Penny Modra of ThreeThousand on writing

Penny Modra is editor of ThreeThousand, a weekly email guide to Melbourne’s subculture whose sister publications include FourThousand and TwoThousand for Brisbane and Sydney, respectively. Emerging creative hub Junior interviewed Penny for their second entry in an series profiling established creative types and their advice for the legion of youth attempting to break into industries such as advertising, architecture, design, photography and journalism. 

If you’re reading my blog, you’ll want to read the entire interview. Some quotes:

If you want to make money from writing, you’ve got to understand what copywriting is, and you’ve got to seriously love it (rather than view it as some kind of inglorious detour on your route to literary fame). You also have to actually read the publications you pitch to.

Do you really want an internship at The Age where they’ll pay you nothing and cycle you through business, sports, travel and whatever else for basically no pay? Or would you like to have a column one day that someone has given you because you’ve built up your own identity as a writer more broadly? Better to take on the real world from the start I think.

This is a refreshing outlook. Leave the fact-reporting to boring people. Be known for being interesting, and people will want to talk to you and read you.

…we’re always looking for people who can turn 150 words on a t-shirt into a really good piece of reading. Or a bar write-up into the highlight of someone’s day. And this is a rare and valuable skill.

If you have studied journalism you may well be bitter and pessimistic already – all the joy and honesty has been sapped from you… So try to remember your English language skills and forget everything else. People who are honest, and have genuine curiosity and a real interest in the world are good writers.

I took a grammar elective during the semester just passed, and it started to affect my appreciation of the language. Analysing sentence construction and subordinate phrases is amazingly boring. As a result, I am far more concerned with cultivating an entertaining tone than being grammatically correct.

When you’re pitching to other people, you can send them links to your work. Or you can just meet them by saying “Oh herro, I linked to you in my blog because I think you are rad.” (People do this all the time, apparently. Look, I know it sounds lame, but it’s NOT.) Make sure every piece of work you do is solid gold, no matter what it’s for.

She’s right, it’s not lame. It’s a massive fucking compliment to receive from a fellow writer when you’re young and making a name for yourself, when you don’t know whether what you’re writing is any good.

Get away from school and university networks and clubs and join real world clubs. Such as people who sit at bars and bitch about life. Or people who help out at radio stations. Or people who start magazines. Or run arts festivals. And when you are in conversations with people, listen to what they’re saying. Don’t be all shy, just actually listen to them and then you’ll relax and think of things to say back.

Further to this, I think it’s important to realise that most people won’t read what you write, and to become comfortable with that fact. Because you’ll realise that the people who do read are the ones that matter. They’re the ones you’re writing for; the ones you want to make smile, the ones you want to keep reading your material. Because reading is fucking fun and enlightening and relaxing. There’s miles and miles of thoughts transcribed and ideas published every day, and it’s a thrill to have an audience who’re willing to take the time to read and respond to your words.

Penny ends with this quip:

NEVER use food metaphors in music write-ups. God. Just don’t do it. 

I’m guilty on at least four counts, which is just disgusting. Lesson learned.

Subscribe to Junior right now, because you’ve got no good reason not to. Their first interview with animation director Tim Kentley of XYZ Studios is excellent, too.

Comments? Below.
  1. “Make sure every piece of work you do is solid gold, no matter what it’s for.”

    I guess that counts for blogs too, which makes me guilty on far too many occasions and is the reason I always want to press the reset button.

    ThreeThousand seems like a good idea, and I’m going to check it out for a few days to see if they can hook me in.

  2. That interview made me feel… positively less excited about news writing/reporting, which I’ve done plenty as an intern. Fark.

  3. Stephen says:

    I’ve been meaning to reply to this post for a while, and kept getting distracted. But here I am back at it again, because much of it resonates with how I’ve “organised” my career. Maybe career should go in quotations as well. Hmmm.

    Anyway, an awful lot of this makes very, very good sense, I’ll cut to the chase:

    “If you want to make money from writing, you’ve got to understand what copywriting is, and you’ve got to seriously love it (rather than view it as some kind of inglorious detour on your route to literary fame).”

    I desperately wanted to be a journo when I graduated, and wasn’t able to get a position for love or money. Eventually, via a remarkably circuitous route, I secured a position as a junior copywriter at a direct marketing agency (now cum sales process consultancy). I quickly learned how much I had to learn. In retrospect it seems remarkably that they took on someone as raw as I was, but I’m a much better writer now I like to think.

    But my underlying point is that my day job isn’t glamorous. I mostly write business-to-business communication pieces that adhere to a pre-determined structure. Why? Because it works. That is: it sells shit.

    So I have a distinctly and (after seven years or so) fairly repetitive and unglamorous paying writing job that essentially pays for my marginally more sexy non-paying one that syncs into my real passion – music.

    I wonder whether this sort of setup may be the status quo for a lot of wannabe creatives. Especially in music journalism/photography, since paying gigs of that type are only slightly less rare than hen’s teeth.

    But if you’re a writer of any sort and living near the poverty line, copywriting, PR and even technical writing are all good options for something that will actually pay your bills and allow you to eat. No, you’re not going to be interviewing Jack White or Kevin Rudd and getting your name in lights. But you’re still working with words and (hopefully) becoming a better writer. That has to count for something I think.

  4. Thanks very much for your input, Stephen!


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