Must-have resources, great tips, competitions and more... join our community today!
Sign up
ep 82 artwork. Picture of coast line with description of the episode over the top.

Ep 82 Why your Kindle brain works differently from your paper brain, the bizarre phenomenon of bestselling colouring books, common mistakes screenwriters make, how to pick an idea for NaNoWriMo, the perils of the confessional personal essay. And Writer in Residence Kate Hennessy on how she combines being a music and dance critic with her successful career in corporate writing. Also: how to break into travel writing.

podcast-artwork In Episode 82 of So you want to be a writer: Why reading a Kindle is different from reading a physical book, the strange phenomenon of bestselling colouring books for adults, mistakes new screenwriters make, how to pick one idea for NaNoWriMo when you have too many, and the perils of writing the confessional personal essay. Writer in Residence is freelance writer Kate Hennessy. Also: an app to help you book people into your calendar, how to break into the world of travel writing, and more.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing

Adult colouring books are 2015’s hot publishing trend

The 10 Most Common Reasons Why Scripts Are Rejected

How to choose a NanNoWriMo idea

Writer in Residence 

katehennessyKate Hennessy is a freelance arts writer, editor and music critic. She contributes to The Sydney Morning Herald/ The Age, Guardian Australia, ABC Arts, UK online mag The Quietus, Australian-only title Mess+Noise, The Australian Book Review and others. She also appears from time to time on TV – ABC Weekend Breakfast and Foxtel Arts.

Her travel writing is published in the Guardian UKThe Sydney Morning Herald, Get Lost Magazine, AWOL, Wellbeing Magazine and Green Lifestyle.

Find Kate on Twitter

Find Kate on Instagram

Web Pick

You can book me – online booking software

Working Writer’s Tip

How to break into the world of travel writing

Answered in the podcast!

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Share the love!

Ep 82 artwork. Image of a coast line with a description of the episode over the top

Interview Transcript 

 

Valerie

Kate, thanks for joining us today.

 

Kate

Yeah, thanks for having me.

 

Valerie

Now you do a real mix of different types of writing. You do business writing, you do music writing, you write about dance, you do a whole heap of different things. How would you describe what you do, and the mix of what you do?

 

Kate

Yeah, I don’t really think there’s an umbrella term for it.

 

Valerie

No.

 

Kate

Because it’s definitely a kind of mixed bag of things. I think from the outside it may seem kind of random, but it’s actually not, because it all sort of ties in pretty neatly with my background.

 

I did a creative writing degree, so that’s sort of where I began, in creative writing, a bachelor of creative arts, so that sort of feeds into the arts reviews and the dance and the theatre and the music sort of side of things.

 

But, then I went into the media, so I worked for Media Monitors for some time and then also a company called 8IT Jurno. And that’s where I kind of started writing about technology and business, so I sort of went into journalism.

 

Then I sort of moved on from there into corporate copywriting, so I worked for a writing agency called the Editor Group. So, when I went freelance in 2007 I kind of just kept those three aspects really, which was the creative stuff, the journalism and the corporate work. And it all sort of ties together really well, on several fronts.

 

Valerie

When you sort of did that trajectory from creative to journalism to corporate work, did you plan that, or did you want to get into corporate work? Did you want to get into journalism at those steps in your journey?

 

Kate

The creative stuff I think has always been with me. I identify first and foremost as a writer, for sure.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

 

 

 

Kate

The journalism I think came really naturally, because I think journalism is about being really interested in other people and sort of being immersed in their stories and being able to ask questions.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

So that sort of came naturally to, I suppose, who I am.

 

But, the corporate work was a bit of a U-turn, for sure. But, as soon as I started doing it I really enjoyed that too. So, yeah, I was kind of head — I don’t know if head-hunted is the word, but I was approached by the Editor Group to join them, and it was a massive learning curve. But, looking back on it I’m really glad I did that, because financially it’s made a lot of other things possible.

 

Valerie

What do you mean by that? Financially it’s made a lot of other things possible?

