Seema Bhakta: So you want to be a writer (but don’t have the degree)

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So you want to be a writer (but don't have the degree)

We’re taught from an early age about grammar and semantics—how to eloquently weave words together to paint a picture. Throughout the course of our education, we write reports on everything from what we did last summer to colonial imperialism and later scramble to put pieces together from research for our term papers. But not all of us choose a college major in English Literature, Communications or anything else in the Fine Arts where we can actually refine our writing to be a professional writer.

We are the people who have these initial hopes of reaching other careers, whatever they may be, by choosing another specific major in college—a time when most of us are first navigating the real world, wondering if the mystery meat in the dining hall is edible, and trying to set up a study date with the cute boy in ecology class. Thus, that dream you had at 17 may not be the same dream you have at 25.

When I was in graduate school for a non-fine arts field, I began to explore the potential of serious writing. Although most of my writing was through assignments and reports, I began to write just for myself. I would have deep conversations with passionate friends, I would write down witty titles, and I kept a journal. As I looked back at the imaginative world that was brought before me through the chapters of various books, I stumbled upon that missing piece that I was hungry for: to tell a story.

I had already begun volunteering with a storytelling organization, and I got involved in reproductive justice. I began to read personal narratives, opinion pieces, and stories about things happening around the world. I began to look at storytelling through a journalistic lens, and I knew that one day I wanted to have a career that took that approach.

The summer I graduated, I was lost because I had already dipped my toes in research. Research in my field (or where the jobs were), consisted of analysis of large data sets to produce percentages and statistics that never could tell a story, just a fact. Once I realized I wanted to explore the right side of my brain, I looked at countless job listings that preferred candidates with a degree in creative arts, journalism, communications, or anything of that nature. I thought, “Well, it’s too late.” I didn’t want to go back to school, and I was already drowning in student loans.

I was discouraged at first, but I learned a lot about myself and that I was willing to push through these barriers. You may come across the ideal job that’s perfectly suited for you, but feel discouraged because that piece of paper you got after college highlights your major in a non-writing field. Although these job requirements may seem to emphasize a degree preference, you can do the job just as well as someone who has that desired major of expertise.

Here are a few things you can do to make you stand out and begin a career as a writer:

Find balance

Look for a job in your field in the meantime for steady cash flow. You can find other ways to contribute in your department such as asking your supervisor (if they are super cool) to connect you with the communications director or public relations manager. Show your interest and offer up your skills.

Start a blog

Begin developing your platform online by writing whatever interests you, whether it’s journalism or even fiction storytelling. Follow like-minded bloggers. They can be really good inspiration.

Keep a journal

Document everything you see, hear, or read that inspires you, whether it’s from your own experiences or something you witnessed while riding the train. Keeping a journal can help you come up with topics to write about. Personal narratives or inspirations from outside can one day be used for a memoir, short story ideas, or even a post for an online magazine.

Volunteer/intern

There are a lot of internships and volunteer opportunities for those seeking communications or editorial work. Start by finding something in your field, then look for opportunities in public relations or social media management. This is a good starting point for developing your skills as well as showcasing what you can really do. Who knows, this could even lead to a job!

Contribute to online publications

Find blogs and websites that are looking for contributors and pitch an idea to the editor. This is a good way to build up a portfolio and collect writing samples for future job applications. Start by writing on your own blog or a platform like Medium and then offer contributions to publications you’re interested in and read regularly.

Offer to proofread

Ask your writer friends (or anyone) if you can proofread what they’ve been writing. You’ll sharpen writing and editing skills, and you can add this to your resume (and maybe even get testimonials out of your friends).

Start small. Go big.

Seema BhaktaSeema Bhakta has a photography blog which she rarely updates. She has a degree in Public Health and works as a Data Analyst and volunteers for storytelling organizations for health & human rights. You can follow Seema on Twitter.

 

 

 

Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to wittycassiehere@gmail.com.

