Georgina Lawton has a way with words – and she knows a few things about making it, as a professional freelance writer. Georgina has been a fan of language for as long as she can remember and was recently named one of 10 women under 30 changing the world of journalism, by X City Plus. But the path to success as a journalist didn’t always run smooth…
When she was 21, she landed a series of internships at blogs and newspapers after graduating from Warwick University. Then she saw a competition on Go Think Big to be The Debrief’s new ‘Editor at Large’. She successfully got the opportunity after entering a writing competition joint with Go Think Big and the editors at The Debrief, and went on to freelance for The Debrief all the way up until it closed in 2018. She also did an internship at Marie Claire for six months, and then pursued her dream of travelling the world (as you do).
From 2016-2017 Georgina was travelling, freelancing and blogging – she even had an interview for the Content Coordinator role here at Go Think Big over Skype – but was unsuccessful first time round (boo). When she returned to the UK in early 2017, Georgina started writing for The Guardian, Vice, Time Out and others sites, whilst applying for full-time writing roles. Then in 2017, she applied for the Content Coordinator role here again…and got it!
Here are her do’s and don’t’s when it comes to starting out in your writing career…
Do: make sure you get out there and meet people
Though Georgina absolutely loved freelancing for The Guardian and The Debrief and dipping into travel writing, she reminds us not to underestimate the importance of face to face contact, she says’ “it’s always good to meet people. The Debrief let me come into the office, which really made me feel part of the team, and I try and meet journalists for coffee or in person whenever I can.”
She got involved with an online site called gal-dem recently from contacting the deputy editor Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff; they now regularly work on pieces together and critique each other’s work.
Do: keep practising your craft
Georgina never goes anywhere without a book in her bag – “I’d definitely recommend reading and writing voraciously. You can always improve as a writer by reading everything you can get your hands on!”
Don’t: limit what you read
The classics, YA fiction, non-fiction, self-help, Buzzfeed articles – it’s always useful to toy with different styles and really refine your writing voice. “Don’t be that person who doesn’t read widely, even though they want a writing career” Georgina said. “Read and write daily to improve your skills”.
Do: try and find a niche
Georgina embodies this advice. She excels in writing about all things travel, identity and race. She explains it as “the thing I’m known for – it means I get offered certain trips and that I’ve established myself in that field.” She highly recommends to “read around your niche” – read things that will give a bit more body and context to your own experiences and opinions.
While it’s true that being a good writer means that you’re talented across the board, it makes sense to really sharpen your knowledge base to a few topics. Georgina suggests to not go chasing big jobs and flashy writing positions for big name brands until you really know what it is you want to do. She adds, “Sometimes it’s good to work at smaller websites and companies to get a feel for the kind of writer you want to be.”
Don’t: go chasing fame or recognition too early on
Self-explanatory, really, but Georgina said; “go into writing for the right reasons, because you want to elevate the stories of other people, or because you’re passionate about the written word, or shaping the news agenda. Don’t go into it to serve yourself, or make a lot of money! The recognition and the money comes later, and if it doesn’t you have to still do a good job and be happy with what you write each day”.
Do: keep persevering
Georgina, like every other writer in the world has had to face rejection more times she can count, but she advises, “Don’t get disheartened if you get rejected or even if you get told you need to do another internship (yes, this can still happen even if you’ve done multiple!), sometimes I listened and took feedback on board, other times I didn’t – but I never gave up! Even when people gave me really harsh feedback on my writing and the money was rubbish – I still carried on.” Georgina also wrote a guide to pitching for us here, in case you need help there.
Do: take on feedback (but not all of it)
The only way to really learn and perfect your craft is to hear what people have to say when they give you advice, but know when to not work for free and when not to change your writing style too drastically. “Obviously when you’re starting out you need to listen to editors – especially if you need portfolio experience or you’re working for a site that has strict editorial guidelines” Georgina said.
“If you consistently get bad feedback on how your structure your article – then realise you might have to keep honing your craft. Yes, it can be painful – but no writer is above that process because it will make you a better communicator. Be polite and take criticism. Everything you do will improve your skills and get you talking to people who have already done it.”
Don’t: limit yourself
Work experience and what you do in your free time is vital to making you stand out when you first enter the world of writing and journalism.
“Always look for ways to expand your skill set” Georgina advised. “Whether that’s finding stories on Twitter, submitting your work to brands you really want to work for, making a portfolio, or getting involved with creative collectives – there’s so much you can do to make yourself look really keen to editors and brands.”
Do: always be polite and on time
“An editor once told me you can only afford not to be one of the following” Georgina said. “Excellent, on-time and nice” (So which one isn’t Georgina?!) “I do struggle with deadlines and time-keeping” she admitted. “And I’ve paid the price and lost out on full payment because of that”.
Etiquette is also key when pitching to editors and starting out. “Always follow up with a reply – thank them for any feedback, be gracious they got back to you because they probably have 100+ emails to reply to at first.”
Don’t: expect not to fight to get paid
“When you’re starting out – unfortunately the industry is so saturated, that you might have to work for free, but only intern to build a portfolio that you’re proud of” Georgina admitted. Find other ways to build your experience. “Put yourself out there – enter writing competitions and blogging competitions, start your own blog, and don’t stop pitching, reading and writing. That will accelerate the route into paid work a lot more quickly”. It’s also important to know your worth and know when to ask for money – research average rates for articles for somebody starting out and how much you should start charging. “Your writing is worth getting paid for, don’t give up and you’ll start earning a living from it” Georgina said.
Filled with confidence yet? We sure are…
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