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I’m not sure how common this is (a show of hands in the comments section would be helpful) but I’ve been really stressed out lately at my entertainment internship due to the number of weekly bylines I’ve been getting on the site.
Wow, that sounded really conceited. Stick with me here.
Since I scored my internship through an editor who was already familiar with my writing, she wasted no time shooting articles my way. My internship is about 2% website production work and 98% writing articles. I’ve been amassing clips left and right, getting great editorial feedback, and I even got a job offer! Oh wait, that last part was a dream I had.
Anyway, it’s been great—so why did I hit that awful moment that most interns, at one point or another, have the joy of dealing with? You know, that moment when things get so rough that you contemplate quitting.
I love my editor. I love the office where I work. The problem is, I am not an expert on the music industry, and I have had to fake it in my writing like nobody’s business for the past two months. One of my favorite writers tweeted forever ago about this situation, and the tweet literally burned itself in my brain. It basically said:
"'Hey, you who knows nothing about horses, write this article about horses.' <-- How I started my writing career."
It was comforting to see that, because I pretty much thought: Hey, that’s how I feel about 98% of the stuff I’m putting out right now, so I must be on the right track!
But geez, nobody told me how many grey hairs I was going to grow over the whole thing! For example, I just finished this roundup on Russian artists that “you need to know.” I had to spend almost 10 hours researching Russian artists before I could even think about putting pen to paper on the article, because I wouldn’t have been able to tell you squat about the Russian music scene until last Friday.
The article took me all day, which also ended up being points against me because I’m responsible for writing two features every Friday. Don’t even get me started on the work behind writing the other one, a roundup of the best Rihanna remixes out there. (Oh yeah, Editor, AraabMUZIK remixed “Pour It Up” and it’s killer? Wait, who is AraabMUZIK, and why does he refuse to spell “Arab” or “music” right?)
I’ve had the same sort of problem with the freelancing gig that basically paid my way to be here this summer. It’s been great discovering that when there’s money involved and I’m writing about things I’m not on expert on, my stress levels go completely bonkers. I’m pretty sure I had a legit panic attack over choosing what companies qualify as “America’s Hottest Startups.”
Thankfully, I’ve picked up a survival tip along the way. Yes, this is going to be a list with just one bullet point. Get ready for it.
1. Don’t use general phrases just because you’re afraid to say the wrong thing. Get so specific that if you’re wrong, it will require a spectacular editing job. But, do enough research so that you aren’t wrong.
Senior year of high school, I had an English teacher who savored the moments where she got to tear apart every thesis that I wrote and reconstruct it into a beautiful, captivating, controversial idea that would force me to pluck out all of my neutral, walking-on-eggshell essay points and say something actually worth reading.
What I learned in that high school classroom has proved invaluable here. In the Rihanna remixes article, instead of sticking to safety phrases like “DJ X produced a great club hit with this “We Found Love” remix,” I researched DJ X and found that Pitchfork, Hypetrak, and The Fader all waxed poetic about DJ X’s Jersey club beats that he’s adopted as his signature sound. Now, the phrase can be reworded into “DJ X gave “We Found Love” the Jersey club remix that he’s been known for ever since he started spinning,” and poof! Suddenly I started to sound like I actually knew a thing or two about DJ X.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous every time I hand in an assignment. It’s not a fool-proof survival tip, but at least I can count on getting an A for effort every Friday. And hey, I’ve heard that effort goes a long way in the land of unpaid internships.
So, how do you drum up confidence in your writing? Have you ever had to deal with a particularly daunting article that you felt unqualified to write? I want to hear about it!
Until next week,
Ed’s Entertainment Intern