 

Kate
Well, corporate writing, and when I say ‘corporate work,’ just to be clear, I kind of meant anything that’s not media-side. So, anything that’s not sort of strict journalism code of practice kind of journalism. So, that might be lots of things. But, that’s kind of what I mean by it.

 

Valerie

What kind of things would that include?

 

Kate

I’ve done so many things. So, I’ve done annual reports for sort of blue chip companies, but also companies like Get Up! Australia. For years I wrote quiz questions for Channel 7 Kid’s Game show.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

Which I would consider corporate work, because it’s creative, but it was for Channel 7 so… you know?

 

What else? Obviously I teach at the Writers’ Centre, so I kind of consider that corporate-side.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

I’ve written sort of quite heavy sort of financial and technical stuff.

 

I’ve written brochures for enterprise agreements. I’ve honestly done — I’ve had a really big diversity, actually, in my corporate work.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

Yeah.

 

Valerie

Let’s circle back to you were saying that your corporate work has made other things possible.

 

Kate

Yes. Well, as you probably know, as your listeners probably know, journalism isn’t the best paying profession to be in. And, sometimes it can feel more like a passion project, to be honest with you, more and more these days I think.

 

So, the corporate work has always paid a lot better. I wouldn’t say it’s astonishing. But, I think it’s fair pay for good work. And so I’ve kind of been able to use the corporate work to balance the journalistic work, and therefore kind of probably indulge the journalistic stuff a little more, in that I don’t have to sort of churn as much as other journalists. I can really take my time with pieces.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

But, the corporate stuff I’ve had sort of long term clients, which is good, because then you build a really good relationship with their business and their style, and then obviously your rates can go up over the years because you kind of become, what’s the word, they can’t find anyone better than you.

 

Valerie

Indispensable.

 

Kate

That’s it, yeah.

 

Valerie

Let’s come back to when did you know that you wanted to be a writer, and what steps did you take to get there, way back when?

 

Kate

Yeah, I would, I’d say it goes back so far I can’t even remember.

 

Valerie

Really? You mean even from school?

 

Kate

Earlier.

 

Valerie

Really?

 

Kate

Yeah, yeah. I’ve always…

 

Valerie

In the womb?

 

Kate

Who knows? I mean as far as I can remember I guess is the best way to summarize it.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

And my mom kind of backs that up. I think though… I mean I read a lot as a kid. I don’t read as much now, but I read a lot as a kid. And I think I can, actually, I can remember a bit of a turning point, which was in about year six. And I wrote a short story, and my teacher, who I loved, you know those primary school teachers you just love?

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

He was so impressed with it and he read it to the class, and he pulled out particular lines in the story and particular words and vocab I used, specifically. And I remember, like I really remember this feeling of feeling so proud and so special.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

Yeah, and I think I can probably trace it to then.

 

Valerie

Goodness.

 

Kate

But, I think it’s also about, I don’t know, I think writers tend to be really observant people and writing can be the only way in which to express the nuances of what you observe.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

And it sort of feel like, and I know this is going to make me sound like a bit of a wanker, but it kind of feels necessary in a way. Because you’re observing those things and writing is the only way to express it.

 

Valerie

Yeah, yeah.

 

OK, so you do, as we know now, many different types of writing. But writing a, say, music review is completely different to writing an annual report for a blue chip company.

 

Kate

Yes.

 

Valerie

Do you have to get into a different mood or a different groove to switch hats in order to write different types of things?

 

Kate

Absolutely. And if I told you I had the silver bullet for how to do that I’d probably be lying. It’s really hard.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Kate

What I try to do with a lot of the corporate stuff, for a lot of people they like to do all their writing from home. But, if I’ve got a corporate job to do, I try to do it onsite. That really helps, if they have a desk.

 

Valerie

Why?

 

Kate

Because I’m not at home with my music reviews around me, in that space where I kind of write more creatively. I’m at the corporate job. So, that can help.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Kate

But, I try not to do more than one thing in one day as well.

 

Valerie

You mean one type of writing?

 

Kate

Yeah, yeah. And I’ve learned to build time around things, because it’s probably more about burnout. Because certain kinds of writing really burn you out. And live reviews, for example, I do live reviews for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian. And I’m always just a wreck after those.

