there are a whole lot of others (and many of those in the former group) who enjoy — or even prefer — the grace and intelligence of Cate Blanchett; the devil-may-care rebelliousness of Germaine Greer or Peter Singer; the soaring creativity of silverchair’s Daniel Johns or fashion designer Akira Isogawa; the compassion of former Young Australian of the Year Hugh Evans; the wit of Chris Lilley; or even the delightful nerdiness of our new Prime Minister.
It’s obvious that we appreciate and take pride in these people and their accomplishments. But for whatever reason, they haven’t become as much a part of our national story as our athletes and larrikins — even though, in many ways, they better reflect the country’s diversity and reality than the myth.
In part, this is because Australia has always had a difficult time defining itself. Put it down to our post-European settlement culture being born too late in the game and evolving in insufficient isolation to become truly culturally distinct. But it’s also because it’s part of the very nature of national mythologies to be a pile of crap. I mean, does anyone seriously think that the French are all snobs who wear stripes, or that Americans are all brainless cowboys?
And maybe that’s the point. Not particularly liking Australia’s national mythology is not the same thing as not liking Australia. Just as criticising elements of your country’s behaviour is not in itself disrespectful — and certainly not grounds to be told to “leave it”.
There are a myriad of ways to respect and appreciate one’s country. Some of us might drape a flag over our shoulders, others (okay, me) might have been known to skip down the street on the way to the ballot box on election day. Some of us get goosebumps when Australia wins the cricket, others got them when we signed the Kyoto protocol.
This is a country for all types, even wanker Diet Coke Lefties like me. It’s Australian to call yourself a wanker, isn’t it?
Image: What Will You Fill Your Heart With in 2010?, by Thomas Ott
Or 2010 itself, at least.
Fool: Bloated, hyperbolic professional bios/marketing copy. Cool: Letting your accomplishments speak for themselves.
Fool: Pretending that 600 Facebook friends means 600 actual friends. Cool: Spending more time with the people you really care about and authentically engaging with your community (whatever “community” means to you).
Fool: Signing up for a million dollar plus mortgage because house prices keep on rising and it’s “a good investment”. Cool: Getting in touch with what really makes you happy and directing your funds towards that.
Fool: Binge drinking. Cool: Binge thinking.
Fool: What others can do for you. Cool: What you can do for others.
Fool: Staying out til 3am because it’s a Friday night and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Cool: Staying in on weekends if that’s what you feel like doing, going out on weeknights if there’s something cool on, and directing one’s leisure time to pleasure rather than presentation.
Fool: Internet fameballs and feigning a glamorous life in the hope of inspiring envy in others. Lifecasting. Cool: Mindcasting. Reading other people’s blogs instead of just trying to get them to read yours.
Fool: Doing 100 things in a half assed way. Cool: Doing at least one thing really, really well. And the rest in a half-assed way, if you still have time.
Yet, it’s easy to see why Zadie Smith—who went from the working class London neighborhood of Willesden Green to Cambridge University and, from there, on to literary superstardom—would not regard social position as fixed or static.
Okay, really I just like it (the quote that is, not the article) because it goes some way to explain why, despite similar backgrounds, my boyfriend does not share the same concerns about entrenched privilege that I do. (Bitch Blogs)
- Stop lying down with dogs already. Based on the old idea that any given person will be approximately as successful as their five closest friends. They’ve modified it little so that you can stay friends with people you actually like, but the point is a good one - I’ve found my greatest periods of creative and professional growth have occured when I’ve been surrounded by people who are creative, energetic, and unafraid to take risks. (CopyBlogger)
“Login to Twitter. Login to Facebook. What you see is a world that you’ve constructed. These are YOUR “Friends”, the people you’ve chosen to follow. Or at least the people you’ve been guilted into following. These people shape your experiences of social media. They speak about things that matter to you, either because you know them personally or because you like the way they think. They speak like you. Or, more accurately, you speak like them. Cuz even though you might think you’re speaking to your “audience,” your sense of norms is based on the content you read. So, really, you’re speaking to the people you follow, even though they might not be the ones who are actually listening. You aren’t speaking to your “audience” but to the people who you like to watch. Your sense of what people do with social media is highly dependent on what you consume, how you consume it, and why you’re there in the first place. So is mine. The world you live in online looks different than the world I live in. And it looks different than the world that an average teen lives in. And it looks different than the world Lady Gaga lives in. And it looks different than the world that people from different cultural backgrounds experience. Our worlds are different, even if the interface gives us the impression that they’re the same.”—
“Public-ness has always been a privilege. For a long time, only a few chosen few got to be public figures. Now we’ve changed the equation and anyone can theoretically be public, can theoretically be seen by millions. So it mustn’t be a privilege anymore, eh? Not quite. There are still huge social costs to being public, social costs that geeks in Silicon Valley don’t have to account for. Not everyone gets to show up to work whenever they feel like it wearing whatever they’d like and expect a phatty paycheck. Not everyone has the opportunity to be whoever they want in public and demand that everyone else just cope. I know there are lots of folks out there who think that we should force everyone into the public so that we can create a culture where that IS the norm. Not only do I think that this is unreasonable, but I don’t think that this is truly what we want. The same Silicon Valley tycoons who want to push everyone into the public don’t want their kids to know that their teachers are sexual beings, even when their sexuality is as vanilla as it gets. Should we even begin to talk about the marginalized populations out there?”—
While I’ve flitted around the edges of the publishing industry for three or four years now, I have never had a book deal myself - perhaps misguidedly waiting for the right Big Idea, publisher and deal. (Better no book to your name than a half-baked mediocre one, I reason. Some would call this reputation management, others would call it procrastination.)
