blogging circa 1920.
Care about a few topics in particular. Develop your writing to reflect that. And, if possible, have some kind of formal training or education to back it up.
Sometimes it’s folks letting you know that they hate you, that your parents wasted money on your education, and wondering why you don’t just curl up and die (um, OK). Sometimes it’s people asking questions that you have no business answering (pro tip: I’m cis. If you ask me a question about trans issues, I’m going to refer you to trans resources). And sometimes — rarely — people ask you genuine questions about stuff that you are a good source for. And usually, you’ll get a lot of those same questions — over and over and over again.
For me, one of the most common questions that I get — both as a freelance writer and an editor for Everyday Feminism — is “How do I do what you do?” or “How do I become a feminist blogger?”
And because I actually like giving career advice (see here), I’d like to spell this one out for you — or at least the very beginnings of it — in five easy steps.
1. Be a Writer
I know that this one sounds sarcastic (and given my penchant for derision, I don’t blame you for assuming that it is), but I actually mean it.
Frequently, I have friends or acquaintances of mine come to me with the “How can I be an online writer?” question, and I have to ask them: “Well, do you write?”
And you’d be amazed at how often the answer is along the lines of “Well, no, not exactly, but I want to have an online presence.”
So I’ll ask follow-up questions: “Are you good at writing? Do you even like writing?”
And they’ll say, “Well, no, not exactly, but I want to have an online presence.”
Here’s a gentle reminder: There are a lot of ways to have an online presence without being a writer. Because if you’re not a writer — if writing isn’t something that comes easily, naturally, and passionately to you — then maybe seeking a career or a hobby as a writer doesn’t really make sense.
2. Have Diverse Writing Samples Ready
If you are a writer, then you’ll want to be able to prove that you can kick ass in all kinds of formats, depending on whom you want to write for or what kind of writing you want to do.
Scour the blogs of people, organizations, and publications that you love, and check out what they’re doing. And then go ahead and emulate that.
Do you want to write personal narrative essays, painting pictures with your words to express your experiences? Do you want to combine that with critical analysis, drawing your readers into how their lives parallel larger issues? Do you want to educate, instruct, or inspire? Who do you expect or want your target audience to be, and what is it that they need?
For me, I have a background in creative writing — both fiction and non-fiction — so I tend to be better at writing narratives. But as someone who also has professional experience in education, it’s really important to me to help guide my readers toward an end goal. So I try to do a little of both.
Just make sure that you have writing samples ready to show potential employers. And it helps to have an array of options, so that you can provide the best matches. If all of your writing samples are journalistic in approach, for example, it’s not going to help you when you apply for positions that publish narratives.
And a word to the wise: It’s almost never appropriate to submit academic writing as a writing sample. “Here’s a research paper that I wrote for my Women’s Studies class” isn’t going to help you become a blogger.
3. Start Your Own Blog
If you love writing, and you want to show off how versatile you can be, the best way to make that happen is to start your own blog. Whether that means practicing short form on Tumblr posts or setting up your own WordPress page with more in-depth pieces, there’s no better way to get your name out there and show your stuff than by, well, blogging.
Because, at the end of the day, you should be writing about social justice issues because you’re passionate both about writing and social justice issues, not necessarily with the sole goal of finding a gig. Because while career activism is awesome, your advocacy shouldn’t inherently be about the money. That’s just capitalist and, um, not what most social justice folks are about.
Besides, having a backlog of writing helps to show potential employers that you write consistently — which is important when they’re considering whether or not to hire you. They want to know that they can depend on you to come up with fresh ideas frequently and to pump out writing rather quickly. And it doesn’t hurt if your blog develops a bit of a following to boot.
4. Have an Area of Expertise
As much as I can appreciate any excited person exclaiming that they love “FEMINISM,” that doesn’t really leave me with much to go off of when considering whether or not they’d be a good fit for a position. Because, in trying to work out whom to hire, something that matters is what gaps we have as a publication and who can best fill those gaps. If we’re a feminist publication, then we probably have “feminism” as a broad concept covered. What can you bring to the table?
When I interview folks for writing positions at Everyday Feminism, one of the questions that I ask them is “What’s your jam?” I tell them that, as feminists who practice intersectionality, we should care about all of the issues to some extent, but that it’s unfair to expect everyone to be an expert in everything. I explain, for instance, that while I certainly care about reproductive justice, the topic doesn’t exactly get my juices flowing. Body image, eating disorders, and sexuality, though? Ohhh yes.
So have an area of expertise — or even just an area of passion. Care about a few topics in particular. Develop your writing to reflect that. And, if possible, have some kind of formal training or education to back it up. That shows that not only are you passionate about something, but you’re knowledgeable about it, too. And especially when addressing subjects that are touchy and nuanced (like trauma, for example), employers want to bring on folks who really know their shit.
5. Make Friends
You know that frustrating adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know?” I hate to break it to you, but it’s accurate.
At the end of the day, if I’m being completely honest, I’m going to pay more mind to a submission sent to me from a friend — or even someone who’s made the time to connect with me virtually over email.
And I’m not at all suggesting that you should kiss up to people in hopes that they’ll be more likely to publish your article. In fact, that will likely backfire because it’s insincere and inauthentic, and actually hurtful to the integrity of the work. But it wouldn’t hurt to follow editors on Twitter (rather than just the publication), form small online communities of activists who do similar work, and make a point to reach out to folks whose work you admire. That is: network.
Because having friends in quote-unquote “high” places gives you more opportunity to get your foot in the door, so to speak, and also shows that you’re not just interested in the benefit of advancing your career, but also in building community. And it’s amazing how emotionally fulfilling it is to have friends who care about the same shit you do, whether or not they can get you jobs. Because that’s what activism is really about.
But it can’t hurt also to have a sense of how that activism can turn into something more.