 

Valerie

Right, because you’re out late.

 

Kate

Well, I’m out late, and then just something about the nature of writing a live review the day after you’ve been to a show, to a deadline. I just get burnt out. I can’t keep… even if I’m wrapped up by one o’clock or two o’clock, I can’t take on any more writing for that day.

 

Valerie

Wow, I thought you would have said that the corporate writing burns you out.

 

Kate

No.

 

Valerie

Wow, OK.

 

Kate

It’s the opposite, it’s definitely the opposite.

 

Valerie

  1. Well speaking of live reviews, you do a lot of music reviewing. Did you always have an interest in music? How did you get into music reviewing in the first place? Because a lot of people are interested in doing it, but they have no idea how to actually start reviewing stuff.

 

Kate

Yep, I’ve always been part of the music scene, the music kind of, you know, ever since I was in the Blue Mountains and then Woolongong. I started writing about music when I was living in San Francisco, but it was… and I’m a bit torn in recommending this, Valerie, because I don’t want to sort of recommend people write for free. But, that’s how I started with music writing for sure. But y

 

Yeah, it was baby steps, so I had to develop confidence and a kind of a voice, because you do need a voice when it comes to being a critic. And, so yeah, I sort of started with the straight press, and then I guess my most important step was approaching a publication Mess and Noise, which is an all-Australian music publication which has really great writers. And I think that was the turning point for me, because I think with anything in writing, if you’re surrounded by people who are really good, and you really respect, your game just improves exponentially.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

Yeah, and that’s what happened. And that was the point at which I thought, “Hey, this is something I can do and do well, and I’m part of something.” And then I kind of approached Bernard Zuel at the Sydney Morning Herald and he sort of brought me on board straight away, and it all went from there.

 

Valerie

And so, when you say you had to find your voice as a critic, first of all, did you start with album reviews or live reviews or interviews with bands? What was the vehicle that helped you find your voice. And how did you find your voice? How does one find their voice as a critic?

 

Kate

Well, I think for me it was sort of straight forward because I was always, like I said, I did the creative writing degree. And so I always had sort of, I guess a style. But, yeah, in terms of what I sort of, what my intro was, for me it was live reviews, actually. For most people it probably would be record reviews, because it’s something you can sit with for a while and do in private. But, for me, I was totally energized by live reviews, and that’s where I started.

 

Valerie

Wow. OK.

 

Kate

Just the physicality of it, and sort of the importance of conveying the atmosphere. That’s what a live review is about, it’s not about what’s happening on stage, it’s about what’s happening between the stage and the people in the audience. That kind of invisible sort of zone. And I was really inspired by that, so that’s how I started.

 

Valerie

What are some of the most challenging aspects of writing about music? And especially critiquing music?

 

Kate

Oh dear, yeah, that’s a pretty long answer, you might have to cut me off on that one.

 

Yeah, I guess I’d sort of divide that into two different piles. So there’s the difficulties or the challenges from a career perspective, and then the challenges from the writing perspective.

 

Valerie

Yeah, interested in both.

 

Kate

Yeah, so from a career perspective, there isn’t really one. As in, there isn’t a career in music writing.

 

Valerie

Oh.

 

Kate

And that’s one of the challenges, it’s always going to sort of feel, at least in Australia, like a bit of a hobby. It’s not the case necessarily in other countries, but it can be a very rewarding hobby, and, it’s not a hobby I suppose, what I’m saying is that it’s not really… it doesn’t really have the rigor that it perhaps has in other countries.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Kate

There’s no, there’s really not very much money in it. So those are challenges but also…

 

Valerie

Unless you’re Molly Meldrum or something like that.

 

Kate

Yeah, exactly, and he was, that was a long time ago. Molly Meldrum’s of the industry don’t really exist anymore.

 

But, yeah, and I think also there’s a bit of a lack of excellence, a bit of a lack of standard and quality that can sometimes get you down a little bit.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

Because often I tell people, they say, “What do you do, Kate?” And I say, “Well, I’m a music writer.” And they say, “Oh, you write music?” And I’m like, “No… no, no, I write about music.” And they always look so confused.