I am however fortunate to know a lot of people who have published books, from whom (along with the aforementioned flitting) I have garnered some opinions about the process. In this post, I am indebted to their superior, experience-based knowledge.
So, what should would-be authors know about the publishing game?
-Yes, you do need an agent. Or if not “need”, it definitely helps to have one. Publishers I’ve interacted with have told me it’s not necessary for a first time non-fiction author, but well, they’re publishers and they would say that! (It’s beneficial to their bottom line.)
Jean Hannah Edelstein, the UK-based author of Himglish and Femalese and former employee of a London literary agent explains: “There’s been a lot of debate recently about the usefulness of agents in a digital world, but I think that’s because most people don’t understand what an agent’s real job is. The bulk of the agent’s work happens after the book has been sold - negotiating the contract, making sure that money flows through to the writer, negotiating sub-rights deals, arguing with editors when they try to make writers do things that they don’t want to do, administering a hell of a lot of paperwork.”
In other words, a good agent can mean the difference between a good publishing experience and a mediocre - or bad - one.
It can also mean the difference between getting a book deal or not getting one at all. As Brigid Delaney, author of This Restless Life, points out, many larger publishers don’t look at proposals that haven’t been vetted by an agent. Having an agent means your proposal is more likely to be noticed - and less likely to be left to the slush pile.
- Know the market. But getting an agent to sign you on can be as much of a challenge as finding a publisher. In either case, it pays to know who you’re playing to. There’s not much point in sending your sci-fi epic to an academic publisher, or your Next Great Feminist Book to an agent who specialises in crime novels. You also need to be able to articulate how your book fits in to the existing market - what books is it most similar to, and what does it do better or differently?
Emily Maguire has published three novels - Taming The Beast, The Gospel According to Luke, and Smoke In The Room - as well as the non-fiction Princesses and Pornstars. She advises: “The first thing I suggest is looking at which publishers and imprints publish books similar to yours. How many publishers are on your list will depend on how specialised your subject or genre is. The next thing is to research the publishers on your list. Find out whether they accept unagented/unsolicited submissions, what your submission should contain (query letter, synopsis, sample chapters or the whole book) their preferred submission method (electronic/post), who you should send it to etc. Some publishers have this info on their websites; if not, you should call or email and ask for it.”
And don’t freak out if you don’t hear back immediately. Says Jean, “Publishing is a slow, slow business. Decisions aren’t made quickly.” But just as you would with a magazine or newspaper pitch, you shouldn’t be afraid to follow up, either. Antony Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, advises: “Be patient, but persistent. There’s nothing wrong with politely chasing agents until you hear a response. Remember, these people receive countless submissions every day.”
- As with all things in the creative industries, it helps to have a profile. Remember that flitting about the industry thing I mentioned before? I’ve had agents and publishers approach me about book ideas since 2006 - only a little over a year after I started writing for newspapers and magazines. Finding a publisher might not be a walk in the park, but it helps to remember that - like all commissioning editors - publishers want to find new authors and new work. Also like magazine and newspaper editors, they’ll sometimes even approach you to bring to life a book idea they don’t have an author for.
