I don’t like to get angry on this blog. You guys generally don’t come here for rants; you come here for bright colours and a positive, upbeat attitude. But even the sparkliest unicorn gets severely pissed off on occasion, and today is one of those occasions. So prepare yourself for a Very Ranty Edition of…

There is nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, that makes me angrier than big companies that ask me to work for free.

I recently had a very popular men’s grooming company contact me to see if I’d make a two-minute “viral” video to promote their product. When I asked them what they were willing to pay me to write, film, shoot and post-produce this ad for them–because let’s not get it twisted, they were asking me to make a commercial–I was informed that I would be doing this “to generate conversation with my readers” and “for exposure.” In other words, I would giving them my ideas, likeness and hours of time and effort FOR THE PRICE OF FREE.

A quick google search told me that this company has nineteen million dollars worth of venture capital funding, and has begun expanding into overseas markets. They’ve been able to do all of this partially because of their clever internet-based advertising. And yet they don’t want to pay the people who create said advertising.

This is MESSED UP, and it’s just one example. I get these requests all the time. I got a great one just yesterday–making playlists of beauty videos for a content aggregator, unpaid of course, because it’s “my passion.”

No. No no no no no no. Hard pass forever.

People who do creative stuff for a living still need to make a living. Writing, photography, making videos, community building–these are all skills that I’ve worked long and hard to acquire. Work that you love is still work. I LOVE to write, but it’s hard and it takes up a lot of time and not everyone can do it. I am not automatically delighted when a company deigns to notice that I’m good at it–so good at it, in fact, that it would be an INSULT to pay me. As if writers live in a magical kingdom where rent is free, medical bills don’t exist and stuff like food just appears.

I don’t live on the goddamned Starship Enterprise. I live on Earth, and last I checked “exposure” isn’t legal fucking tender.

I am really, really sick of my skills being devalued to the point where companies are legitimately SHOCKED when I ask to be paid. Because how dare I, right? Shouldn’t the honour of writing 800 words for their site’s blog and “whipping up” some original pictures be enough for me? No, and do you know why? Because producing branded copy is not a passion project for me. It’s a potential income stream.

I am a freelancer, and the only money that I get is money that I earn. My time, my voice, my skills and my image are all that I have, and if companies want to use those things and capitalise on the career that I have worked really hard to create, then they will pay me accordingly.

Because that’s the thing: I am valuable, and so are you. Our skills, creative as they are, unique as they are, are valuable. Don’t let big companies turn around and say that they’ll DEIGN to let us work for them and make them more money, so long as we realise that our contributions are literally worthless.

That is offensive bullshit that you must not stand for or fall for.

When you’re just starting out and you don’t have much work to your name, you may need to work for free or for not a whole tonne of money per story. This is to demonstrate that you CAN do what you say you can do, that you can meet your deadlines and that you can work well with editors. It’s like a professional internship or apprenticeship, but those don’t last forever. As a full-time professional, you may choose to donate your time and skills to new publications, causes you feel passionately about, small companies, schools and charities–but there is NO reason not to get money from big companies for work that you do. Zero. None.

And here’s the thing: I know it’s rough out there. I get that budgets are limited. But companies, businesses and brands, if you’re reading this? You need to make room in those budgets to pay the people who are going to make your projects go. You pay the developers who create them. You pay the PR people who email me and try to get me involved. If you told those people that you were going to “let” them work for no money because “it’s their passion,” they would quit so fast your heads would spin. Don’t expect me, or any other freelancer, to do any differently.

And freelancers: don’t fall for this trick. Your time and skills and voice are valuable, and you deserve to be compensated for them.

The end.

On Writing II: Editing, Editors and Killing Your Darlings

Hi guys! I took a little break while I went to Miami with some great friends–post to come, probably–but I’m BACK, and it’s time to talk about words again!



Today we’re going to talk about editing and editors, two things I know a lot about.

People laugh when I tell them that being a writer is really only 1/3 about writing, but it’s true. It’s also 1/3 hustle, and 1/3 getting along with others. And the most important Others you’ll be getting along with are your editors.

Marci and AMG at xoVain are two of the very best editors I’ve ever gotten to work with. It’s really rare that you fall in with a crowd of people who are totally on the same page as you are, who value your contributions, and who you like on a personal as well as a professional level. It’s taken me a long-ass time to get here, and I’m so glad that I finally have.

Not everyone has always been so awesome, but even when editors are strange, neglectful or tempestuous, they have something to teach you. Only once, when I was about 22, did I have to learn the lesson that sometimes editors don’t actually EDIT–they just hit “publish,” grammatical mistakes and all. The pedantic nerd in me never forgot that, so I dedicated myself to becoming my OWN editor, and making sure my writing was as good and clean as it could be. Now that I’m an editor myself and my standards are much higher, this has been very useful.

Usually my writing and editing process goes a little something like this:

  • Walk the dog. Write article in my head while walking, because my brain works best when my feet are moving. I’m like the dinosaurs in Dinotopia that way.
  • Write everything down. Seriously. EVERYTHING.
  • Take a break. Do some pilates or watch Bob’s Burgers or something.
  • Come back. Focus on the main “threads” of the article. Does it all connect? Does it flow from paragraph to paragraph? Delete anything that seems forced or shoved in.
  • How are the descriptions? Are they useful or superfluous? Cut them out altogether if the latter.
  • Are the jokes well-deployed? If there are too many, you come off looking like a hacky stand-up comic. Cut about half of them out.
  • Is the beginning powerful? Would you read the start of this article and want to KEEP reading? If not, delete it.
  • How is your ending? Ideally this should tie back in to the beginning somehow. End on a strong note.
  • Will this start conversation with readers? How can you make it so that it does?
  • Go back and read the whole thing again. Do the pictures make sense where you have them marked to go? Cut them out if not. You can’t possibly take 74 photos for a single article; that’s insane.
  • Final read-through. Watch for wordy language; likewise for language that’s too slangy. Write for the publication, but always keep your own voice in there.
  • File.
  • Notes, if applicable, from on high.
  • THE END.

