Welcome to Bolt’s insider secrets series! The Insider series will take you behind the scenes into the worlds of writers from different industries. Here you’ll find out everything from what their jobs are like to how to get started in their field.
Lu Ya Wen, former journalist, Wine & Dine Magazine
This week’s article will be on lifestyle writing and features Lu Yawen, a lifestyle writer from the pages of Wine and Dine Magazine. She is also a co-founder of everyone’s favourite pop-up market group, The Local People.
How did you get into the business?
I used to read a lot of detective and thriller novels, and of course, Harry Potter. I just became very familiar with words and realised I was better at expressing myself through words than speech.
My first ‘journalistic’ endeavour was when I started RCGNTN Magazine with a friend in 2008 to 2009. We used to hang out at Haji Lane and got to know a couple of self-made entrepreneurs. They were mostly skaters, fixed gear riders, graffiti artists and hip hop dancers. It was a side of Singapore we hadn’t seen before so we wanted to write about that.
The two of us went around contacting fashion designers, artists and so on for interviews and, surprisingly, they were willing (considering the fact that I was using my mobile phone to record them and not a proper device).
Before we started this, I already knew my strong suit was in writing based on the academic papers I had to do for school, but after this experience, I definitely knew I loved journalism.
How is lifestyle writing unique in terms of writing?
The biggest difference between the various types of professional writing is the tone of voice and choice of words.
As a copywriter or web content producer, you’ve to write in shorter and more succinct sentences. You can’t use big words as the language has to be understood by the general population.
Another major difference is that as a copywriter, you’re selling a product or service.
Lifestyle writers cannot sound biased and are not promoting anything (unless you’re writing an advertorial).
What is your greatest moment on the job so far?
As a creative, the best thing that could happen is when people come up to you and tell you they love what you wrote. Writing standards are pretty much set in stone but deciding if a piece of writing is good or bad comes down to preference.
What was the most challenging moment on the job?
I was sent to Australia for a travel story with the brief to check out the growing bar scene. Due to the oversight of the organiser, I got to Adelaide on Thursday and none of the bars were open.
When I got back to Singapore, I had to change the entire angle for Adelaide. I did most of my research online and it really got my adrenaline going! I actually thought it was easier to write than the Perth story where things mostly went to according to plan; I had less information to sift through for Adelaide, which made it easier to narrow down the angle.
Tips and tricks for your industry.
Be fearless – Don’t be afraid to ask how to spell certain names or words your interviewee mentions – don’t worry if they’re going to think you’re inexperienced or dumb, it’s best to clarify with the person you’re interviewing especially when he/she is here only for a visit (you’ll regret you didn’t clarify when you have to go through countless PR reps).
Do your research – Before meeting someone or going for an interview, do as much research as you can on the project or the person so you can ask the right questions and avoid the ones that have been asked countless times.
Take note of your surroundings – Paying attention to the colour of the walls, the cufflinks worn or the drinks served will add colour to your article.
Read more! – There is always room for improvement so continue to read articles that interest you or writers whom you aspire to be like.
Be friendly – Get to know and remember people in the industry, you never know when you’d need a favour from someone.
What are some things you wish you knew before you entered the industry?
There’s nothing I wish I knew, I came in not knowing anything and I think that’s the best way to learn.
How would a novice get started in your industry?
As with everything, start from the bottom up – internship. You’ve got to pay your dues not just because you have to but starting from scratch teaches you the best lessons you can learn, and you get to expand your network.
There’s no ideal publication or company you have to start with; I believe every company has its strength and flaws.
Can you recommend some of your favourite books, reference material, essential texts to read?
I think the one ironic thing about being a writer is that you don’t get the time to read once you become a professional writer/content producer/journalist. Reading material depends on the style you’re attracted to and for me, it’s The New Yorker issues. They have a great variety of world topics and an exceptionally witty one-article column on restaurant reviews.
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