But they won’t come to you if you don’t already have work to your name for them to stumble upon - whether that’s on a blog, in literary journals, as a freelancer or an academic. Says Jean, “There’s no question that the first step to getting a book deal is to write whenever you can, wherever you can - because it’s great writing experience, and also because it will help people to notice your work and get interested in it.” Lisa Dempster, author of Neon Pilgrim, The Melbourne Veg Food Guide and Veg*n Shopper, and publisher of Vignette Press explains: “Publishers do notice great writers and if you can walk into a publishing deal without going through the slush pile then you’ll be in a really good position.”
- But it’s more important to have a good idea. Says Brigid, “Fresh ideas always trump stale ideas by an established voice. Can you write about something that hasn’t been written about before? Have you got something new and exciting to say?”
I have to admit - I’m a little cynical on this one. Brigid describes the kinds of books I like to read, but I’ve read enough books repeating old, worn out ideas that feel like they’ve been floating around for a good 20-30 years (particularly in my own field) to know that you don’t need to have a super-amazing, totally new idea to see your name on a book cover.
You do need to be able to put a new spin on your idea though, however fresh or stale it is. Think of it like a lifestyle magazine - lots of them run pretty much the same stories month after month, but they manage to make them seem new and exciting with minor tweaks and enticing headlines. You need to do the same in your book proposal. And even if you don’t need a fresh idea to sell your proposal, it certainly ups your chances - and ups your chances of writing a book that people buy, read, enjoy and talk about as well (which is the point of this whole exercise, isn’t it?).
- Write good. Well, obviously. Again, as an editor I’ve seen some awful work by published authors, but prose that sings and makes the reader want to keep on reading is always going to stand out over imprecise, incoherent or just plain boring language. Says Emily, “Make your writing the absolute best it can be and present it professionally.”
- And perhaps most importantly, tenacity pays off. For one, you actually have to finish the damn thing - and if the Facebook status updates I’ve seen over the past few years are any indication, that’s no easy task. “[Insert name] thinks book writing is for dummies/masochists” seems to be a common theme.
Writing to a length of tens of thousands of words is very different to writing a blog post of a 500-2000 word article - and not just because it takes a lot longer to finish. It also requires (again, I’m thinking mostly of ideas-based non-fiction here, but I think the same could be said of fiction) a level of synthesis and sustained narrative/argument that can challenge even the most talented writers. I’d go so far as to say that having the focus and commitment to finish your book (and don’t think it’s over then - you’ll still have to go through a substantive editing process) is the number one factor separating those who want to publish a book and those who have actually done it.
So, for those of you who have demonstrated that tenacity and commitment, I’d like to offer the opportunity to win a prize that might help you in getting that coveted deal. Jean Hannah Edelstein offers a service to aspiring authors wherein she’ll look at your submission packet - that is, a cover letter, synopsis and first thirty pages of a novel, or outline and sample chapter of a non-fic book - and offer a critique or consultation. Normally, she’d charge for this, but she’s very kindly offered to do it for free for one reader.
There’s a catch, though - to win, you need to have done the groundwork to complete your submission pack. To enter, send an email to rachel dot hills at gmail dot com (subject line: book comp) with a brief description of your book and written verification that you have the aforementioned materials to send to Jean - basically, we’ll take your word for this. Entries close Wednesday 27 January, and the winner will be selected at random by someone who is neither me nor Jean.
One more thing! Because this is such a huge, unwieldy topic, and because I know a lot of you out have expertise in this area, I’d like to ask you to share your thoughts on the issue. What advice would you offer would-be authors? What have you learned from your own ventures into long form writing?
And finally, if you have a writing/publishing/media-related question you’d like to send my way (preferably something that requires a shorter answer than this one), drop me an email and I’ll answer them here.
Why you shouldn't feel guilty for staying home on a Saturday night
At least, not if that’s what you really want to do. Liz Lemon’s quote in last week’s 30 Rock seems fitting for my latest CLEO article:
"Oh we’re going to have fun. We’re going to stay here and make nachos and see who can fall asleep the earliest! Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!"
Is staying in the new going out? More and more twentysomethings are ditching dark, smelly clubs and opting for some “homemade” fun. By Rachel Hills.
First pubished in CLEO, February 2010. Copyright Rachel Hills 2010.
Quick pop culture quiz. Which tech-savvy celeb recently posted the following on Twitter: “On my way home. LA is not what it used to be. Brutal. Can’t wait to get in bed.” Was it cool mum Demi Moore? Ultimate “good girl” Taylor Swift? Nope, the author was none other than perennial party girl, Paris Hilton.
As you’d expect, Paris’ off-the-cuff whinge was splashed all over the world media. What could possibly have shocked her so much that she’d trade in a night of partying to snuggle with her boyfriend, Doug Reinhardt? Was she just, as a UK paper suggested, getting old?
