If you’re going to write for an online magazine, you’ve got to be good. But if you want to last more than a few weeks, you need more than just talent. You need to do some soul searching and figure out what environment best suits you when you need to write. Take it from me—I underestimated my workload and didn’t give myself the time I needed to create something worth reading. Needless to say, it messed me up, but I finally got the hang of it.
I started at College Magazine in the spring when I was still in school juggling homework, clubs and finals. While I much prefer summer, with less work and more free time, I found it even harder to write during the first few weeks of break. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. In school, I was both regimented and motivated. I had so much to do that the only way to get it all done was to schedule it. If it wasn’t penciled in, it wouldn’t get done.
As soon as finals ended, I was both reveling in the ability to choose how I spent my time and completely burnt out from papers, exams and sleepless nights. The last thing I wanted to do was write, research and edit… again. I’d just cranked out three papers in two days; stringing more sentences together sounded like a cruel and unusual punishment. But a deadline is a deadline, so I rolled my sleeves up and got to work.
As an English major, you’d think I’d be well prepared to write a few short articles after churning out eight-page papers on postmodern literature, but you’d be wrong. Academic writing and journalism are two totally different species; I had a ton of adjusting to do.
For starters, I tried to make my living room my writing space. Big mistake. Sitting on my couch with my laptop ready, I figured I could work there. My sister would have the TV on, but I’d put my headphones in and pretend I didn’t notice. Before long I was only working during the commercials. My speed plateaued at a paragraph an hour, and that’s when I knew I needed to seriously reevaluate my life.
That, for me, was Writing Rock Bottom; I had two choices: get my shit together or wait around to get fired. I thought I’d be able to skate through my time at CM—I was very, very wrong. Since I’ve started planning and structuring my time, everything’s easier—not easy to the point of ridiculousness, but manageable.
Now I have an established routine, one that my editor helps me keep by making sure I get drafts back to her within a reasonable amount of time. Whenever I need to write, I make a list of everything I have to do in order to get started—interviews, research, all that jazz—and I designate a specific time to do those things. When it’s crunch time for a draft, I set aside two hours. For those two hours I disappear into the guest bedroom with a bag of pretzels, a glass of whiskey (I’m kidding) and type like a madwoman.
Writing can be fun (says the English major), but it’s never going to be a walk in the park if I’m panicking about deadlines every time I sit down to write. Some of us work well under stress, but working under panic and pressure every week straight up isn’t healthy (Yes, journalism majors. That’s not good for you.). I’ve never really been a plan ahead kind of person, but everything goes way more smoothly when I do.
It might still take some blood, sweat and tears (mostly just tears), but I like to think of each tear as a drop of pure stupidity and laziness leaving my body. It makes crying feel a lot better, and then I can stop crying and start writing.