We are into our fourth week of the a Day in the Life Series. To celebrate the series being around for a month, I decided to focus on students starting out in their creative careers.
This time I spoke to Sophie McNaughton, a 19-year-old student studying for a degree in English Literature, Journalism and Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. She is currently in her third year.
Here are the answers that Sophie gave to my questions!
What is your job role?
I am the Regional Editor for Glasgow at The University Paper, a Copy-Editor for CultNoise Magazine and a contributing writer for magazines/newspapers including: The Strathclyde Telegraph, Scotcampus, Student Rag and Femsplain. I also have my own WordPress blog called moon child where I document all my work, both in fiction and journalism.
How did you get into your job?
I got into writing for magazines in around December 2014 when I sent in an article to my university’s newspaper, The Strathclyde Telegraph. I wasn’t really expecting anything to come from it and I wasn’t even expecting it to get published but the editor was really happy with it and put it in the paper.
At that time, I wanted to steer clear of writing articles and focus on creative writing but, as time has passed, I have developed a keen interest in journalism. I love it now and I never thought I would. When I realised how much I enjoyed writing articles and editing, I started chasing up and pestering any and every magazine/newspaper that would let me write for them and ended up interning at Scotcampus and The National newspaper (Scotland), as well as becoming a contributing writer for several magazines.
What do you like about your job?
I like how much creative freedom I have to write about things I’m really passionate about. CultNoise Magazine, for example, are really supportive when it comes to the subject matter I want to tackle. They provide me with a platform to do a lot of humorous, light-hearted pieces but I’m also able to write about bigger issues at CultNoise as well. I enjoy writing about current affairs and the causes I believe in, such as: animal welfare, LGBTQ issues, feminism, equality and everything else that I believe should be written and read about more.
I also really enjoy editing because I can be a bit of a perfectionist (or at least I try to be) so making tweaks and taking a piece of work to that next level of looking polished and presentable is something I enjoy. I sound like such a geek but it’s actually quite fun. I enjoy working on the whole technical side too as I get to source and edit images, learn about copyright and media law, and help to manage social media links. If I ever decide to go into editing full-time after university, it’s all great experience and it’s good to be able to get some practise.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
The biggest challenges with the work I do is probably trying to maintain a balance between my coursework and my work outside of my studies. Since I write for magazines and have a lot of deadlines outside of university, it’s sometimes hard to manage my time well and make sure I’m not spreading myself too thin. I’ve become a bit of a workaholic over the last year and I’m always taking on new projects and chasing new opportunities that I probably don’t have time for but somehow I manage to squeeze everything in, along with a few meltdowns.
I like to be challenged and I sometimes think a little bit of stress can actually be a good thing because it pushes you to work hard and make a real effort. One of the biggest things I struggle with in terms of university is keeping up with all the reading we are assigned. As I do a literature course, naturally, there is a lot of reading involved but a lot of my free time goes to creating stories and articles and my other writing commitments so keeping up with the reading lists is sometimes a bit of a push but I still study hard and make sure I get the best possibly grades I am capable of. I think it’s important to make an effort at school/college/university but I think gaining work experience outside of your studies is essential if you want to succeed in a competitive field when you graduate.
What do you think are some of the challenges in the creative sector?
I think the creative sector is rife with challenges because a lot of the courses in creative industries don’t necessarily lead to one set, stable career like a lot of other types of courses do, so you really need to figure out how you want to utilise your degree and make it work for you. Another hurdle to get over is that a lot of people have a preconceived idea of those who have creative/humanity degrees and don’t consider them to be as significant as a degree in the sciences for example which is completely inaccurate and disrespectful. So there will be a certain stigma when you tell people “my degree is in…” but it’s important to remember that this is just ignorance and something you shouldn’t waste your time dwelling on. You should always do whatever makes you happy, no matter what anyone else thinks.
I think it’s important to always make choices with your education to suit you. If you follow the path someone else wants for you, then you’ll never really be happy in what you do. Another big challenge in journalism specifically is finding paid work. As a student, almost all the work I do is unpaid, which I don’t mind at this stage because I love what I do and I know that a lot of the publications I write for are free and most of the other writers work on an unpaid basis too. But, once I graduate, I can’t see myself working for free because I think everyone should be paid for their services, no matter what kind of work it is.
How has your degree helped you?
My degree has helped me learn: the basics of examining and analysing literature, the rules and formulas for writing journalistic articles, and how to enhance my fiction writing. But I also think that all the extracurricular work I’ve done in the past year has been immensely valuable because I’ve learned so much in such a short space of time. I would advise anyone doing this type of degree to gain experience outside of university because it allows you to develop skills and learn things that you probably won’t get in the classroom. Just being at university and meeting new people has really helped too because a lot of the opportunities I’ve had have come from lectures, tutors and fellow students. CultNoise Magazine is an example as I first heard of them when a university email was sent out to us appealing for student writers so I’m glad I responded to that!
Why did you pick to work the sector that you work in?
I don’t think I even really “picked” this section. I kind of stumbled into it when I was trying my hand at journalism and discovered that I really enjoyed it. I plan to keep on writing for magazines and newspapers but I also enjoy writing fiction and it was definitely the first thing I really loved in terms of writing. I think making it in fiction is a lot harder because there are so many amazing fiction writers out there and opportunities to get published might not be few and far between but they’re definitely hard to get into. Most literary magazines/journals are so specific with the style and genre they want that it’s really creatively restrictive and stifling which isn’t a good thing at all. I also think there is a certain degree of pretention and snobbery within literary magazines which isn’t fair and actually damages a publication’s reputation in the long-term. I definitely think there needs to be more in the way of inclusive literary magazines and students should definitely get more involved with contributing and creating them themselves.
Describe a typical day in your job.
If I’m not at university, I try to get up early and have one or two articles written by noon. Some days, I’ll be editing articles online for CultNoise Magazine or I’ll be scrambling around and emailing people trying to get articles together for the latest edition of The University Paper. In between that, I’ll be updating my blog with my latest articles, reviews, short stories, and/or poems when I get a chance. I’m pretty much always busy and while I like to go out with my friends or chill out and do nothing or just watch TV sometimes, I’ve started to really hate not being busy which I suppose is a good thing. If I don’t have anything to do, I’ll usually find something.
Any advice for people wanting to get into your sector and/or the creative industry?
I’m probably not in any place to be giving advice but one of the most important things for me was developing a thick skin. You could be at university and put your heart and soul into an essay and you could think “This is my best work, I’ll definitely get an A for this” and then you could get a bad mark and harsh feedback that completely tears your work apart but I would just say, don’t let anything like this discourage you. No matter who you are or what you do, someone will always be critical of what you do and that’s okay.
I think if you become your own harshest critic, then no one else’s criticism will ever hurt your feelings and you can instead use it as ammunition to improve and learn a lesson from the experience. It’s important to be passionate and not let yourself be disheartened. If a tutor doesn’t like your coursework, arrange a meeting with them and find out what you’re doing wrong. If you editor criticises your article, write something even better to prove to them that you’re talented. Just always work hard. I think that’s the main thing.
You can follow Sophie on Twitter – @__soooophie.