How to (kind of) make it as a M&G columnist

 

 

THE FIFTH COLUMN

This is my last column for the Mail & Guardian and I thought it fitting to share with any young writers out there how I — if not scaled the heights of newspaper column writing — rose from obscurity to fill a small space at the back of the opinion section once every two weeks.

I started with a blog — and I started angry. In 2010, on a blogging platform called Thought Leader, I focused residual teenage angst that seemed to bubble up at the age of 30. The blog did pretty well and peaked, I thought, when a 5FM DJ tweeted a post. What I hoped would be a tipping point that would propel me to the holy grail of print publishing turned out to be my second to last entry — a rant against a major religion bringing things to a close. The first time I made contact with the paper again was many years hence.

So the blogging route didn’t work out for me and I advise others without the qualifications or people skills to reach the upper echelons of casual column writing to try a different approach — write to the editor. “Bombard with” is probably a better description. Repeatedly send ideas, then entire pieces that you think constitute carefully considered columns to the opinion and analysis editor. And copy in the editor-in-chief if you have the confidence (I didn’t).

There will be rejection in the form of no replies, which will haunt you for days. Keep going. If a column on Apple’s Siri word choices gets no reply, send one on a new R&B song that grew from the simple idea that, in South Africa, Rihanna would probably be spelled Riana. When your Riana piece gets published, look for your name in print while standing in Checkers, wondering when security is going to tell you to buy the paper if you want to read it.

You’ll find your name (eventually) and might think that your career is up and running. Think again. More sending of much reviled unsolicited ideas will have to ensue, and at least two more pieces published before the happy day when a document called a contributor form arrives. Now you’re in. Print, sign, scan, send and do what is called “file” a piece for four years until they ask you to stop.


If you follow this path you would see four editors come and go, but not shake the hand of one of them. You’ll grow close to the copy editor, saying horribly inappropriately how good it is to hear his voice when speaking to him after the Christmas holidays. You’ll gauge the quality of your work by whether the paper tweets about it and assume it’s trash when it doesn’t. You’ll wonder when the paper is going to promote you to the front pages, wonder when The Guardian, The New York Times and The New Yorker are going to invite you to write for them because your name is in print every two weeks.

Young writer, these are “grandiose ideas”. You have to let go of them.

If these things do happen for you (as I still hope they might for me) it’s fate. If not, the universe has other ideas.

l Thanks to everyone who read my column over the past four years, and to the M&G for giving me the opportunity to write what I please. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Hans Mackenzie Main
Hans Mackenzie Main
Writer/Columnist at Mail & Guardian

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Medical aids blame external costs as fees increase beyond inflation

Medical aid is becoming more of a luxury for many South Africans, and it’s not about to get any better

Mahikeng compounds its mess

The ailing town that wasted R2-billion appoints a municipal manager rated ‘basic’, the lowest level

More top stories

Guilty: ANC orders Diko to step aside

The ANC’s disciplinary committee has recommended Khusela Diko stay away from any government position after it found her guilty of bringing the party into disrepute

Cape Town fire burns for a third day, authorities confirm...

Fresh firefighting teams are expected to take over from the crews that battled the blaze throughout Monday evening

North West premier refuses to resign as IPC looks for...

Sources say Job Mokgoro has refused to abide by an order to resign as premier, making it hard for the IPC to install a new person in the position

Nigeria’s Super Falcons: playing and begging

The Super Falcons are the undisputed queens of African football, winning 11 of the 13 women’s continental championships ever played. But they still have to beg the Nigerian federation for pay and respect
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…