This month, ‘Ellie Asks’ guest interviewer, Layla Pacha, talked to Eliza Williams, an Associate Editor at Creative Review, on how she got to where she is and what it takes to make it in the industry.
What’s your job title and how would you describe your role?
I’m Associate Editor at Creative Review. I do a lot of writing for the magazine and website – this includes doing interviews, reviewing exhibitions, books, ads etc, and also writing opinion pieces on topical issues. Then I also commission writing for the magazine and site and will edit those articles, plus edit and proofread articles by my colleagues.
What is a typical day for you?
My days are all pretty varied. Two days a week I look after my 4 year-old son so the work I do then is fitted in around him and is mostly emails and work that doesn’t require deep concentration… On the days when I am working the whole day, I usually spend two days a week in the office in London, and one day working at home (I live in Saddleworth, near Manchester). So depending on where I am, I will be doing a mix of meetings, interviews (some by phone), visiting exhibitions, and then writing and editing texts. One of the great things about journalism, for me, is the variety.
What skills/qualifications/experience do you need to do your job?
You need to be good with words and able to write quickly and fluidly. Qualifications-wise you will usually need a degree, and likely now to have also completed a specialist journalism degree. I don’t have the latter, but do have both a BA and a Masters degree. When I joined the industry (back in the stone age), journalism degrees weren’t essential, but now you are expected to be able to be skilled in interviewing and writing from the off and that is usually the best way to learn that. There was more learning on the job when I started out, but this has largely gone now.
How did you get to where you are at the moment?
I did my first degree, then spent a bit of time just working in bookshops and cinemas trying to work out what to do next. Then I joined a small publishing company which, luckily for me, launched a magazine while I was there and I began working on that. That eventually went bust so I freelanced for a while, which was a gruelling experience to be honest, before joining the advertising magazine Shots and then later Creative Review. Around this time I did my Masters degree too, which gave me an extra depth of knowledge and confidence but wasn’t essential to the job.
I still do quite a lot of freelance work alongside CR, writing for other magazines as well as writing books and doing radio work, but I found it very hard to make ends meet just as a freelancer – financially it’s great if you can get a part or full-time job as a journalist if at all possible.
What kind of person do you need to be to do be successful in your industry?
You need to be curious generally and specifically interested in people – you will spend a lot of time trying to encourage them to talk about their work or share their stories. You also need to enjoy writing and not be too precious about it – you will have to write a lot in a short space of time so need to get used to just banging things out and moving on to the next thing. You also need to be resilient – there’s unfortunately a fair bit of rejection in journalism and not a huge amount of money around. Plus the media is changing so rapidly, you have to be able to go with that, and accept new challenges as they come. You might start out thinking you just want to write but end up spending a lot of your time doing podcasts, for example. Being flexible is key. The rewards are good though – there is often travel, and you get to meet and talk to amazing people.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
Ah, there are so many…
Off the top of my head, today’s ones would be Bob Dylan and Roald Dahl (I am currently revisiting him with my son) for the words; and Eduardo Paolozzi, David Byrne and Björk for being brilliant and adventurous in so many different ways. Probably tomorrow it would be someone different again though.
What advice would you give a student looking to get work in your field?
Try out writing and see how you find it – start a blog/website and do reviews of things you’re interested in. Also use Instagram and Twitter to try and develop a voice as you’ll need skills in those areas too. Try and network and make contacts in the areas you are interested in – lots of jobs/opportunities come through word-of-mouth in this industry. Get experience by interning. Essentially try it all out and see if you like it, and don’t be afraid to be pushy, as long as you’re charming with it.