Laurie Penny on blogging

Laurie Penny on blogging

By Becky Brewis 09/06/14

Laurie Penny, 26, is a political journalist, author and activist who writes for the Guardian, VICE and the New Statesman. Laurie tells Becky Brewis how she went from blogging for free to earning a living as a writer...

What advice would you give bloggers looking to get their work noticed?

You can't substitute putting in the hours of work writing and being good at what you do. I started blogging on LiveJournal when I was about 18 and started my Penny Red blog when I was 20. It wasn't until I was 24 that I got paid to do it in any way.

In those in-between times my personal rule was that I would post at least once a week. The trick is, you don't need to post every day – or even every few days. It's better to work for a week on one thing you’re happy with, than to fire off lots of mini-blogs. Narrowing down what you’re doing will help you focus on the craft and quality of your work.

How did you make the move from blogging for free to getting paid to write?  

I've never collected money through my blog. I started offering one-off posts to various newspapers and I got paid to do that. To bloggers starting to pitch to newspapers I say for every 10 pitch emails you send you're going to get one reply, so don't be disheartened.

You have to practice pitching. Rather than sending a link to your blog, I'd send a link to a relevant article [on your blog]. I find with women and with anybody who's not any combination of white and male and from a private school – the less they look like our idea of the typical newspaper reporter, the less confident they seem to be in sending off pitches because they assume they’re not going to be noticed. 

The people who get opportunities are the ones who pitch stuff that they're not quite up to. Pitch stuff that is slightly beyond what you think you can achieve, then you step up to it. That's something I'd like to see women in particular doing more of.

You've now made the move from blogging to writing for mainstream media to getting books published. How can other writers do the same? 

The publishing world is in flux right now so it's an interesting time to be making that transition. There's everything to play for. Today, the most interesting, creative and exciting writing is being done online and the next generation of young writers – journalists and fiction writers – are all growing up on the internet. 

The publishing world is adjusting to that. Now is not the time to be changing the work you do to fit the publishing world's expectations; now is the time to be changing the publishing world's expectations, and making them listen to what the next generation of writers and artists want and need. 

You have more than 90,000 followers on Twitter and in 2012 won the British Media Awards Twitter Public Personality of the Year prize. Do you have any advice for writers using Twitter?

Don't spend too long on Twitter every day. I really wish I could take my own advice on that. It's a good way to publicise work but it's anti-work in terms of sitting and producing stuff. Twitter is ephemeral. Nobody remembers what you tweeted last week. Twitter is where I publicise my work but it's not the arena for work and I think it's important to maintain the distinction. 

What practical advice would you give politically engaged young people looking to get their voices heard?

People can focus too much on the getting-your-voice-out-there thing. Read a lot and widely – beyond what you're used to. Find writers you admire and read everything they've ever done. Eventually some of it is going to spill out and you develop your voice. Beyond that, originality and talent are their own selling points. 

I get a lot of emails from young people [on this] and I find there’s a difference in approach in that guys – particularly guys who’ve been to private schools and elite universities – will ask me, “How do I become a writer?” Other people, particularly young women, say, “I've been writing for years and my particular interests are this and this and this, and these are the writers I admire. What should I do?” 

You have to identify why you want to write and what you want to say, because if the only reason you want to write, or be involved in the media, is that you think you'd quite like to be a writer, eventually that's going to let you down.   

And what about those who know what they want to say and want to develop their work? 

Seek out mentors. Take older journalists out for coffee – they love talking about their work. Journalism and writing are careers that rely heavily on mentorship. Anyone at any stage of success in their career they will have those mentor relationships. I’d like to see more older women mentoring younger women. Those kinds of relationships are going to change the industry. My female mentors – the people I can talk to about facing gender discrimination within the industry – have been invaluable. 


Laurie Penny will be speaking as part of Getting Published: Which Route Do I Take? at the Wellcome Collection on 12 July 2014, organised by Writers & Artists. 

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