Why Should Anyone Care What You Have To Say?

This is the most important writing advice I’ve ever been given

So what? Why should anyone care what you have to say?

The best bit of feedback I got on my work in 2020 was from Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant author andjournalist Joel Golby. During the first UK lockdown last year, he kindly offered to read some early career-stage journalists’ work and give them feedback. After reading this piece I wrote for about not wanting to buy my then-boyfriend an Alexa for Christmas, he said: “Your first line absolutely fails my own personal ‘so?’ test, whereby a headline or opening statement can be utterly deflated by just saying ‘so?’ to it.” Ooft. But it’s a fair comment.

My opening line — “ When my partner asked for an Alexa device for Christmas, I refused to buy him one” — doesn’t do anything other than make me look like a mean person. Joel said: “I think there are ways to make that a little livelier (while saying the same thing) that would instantly improve your writing. ‘My partner’s innocent request for an Alexa this Christmas led to a bizarre data privacy-based tug-of-war in our household’, or something. Give me something to keep reading for.”

Joel’s suggestion immediately makes the point of the article clearer: it’s a piece about the futility of trying to resist Amazon’s influence. Essentially, I should’ve got to the damn point quicker. Humans have short attention spans and if you don’t grab their attention from the get-go, they’ll get distracted…

Ever since receiving this feedback, I’ve asked myself ‘So what?’ when I start writing a pitch, or an introduction to a piece that’s been commissioned. It’s how I landed the pitch for my pre-Christmas piece for Metro: ‘ More of us should make Do Not Want Christmas gift lists ‘. Applying Joel’s advice helped me take the idea from ‘look at this weird thing my family do’ to ‘this could actually help other people i) be more eco friendly ii) avoid a negative Christmas experience’.

Especially if you’re more inclined to write personal pieces rather than news or data-led features, I think using the ‘So?’ test saves yourself time, energy and also the embarrassment of sending a half-baked pitch to an editor. If you aren’t sure you have answered the ‘So?’ question, write the opening line to your piece and ask a non-journalist friend to read it. Would they care enough to continue reading? If not, you’ve probably got more work to do before your piece is pitchable.

My week

… in editing

The Indiependent has got off to a cracking start in 2021, with some great music features. This week I enjoyed editing Adam Goldsmith’s article ‘ BPI 2020 figures show widening music industry income gap’; Alice Hiley’s great piece ‘ Here’s why you need to stop obsessing over Taylor Swift’s love life’ and Sam Lambeth’s list feature ‘ 10 Midlands music talents to watch in 2021 ‘.

… in writing

Pitches: 6 cold pitches + 1 follow up on a pitch from last week + 2 repitches after OOO/rejection

I got one commission, one out-of-office, and two rejections. I guess the rest is all to play for. I also queried my novel with another literary agency, so fingers crossed!

Commissions: 1 (£200 for 900 words, which ended up as 1600+ words after edits)

I saw a pitch call out on Twitter and threw my hat into the ring, not expecting to hear back. But I got it! Yay.

Articles written: 2

Articles published: 2

I wrote The Indiependent’s ‘ Song of the Week ‘ feature this week. I chose ‘Egocentric’ by Norwegian garage rockers Death By Unga Bunga, as it was exactly the pick-me-up I needed to see me through the first week back at my day-job in marketing.

For the commissioned piece mentioned above, I wrote about how Bridgerton’s sex scenes fail the audience — women and LGBTQ+ people in particular — for Cosmopolitan!

… in listening/watching

I finished Bridgerton after binge-watching the series over New Year. For the benefit of the new subscribers who joined since last week (a whopping 600 of you), I did my undergraduate dissertation on translating Jane Austen’s linguistic consciousness through time. That’s just a posh way of saying I wanted to read/watch a load of trashy adaptations under the guise of academic rigour, so it’s safe to say I’m a fan of all things period drama. Plus the soundtrack was gorgeous. I didn’t know I needed a classical cover of Taylor Swift in my life until now.

… in reading


I’m going to ‘ Being an LGBTQ+ journalist ‘ on 11 January from 7.00 pm. It’s a Gals in Journalism event with Lowie Trevena.

I’ve booked onto Helen Lewis’ long-form journalism event at 8.00 pm on 18 January — you can sign up here. I’m also going to this talk with The New York Times’ Alex Marshall on 19 January at 6.00 pm.


PS) It’d be great if you could consider sharing this newsletter on social media: you can tweet me on my personal account @ BettyKirkers, or on our official newsletter account @ DistrictPeaked

PPS) From the UK and don’t see any jobs for where you’re from? Hit reply and tell me where to focus my efforts next week. So long as it’s not London, I’ll do what I can to find you a job!

Originally published at https://thepeakdistrict.substack.com.

The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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