 

Yeah, so you sort of, I think people think it’s something that kids do, it’s also that sort of — not kids, but sort of younger people at uni and in their 20s.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Kate

So, if you sort of pursue it later than that, you have to be pretty good, and you have to take it quite seriously… but, yeah, from a writing perspective, music writing, I think what I like about it, just to start off with the positives… I was thinking about this the other day, is that it’s a real practice in honesty and…

 

Valerie

Especially as a critic.

 

Kate

Yeah. Yeah, because as soon as you even start to veer at all away from honesty you end up in a really dark kind of space where you don’t know what you’re trying to say. And, I really like that. I really like the fact that every day that I sit down and write a critique or a review I have to question myself and I have to be honest, and I enjoy that.

 

Yeah, so that’s the good side.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

But, like I said, there’s I think a bit of a problem in Australia with a lack of excellence. And, I’ve never really been edited properly. I don’t really feel like I’ve ever sort of been challenged, I suppose. You have to find those challenges yourself.

 

And, yeah, I think another kind of challenge with music writing is you can get really serious writer’s block. I don’t think it would happen so much for music reviewers who write more serviceable music reviews. So, pieces that are just kind of, “Oh, here’s an album that’s been released, I have to write 100 words…”

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

That’s different. That’s…

 

Valerie

Sure.

 

Kate

But, when you’re actually trying to write something that really sort of… that really kind of gets in deep with something, it can take a long time. And, not all albums give up their secrets easily.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

So, yeah…

 

Valerie

So, why… why is that? I find this fascinating because I never would have picked necessarily that, like critiquing music to give you such a lot of writer’s block. Why is it so hard?

 

Kate

Hard? Well, I mean there’s the clichés isn’t there? And any music writers that listen to this are going to be appalled that I’ve come out with this. But, there’s the cliché that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. That’s something that I think Frank Zappa said, but there is that difficulty of trying to put something that’s oral and something that you listen to into words. That can be very difficult to do, without being clichéd, without being sort of trite. Without kind of falling into all of these awful traps of music writing.

 

Valerie

Like, food writing?

 

Kate

Yeah, yeah, yeah — yeah, exactly, exactly.

 

So, you’ve got to sort of keep steering yourself away from that, keep being honest, keep really questioning why it makes you feel what you feel, what’s the context of the piece. You know, no music is created in a vacuum, so how does the scene around it influence what it is about, you know? There’s a lot to kind of delve into. Um… yeah.

 

Valerie

How much do you need to know in terms of a body of knowledge. Let’s say you go to a live gig, there’s… I’ve read some reviews where it’s obvious that the review has done no research about the band, knows nothing about the history of the band, and literally just reviews the actual live gig.

 

Kate

Yep.

 

 

 

Valerie

How much of a body of knowledge do you feel is necessary and how much research do you do in that situation?

 

Kate

I always do research. But, that’s probably, to be honest, less about the fact that for a live review I think you need to do a lot of it and more about the fact that it makes you feel more confident.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Kate

So if you’ve researched something you feel more confident in making proclamations about whether it was good or bad.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Kate

But, actually, Valerie, I think you probably need to do more research to do a record review than you would to do a live review, because I do think there is merit in the fact that you can go to a show and be won over.

 

Either you hate this band and you’re totally won over, or you love this band, but you have to be honest with yourself it was a terrible show.

 

And I quite like the unambiguousness of live performances. I like the fact that — like, when you write a record review sometimes when you write a bad review there’s always this sneaking suspicion that you just didn’t get it. You didn’t know enough of the back catalogue or you didn’t know enough about the band, or… you know, you don’t cope with challenging music very well… there’s always this sort of doubt, OK?

 

But, with a live performance I never feel that doubt. I always feel so clear in my judgement, because I kind of feel like I’m there to be impressed and I’m there to be transported. And, if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. And it doesn’t matter how much research I’ve done it doesn’t happen, you know? So, it feels easier to me.

 

Valerie

Speaking of writing bad reviews then, when you have done that in the past have you experienced any, you know, ramifications? Do you feel pressure sometimes when you’re writing a bad review on the impact that is going to have on someone’s album?