But as someone around Paris’ age, I can sympathise with her predicament. Nights that once ended at 3am now wrap up around midnight. Venues that once seemed fresh and full of possibility now seem old and tired. The last time I danced till daylight, I had to see an osteopath to realign my neck (something I was secretly thrilled by, knowing it would make great fodder for this article).
It seems Paris and I aren’t alone. “When I was younger, it was all about the hottest clubs and what you were wearing,” says Ashleigh, 23. “Now, my girlfriends and I have switched our goals. We value our weekends more, and we want to spend time together where we can actually hear each other talk.”
"I’m over it."
It’s a sentiment most of us can relate to - some of the time. Only a bossy boots would say that just because you can party, you should do at every opportunity. So why do I feel so guilty when I spend a rare Saturday night at home with some takeaway and my Mad Men DVDs? Or like I have a big “loser” sign on my back when, exhausted after a long week at work and knowing I‘ll have more to do over the weekend, I call it a night at 11pm?
Julie, 24, has a theory. “I think there’s a lot of pressure on people in their twenties to be going out all the time,” she says. “That’s what’s considered to be ‘enjoying your youth’. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not seen as ticking the right boxes.” Alcohol plays a big role here, too. It’s not enough to go out to dinner or the movies, it has to be tequila shots, late nights and messy adventures, preferably with a ridiculously hot guy - or three - involved.
But what happens when it’s time to move on? Or if you just never liked the club scene all that much in the first place? Is it really a matter of “young and fun” versus “Nanna”? As Nicole, 26, puts it: “The idea of going out sounds great. But, when I get there, I realise I’m not actually having a great time.” I have a suspicion that it was only the newness and novelty that made those nights of dancing and drinking in crowd of sweaty strangers seem fun in the first place.
"Party at my house!"
Fortunately, my super-social friend Meredith agrees with me - to a point. “To me, those meat market bars are hell. They’re just about going out for the sake of it,” she says. And that’s definitely not what she’s into.
She is a big advocate of the Big Night Out, though. She loves the spontaneity and the sense of possibility, and she loves to dance. “There’s something about waking up on Saturday morning after a big night. It’s like a recharge button. All the stresses of work and the past week just wash away.” You don’t have to go out every weekend night, Meredith tells me, but it should be your first option. “If you’re not enjoying it, then you’re not going to the right places,” she says.
Which might just be what this is all about. None of the “Nanna” girls I spoke to actually spends their nights at home by themselves. Ashleigh loves having friends over for wine and cheese. Nicole loves music festivals and charity events. Personally, I can’t get enough of creative costumes, clever party themes or music that’s worth dancing to - I just want to be able to go home when the event starts to die. And I want to be able to tone it down to dinner, movies or even - gasp - a night in if there’s nothing interesting on, or if I’m just plain beat.
And as for Ms Hilton, well, we’ve all seen enough paparazzi pics to know that “brutal” LA club scene aside, she’s not a total homebody.
“[Sex and the City] was also radical because, in a very un-PC but admirable flouting of feminist norms, Bushnell was brave enough to lay bare the secret – that for many women the search for love is the same urgent, central, archetypal quest story that for men is played out in war narratives and adventure tales. Bushnell was gutsy enough to disclose that even we serious, accomplished, feminist women spend a lot of time, when we are alone with our female friends, telling stories centred on the men with whom we are romantically entangled, exploring the quality of the love and attraction, the romance and the sex. And we are often just that graphic and hopeful and vulnerable and slutty as those four character.”—It’s old news now that Naomi Wolf declared one Carrie Bradshaw a, if not the, feminist icon of the last decade. It is even older news that I am highly critical of the romance and consumption obsessed brand of empowerment promoted by Sex and the City.
Still, something about Wolf’s article has stuck with me in the ensuing weeks - namely, the notion that the search for love that occupies the minds and conversations of even many smart and secure women deserves to be taken as seriously as stereotypically “male” pursuits such as politics, sport and war.
As claims go, it’s not entirely unproblematic. Women’s interest in love relationships, after all, is a socially mediated thing - and one that is used to create and perpetuate insecurities. Were we not inundated with media urging us of the importance of finding and catching a man, and suggesting that failure to do so is symptomatic of deep set inadequacies, it’s likely that there wouldn’t be such widespread interest in the subject matter.
