I’m 22 and a recent NYC transplant. I’m interning at a pretty well-known magazine, working with some great editors, learning a ton, and a big plus is that they actually pay their interns. I also work a part-time retail job just so I can make ends meet. I’m completely aware of the hardships and financial burdens that come with being a journalist/writer. But after having an intense, stress-inducing experience looking for an apartment, I found myself demoralized, sitting in a dinky coffee shop, and saying to myself, “I need to get a real job.” Any advice you can dole out would be wonderful. —April
I was seven years into my journalism career before I earned a salary that didn’t make my non-journalist friends look upon me with pity. But hey, most of them are lawyers who hate their lives! And the appeal of being a writer has, as you acknowledge, never been financial.
That said, you still have to eat. My friend Dana Goldstein likes to assure recent grads that, despite the seemingly endless rounds of layoffs at major media companies, the people she knows who are fully committed to being journalists are all, well, employed as journalists. For most of us, that means many years of living in uncool neighborhoods, living with lots of roommates, living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not fun. But almost everyone I know makes it out the other side, and after five years or so can afford a modest studio and the occasional vacation. Keep at it. Higher-level jobs will open up, and you’ll make your way.
In the meantime, you need to be building relationships with other people who are just starting their careers. Sure, it helps to have older editors take an interest in your work, but your peers are the ones who will sustain you as you move up slowly through the ranks. Oh, and for now? Congrats on not being parentally supported. That is a modern achievement in itself.
I have an extremely taxing job covering legal affairs for a top-flight trade publication. It pays okay, is relatively secure, and comes with benefits. But some days I worry my heart might not be in this job. Should I count my blessings and continue vigorously elbowing my way toward a job at a wire service, foregoing any chance at a freelance career? Or should I give up my security and steady work and go freelance, try to learn how to write features, and pay for my own health insurance? Would it even satisfy me, or am I better off sticking to what I know I’m pretty good at? What’s the hustle really like? —Lost in the Law
Now that you’ve read this week’s other question, you know how lucky you are!
But I hear you. Don’t think you’re going to get your dream job in one step. You’ve got to make a transition. First, you should be searching for a job at a more mainstream publication that relies on the expertise you’ve gained at the trade pub. Who are the journalists writing about this topic for a general audience, and which outlets are publishing them? Follow them closely and, when appropriate, reach out, introduce yourself, and ask for advice. Second, you should be doing some writing on the side—ideally every day, more aligned with the type of writing you want to do for a living. If you’re not allowed to freelance, put your work on a personal blog. Invest in your Twitter account, too. And recognize that it’s a slow build. Don’t quit today and expect to start picking up your dream assignments tomorrow.
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