 

Kate

Yeah, to be honest with you I do. I would like the answer to be ‘no,’ because I think there is… you kind of can’t think about it too much. But, I do and I think when you’re writing a bad review something I learnt quite early in my career, you need to be even more careful. And, yeah, I did actually have a pretty bad experience when I first started out at The Herald. I wrote a negative review about a band, and as it is these days they can of course always find you, can’t they?

 

So, yeah, I caught some pretty serious hate mail.

 

Valerie

Oh my god.

 

Kate

And there was one round of it…

 

Valerie

From the band? Or from their fans?

 

Kate

No, from the singer in the band.

 

Valerie

 

Kate

There was one round of it and I was really upset, actually.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

Because it was quite personal and I think a little bit gendered as well. I mean music reviewing is a man’s game. And, I don’t know whether all men who make music really want to be unkindly treated by a woman, but that’s a whole different story.

 

Yeah, and then about a week later I got another round from this person. So that was…

 

Valerie

Really?

 

Kate

… interesting.

 

Valerie

Wow, I mean… OK.

 

Kate

Yeah. I think I’m lucky.

 

Valerie

Yeah, yeah.

 

You are now writing regularly about dance for The Guardian. Can you tell us about how that began?

 

Kate

Yeah, so the editor, the culture editor currently at The Guardian, Nancy Groves, I really enjoy working with her. And, I think she’s an editor who’s invested in I guess developing writers as well, which is great, I wish more arts’ editors were interested in that.

 

So she sent me a long… I’ve always done music and theatre reviews and I guess she had read some of those. And, I suppose my style is fairly visual. So, she sent me along to a Sydney Festival work, at the end of last year at Carriage Works and I guess she just really liked the review.

 

She ended up going to the performance on the back of it, so…

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

Yeah, so she was kind of interested enough to go herself.

 

Then from there she just continued giving me dance pieces to review. So, I’m currently only doing those for The Guardian though, but we’ll see where that goes.

 

Valerie

Can you tell us what your typical day is like? Now I know that if you’re doing corporate writing you try to go to the actual corporate place. But, if you are writing, say, a review — yeah, I mean do you have a routine, do you have a framework, like, you know, how do you get the thoughts out of your brain and into some kind of structure?

 

Kate

Yeah. I wish I had… you know, a lot of writers talk about how they have a certain time of the day that works from them. I don’t. For me it might be, you know, 12:00 at night or 6:00 in the morning. So, that’s a shame. I can’t really rely on that.

 

I don’t… I wish I did have a better routine. It’s probably something that I would like to work on.

 

But, I can say that definitely something that helps me, certainly with music reviews, and other work as well, but especially music, is taking it for walk, is what I like to call it.

 

So, I’ll have a record that I need to review and it’s just not kind of coming out.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

I think a large part of that is because music… you’re not meant to be sitting at your computer at a desk in a study. Music isn’t about that, music is sort of — it’s a bit sort of freer than that. So, I take it for a walk. I take my iPod… I’ve got great speakers. I’ve got great speakers on my desk too, of course. And I’ve got a river nearby me and I go for a long walk. And always it frees me up. I’ll end up kind of sitting on some park bench madly taking notes…

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

… on my notepad. Yeah, it works.

 

Of course another good thing to do is to download those apps that block the internet.

 

Valerie

Do you do that?

 

Kate

I do, yeah. I had Freedom, but Freedom is too — so, Freedom, just for your listeners, is obviously the one that blocks all of the internet.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

But there’s another one called Anti-Social, and you can program it to only block Facebook, Twitter — I don’t know, the site where you like to buy clothes. And I do that too, because there’s nothing more distracting when you have writer’s block than the internet.

 

Once I get going I’m fine though, I’m not interested in anything but the writing, but when you’ve got that writer’s block you’re just so distractible.

 

Valerie

Yeah, right.

 

But, when you refer to ‘writer’s block’ are you referring to you just haven’t structured the ideas in your head enough to enable you to begin writing?

