This week's Job of the Week is Scottish writer and IdeasTap member Kirsty Logan, who juggles writing short stories and novels with editing, teaching and internships. She talks about cabin fever, building a career and finding your market...
Full name/age/job title:
Kirsty Logan, 27, Writer.
Please give us an overview of your average day…
Like most freelancers I have multiple income streams, as none are steady. I write short fiction and articles, edit other writers’ work, teach an evening class in creative writing, and have a paid internship two days a week – it’s in arts funding, so everything I do involves literature in some way. Every day is different!
On my writing days I hunch over my laptop at the kitchen table and try to fit ideas into specific word-counts. On my teaching and editing days I immerse myself in other people’s words, reading students’ work in preparation for class or critiquing strangers’ stories. On my internship days I get up pre-dawn to catch the train to another city, then try to dig my way through bureaucracy to learn how arts funding works. And then some days it’s all about paperwork: emails, contracts, accounts.
The only constant is that every day involves words, whether I’m reading other people’s or writing my own.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That it mostly involves drinking coffee and gazing out of the window! Sadly that’s just a small part of it. You can drink a bellyful of espresso and stare out of every window in the house, but it still won’t put words on the page.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Cabin fever. If you want to be a writer, get ready to spend 99% of your time alone. Often I go out to cafes to work, or set myself daft little errands that I don’t really need to do, just to get out of the flat and be around other humans for a while. I live with my girlfriend and I socialise with other writers, as well as my non-writer friends and family, but most days it’s just me and my laptop.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I’ve written stories since childhood, and I wrote plenty of angsty poetry through my adolescence. But it wasn’t until I finished my undergraduate degree (English Lit, not surprisingly) and was accepted into a Masters programme in Creative Writing that I started to take my career seriously.
After I graduated, I waitressed part-time and wrote like a motherfucker. I wrote every moment I could – short stories, poems, personal essays, and even a few novels. I didn’t particularly enjoy waitressing, but those sorts of jobs are ideal for creative people because they use up exactly 0% of your brainpower, have minimal responsibility, you never have to take work home, and you’re constantly surrounded by stories and characters. For every cappuccino I made or dirty plate I scraped, I knew that it was worth it because it let me write.
I started to get stories accepted into anthologies and literary magazines – unpaid at first, but as I gained experience and publishing credits, I began to get paid for my work. I always met my deadlines and produced the best quality work that I could, so before long I was getting royalties and commissions too. I was lucky enough to win a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust, and this combined with my writing and editing income was enough to let me quit waitressing.
Writing careers are built slowly – a story here, a poem there – but if you keep battling on then eventually the commissions (and the cash) start coming in.
What can you do to get a head start?
The most important thing is to write. Networking and self-promotion are important, but you need to have quality work to back it up. So:
1. Read and write as much as you can.
2. Find a good critique group, in person or online.
3. Network! Never do this in a cynical and self-serving way – develop a genuine interest in people, and consider what you can do for them as well. I wrote an article called Network Like it’s Your Eighth Birthday Party, and it’s a philosophy I try to stick to.
4. Meet your deadlines and always produce the best quality work than you can.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
Making up stories.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
There’s a lot of paperwork! Researching markets, submitting stories, signing contracts, replying to emails – these things can swallow up the entire day. I try to set aside specific blocks of time for admin so that it doesn’t encroach on my creative time.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
The most useful resource for writers is other writers. Many anthologies and magazines commission content rather than advertising for submissions, so it’s important to be in the know. Build up a network, either online or in your local area, and you can let each other know about suitable opportunities. Remember that it works both ways – if you hear about a market that’s not suitable for your work, pass it on to a writer friend and they’ll do the same for you.
Duotrope is the best place to find story markets – it seems confusing at first, so take your time!
The National Association of Writers in Education sends out an e-bulletin that has lots of useful markets and information.
If you’re in Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust is a great resource for advice and opportunities.
There are dozens of online communities for writers: check out Fictionaut, HTMLGiant, and Vouched.
Find out more about Kirsty’s work on her website.
Would you like to be featured in Job of the Week? If you work in the creative industries and would love to share your advice, expertise and experience with IdeasTap members, get in touch with our deputy editor at Luiza@ideastap.com.