Finding My Beat

Your teenage dream (job). People magazine’s London Bureau, December 2005.

So tonight I spoke on a panel for Ed2010, an NYC-based organization that helps young magazine editors and writers find their wings. The conversation was about how to balance a successful freelance career with a full-time job. I was asked to be a part it because, up until about a year ago, I moonlighted as a reporter for People magazine while holding down day jobs on the edit staffs of Good Housekeeping, JANE and a couple other national pubs.

Beforehand, I wrote down some tips I wanted to pass along to the newbies. The last one is the one I can’t stop thinking about, and it’s why I’m sitting here and typing past my school-night bedtime. It’s about following your passion, which is what I’m so happy to finally be doing here at Arthur & Bernie.

OK, here goes. My advice, for what it’s worth:

Be reliable — Consistently meet your deadlines and do good work. Sounds obvious, but it’s incredible (incredibly sad, really) how many writers don’t turn assignments in on time or proofread their work or provide sources for fact-checking. Editors want to work with writers who have their acts together, so take the job seriously and you’ll have an instant leg up. Good editors return to good, dependable writers.

Be flexible — An editor calls to see if you’re free to make it to a press conference downtown in 20 minutes? Yes, you are! An editor asks if you’re interested in compiling a round-up of today’s hottest space heaters for their next issue? (…snore…zzz…) Yes, you are! An editor asks if you’re available to fly to Toronto to cover a Justin Timberlake concert this weekend? Yes, you are! (And yes, this really happened once.) Bottom line: Just do it.

Keep in touch — It’s all about who you know in this city, especially this teeny industry that only keeps getting smaller the longer you’re here. Check in with your fellow interns from that summer gig you had a few years ago. Email the editor that gave you a freelance assignment that one time. Could be that they now work for a site that’s bookmarked in your browser, or they have a blogger friend who’s about to be on maternity leave and needs someone to fill in ASAP. You never know who you’ll know.

Follow your passion — This is the one I can’t get off my brain tonight. That girl in the picture above, that 22-year-old me, boy was she excited to have that post-college internship in London. She interviewed Jude Law on the red carpet, sat front-row during London Fashion Week, and got a kiss on the cheek from Orlando Bloom at a Cartier polo match — the same polo match where she sat next to Prince Harry for lunch. No, really. It was the dream! The life!

But, after several more years of People reporting in New York, I realized it wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t my life. Don’t get me wrong. It was thrilling and, hell, probably the glitziest job I’ll ever have, but I had to get real. I had to get honest with myself. I’m the kind of girl who, to use a timely example, has no clue what’s going on with Charlie Sheen. Something about tiger blood? Winning? Err, I’m lost. I just don’t keep up with pop culture or celeb scandals or public break-ups and make-ups. So, I had to ask myself, why was I investing my time in it?

When I was seven and eight and nine years old, living across from a cornfield in Indiana, I used to visit Estelle, our elderly neighbor who lived by herself next door. When I was 15 and 16 and 17 years old, in high school in Kentucky, I used to play piano every Sunday afternoon at a nursing home down the street, just because. Arthur and Bernie are who I write about now, but this interest, this passion, has always been a part of my life. It makes sense that the same little girl who played Chinese checkers with Estelle would want to write about quiet train rides to Pennsylvania. And it makes sense that the same teenager who played Chopin in the dining hall would want to share a moment at the theater with her retired English professor friend. This is exactly where I am supposed to be. This has always been my beat.

So to the aspiring writers in the room tonight, I say follow your heart. Take time to consider what you love and what you hold dear, and find a way to voice it. Why waste your time or your talent doing anything less than that? Think hard about what makes you you, and dedicate yourself to sharing that special point of view with the world.