By the time I reach THE END, my story is about half as long as it was initially. That’s a lot of darlings to kill, but it’s always worth it–condensing a story or an article down into its purest form is a beautiful thing. It’s like an art. It’s easy to think that you’ve written a masterpiece on the first try, and maybe you have, but everything can be better with a little polish.

Learning to edit–to look at something and see what’s good and what needs work–is a skill that comes with time. I used to edit people’s papers in high school and college, and I used to do a TONNE of copyediting back in the day, so my eye has been sharpened through years of use. Basic rules: Never use ten words if three will do. Explain everything simply. Use powerful, rather than flowery words. Make sure every story has a point. If you’re going to be clever, be REALLY clever–don’t go halfway. Stick to the subject at hand. Back up your points with research, and cite everything.

But most importantly, you need to see what your piece is going to BE when it’s done. Have a vision. Have scope. Killing your darlings is great, but make sure they’re the RIGHT darlings.

Sometimes I hear writers say that they don’t have to self-edit, because that’s what editors are for. NO. That is an entitled, nonsensey thing to say. You never want to give someone else more work because you’re too lazy to turn five sentences into two. Needing help is fine. Saying “I can’t be bothered” is not, and it’s the kind of attitude that torpedos careers. Editors have heaps of other stuff to think about and do. They can’t possibly do work that you should have been doing also.

Speaking of attitude stuff: be open to changes. Your editors seriously want to help make your story the best that it can be, so if they have a lot of notes, take those on board. Don’t take your ball and go home because they suggest your writing wasn’t perfect the first time. Criticism can be good. It’s how you grow!

However, if you’re stuck working with someone who isn’t seeing the same vision as you–who wants to chop and change your story past recognition, or take it in a direction you’re not happy with–know when to speak up. At the end of the day, this is YOUR byline. It’s going to follow you forever. Make sure you’re proud of every aspect of it.

Editing can be hard, especially when you have to cut out something you were really proud of. That can physically hurt! Just know that just because the passage/description/whatever doesn’t work in one place, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work in ANY place. I’ve got short stories that started as throwaway lines in articles! What is dead┬ánever dies (she said, Greyjoy-ly).

So by all means, kill your darlings. Be merciless in each edit. You don’t get a gorgeous sparkly diamond without cutting some bits away to show the hidden beauty within; that’s how you need to look at everything you write. Like you’re revealing something hidden, not taking something away.

Once you can do that, your work is going to be all the better, and editors are going to WANT to work with you. And that, as I’ll explain next week, is something incredibly valuable.

On Writing I: Inspiration

A lot of people have written to me, asking me for writing advice. Obviously I have a lot to say on the subject, but rather than blopping it all down in one giant chunk–and yes, blopping is totally a word, I am an editor now and I say so–I am going to break it up and post little bits every week. I will aim for every Tuesday, and hopefully I’ll hit my mark; feel free to yell at me if I don’t.


One of the questions that I get asked a lot is where I get my ideas from, and what I do when I have writer’s block.

Okay, so this is really two questions, and I’ll answer the last one first: Annoyingly, I don’t get writer’s block anymore. Maybe it’s because I know that I have a three article per week schedule at xoVain that I MUST stick to, maybe it’s because I’ve found a subject that I truly love talking about, but I can’t remember the last time I got idea-blocked. Writing has always been easy for me, even when it hurts, because I love words and when they’re flowing through me I feel THE MOST like myself. My issue is usually taking what’s come out and editing it into something better, but I’ll get into that whole deal another week.

There was a time, and it doesn’t feel like so long ago even though it’s been almost a year, that after publishing every article, I’d go “Nope. I’m done. I’ll never have another idea again.” But then week by week, I found something new to write about. And then three times a week. And now I feel like I’ll never be able to run out of ideas because there’s so much cool stuff in my head! Creating breeds creating. The more stuff I make, the more stuff I know that I can make.

So now, where do I get my ideas from. I am really lucky in that I have a wide degree of freedom in the articles I write and the angles from which I can approach them. Some of these ideas come from the world; a question that I’ve always wanted to know the answer to, or a subject I want to learn more about. Some things come straight from stuff that I love; I’ve written a lot about Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as Star Trek and Doctor Who. Sometimes another writer will suggest something to me; I’m always inspired by listening to the ladies that I work with. And often, the community will straight up tell me what they want to see. Then it’s up to me to think of a unique spin to put on the subject, which is sometimes trickier to do that you’d think.

The world is an amazing place, and there is inspiration literally EVERYWHERE. One of the things that I love so much about beauty writing is that it allows for so much creativity; you can take almost anything that you love and turn it into a story, but that’s obviously not limited to just this area. Keep your eyes open all the time. Look for the beauty and the unusualness in the world. Always think about how you can help someone. Always ask yourself why someone will care about what you have to say, and then show them why they should. Always consider what YOU can add to the conversation that hasn’t been there before.

Keep watching. Keep loving. Feed yourself on music, art, movies, tv, long walks, handsome men, cuddly puppies, things you love, things you’re scared of–everything. Take in as much as you can. Be a part of as much as you can. Engage with people, places and things.

If you do that, your creative well will always be full, even if it’s hard to get the bucket down there sometimes. You will always have something to write about if you are an active citizen of the world.

There is inspiration in everything, if you know how to look.