But it’s also true that love and relationships are not in and of themselves worthless or petty subjects, and that our tendency to trivialise them might have something to do with their designation as “female” subjects. I would also argue that finding a person you care about deeply and learning the best ways to connect with them and navigate their quirks and personality is a “quest” worth taking on - and worth talking about - for both sexes.
And as much as, on the the surface, Sex and the City might seem to perpetuate very shallow ideas about relationships (to quote Emily Maguire’s book, Princesses and Pornstars, in which “a boy [loves] a girl so much he spends all his money on her which makes her so, so happy that she has sex with him”), the conclusion of the series suggests otherwise, as each of the characters* lets go of their own fairytale fantasy to achieve real intimacy.
* Yes, perhaps even including Carrie, if you argue that she finally accepted Mr Big for who he was instead of willing him to be someone else. This is admittedly a tenuous argument, though. Feel free to rebut.
“Cosmo is big on Body Love, but maybe it needs to start celebrating women for their other bits a bit more, too?”—Scarlett Harris reviews the latest issue of Australian Cosmopolitan for Girl With A Satchel.
I’ve been back in Australia a little over 24 hours, but I am bizarrely missing the European weather. Sure, I felt like my feet were going to freeze off a couple of times, but it was nothing central heating and a good hot chocolate can’t fix, and breathing is somehow easier at 0C than it is at 30C. Hair is also easier to style, for that matter.
I won’t go into too much detail about what I got up to while I was gone (see this post, if you’re interested in a snippet or two), but suffice to say I am feeling rejuvenised, re-energised and ready to embrace 2010.
Some of the things I have planned:
- A bunch of new initiatives on this here blog, the first of which will be a new feature answering your questions on all things writing, media and freelance journalism related - sometimes with a little help from my media savvy friends.
I get loads of emails from people asking how different aspects of the industry work, so if there’s something you’d like to know - whether it’s about pitching, the job hunting process, how to get tardy publications to pay up, how to get a book deal, find interview subjects, or just come up with a story idea, shoot me an email and I’ll answer it here.
- Finish the first draft of my thesis, and focus my freelance writing on thesis and other accessible sociology related topics.
Between these first two (and things like going to work, having friends etc) I’ll be pretty flat out, but there’s also:
- Insane amount of overseas travel (well, not for webutante types, but for we normal people) in first half of the year, including a good friend's Wellington wedding in February, and my first academic conference in Dublin in March.
- Possible relocation to London or New York.
- Saying ‘yes’ to as many things as possible, but being judicious and selective about what I say yes to (so only exciting and/or productive things). Things I would be likely to say yes to include: cool conferences, dinners in secret locations, meeting interesting and energetic people, ten pin bowling, karaoke, anything involving Good Friends or Boyfriend.
The coolest things I did in the 2000s, as divided by year.
2000: Fell in love for the first time, not counting Taylor Hanson. (This would also qualify as the crappiest thing I did that year.) 2001: Started a band, bringing my previouslyaccoustictunes to life. Quit band at the end of the year for Gwen Stefani circa 1997-esque reasons. 2002: Edited the student magazine, and all the amazing doors that opened because of that. 2003: Ran for student union on an alarmingly Legally Blonde-esque campaign (“Be Inspired!”), designed to test the premise that you couldn’t get elected to office without lying. I would have been better off spending my money on clothes, one of my student politics hack friends would tell me. I cried. 2004: Ran the first electionTracker.net. Worked so many hours I fell sick with a different illness every week. Ran off to Paris afterwards to clear my head. 2005: Again channelling Gwen Stefani, “took a chance you stupid ho” and fell in love for the second time. 2006: Went to the US for the first time, on a tour to meet my favourite journalists, after meeting Maureen Dowd on an Australian television show and her saying she’d take me to cocktails in New York if I ever visited (the cocktails didn’t happen, but I did get to hang out in her office). 2007: Got offered two of my dream jobs within two hours of one another. 2008: Hosted a Democratic Convention party, complete with red state/blue state name tags, and a politically themed drinking game. 2009: Picked my New Years Eve destination out of a hat. Leaving today.
What moments this decade are you most proud of? What excited you most?
“It appears that adults are reacting to young people in early and latter adolescence as being sexual - indeed, as being more sexual than they really are. Thus, in the fantasy life of adults, there is a kind of constant eroticism among the young and the overreaction of adults to youth’s cosmetic sexuality begins to confirm its acting out.”—
One of my favourite quotes from Gagnon and Simon’s classic sociological text, Sexual Conduct: the Social Sources of Human Sexuality.