 

Kate

Yeah, or finding the right words as well.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Kate

Because obviously with the kind of reviewing I like to do isn’t just getting across ideas, especially when the little tiny reviews I do for The Herald can actually sometimes be quite hard, because you’re also… you’ve got such a short… you’ve only got 150 words. So, what I try to do is not only get across the ideas, but every single verb and adjective and every word I use, even the flow of it I kind of want that to reflect the feel of the album. So, that doesn’t always come, I guess that’s sort of the creative aspect and creative… I do put creativity into my reviewing.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

So, creativity isn’t on tap. So, I think this is where I end up kind of in a bind.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Kate

You can’t necessarily plan it in the same way.

 

Valerie

So this is probably a good point to mention that if people want to read some of your reviews, which are just beautifully written and so well-considered and are just so much a cut above a lot of other art critics out there, or people who are trying to write about the arts, that your website is — what’s your website?

 

Kate

It’s thesmallestroom.com.au

 

Valerie

That’s like a compilation of links to your various reviews, would that be right?

 

Kate

Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty much all published work.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Kate

Yeah.

 

Valerie

So definitely go visit that.

 

Can you give us just some kind of idea of what percentage of time do you spend on corporate, do you spend on music, do you spend on dance, do you spend on other stuff, can you just give us a vague, you know percentage portfolio?

 

Kate

Yeah, to be honest I think that’s easy. I think it’s pretty much 50/50.

 

Valerie

Right, 50 percent on corporate and 50 percent on the other stuff?

 

Kate

Yeah, because I tend to do blocks. So, I’m about to do a block, for example, of six weeks, three days a week at one of my corporate clients. So, I’ll do blocks and then I’ll take breaks, because I also do a bit of travel journalism, and I need the breaks to do that. So, yeah… I’ve never kind of… it would be interesting to sort of see if it’s 50/50, but I think it is.

 

Valerie

Talk to us about the travel journalism. What do you enjoy about it and why do you do it, because you seem pretty busy. Travel takes time out of life, because you have to go places and you don’t get as much done, you really don’t get as many words done with travel writing as you could with the other kinds of writing.

 

Kate

No, that’s so true and travel writing would absolutely be one of those things in my category of doesn’t pay so well, but it has many other rewards.

 

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

So, yeah, I think… well, I’ve always done travel journalism, but I’ve never been — I’ve sort of done it regularly, but not frequently. And a lot of my travel journalism has been independent travel as well. I haven’t been on that many kind of familes, travel familes, where the PR company takes you. But, actually what a lot of my travel stuff has been about over the past few years is arts festivals. So… yeah, so that’s sort of a really good way to combine… and that’s actually kind of what I want to focus on a bit more in the future. But, I might go to Hobart, or Adelaide, or even overseas for an arts or music festival and cover the cultural kind of stuff and then do a travel pieces as well.

 

Valerie

Cool.

 

With your corporate work, you know you’re about to start six weeks doing three days a week, a lot of listeners would be interested in how do you get the gigs? How do would they get into corporate work?

 

How do you get your gigs?

 

Kate

Gosh, it’s been so long.

 

I think there’s… you can always sort of approach smaller businesses who might be kind of… the businesses of friends or family or local businesses and things like that, and develop a portfolio that way. Obviously, LinkedIn is really important, and writers’ networks and so forth.

 

You could approach a really busy corporate writer like me, because I often have overflow and I’m always looking for people who are good, that’s the crucial thing, to sort of pass things onto, because I might be about to go off for two weeks and not be able to do something, but I don’t necessarily want to… I want to give it to somebody in my network, you know? You get quite sort of protective.

 

So, that might be an idea, approaching like a corporate writer who’s already in the game.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

But, I think in terms of how you get the repeat work, because that’s what I — I mean I don’t pitch for work at all. It’s all repeat work.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Kate

You’ve just got to do a really good job, and I know that sounds trite, but you’ve got to deliver something really, really good every time, and you’ve almost got to pretend your byline is on it. I think a lot of corporate writers get a bit lazy because there is no byline, it’s not attached to their name. But, you can’t do that.

 

You’ve also got to really listen to the client. You’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to kind of… I don’t know, it’s hard, but it’s not I guess.

