Honing your style, fine-tuning that killer pitch, and impressing the editors you admire – from our Dazed Academy talks, we bring you the tips and tricks of the journalistic trade
Becoming a writer is hard, especially when you’re first starting out. You spend hours writing and refining pitches, only to be met with rejection, or even worse, silence. Not to mention the endless hours of Googling, internships, research, and that’s just the beginning.
But there’s no big secret to becoming a ‘good’ writer, and Dazed Academy, a monthly programme of talks and workshops, is here to help. For its first iteration, Dazed editors Claire Marie Healy and Thomas Gorton held a talk on how to be a good writer, where they spoke about everything from how to pitch to finding your voice and using social media to promote your work.
Other talks in the programme include ‘How to run a professional Instagram account’ with Vanessa Hsieh, Dazed’s senior Instagram editor; ‘How to get a job in fashion’ with Emma Hope Allwood, Dazed Digital’s head of fashion; and ‘Learn about the lesser known roles in making a magazine’ with Dazed’s art director Jamie Reid, photo editor Chiara Musoni, and Alex Brown, fashion and beauty account director at Dazed Media.
“At a time when arts education is being cut and community spaces are diminishing, creating physical spaces for young people to learn how to create, collaborate, exchange, discover, share and work is more important than ever,” said Isabella Burley, editor in chief of Dazed.
For those who couldn’t attend the first event, we’ve asked some of the editors at Dazed Media – Dazed, Dazed Beauty, AnOther – to give us their top tips. Check them out below.
READ, READ, READ
For Amelia Abraham, features editor across Dazed Digital and Dazed Beauty, it’s important to figure out what writers you like and why. “Read a lot! It sounds simple but consuming other people’s writing, and thinking about what you like and don’t like about it will help you to work out what your own voice is. I think it’s really important to have role models, so identify the writers you love – maybe they write about similar things, or have a great sense of humour, or always seem to have an original take – follow their work, learn from it, and importantly get inspired by it,” she says.
“Sometimes when you’re drowning in deadlines, or on the other end of the spectrum, getting pitches rejected, it will be hard to remember why you romanticised being a journalist quite so much. In those moments read something by your favourite writer! Plus, it’s a good way to stay humble and remember that we are never quite at the top of our game, and we definitely don’t know it all – there’s always something to learn from others,” she continues.
Ted Stansfield, digital editor at AnOther, agrees: “Like Amelia said, read! Figure out what kind of writing you like, what kind you don’t, what kind you want to do yourself. Learn how to recognise a good sentence, how to write one yourself. Get a point of view.”
ANALYSE YOUR FAVE WRITERS BUT DON’T REGURGITATE THEM
While it might be easy to write in the style of your favourite journalist, Anna Cafolla, editor at Dazed Digital, urges writers to “read widely and outside your niches to find writing you respect and even don’t like too, and interrogate that”: “Your own voice and sensibilities will naturally emerge over time – it’s bound to mutate, regress, and progress so don’t be too hard on yourself or force the gonzo journo out if it isn’t coming.”
KNOW YOUR PITCH
Thomas Gorton, editorial director of special projects at Dazed Media, says: “To make your pitch stand out it needs to be easy to understand, why should the publication that you’re talking to cover this? Ask yourself, is it timely? What’s the angle? Why is it important?” Claire Marie Healy, editor of Dazed’s print, adds: “Be specific about whether this is a pitch for print or digital, and why it might work for one more than the other, and always try and reach out to the specific person who looks after your pitch’s area – if you don’t know, a features or commissioning editor is a safe bet.” If you’re stuck for an email address, have a look at the magazine mastheads, they almost always have the editors’ emails.
PITCHING MEANS ALSO PITCHING YOURSELF
When you’re writing a cold pitch (aka. reaching out to an editor for the first time), it’s important to say why you’re right for the job. “It’s good to be thinking about this when refining your pitch, and your wider topics of interests too,” says Anna. “Why do we need your voice on this issue? What do you bring that others can’t? Why are you essential to the piece? Be it providing exclusive interviews, a personal experience, or expert knowledge. On a base level, say hello and introduce yourself, include a little bio and include any clippings (even blog posts or university work) or info on titles you have written or worked for before.”
FIND YOUR TONE
Finding your tone isn’t something that just happens, but develops over time, and keeps developing. “This is something that will naturally change over time as you change as a person – you’ll either just get more or less cynical. Tone of voice can change depending on subject matter, while still containing all of your personality,” says Claire. Ted agrees: “Think about who you’re talking to and how you’re talking to them.”
DON’T BE LAZY
When submitting copy – or even just a pitch – to an editor, make sure you’ve dotted the ‘i’s and crossed every ‘t’. “There’s nothing more unprofessional than a misspelled name, the incorrect use of an apostrophe, an incomplete quote, or an unqualified statement – it sounds pedantic but it screams out to editors who look at copy all day,” says Sophie Bew, editor at AnOther. “It’s also just kind of rude – a bit like leaving your trash out for someone else to clean up. Attention to detail and polish always stand out above the rest.”
WRITING IS NOT A VANITY PROJECT
Don’t treat your writing as a way to prove how clever you are. You want your copy to be easy to read and accessible – and importantly, don’t make it about yourself, however tempting that might be.
“My absolute pet peeve is writing that feels like a vanity project; that the writer is just writing the piece for themselves or trying to prove how smart they are,” says Ted. “You should be wanting to offer your reader something, trying to educate or entertain them. It’s not about you! I always think you should sound like one of your friends who’s smart or knowledgeable – not a teacher or lecturer who is a) talking down at you and b) boring you to death in the process. The best writers (or at least my favourites) are the ones who are able to communicate smart and original ideas, but in a way that everyone can understand.”
Dazed Academy will continue with a series of talks led by Dazed Media staff, with the next taking place April 7: How to run a professional Instagram account with Vanessa Hsieh, Dazed’s senior Instagram editor. Stay tuned.