Or in less academic terms, much of the panic surrounding the sexual behaviour of teenagers and young adults is a self-confirming figment of adults’ imaginations.
I think that I’ve always known might happen
I think that all women know
How many of us live around a
I mean really
think about it.
How many of you are guilty
of walking in a parking lot
with your keys out
in a defensive position?
Or unlock your car
from the button on your keys
to prevent having your back turned
to a potential predator?
How many of you won’t
walk alone at night?
But you’ll walk alone
during the day
What are your reasons?
Are you afraid of the dark?
Or is it more than that?
How many of you
watch how you dress
In order to prevent attracting
the attention of someone
who might hurt you?
Or separate yourself
from the “creepy” guy
on the bus?
Why is he more dangerous
then the man sitting next to you?
subconsciously and consciously
we think of ways to avoid
Maybe we should start
raping our rapist back
making sure we ambush them
with a sodomized intended fury
So that they will know
how it feels
to walk around
living your life
in a constant fear
A powerful poem from We are the wave. Not so keen on “raping anyone back”, but I think the general message of not viewing oneself as a victim is a good one. It reminds me of Sharon Marcus’s excellent essay, ‘Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention’ (in this book - tried to find you a copy online, but failed).
“The “Professional Me” and the “Personal Me” are one in the same, however layered and complex, and this is reflected in the content collated in this Tumblr.”—
From the bio of one of my fave Tumblrs, Lani Pauli.
Beautiful - and my first thought was “I agree!” - but also, I suspect, a luxury of the representation-based professions.
Those of us who spend a lot of time online - and especially those of us who read marketing blogs - spend a lot of time talking about authenticity and importance of “being human”. People, we say, want to interact with whole, authentic personalities, not fragments that have been cordoned off and constructed for a particular setting. Why should we adopt personas at work that are different to the people we are outside it?
And it’s great and it’s beautiful, but it’s also still something of a luxury. As an editor, I can wear the same clothes to work as I do on the weekends, but a lawyer or an investment banker can’t do the same. A creative in advertising might be praised for their witticisms and “off the wall” thinking (although I’m sure some people who work in advertising would beg to differ on this one), but a psychologist or a social worker has to remain a blank slate when working with their clients. An artist - or a graphic designer - can go to lunch, or at least the toilet, whenever they like. A teenager working at the checkout at McDonalds doesn’t have the same luxury.
This might change - and I’ve written about it before, especially in relation to politics. I’d like to think that our leaders in 30 years time won’t be expected to have never done anything foolish or ever goofy. And as Lani acknowledges, it goes both ways as well - I might “be myself” at work, but I’m also kind of obsessed with work even when I’m not there.
Lee Siegel, meanwhile, author of Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, extends this argument into an entertaining and sustained rant against the imprisoning internet and the rhetoric of “blogfascism”.
"In the pre-internet age…," he observes, "there came a moment when you turned off the TV or the stereo, or put down the book or magazine… You stopped doing culture and you withdrew — or advanced — into your solitude. You used the phone. You went for a walk. You went to the corner bar for a drink. You made love… You wrote a letter.
"Now, more often than not, you go to the computer and online. There you log on to a social networking site, make an entry on your blog, buy something, try to meet a romantic partner… You might send an email, but no one ever just sends an email. Every online activity leads to another online activity…"
Siegel exaggerates for effect maybe, but any one of us who spends a large part of his or her day – for work and leisure – in front of a screen will recognise at least the contours of that behaviour. Your computer invites habitual usage, from email to bookmarked sites, to Twitter followers, to YouTube favourites, and it is a circular rather than a linear progress; if you plotted your history folder I’m guessing you would discover it was not about narrative, but repetition. This circumnavigation of our familiar haunts may suggest exploration, or at least the possibility of it, but there is a compulsive sameness to the quality of the experience. Some of this has to do with the computer’s illusion of constant novelty (constantly disappointed), some of it has to do with its inbuilt solipsism, its anti-social quality, which can give rise to that mean-spirited tone of generally anonymous debate and comment that the New Yorker writer David Denby has recently dismissed as “snark”.
Some of the language makes me cringe - “blogfascism”? - but it’s true: for an increasing proportion of people, it’s difficult to ever switch the internet and its possibilities off. There’s always new information, new responses, new -it must be acknowledged - possibilities for validation (a Twitter @reply, a Facebook comment, an email, a ‘like’).
Even when I travel, I return to the comforting arms of the internet at least once a day: in the morning or in the evening. My excuse, contrary to the remarks above, is that it’s my time for introspection, a chance to get down all the thoughts and experiences of the day that just passed so I can dedicate myself fully to the next one.
