The Professionals: Magazine Writer, Joanna Goddard
The Professionals is a new Imprint column, where we invite people with established careers to confess about their professional lives. Think of it like a virtual careers' day.
First up is Joanna Goddard, a magazine writer living in New York City. She currently blogs for Glamour, and runs her own personal blog, Cup of Jo. She also freelances for media powerhouses, like New York Magazine and Elle.
Image Courtesy of Joanna Goddard
Joanna, when did you know you wanted to work in magazines? When I was in junior high, I would go into our family's den for hours writing even just a few lines. I adored reading and writing to a nutty degree--for example, I believed in Peter Pan (truly thought that he'd come to my window!) until I was embarrassingly old. I took advanced English classes in high school and majored in English in college. But it wasn't until my senior year in college that writing for magazines (versus writing books or teaching English) occurred to me. My then-boyfriend suggested it, and suddenly it all clicked. I was like, Yes! This is what I was meant to do!
What do you feel really propelled you into the industry? And what was the first step? After graduating from the University of Michigan, I saved up a couple thousand dollars by working three random summer jobs, and, that fall, I moved to New York. (I rented a tiny, cockroach-filled apartment with a friend--and slept on the floor in the living room for a year!) I interned at Cosmopolitan Magazine (for free) for a few months, and worked side jobs and just tried to do as much as I possibly could. I accepted every single assignment or job that came my way. I didn't turn anything down. I worked for free a lot at the beginning, to get my foot in the door, and made a (teeny) salary by working part-time evening jobs, like tutoring. Once I had Cosmo on my resume, it helped me get paying jobs at other magazines.
What was the moment (if any) where you just felt completely reassured about who you were or what you were doing professionally? I wrote a story for New York Magazine last spring about New Yorkers who always dress in the same color (gray, green, pink...) It was a really fun story to scout for and write, and lots of people responded well to it. Kanye West even blogged about it! It was really funny, and at that moment, I felt like, yes, this is where I've wanted to be. That said, you have to always stay current in the magazine world, and, as my boyfriend, who is also a writer, says, you're only as good as your last story. So you have to keep on plugging along!
Do you surround yourself with people with similar career goals? I grew up in Michigan and didn't know a single person in the magazine industry. (I always wished that my parents had powerful media friends, but no such luck.) So I was heading into it on my own. But after I moved to New York, I naturally gravitated to people in journalism, so many of my friends now are in the same field.
Does magazine writing really take over your life? In other words: If it is your job to write about an exciting life, do you find it necessary to live that life? Absolutely. Absolutely. A thousand percent. I am ALWAYS thinking of story ideas. When I meet new people, or am talking to old friends, I'm always, always, always staying aware of potential stories in the back of my mind. (Oh? You said you're moving into a houseboat? Oh? You were a bridesmaid 20 times? Oh? Your brother left his finance job to be a farmer upstate?) You have to constantly be on the lookout.
And I definitely network ALL the time. When you work for magazines, your social life is often blended with your work life. I have lunches with colleagues, attend media events whenever I can, try to accept lots of personal invitations, invite people out to dinner even if I don't know them very well, stay in touch with people via email, chat with people on the street, host big parties a few times a year so I can keep up these contacts (plus, it's just fun!), etc. etc. etc. I definitely think it's important to create a large community of like-minded people. Not only is it lovely and fun to get to know all these fascinating people, but, as you advance in your career, many, many jobs and assignments are via word of mouth, and most magazine articles are inspired by people you know, so it's important to stay in the loop and create a community around you.
One final tip: It's great to network both "up and down." Connect with your bosses and people you want to emulate--but also with your interns, assistants and co-workers. That way, you can all help each other as you move forward. You never know where someone will end up!