Marnie Silverman: Excerpt from “Incident Pit”

Excerpt from "Incident Pit" by Marnie Silverman

This is a reader-submitted post with a spooky theme (note the author’s headshot!). Support your fellow writers & share it!

Oakes looked up, angling the video camera so that it focused on the slowly diminishing disc of light where Jacob’s Well opened up to meet the divers jumping into it. His nostrils were burning – a few more feet down and he felt his ears pop. The four-meter-wide opening to the Well became a half-moon shape, then a sliver, hidden by a large outcropping of rock. Oakes felt the familiar, fluttery stirrings of an anxiety attack in his gut. What if we can’t make it back up? His vision swam.

Derry tapped him on the shoulder, and Oakes made the mistake of yelling in surprise. A stream of bubbles shotgunned from his mouth. Derry cocked his head and motioned up towards the mouth of the Well, and Oakes understood immediately, pushing off the closest rock with his feet and trying desperately not to hit his head on anything on the way up. His chest felt like it was caving in, his lungs straining to make air, his heart hammering as it worked overtime. Finally, he broke the surface and levered himself painfully out of the Well.

“Oakes!” Derry appeared out of the water seconds later. “You okay?”

Oakes forced himself to the closest platform of rock and sat down. His muscles were singing in pain, and he slicked his wet hair back from his forehead with hands that had started to shake violently. Most of the footage from the ascent was probably going to be unusable.

“I’m okay,” he said hoarsely, more for Derry’s benefit than his own. “I just panicked when I couldn’t see the way out. I can’t hold my breath as long as you can.”

Derry sat down next to him on the rock. “Do you want to stay up here awhile? It’ll look cool if you do some shots from above of me swimming down into the cave, right?”

“Yeah.”

 

“What if we can’t make it back up? His vision swam.”

 

Oakes kicked his feet in the water. Even though he’d been playing cameraman-slash-significant-other to Derry for a year and a half already, it was hard to keep the two roles separate, and the lingering anxiety that something was going to go terribly wrong was always there in the back of his mind. Oakes wasn’t sure he would ever understand why half a million people got such a kick out of watching Youtube videos of Derry doing stunts where one tiny error in judgment could send even a true professional to the ER. But he loved Derry, so when Derry said things like “Let’s go to Texas over your spring break so I can jump into an underwater cave system that people have died in,” Oakes said, stupidly, “Okay.”

“Come on.” Derry kissed Oakes on the cheek, and stood, ignoring the flush that spread across Oakes’ face. “I’ll go down a couple more times and then we can go back to the lodge and order a pizza or something.”

“Can’t we go now? I have hours of footage,” Oakes said. The sun was going down, and doing this kind of thing in the dark made him even more uneasy than doing it in broad daylight.

“Fifteen more minutes. I just want to swim down two more times. Please?”

Derry looked up with big, hopeful eyes, wringing water out of his cargo pants and readjusting his chest binder. He was a blurry, brown figure in Oakes’s vision, and got blurrier the farther away he became, prompting Oakes to dig his glasses out of the backpack of dry clothes they had brought with them.

Not as begrudgingly as he would have liked to, Oakes got up and tightened the camera strap around his hand. “Fine.”

He followed Derry back to the opening of Jacob’s Well, standing on the lip of the expansive hole, where the water only came up to his shins. Dipping the camera into the water, Oakes watched Derry’s body at the center of the tiny screen, growing smaller and smaller until it was only a few pixels, enveloped by the blackness of the long tunnel below.

✂✂✂

“Did you know mountain lions are native to Wimberley?”

“I’m not going to film you wrangling a mountain lion.” Oakes stepped out of the bathroom, toweling off his hair and ducking to prevent smacking his head on the doorframe. “If you wanted to do that, we could have stayed closer to home.”

“There are no mountain lions in Indiana,” Derry said knowledgeably.

“Right.” Oakes’s lips twitched into a wry smile. He rooted around in his suitcase for a moment until he came up with his Purdue University Fort Wayne sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants, and began pulling them on as he spoke. “Are we going back to Jacob’s Well tomorrow? What time do you want to wake up?”

