Edinburgh Festival Reflections (Part I): Writing for a Magazine

In which I discuss my experience writing for a magazine at the Edinburgh Festivals, the reasons why journalistic writing can be helpful for your creative work and that time I drank too much coffee and power walked around Charlotte Square.

Last month, I had the opportunity to cover the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe AND the Book Festival for Broadway Baby magazine. This is my second year writing features for them (Only feature interviews! I didn’t write any reviews.) and it’s been a fun experience putting on my journalistic hat once again (Literally. I wore a hat which I’ve been told was very 1930’s journalist-y: see photographic evidence below).

Journalist hat

This year, I was able to interview artists across mediums about their work. I spoke with Booker Prize shortlisted author Graeme Macrae Burnett of His Bloody Project, bestselling Danish author Meik Wiking who wrote The Little Book of Hygge (which you’ve probably seen around if you’ve been in a bookshop in the past year!), and Holly Smale, author of a personal favorite feel-good and feminist book series: Geek Girl.

As primarily a writer of fiction and performance poetry, I’ve enjoyed changing gears a little and focusing on journalism for a month. Here are three ways that I think writing for a magazine can sharpen/improve your fiction and poetry:

1 – Writing to a deadline

I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t always make my article deadlines (a bout of Fringe Flu struck mid-festival), but having a deadline always rapidly approaching made me less precious about my writing. There is no time for perfectionism when you’ve got to get something out there into the world in a couple of days time.

While I do think it’s valuable to spend time with your work and to be a considerate editor – with a poem especially I can spend ages mulling over a single word – there’s something to be said for efficiency and for putting your work out there in a timely manner. You’d also be surprised at how much you can do in a short span of time!

Basically, if you’ve got two hours, it’ll take two hours. If you’ve got two days, it’ll take two days. I shocked myself with the amount I could write quickly. As someone who has a tendency to hold on to my short stories and poems just a little too long sometimes before sending them out into the big wide world, writing to quick deadlines forced me to just put my work out there, a skill I will try to keep up as I turn once more to my fiction and poetry.

2 – Word counts

Magazine articles have word limits and usually short ones. Writing up these feature articles also made me a sharper, more ruthless, editor. I frequently had to cut down about half the interview I’d conducted to make it fit under the word count. Even if every moment of the interview had been fascinating and relevant, sometimes things had to get cut. I had to make those editorial decisions quickly and trust my gut. Working within parameters (like word count) is a useful challenge for any writer and definitely applicable to poetry and prose. Edit out those unnecessary words!

3 – Confidence

I decided at the start of the month that if there was an artist I wanted to speak with, no matter how famous they were, I’d request an interview. That was all well and good, until some of them started agreeing…then the panic set in.

I was nervous before interviewing some of these authors and performers who I greatly respected. I’ve had more semi-awkward interactions in book signing lines than you can count. You can imagine my nerves when I found out I’d get to interview some of these incredible people. One afternoon before an interview, I was so nervous I drank tons of free coffee in the Press Tent at the Book Festival. I was then so jittery I had to power walk around Charlotte Square while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack to work off some of the excess energy. (Yes, Hamilton was the soundtrack to my festival. Also to my life).

As I power walked, there was a malicious voice in my head saying things like, ‘Who do you think that you are to interview these amazing people? Everyone will think that you’re ridiculous, a fraud, unqualified!’ I was feeling intimidated, full of self-doubt. I really had to reassure myself that I was capable of doing this. I had to remind myself that everybody feels self-doubt sometimes. Requesting and conducting those interviews, even though I was nervous, was a confidence building experience. And confidence is useful in so many areas of life.

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Afternoon Tea at the Spiegeltent at Edinburgh International Book Festival

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There are doubtless many other ways that writing journalism is can help with your creative writing (and vice versa!), but those are just a few that came to mind. When I told my partner (who is a film critic) I was writing this blog post, he suggested quite a few other ways journalism might be useful for other types of writing: gaining practice working with an editor, the ability to do background research and even (for interviewers especially) being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from. Maybe you’ve got more to add?

Overall, I interviewed nine artists in August. Here’s a sample of those:

Meow Meow, singer/dancer/actress extraordinaire, in which we talk about fairy tales and her cabaret reimagining of The Little Mermaid.

Holly Smale, bestselling children’s book author of the GEEK GIRL series. We talk about travel and why teen books are so important.

Leyla Josephine, poet and performer from Glasgow whose show Hopeless was long listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award.

Meik Wiking, bestselling author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, about his next book, hygge and mindfulness.

Full list of my articles here.

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Stay tuned for a blog post next week about my favorite shows I saw across all the festivals.

x Carly

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