The longest I’ve spent without the internet in the past… decade, I think, was five days in central Australia in September. I lost coverage, but my sleeping patterns changed noticably - all of a sudden, I wantd to go to sleep at 10pm.
That said, as soon as I got my coverage back I was all, “excuse me, I need to have a date with my email,” and chuckling and marvelling over the news of the week that had just passed. And that also said, I don’t think I’d be particularly gifted at the art of solitude even if the internet didn’t exist.
What do you think? How has the internet impacted your capacity for solitude?
“Inappropriate and unacceptable began their modern careers in the 1980s as part of the jargon of political correctness. They have more or less replaced a number of older, more exact terms: coarse, tactless, vulgar, lewd. They encompass most of what would formerly have been called “improper” or “indecent.” An affair between a teacher and a pupil that was once improper is now inappropriate; a once indecent joke is now unacceptable. This linguistic shift is revealing. Improper and indecent express moral judgements, whereas inappropriate and unacceptable suggest breaches of some purely social or professional convention. Such “non-judgemental” forms of speech are tailored to a society wary of explicit moral language…. What was once an offence against decency must be recast as something akin to a faux pas.”—Words that think for us « Prospect Magazine (via literarypiano)
But I also think it’s more helpful to think of it less as “writing about feminism” and more “speaking about the issues that matter to the people reading and applying critical frameworks to them”. And probably not calling them “critical frameworks” in your pitch, because that just alienates people.
Jessica Valenti asked the same question on her blog this morning, and thankfully came to the same answer. She writes:
Yes, it’s likely that the mainstream media will always screw feminists over. If we’re older we’ll be called stodgy; if we’re younger we’ll be called do-me feminists or be otherwise sexified. Our messages will be edited out, or mocked. Only some of us will get called on to give quotes or do interviews because we’re perceived as more “mainstream friendly.” It will continue to be an unfair system. But we should participate in it anyway.
Valenti’s Feministing stablemate, Courtney Martin, is currently in the running to be the Next Great American Pundit, with a column at the Washington Post up for grabs. On the blog and elsewhere, she’s been promoted on the basis that “we need more feminist voices in the media”.
But I think this misses the point. I’d like Courtney Martin to have a Washington Post column not because she subscribes to a particular philosophical framework, but because she’s an exceptionally good writer and analyst, who thinks about issues in a way that most others don’t, presents her arguments in a nuanced way, and is able to capture visceral emotional truths.
Pop feminist commentary is everywhere, at least in Australia (and my impression is in large smathes of America as well) - good analysis and original thinking, not so much.
Good feminist writing in the mainstream media - and good writing of any persuasion - isn’t about pushing a particular philosophical barrow. It’s about communicating with an audience about the issues that matter in their lives in a voice they can relate to (hence the not using words like “discourse” or “framework” in one’s pitches), and applying frameworks (here we go again!) that help to illuminate their experience and understanding of the world.
ETA my response to Jessica’s post:
I’m glad the answer you came to on this one is “yes”.
While I can appreciate the frustration some feminists feel when it comes to MSM, I can’t imagine *not* engaging with it. You just need to pick your medium/s (personally, I prefer to converse with the convertible than battle it out with the completely opposed) and modulate your message so it speaks to the intended audience.
I also think it helps to think of it less as “writing about feminism” and more “applying feminist – and other personal-is-political – frameworks to issues that matter to the people you’re talking to, in a voice and language they can relate to. This is exactly what I do for women’s mags, and I’m getting plenty of work.
“Edward Cullen may come in a different, darker package, but he still represents your typical teenage Tiger Beat dream boat: he wants only you, girl, he’ll always be true, girl, he’ll totally wait till you’re married, girl, there’s nobody else in the world for him, girl, he may be bad, but he’ll be good to you, girl, etc. He’s the guy you can dream about making out with, because you know you’ll never make out with him. He represents the kind of love that never comes with rejection, because you know he’s not real and you could never have him anyway. He’s a safe means of falling in love for those who desperately want to know what it feels like”—
So, I haven’t been posting much lately. There are a number of reasons for this - thesis stress, home stress, freelancing commitments, perfectionism, the sense that even though I’ve often prioritised blogging over the aforementioned, I really probably shouldn’t - but I’ll own up to what is: Bad Blogging Practice.
If I’m honest, boredom and fatigue have also played a big role in my absence. When I first started this blog, two years ago, it was a tentative toe in the waters of blogging as “myself” (whatever that means), under my real name.