Derry rolled over on the bed, placing the trail guide he had been reading back on the nightstand. “I already set an alarm. I want to stop at the dive shop near there and rent some equipment so we can go deeper in the caves.”

“Deeper? You know people have died in there, right?”

Oakes turned his back to Derry, no longer feeling capable of faking a smile. Instead, he busied himself with plugging the waterproof camera into his laptop, which sat on the large wooden desk in the corner of the room. He clicked on the video files one by one, opening them and booting up the editing program he used to make their footage palatable for aspiring daredevils on YouTube.

“That’s why I want the equipment,” Derry explained. “It’s a lot easier not to die when you’ve got a tank of oxygen strapped to your back. Do you mind if I turn the light off?”

“Go ahead.” Oakes waved a hand dismissively. It was met with the room falling dark, lit only by the persistent glow of his computer screen. He heard Derry shifting on the bed, rustling the sheets.

“Don’t go to bed too late. I set the alarm for seven.”

Oakes sighed. He had been hoping to sleep in. “Okay.”

✂✂✂

Oakes watched footage of Derry scaling rock formations and diving into Jacob’s Well until Derry began to snore, then got out his noise-cancelling headphones and began to edit the clips down into a ten minute video that he could post to the YouTube channel before they left in the morning. It was another fifteen minutes before he saw the strange anomaly in the film he had taken towards the end of the day.

In the shots he had taken from above, watching Derry descend into the Well, something else was moving around in the water. It was oval in shape, and at first Oakes mistook it for a speck of dirt on the camera lens, but it was clearly swimming. The way the bottom of it undulated provided the bare suggestion of paddling legs. It was only on screen for a few seconds, in the interim between Derry vanishing from sight and swimming back up towards the surface again.

 

“The way the bottom of it undulated provided the bare suggestion of paddling legs.”

 

“Probably a fish,” Oakes muttered to himself, and tabbed over to the next file.

It was another video of Derry swimming, taken while Oakes had been standing on a rock above the water. He pulled his chair closer to the desk and scanned the computer screen for signs of anything else but Derry moving around in the depths of the well. There was nothing. At least, nothing until Derry had resurfaced from the Well. The shot zoomed in on the mouth of the hole, and at that precise moment, something large and flat skittered over the jagged walls within, deeper into the water.

Oakes’s heart surged up into his throat, the sudden, unexpected movement making him jump. He played the clip over again, slower, to make sure his eyes hadn’t played tricks on him. The footage hadn’t lied. The creature was still there, even the second time around.

“What the fuck is that?” Oakes asked under his breath.

He paused the video and went back to look at the others, at the ones he had taken while in the Well with Derry. The creature wasn’t in any of them, not as far as he could tell, even when looking at the clips in slow-mo. None of them except the last one he had shot underwater – he had thought that the footage of his ascent from the Well would be too shaky to be used, but he had somehow managed to keep his hand fairly steady. Steady enough to reveal the underside of something looking down at him from the outcropping of rock that blocked out the sunlight from the surface, its antennae twitching, jaws opening and closing so distinctly that Oakes could almost hear the click-clack of them doing so.

How did I not see that while I was underwater? Oakes ground his teeth together. It probably wasn’t even anything to worry about. Just a crab, maybe. There were probably a lot of weird fish that lived in those caves. It was stupid, to be scared of a non-threatening fish.

Nonetheless, he shut his laptop and decided that it was time to stop editing for the night. Being tired was making him jumpy and unfocused, and neither of those were things he could afford to be tomorrow, when he and Derry would be going into the caves proper. Oakes put his glasses on the nightstand and climbed in under the covers next to Derry, who grunted and tugged him closer without waking up.

His dreams were disturbed by the memory of his chest compressing, the feeling of spindly, hooked crustacean legs latching themselves in his clothes and hair and dragging him down through cold, dark water, his body bouncing against rocks like a ragdoll.

