I Want To Be… A Sex Journalist!

I’m delighted to bring back my much-beloved I Want To Be… careers series! It was a massive success, & an excellent way of disseminating real, practical career advice from people who are in the industry. (Hint: click the I Want To Be… tag for all the other interviews!)

Shockingly, I had actually forgotten all about the series until Molly brought it up at dinner the other night! So… thank you Molly for the reminder!

We’re starting up again with an interview with Rabbit from RabbitWrite.com. She’s a writer, editor & sex journalist — nice combination!

Rabbit WritePhoto by Edmund X White.

Tell us about what you do.
I am a freelance writer and editor. I call what I do “sex journalism”– I am a trained journalist and I’ve made my beat sex, gender and relationships. I also blog about these topics at RabbitWrite.com.

What does an average day at work look like for you?
Every day is different. As a freelance writer, I balance many stories and projects at once. So one day might be interviewing sex workers for a story on prostitution, the next it might be editing or writing or pitching new stories and catching up on e-mail. My work day starts at 8 a.m. I write, edit and correspond until about 5:00 p.m. After dinner, I often relax with my laptop to do some creative writing or blog work.

Do you work alone or with other people?
It’s just me and my cat at Rabbit White headquarters all day. I do have online work relationships with editors, bosses and other writers.

Is this what you wanted to do as a child? Did you end up in this job by “accident” or was it a planned career choice?
When I was growing up I wanted to be many things: an artist, a clothing designer, a novelist. But the fantasy was always about creating something. When I am creatively producing, I feel challenged, I feel alive and centered. This is my true work. After highschool I was doing a lot of creative writing. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and making a career from of a journalism major seemed more do-able than a poetry major.

How long ago did you start on this path?
I really believe that everything we do contributes to our “true work”. Whether it is a gig that sets us on our “true work” path, or corrects us to the right one. I didn’t take a single journalism class until age 20, but I had made my own ‘zines and even written a few essays for small websites. Even back then, I was writing about sex, gender and feminism. I didn’t consciously know my path, but now I see I was already on it. I started full time freelance writing about a year ago.

How long were you doing it before you made it into your career or primary form of income?
I was lucky enough to have a partner to help financially, but honestly I was able to make ends meet within about a month. In those first few months I had two paid sex writing gigs and a slew of copy writing. Creative work just doesn’t pay the bills like commercial work. So even now, I still also do some copy writing.

I am lucky to be paid for my passion, but I honestly believe that there is room for everyone to offer the world their “true work”. For some people, that might mean not getting paid in the beginning or maybe ever. But you’ve just gotta figure out a way to make it work.

Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
I saw that a lot of people just let their life’s work happen to them. This was the opposite of what I wanted but I was just chucking away at a 9-5 as an admin assistant. I realized I had to go after my life’s work. I realized I really did want to be a writer. And all it would take was just doing it. I had to get that I was as valid as anyone else who wanted to be a writer, even if I didn’t have a ton of clips, or the right internship or whatever.

I used to feel like it was too late but If you let that voice take over then you’ll never get anything done. Finding your life’s work is an adventure, and one you’ve gotta choose to go on.

What kind of education do you have?
I have a BA in journalism, with a concentration in magazine writing from Columbia in Chicago, I also took gender studies as a minor.

Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
Anyone can be a journalist. You don’t have to go to journalism school. Official qualifications are not important for writers. What is important in this industry is networking and honing your skills. When you are a creative producer, good craft goes far.

If you don’t go to school and instead buy a books on journalism, read a lot and write, you could rise faster than the kids in j-school, bored to tears in “trade magazine writing” class.

If you went to school, did you enjoy studying? Could you see where it might lead you at the time? What advice would you give to someone else who might be studying to get into your industry?
Often it seems school is about taking what you love and draining all of the passion out of it. After school I had to re-kindle my love of journalism, and that took about a year. But I am glad I went to school, I know how to write a story, I know the culture of journalism. And I do still refer back to what I learned. My advice: school will probably drive the passion out of you. But take good notes while you are there, look for your niche, hone your writing and network!

Rabbit WritePhoto by Edmund X White.

