Every so often Featureworld receives an email from someone who would like to write a regular column for a national newspaper or magazine.
How hard can it be, they reason. After all, they are used to regularly blogging and might even regularly write for their local paper.
The truth is being a columnist for a national newspaper or magazine is extremely hard. In fact I would go as far as to say it’s one of the most difficult jobs in journalism.
For not only do you have to consistently come up with relevant, topical pieces, usually what you say must reflect the political and general views of the publication you are writing for.
But the hardest part of all is finding the right voice for your column – and being able to relate to your readers in some way. ‘Relating’ to readers incidentally doesn’t always mean they will agree with you – although it will help enormously if they do feel you are on their wavelength. However, your views must be interesting enough, your writing must be lively enough, and you need to be respected enough for people to want to read what you have to say.
Given that some readers may well buy the publication simply to read the opinions of a well-respected columnist, it comes as no surprise that if you are good, you will be able to command top fees for your writing.
But it can be a rocky road, especially when a columnist is new and just ‘bedding in’ to his or her regular column.
Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine – the wife of Education Secretary Michael Gove – is one newish columnist who appears to still be trying to find her way. Dubbed as the ‘real woman’ columnist, she debuted in the Mail September with an inoffensive piece about how wondered if she is the ‘meanest mum in the world’ because she was looking forward to her kids going back to school.
But she probably got more comments than she bargained for recently when she tested out the best dresses to flatter a fuller figure.
“One of the most difficult things about combining work and motherhood is finding the time to go to the gym,” she said adding she would always rather spend what little spare time she has with her family rather than ‘de-larding my buttocks’ on some sweaty treadmill. “As a result, I’m always looking for other ways to cut corners, or should that be curves?”
Unfortunately, the six High St dresses she tested did not flatter her at all. I have no idea if she chose them or if they were chosen for her but they made her look curvier than ever, mumsy, covered up and utterly unsexy.
The ‘sack the stylist’ article gained over 400 comments but with thousands (7000 for one comment) saying it might be better to go on a diet than to try to cover over being a overweight.
Of course, the most important attribute any columnist should have is a very thick skin but even so, few women would relish such a response to ‘does my bum look big in this?’
So was the article a success from a ‘good columnist’ point of view? If Sarah Vine is trying to relate to women of her age – 46, then as someone who is around that age, no. Most working women with kids still want to be slim and know going to the gym won’t make that much difference but cutting back on the cakes will do – and you can still find time to be with your family and eat fewer calories.
However, if she wanted people to sit up and take notice of her piece then yes, it gets a resounding big tick in the successful columnist article box.