 

Marnie Silverman

Marnie Silverman is a junior creative writing major at Goucher College, who also makes music and art in what little free time she has. Currently, she is doing a semester abroad in Norwich, England, which boasts such exotic wildlife as swans, hedgehogs, and an entire army of wild rabbits. She is also the author of Something Waiting, a book of original short stories, which you can find here.

 

 

 

 

Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to wittycassiehere@gmail.com.

Anna Barnard Wright: Should we encourage plus-sized beauty?

This is a reader-submitted post. Leave some love for the author in the comments or share it!

Plus-Sized Beauty

(Hint: Yes.)

For its August issue, Women’s Running magazine featured a plus-sized model on the front cover. There was overwhelming support from the plus-sized community and other decent humans, yet the story sparked outcry from many. I often get into this debate on Twitter (sigh), and it frustrates me that the argument even has to be discussed: Plus-sized models should be equally represented in the media, without backlash.

But first, let’s talk about the ridiculous definition of “plus-sized.” Despite the UK average for a woman being a size 16, models are classed as plus-sized from a size 12 and up. Being a 10/12 myself, I’m often a “large” in Hollister and a very snug “medium” in Urban Outfitters. By this logic, an average, size-16 girl might be an XXL. How can average be based upon XXL? Not only does this make online shopping difficult, but it has a detrimental effect on girls’ confidence and self-esteem. The media would have you believe that an XS is the only appropriate size for young girls, and while it is normal for some, this is simply not a reflection of most of our society. It’s important for retailers to cater to a more realistic range of bodies and lower the bar.

My second issue is those who condemn plus-sized models for being “unhealthy.” (Unsurprisingly, these people also tend to hate feminism, immigrants, human rights, etc.) There isn’t one definitive image of “healthy,” so it isn’t accurate or fair to judge someone’s health purely by his or her physical appearance. The range of healthy BMI’s is actually pretty wide, and people carry weight differently depending on a number of factors.

You also have to consider that metabolism varies from person to person. It’s quite possible that a smaller person eats more than a larger person, but you wouldn’t know it either way. A truly healthy diet involves balance and variety. Foods containing naturally occurring good fats are far more beneficial to your health than many “diet” products loaded with chemicals. Crash dieting does more damage than maintaining a slightly higher yet stable weight.

It baffles me that so many people are willing to cast aside plus-sized models as unhealthy but accept slimmer models, who are overrepresented (their body types make up just 5 percent of the general population), without second thought. A huge problem affecting many of these size double-zero models is drug addiction and using drugs as a means of radical dieting. Yet the Obese Police don’t consider this to be an unhealthy lifestyle. Who sets the standards? I usually hear the argument, “Fat people are a strain on the government, wasting tax-payers’ money.” Politicians waste much more money—target your abuse at them instead.

Of course being overweight isn’t ideal for many, and there’s no question obesity is a serious problem, but not one we should shame people for. In fact, a study by experts at University College London has shown fat-shaming actually has the opposite effect. Over a four-year period, those subjected to “weight discrimination” gained an average of 0.95kg (or two pounds) compared to the control group who lost an average of 0.71kg (around 1.6 pounds). As well as weight gain, fat-shaming leads to self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia and countless other serious illnesses. These sufferers also need support from the government. A healthy mental attitude and wellbeing have a more positive impact on life. Encouragement beats shame.

Two brilliant role models are YouTubers Louise Pentland (SprinkleofGlitter) and Sarah Rae Vargas (RavingsByRae). They know they’re larger ladies; you don’t need to tell them. However, they focus on promoting self-love, acceptance and embracing what you have. This is especially important for an audience of young girls. They wear what they like and do what they want. They’re happy. Surely this is a healthier lifestyle than constantly feeling ashamed and embarrassed, feeling you’re worth less than anyone else?

