At My Desk: Journalist and author Jessica Irvine

Jessica Irvine is a popular Australian economics columnist and author. She is currently the National Economics Editor of News Limited’s metro newspapers, and has previously written for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The West Australian and The Brisbane Times. Her first book, Zombies, Bananas and Why There Are No Economists in Heaven was a witty and accessible look at how to use the principles of economics to tackle everyday problems.

Her latest book, The Bottom Line Diet, might seem a little out of left field for an economics journalist. Jessica describes it as a “passion project”, something she felt she “had to write”, to help people dispel the myths about weight loss and get down to the “bottom line” – that it all comes down to numbers.

Jessica lives in Sydney with her husband.

Tell us about The Bottom Line Diet. What inspired you to write it?
The book is a passion project of mine. I’m an economics journalist, so a diet book is a little out of the box, to say the least. But I felt I had to write it. I gained a lot of weight in my 20s and have spent the last three years educating myself about the fundamental principles needed to lose the weight and keep it off. I feel like people need to know that, for all the crap that gets written about weight loss, it really does come down to energy in and energy out. Weight loss requires you to create a gap between the amount of energy you put in your mouth and the amount of energy your body uses in a day. When you do that, the body uses the energy stores in your body and hey presto, bye bye bottom. My book walks you through how to find out your “bottom line” – how much energy you need in a day – and introduces you to all the nifty gadgets and online resources you need to educate yourself about the energy in food and different exercises. You can learn how to manipulate your energy equation to lose weight at whatever pace you like. If it helps just one person manage their weight, I’ll be happy.

What's the first thing you do before you sit down to write?
Procrastinate. Usually this involves rearranging my book shelves by spine colour – or, if I’m feeling particularly angst ridden, alphabetically by author’s last name. On a more serious note, I always eat (a portion-controlled, healthy snack!) before I write. The brain is a muscle like any other and if you’re going to give it a workout, it needs energy.

Describe your desk or writing space.
My desk at home is a clean slate: a MacBook Pro astride an uncluttered, white laminate surface. But I wrote most of this book elsewhere. After I had finished all my research, I took a holiday with my husband to America. We spent a week writing in the New York Library’s Rose Main Reading Room. Being around a lot of other people diligently working was inspiring, as was the sunlight flooding in through the arched windows. My idea of writing bliss. I also wrote part of the book in the lobby of the Mount Washington Resort at Bretton Woods, which,  financial geeks will appreciate, was the location for the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference at which the post-World War Two financial order (along with the International Monetary Fund) was established. A change of scene is important when I’m writing.

Jessica's desk at Mt Washington Resort.
Jessica's desk at Mt Washington Resort.

How many words do you aim for in a day when you are writing?
As many as possible!

Tell us about your typical day.
I write completely at random, whenever the mood takes me. Sometimes this is in the middle of the night when I’m having trouble sleeping. Writing days often begin with me lurching out of bed, grabbing a notepad located conveniently by my bedside and scribbling down sentences I seem to have rehearsed in my sleep. I write best first thing in the morning and late at night. I don’t make a conscious effort to wind down. If I wound down, I’d never write!

How different is the process of writing a book from writing articles for you? Do you prefer one to the other?
Actually it wasn’t too different for this book. Having written twice-weekly columns for almost a decade now, I’m a bit of a pro at knocking out 1000 words on a given subject. So I broke this book down into bite sized pieces: 10 chapters containing six sections of roughly a column’s length – so 60 columns all up. Et voila: 60,000 words!

The Bottom Line Diet

Tell us a bit about what you're working on now.
I’m back to my day job as National Economics Editor of News Corp Australia’s metro papers. I wrote a column yesterday about paid parental leave, kicking off with a reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transplanted uterus in the 1994 movie “Junior”. Today I’m researching a column on the “Bitcoin” phenomenon. I like a lot of variety in my intellectual diet and feel incredibly privileged to have a job that gives me that.

What's your advice to up-and-coming writers who want to be where you are today?
The rise of social media – particularly Twitter – means anyone can be a publisher these days. The best job application for journalism is a blog-full of well-written and well-researched articles. So what’s stopping you? Figure out the topic you are most passionate about and write about it.

You can buy The Bottom Line Diet by Jessica Irvine at any good bookstore or online at Booktopia here.

If you would like to explore freelance writing and journalism check out our Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1 course. You can do courses in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or online.

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