 

Valerie

Talking about listening to the client, now I knew a journalist, who was a very, very good journalist, and he carved out his career in journalism, and then he started to do corporate work. And, it’s kind of like that thing about with your music writing you feel like you have to be really honest. Well, it’s very different in the corporate world because you have to take direction and sometimes your client maybe suggesting a direction that as a journalist you just kind go, “That’s so wrong,” or, “That’s not going to work.” And he could never reconcile really that he had a client and he would argue with the client because, “In journalism it’s done this way…”

 

Do you find you have those struggles? Or do you have some way to compartmentalize the situation?

 

Kate

I’ve never been in the position where I’ve had to do anything I’m ethically uncomfortable with. So, I couldn’t answer that, because that hasn’t happened to me.

 

But, in terms of — no, I think you’re being paid by someone to give them a product and I think you have to balance that with also using aspects of your journalistic integrity to consult them. So, you know, perhaps it might be sort of even the plain English stuff, or sometimes corporate people can get carried away in, you know, over-formal, convoluted, complex language and you need to bring your journalistic skills to that, you know?

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

And consult with them. Sometimes you do have to stand your ground to a point.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

And then you have to let go. If you think about something like an annual report, really in reality who’s going to read that? In some ways annual reports need to be more for the business that you’re writing them for than a reader, because not many people read them to be honest with you. So, sometimes you just have to let go.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

Yeah, and do what they want you to do while balancing that with something that’s going to give them a good product. I don’t find that line terribly hard to work, as long as you keep listening.

 

Valerie

So you write, obviously, mainly non-fiction in magazine, newspaper articles and also the corporate work. Have you ever been tempted to write fiction?

 

Kate

Well, I have actually. So, I began with that bachelor of creative arts, and there was a lot of fiction in that, it was creative writing, I majored in creative writing. But, I was too young. It was terrible. My work was terrible and thank god it’s all on floppy disc and completely, yeah, redundant now. I just wasn’t old enough I don’t think.

 

Valerie

Sure.

 

Kate

Yeah, so I sort of… I did begin with that. But in terms of the creative writing, I think writing about music and art and also my travel journalism also kind of scratches that itch in a way, because I do write, I don’t know… I guess I’ve got a fairly creative take sometimes.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

But, yeah, I did do something a year or so ago with a photographer, a collaboration with a photographer down in Melbourne and that was where he provided these amazing photographs and asked all of these writers to write 1,000 words about each photograph and that was sort of displayed in a gallery and I really enjoyed that. So, I think, yes, I am tempted.

 

Valerie

Was that fiction?

 

Kate

It was fiction.

 

Valerie

Yeah, right.

 

Kate

So, it was my first piece of fiction since uni.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

Yeah, and it was a massive challenge.

 

Valerie

Yes!

Kate

It was funny because I had that feeling with it and I still have that feeling with it. I don’t feel like it’s finished, even though it was displayed and it was put into a book. And I think that’s something, isn’t it? About creative writing, you always have that sense that the work could do with more work.

 

Valerie

Sure.

 

Kate

And another edit. And that’s weird, because as a journalist there’s a deadline…

 

Valerie

Yep, you file it.

 

Kate

Yeah. Yeah, but I am looking forward, I think, at some point to getting back into that.

 

Valerie

So, what’s your plan, say, for the next, I don’t know, maybe three to five years, in terms of your writing career? Do you want to keep with your 50/50 flow? Do you want to add another string to your bow? What do you want to do?

 

Kate

Obviously, I teach the professional business writing with you at the Writers’ Center. I love that, I would always sort of… I love teaching writing, I just find it really kind of rewarding. So, more of that is obviously always on the agenda.

 

But, I’d like to do more travel writing and I kind of see a niche actually — not a niche, a gap in the market, I suppose, for more travel writers with arts and culture — what’s the word? Expertise?

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

Because it seems like a lot of travel writers have sort of gotten into a bit of a groove, to put it gently. There’s a lot of food writers, there’s a lot of design, there’s a lot of sort of luxury hotel kind of —

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

I don’t see many travel writers who have a critical kind of arts culture eye.

