Transition Q & A: Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She earned an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Calgary. Read more about Natalie at her website and find her @NatalieZed.

When you finished your MA, what did you plan to do next?

I initially intended to move directly from an MA into a PhD. However, for a whole variety of reasons, this didn’t happen. After applying to a PhD program and successfully getting in during the second year of my MA, I was forced to turn down the offer (and four years of funding) when I was unable to defend in time (due in part to my own struggles finishing the project, and also because my advisor was on sabbatical, living in another province, and actively attempting to leave the department at the time as well). The next year, when I applied to the same program, I did not get in. That was 2008, a terrible year for me in general; shortly after my rejection letter showed up, my marriage ended, a friend was seriously injured, and I ended up just packing up my books and leaving with my cats is despair.

How did you get your first post-MA job (and what was it)?

My first official post-MA job was a position teaching English literature and creative writing in a private high school here in Toronto. In the process of fleeing Calgary, I reached out to friends and colleagues in the city, asking for any leads on work, especially writing and teaching. A friend had taught at this particular private school in the past and was able to recommend me; I taught for them for a year, including travelling in the summer to teach a five-week screenwriting workshop in Los Angeles.

What do you do now?

I am now a full-time freelance writer. I specialize in music writing, arts and culture journalism, literary criticism, and feminism. I also write about combat sports, video games and S&M. In addition to that, I take on copywriting and content creation work from time to time. Aside from the writing, I also serve in two editorial positions: as the Managing Editor of Canada Arts Connect Magazine, an online arts and culture publication, as as the Reviews Editor for This Magazine.

What do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

Write. A lot. On any given day I have a mix of long form journalism, album reviews, book reviews, and blog posts. I also regularly conduct interviews (in person, over the phone and via email) and attend cultural events, from heavy metal concerts to arts and culture announcements.

Every day is also a constant juggling of my schedule, as new things come up, opportunities arise and some pieces take longer than I expected. I use the Evernote app extensively, both to organize my days in a fluid way and to keep track of my research for various pieces I am writing.

I also make it a personal rule to send out at least one pitch every single day, whether it is floating something by an editor that I have a relationship with or approaching an entirely new-to-me publication. A huge part of any freelance gig is hustling, finding new work, and keeping in touch with publications.

Also, as a freelancer it is absolutely crucial to promote your own work. I maintain an active social media presence across a variety of platforms, as well as a website that I treat as a constantly evolving online portfolio.

I drink way too many cups of Marks & Spencer extra strong back tea, play with my cats, take my new puppy out a million times a day, spend a lot of time interacting with friends and colleagues on Twitter, and go for long walks or runs along the boardwalk of the (now frozen) beach whenever my brain needs a kickstart.

What most surprises you about your job?

How exhausting it can be. I spend a lot of time sitting on the couch, poking away at my laptop and doing research, which seems like not a terribly strenuous activity, but it can be entirely draining.

I’m constantly surprised by the material I am writing about. Nothing gives me more joy than reading a spectacular book or listening to an excellent metal record and being able to share that excitement with a wider audience.

I am also consistently surprised that my job is even, well, a job. It is something that I invented, and yet somehow I am able to do it, to make it work and make a living this way.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

I get paid to to go heavy metal shows. If I could travel back in time and talk to my 15-year-old self for only a moment, I don’t think she would actually believe that it was a real job that someone could have.

Building an audience, connecting incredibly smart and talented people, and doing tangible work that I believe in is also a wonderful thing to be able to do.

What would you change about it if you could?

I would like to get paid more, and more regularly. Sometimes freelancing means being your own loan shark.

What do you hope to accomplish over the next few months and years?

The best way I can describe what I hope to accomplish is: exactly what I am doing now, but more. I want to write more, branch out into some new publications, continue to grow. I’d also like to get the format for my next book nailed down — I can see the vague shape of it, even coming more in focus.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-MAs or -PhDs in transition now?

Write as much as you can. Look at writing as training for a marathon: push yourself consistently and your endurance will increase. You absolutely have to have a website, somewhere that readers and potential publishers can read about you, find writing you’ve done, and where you can talk about all the excellent rockstar level stuff you are up to. Get active on social media, and be a part of the larger cultural conversation about the subjects you are interested in. Learn how to write more accessibly, and widen your audience. If you love what you are writing about, and are genuinely excited about it, that will translate. Anyone can become a better writer; you can’t teach someone to love something.

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