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writing and actually making a living, with crime writer William Shaw

Career Realities podcast #6:
writing and actually making a living, with crime writer William Shaw

This Career Realities interview is with writer and journalist William Shaw. Willam previously worked as a journalist, once at Smash Hits, and later the Observer, The Times and the Independent, and now makes his living as a crime fiction writer.

Among other things William talked about literally walking off the street into his first journalism job in the 70s; the difficulties of print journalism in the age of the internet; how financial institutions have little faith in you as a freelancer; and how, if he was going into journalism today, he wouldn’t be writing at all.

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For an introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On the unpredictability of money when working freelance

I can remember it being exasperating in the 90s, people wouldn’t give you a loan because you were freelance […] but nobody can sack me, however broke I get I’ve still got some money coming in, and people in full-time jobs, they can be sacked and they have nothing. So you’ve got the security of always knowing that there’s something around, but it does get quite squeaky at times.

On writers who cannot market themselves

[Marketing yourself] is a real fact of modern publishing, and there are writers who can’t do this, and they are disadvantaged in this day and age, and this is what has changed. There’s the old idea of a writer in their garret, it’s a very lovely one, but it doesn’t exist any more. It’s very hard for that kind of writer to thrive, unless they are a complete genius – and there are complete geniuses.

On the type of journalism that impressed the most

The type of journalism I liked was the sort of stuff, it’s not about being clever or witty or anything like that, it’s about getting inside a story, and making sure you’ve got all your sources there, you’re clever about finding your sources, about how you approach them, about how you interview them, and then turning in a story that nobody else could have written.

On finding your voice as a journalist

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, finding your voice is a massive step forward. And the only way you find your voice isn’t by sitting round thinking, ‘I wonder what my voice is’, it’s by writing a lot of stuff. And then your write something, and you’re not even conscious of why you wrote it that way, and suddenly you read it and you think, ‘oh, that actually works’ […] You find a way which feels honest to you.

On being a journalist in 2017

I would be going into video, I wouldn’t be going into the written word. It seems to me that is the form of the moment. If you’re looking for exciting areas that are doing stuff and going somewhere I wouldn’t be going into writing […] I don’t think journalism is a career any more, except for a handful of people. It’s actually a skillset, not a career. Writing is a brilliant skillset, and you shouldn’t not have it, and not enough people know how to do that skillset. But for very few people is it a career.

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