No one has the right to punish people for their appearance. Someone else’s weight has nothing to do with you, and it’s not your problem to solve. Weight doesn’t define a person. Plus-sized ladies (and men) have as much right to chase their dreams and feel beautiful as anyone else. It’s not about encouraging obesity—no one sets out with that goal. It’s about encouraging happiness and a healthy mind.

Anna Barnard WrightAnna Barnard Wright is a British sociology student at the University of Durham. She’s an aspiring journalist who writes passive aggressively about beauty, lifestyle and other first world musings on her blog, Collections of Imperfections. Anna is a tea drinking introvert and proudly uncool, though not in the way that’s now considered cool. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 


Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to wittycassiehere@gmail.com.

Photo via Wikimedia CC/Tiffany Bailey

Feminist to Follow: Seema from The Subtle Hipster

This month’s Feminist to Follow has made feminism and public health her life’s work.

Seema Bhakta is not only a storyteller and photojournalist, but a researcher and advocate for various organizations and nonprofits that support and promote women’s well-being, including MCH in Action, a student organization centered on maternal, childbirth, sexual and reproductive health.

Seema is the blogger behind The Subtle Hipster, where, in addition to highlighting news in feminism, she writes about books, adventure, food and more. Below, she shares a thoughtful essay on why blogging about feminism is important to her. Read on!

Feminist to Follow: Seema from The Subtle Hipster

Blogging about feminism is important to me because I believe the movement is not only about equal opportunities for women, but increasing the support of diversity, reducing stigma and fighting for the rights of everyone discriminated based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Just like everything else, I don’t think feminism is a black or white topic. It’s a spectrum and there are definitely a lot of gray areas. I’ve read articles and tweets from people who say they don’t think of themselves as feminists because they never faced inequalities in life or work. There are also the misguided folks who say, “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men.” Out of respect, we are all entitled to our own opinions but reality is, these stereotypes don’t touch the true meaning of feminism.

As I look back on my life, growing up in a very liberal state but in a more conservative community, I never expressed my own opinions or realized that I even had any. I always thought that these fights are not mine, that I had nothing to worry about. Ignorance, perhaps. I grew up thinking I was not a feminist because like others I never faced (or realized) the discrimination. But now that I am older and wiser, I realize that the challenges women face is universal regardless of whether I have experienced it or not. Even if I feel that I have not had to face unequal opportunities, being a feminist should mean that as a woman, I support other women in their fight for equality.

I read Yes, Please last month and loved this quote from Amy Poehler: “Good for her, not for me.” When I was in graduate school, there would be debates about what is right versus what is wrong for women in childbirth. This really frustrated me. You can give me all the data about healthy birth practices, parenting methods and breastfeeding, but at the end of the day it is the individual’s choice about what is right for them. (I recommend checking this photo campaign out, End the Mommy Wars.)

My maternal and reproductive interests broadened when I read a book in the summer called Golden Boy. It’s about an intersex adolescent who begins to question their sexuality, identity, and how to keep secrets after an incident with a childhood friend. I have always been an LGBT ally, but as the world opens up slowly about being intersex, asexual, and trans, feminism does not just benefit cis women, but anyone who struggles because of their gender and sexual identity.

Not only do gender and sexual identity play a vital role in feminism, but race and ethnicity do, too. Racism is a feminist issue, and so is social justice. Earlier this week, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so I want to end with this quote:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

If you want to read more from Seema, check out her blog, The Subtle Hipster, and follow her on Twitter. Here are some recent highlights from her blog:

Reflection on Sex and Gender | The A-Word, Stigma & Storytelling | No More: Together We Can End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

Check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Do you have any favorite feminist bloggers?

Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current

There’s so much to say about feminism and all the issues women and minorities face, you could start a whole blog about it.

That’s exactly what Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy did in 2012, and now her site—which features multiple contributors—is the most-read feminist blog in Canada. I asked Meghan if she would share her thoughts on the importance of writing about feminism, and she blew me away with her thoughtful and nuanced response. So I’m going to let her take the reigns.

Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current

Blogging about feminism is important to me in large part because feminism is so widely misunderstood and maligned. And not only from misogynists and MRAs, but even from feminists.

