The summer job you wanted has just fallen through, you’ve no time to get work experience and if you do nothing for a month, you’ll go insane. What do you do? If you’re me, you commit to writing 40,000 words.
The idea came about after a sponsored internet detox the previous year. I’d long been considering a career in journalism, and I wondered what the opposite kind of project would look like. So when I learned I had a month of unexpected downtime, I hatched a plan: write 40,000 words in 25 days to raise money for Combat Stress, a military charity that helps treat the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My degree course is fairly intense, usually requiring two or three pieces of work a week, so I’m used to churning out words quickly. 1,600 words a day didn’t seem an unreasonable target – enough to be a challenge, but not so much that I’d turn into a complete recluse and not leave the house for a month. To gin up sponsorship, anyone sponsoring more than £10 became an official position of a day’s posts (and also received some light mocking), and anyone sponsoring more than £3 could request a post topic, thus generating a supply of ideas to write about. I’d get some writing experience, perhaps a few clips to showcase, and I’d make up for not having time to blog properly during the academic year.
I do feel that it’s helped my writing – when you write 40,000 words over a short period, you can’t help but improve. I’m more confident in my ability to add value to news topics and new ideas for posts come much more easily. The positive comments from friends have also been a huge boost. I’ve also learnt what I’m good at writing – “big thought” pieces and analysis are difficult, explainer pieces aren’t too bad and humour practically writes itself. But I’ve shown that I can write several different types of piece, and it’s given me experience in writing about economic and political issues that don’t work well in student newspapers.
It was, however, very difficult. For some reason, I’d held the expectation that I’d become a budding Ezra Klein, able to produce multiple daily posts with smart insight and occasional humour. That expectation was shattered very quickly. It turns out that 1600 words a day is quite a heavy commitment, especially when you’re trying to generate substantive post ideas in the middle of “silly season”. And I found myself playing to my worst tendencies in order to make up word count – long, run-on sentences, needless asides, and a 2000 word post on the idea of compulsory A Level maths. As a result, most of the blog will be disappearing from the internet fairly quickly.
In terms of improving a journalism career, was it worth it? My writing’s improved and I’ve written a few posts that could be useful for future applications (though they need a bit of editing!) The £200 for charity is also something I’m proud of. But it’s hard not to conclude that some formal work experience would have been more beneficial. That said, if you have a month with nothing to do, it’s probably worth considering.
Luke Sweeney is an economics student at the University of Cambridge and digital editor at Varsity. He tweets @econluke and his writing has also appeared in The Guardian, The Cambridge Student and Political Promise.
Image courtesy of JD Hancock.