In that time, I’ve connected with some amazing people around Australia and the world, and learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t. In the latter category: lifecasting or reblogging other people’s stuff without adding original comment (however effective that is elsewhere Tumblr); in the former, original writing and a kind of philosophical analysis, if hits, ‘likes’ and reblogs are any indication (prove me wrong by filling out my survey). You guys also seem to like advice and other meditations related to the writing process.
The trouble is that I’ve learned so much from this process that now, when I look at this blog, all I see is what’s wrong with it. Making the focus Me and My Writing, for one. Who would choose to subscribe to this blog when they could read one that’s about a clear topic, I ask myself? Not putting as much effort into these posts as I do into my paid work when - as I say all the time lately - the internet is “the ultimate free market”, and theoretically, that means we choose to read the best content available. Then again, perfectionism has been a major block to my writing here lately - my dashboard is full of drafts.
So, for a few weeks now I’ve seriously considered throwing this blog in, in favour of something newer, shinier and more exciting - something that capitalises on everythng I’ve learned over the past two years. And I will be launching a site focusing on my thesis research (or, more sensationally, talking about sex) in the next couple of weeks, followed hopefully not long after by a revamped portfolio website.
But in thinking and talking about this with other people, I realised something: whatever its weaknesses, people like this blog. It may not be perfect, but it has an audience - and an audience I’m rather fond of.
What direction it should go in is a question I’m yet to answer. My sense is that treating it as a kind of supplement to my other work is the way to go - reflections, inspirations and discussions around articles I’m working on and the like. The kinds of posts that are in my ‘best of' section. I'm also considering a full revamp of the layout and possibly even the title.
But as I make those moves, I’m keen to know what you think. I’ve created a survey (yep, I’m linking to it again) asking what you like about this blog, what you’d like to see more of and what you’d like to see changed. I’ve tried to make it as quick and painless as possible - it won’t take more than ten minutes, and if you’re really speedy, I reckon you could knock it over in 90 seconds. I’d really appreciate it if you filled it out. You can also leave a comment below, if you’d prefer, or drop me an email.
“… athletes or frat guys are more prone to gang rape not because they are athletes or frat guys, but because being frat guys or athletes confers on them an elite status that is easily translated into entitlement, and because the cement of their brotherhood is intense, and intensely sexualised, bonding.”—
Michael Kimmel in Guyland, which I’m re-reading at the moment as I crunch theory for my thesis.
The always interesting Kimmel is also interviewed in this week’s “Feministing Five”.
There is another bias, which might be worth thinking about.
The list of judges heavily favours the traditional media. Surely in the all-media categories there is some room for judges from outside the old radio, TV and print media?
Also chuckled at this bit:
… pretty well all the entrants are self-nominated. All the self-effacing, modest people in the media are out of contention to begin with. It’s just as well there are only about seven such people in the entire nation, and they all work in the record library at ABC Classic FM.
Annabel Crabb is nominated for Magazine Feature Writing, while Kate Geraghty is nominated for Press Photographer of the Year and is part of a group nominated for Best Online Journalism for their amazing multimedia piece on sexual warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Steve Cannane is also nominated with three others for an ABC2 episode of Hack.
On a more entertaining note, check out some of the best headline nominations: “Ludwig bans vote haven”, and “Regrets? We’d had a flu”.
To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed (if not surprised) by the conservatism of their choices. Annabel Crabb’s Turnbull essay was outstanding piece of feature writing - undoubtedly one of the best of the year - but only at the greatest stretch of the imagination is Quarterly Essay a magazine (really, it’s a short-form book). Similarly, the Weekend Australian (which took out both of the other nominees in this category) and other newspaper magazine supplements very much teeter on the boundary between newspaper and magazine journalism.
I understand why the Walkleys privilege this more newsy style of journalism - there’s a lot of crap out there in magazine land - but there’s also some brilliant writing in them too. In The Monthly, most obviously, but also in Vogue, in YEN, Madison, Marie Claire and other, non-womensy publications.
I was similarly disappointed to see all the online nominees come from newspaper websites. All these stories are technically outstanding, but I think the most interesting online work is happening elsewhere: in Crikey, in New Matilda and in the blogosphere.
And again with the non-fiction book award: there seems to be a self-consciously serious, establishment sameness to them.
Perhaps it’s time to launch a new set of awards? Especially on the online front.
Disclosure: yes, I did submit work for consideration; no, I was never delusional enough to think it might win. A nomination does equal a party invite, though, and I never say no to a good party. ;)