What do you think is the best thing about what you do?
As a journalist who specializes in long form feature stories, not only do I get to produce something creative, I get to spread information. The best thing about what I do is encouraging curiosity and learning. As far as the “sex” part goes, I work to shatter fears, stereotypes and defenses around sex (kinks included.) My goal is for the readers to become more accepting of sexuality and to get curious about the world around them. I cover things outside the norm but the idea isn’t to present a novel sex act in order to entertain or shock. The idea is to challenge the way we think about sex, intimacy and relationships. To incite thought on the topic of sex.

What’s the worst thing?
Just like I had to claim journalism for myself, I am trying to claim my ground as a fiction and creative non fiction writer. I’ve met a few established fiction writers, and wonder if my being a journalist–especially a SEX journalist–holds me back from breaking in. I’ve not yet found a way to mesh my creative writing with my journalism career, but I am trying.

Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
I would call myself driven. I am totally alright with that and I think it’s a MUST in my industry.

What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
The permission to be a writer only comes from you. If you want it, you have to start doing it. Start a blog, write or edit something every day. When people ask what you do, don’t tell them about your day job, tell them about the rest of your time. Subscribe to the RSS feed of Craigslist’s freelance writing gigs, pitch to publications, network with editors on twitter. Most importantly, write. Get your 10,000 hours in.

…How about number two?
1. If I am your interviewer and I ask “what is your true work?” how do you answer? 2. Write down do-able goals, movements you will make toward your true work. Re-visit this list and evaluate it from time to time. 3. Ask a close friend to describe your real work for you in writing. 4. What is your true work? Keep writing down answers to this question until you find one that moves you. 5. Remember, there is room for everyone to do their true work.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
It’s gonna take a long time to be where you want to be, just stick with it.

There was some stellar advice from Ira Glass about this: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
MISCONCEPTION: Print is dead and there are no jobs in journalism. TRUTH: We are in the throes of the wild wild west of writing. The Internet has totally changed the game and it has brought a lot of (paying) jobs. Many of them are freelance. I agree that print is dead. You know what else is dead? Journalists being chained to the newsroom–I for one celebrate that.

Do you ever have any ethical dilemmas with the work you do?
In nearly every story I write there is an ethical dilemma. As a journalist, I have a commitment to the truth as I perceive it. Sometimes that means people who were really nice in interviews get quoted negatively. Writing creatively is even harder. I write about my life, so people who I love are sometimes portrayed in a negative light.

It is never my intent to personally maim, though I realize I may hurt people and I take full responsibility for that. My mission is to always incite incite critical thinking and empathy. With any ethical dilemma it is key to look at intent versus outcome.

What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?
The best thing is every time someone sends me an e-mail saying that a blog or story I wrote has helped them. That is what keeps me going. That is the very reason I write. But things like being interviewed by the Huffington Post or The Young Turks OR the fabulous Gala Darling about my “sex journalism” isn’t bad either!

What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
I am motivated by ideas and communication.

Being motivated by ideas is when I am reading a book of short stories in the tub and I suddenly leap out, run to my laptop and start furiously typing. Being motivated by communication is about the readers. My writing, and especially my blog is not meant to be a monologue, it’s meant to be a dialogue, a conversation with the reader. So I am also motivated by other people adding their ideas to mine and picking up where I left off.

Who do you look up to within your industry & why?
I respect the hell out of Violet Blue’s hustle. The Beautiful Kind has made it her mission to help people’s sex lives and everyday she does, totally inspiring. Some of my favorite sex writers are Vagina Drum, Slutever and Avatar Koo. Those ladies are for real writers, their blogs will send shivers down your spine.

Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
85-90: there are always the moments where the sun escapes behind the clouds and things feel a little darker. My work is challenging and exciting and scary and emotional. But all of those emotions make me feel whole.

Is there much career progression available to you? What would you like to do next?
I am 25 and in the beginning of my career, I hope there is only progression from here! I’d like to keep blogging, do sex journalism for more and more outlets and find a way to mesh creative writing into my career. Also, there are just so many books I could write.

Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?
“True work” isn’t like nirvana, it isn’t a single answer we reach and that is it. I think we are forever finding and altering it. I am still discovering my true work, but I am also actively creating it!

Thank you so much, Rabbit, for your insights! I hope this was useful to any budding writers out there, & maybe gave you the kick up the butt you needed to start writing!