 

Valerie

That’s true.

 

Kate

Yeah, so I think I’m really going to pursue, I think. I think it sounds like a really good sort of fit for me.

 

 

 

Valerie

And so speaking of professional business writing, which you do teach at the Australian Writers’ Centre, why do you enjoy teaching? Why do you enjoy teaching writing? Because, you know, you could just be spending your days just writing,

 

Kate

Look, I didn’t realize I would enjoy it quite so much. I think — I don’t know, I just find it so sort of… this is going to sound a bit cheesy, but I find that I’m quite inspired by people who sort of come to these classes, because I think people do have a lot of baggage and insecurities about writing.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

And the fact that they show up and pay for a full day course and improve, I feel really sort of honored to help them with that. I enjoy… my class is a fairly sort of conversational and I enjoy hearing about their blocks and challenges and solving them, because most… when it comes to professional writing and business writing, most of those challenges can be surmounted. You know, so I kind of like that problem-solving aspect. And I really like… I think I’m… this is another thing. I think I’m a people person, and writing is very solitary.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

So, it’s kind of a way for me to sort of have a really nice day engaging with people and helping and… I don’t know, I think you really just either like teaching or you don’t.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Kate

And I really enjoy it.

 

Valerie

What are the most common blocks that people have when they come to your classes?

 

Kate

Well, there’s the one of kind of having perhaps a manager who is a bit of an overzealous editor. So, obviously we’ve got like a plain English… and often that comes back to plain English, and we’ve got a handout in the course, which they can then go back to their managers with to kind of simplify things.

 

But, I mean it ranges from really simple things, like they don’t know where to begin an email, they don’t know how to wrap up an email, so we can sort of help with examples.

 

But often, Valerie, it does come back to the plain English thing. So, they think that they’re coming to a business writing course to learn how to write really formally, whereas in fact it’s about going back to basics and it’s about unlearning some of those sort of difficulties and coming back to sort of what they already know, which is trying to express something clearly and concisely. And most people can do that, they need a little bit of help. So, yeah, I think it’s seeing that kind of weight drop of their shoulders.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Kate

Everyone leaves, I think, feeling a lot better than when they arrived.

 

Valerie

Great. Finally, tell us what you are writing now — not right now, but, you know, next.

 

Kate

I’ve just wrapped up, a couple of days ago, I went to Papua, New Guinea, so that was an interesting travel piece. But, I’m writing a music review at the moment, an Australian band, which I won’t name them.

 

Valerie

Of a CD? A CD review?

 

Kate

Yeah, yes. Yes, that’s right. A recent album release.

 

What else do I have on the agenda? Yeah, I’m sort of trying to wrap up because I’m about to go back into a fair bit of corporate work.

 

Oh — I’m writing, actually, a piece about beekeepers for a travel magazine.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Kate

I got to wear a bee suit, or whatever they’re called, a bee keeper’s suit. So, I mean the diversity of things I do is sometimes perplexing for people kind of seeing my posts on Instagram. They’re like, “Kate, why are you in a bee suit?”

 

Valerie

Yes! Oh my god.

 

Was it scary?

 

Kate

No. No, they didn’t come anywhere near me. So…

 

Valerie

  1. All right, well, on that note that’s been a wealth of information and so interesting, because there are so few writers who actually do the length and breadth of the things that you do. So, thank you so much for your time today, Kate.

 

Kate

Thanks.

Oct 20, 2015 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

Comments

Free ebook just for you

Crime. Murder. Espionage. Mystery. And much more in our free ebook A Month of Murder and Mayhem. You get to spend 31 days with world’s best crime and thriller authors.

Get instant access now.

Enter our latest giveaway!

The Writers' Room
Podcasts
Q&As
“Writing
Student Successes
Competitions
The Blogosphere
Writing Jobs
Gifts for Writers




Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Instagram

  • So dont give up too soon! Keep going
  • If you believe you cant you wont
  • Episode 122 of our podcast is out! Search for Sohellip
  • Believe it!
  • In episode 18 of our Murder and Mayhem podcast wehellip
  • Yes you were You have a unique talent