The second wave was a hugely successful time for our movement, making huge strides for women in terms of issues like sexual harassment, reproductive rights, employment equity legislation and sexual assault laws. I would argue that the second wave had a bigger impact on women’s lives than any other period during the movement—yet the third wave has pretty thoroughly trashed it.

“Second wavers” is employed as an insult by many younger feminists. It’s upsetting to see women fighting themselves—I mean, do we really just want to reinvent the wheel over and over again? There are so many women and feminist struggles—successes and failures—we can learn from. The history is all there, yet we choose to believe trashing and hearsay, repeating the myth that the second wave was only about white, middle class women, and erasing all the women of colour and working class women who were central to the movement during that time (especially in Canada).

Beyond that, feminism—especially radical feminism—is pretty widely misunderstood by the general public. People either think it’s about women having power over men, like a matriarchy or something, or they think it’s about saying all women are “good” and all men are “bad,” or they think it’s just about women feeling good about themselves—that whole “anything a woman chooses to do counts as feminism” thing.

But it isn’t about any of that. It’s a political movement against patriarchy and violence against women—it’s about women’s human rights and our right to be treated with dignity and respect.

People have described Feminist Current as a kind of bridge between “popular feminism”/popular culture and a deeper feminist analysis, more closely aligned with radical and socialist feminism. I generally try to make feminist ideas and discourse relatable and clear to those who might not have a strong background in radical feminism or who have only been exposed to third wave or liberal feminism. As such, I find myself correcting misconceptions and misrepresentations of feminist ideology and goals a lot. You know, correcting the myth that anyone who opposes or is critical of pornography and prostitution is a prude or a member of the religious right, for example.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop correcting those kinds of misrepresentations because I think it is intentional, which is to say that it is has been a very successful tactic—it has scared women into staying silent on the issue, afraid that if they oppose porn or dare to question the existence of prostitution they will be labeled sex-hating, man-hating, freedom-hating prudes. People know that this tactic works; that’s why they keep doing it. The slander of feminists and the feminist movement, in general, is nothing new—it’s been going on since the first wave.

Feminism isn’t about being perfect, it isn’t about always making the right choices, it isn’t about whether or not you like fucking men or whether or not you wear Spanx—it’s about recognizing that the choices we make and that the way we behave and move around in this world is shaped by the fact that we live in a patriarchy. It’s about understanding that violence against women happens systemically, not accidentally or because there simply happens to be some men who happen to choose to rape or beat women.

We live in a world that sexualizes inequality and domination—I mean, look at the popularity of books like 50 Shades of Grey—BDSM is about domination and subordination and about playing at violence, humiliation, and torture, and we’ve learned this is “sexy.” We can’t pretend as though this isn’t totally attached to the fact that we live in a patriarchy. Acknowledging that isn’t the same as saying you can’t have fantasies or that you can’t do what you like in your bedroom. It is to say: take your blinders off, ask hard questions, don’t take anything at face value.

I blog about feminism because women are raped and beaten and murdered every day, all around the world, by men. Trafficking, prostitution, and porn are huge, multi-billion dollar industries that cause immeasurable harm to women and girls. And we tend, as a society, to think of these things as perfectly normal—as titillating or naughty—not as things that perpetuate damaging stereotypes about women and men and that hurt all women—both physically as well as psychologically and politically.

I am a writer and I am a woman and I am a feminist. I can’t not write about feminism—it’s too important, and if we can’t see why, we really aren’t paying attention.

 

If you want to read more from Meghan (and other feminist writers), follow her on Twitter and make sure to check out Feminist Current. I particularly enjoyed these recent posts:

Hi the media. Do your job. Love, feminism.
Can men be allies in the fight to end violence against women? (podcast)
NOW Magazine takes a stand; will continue to generate revenue through prostitution advertisements

Thanks, Meghan, for sharing your insight. Be sure to check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Who are some of your favorite feminist bloggers?