Posted on 7th october 2019 by eric team
The ERIC Team interviewed Zing Tsjeng as part of ERIC Fest: Storytelling. Not only is Zing the executive editor at VICE, but she also is the author of the series ‘Forgotten Women’. Talk about being an all rounder, eh?
Part 1: What life looks like for Zing
‘Jack of all trades, master of none, but usually better than a master of one’ - do you think creatives can be multi-talented or is it better to find a specific niche and create within that niche?
I think it’s more important to find an interest niche - figure out what issue or topic you are passionate about, get to know it inside out, and then find multiple ways to tell different stories in that niche.
What do you think are common misconceptions that people have about breaking into the publishing industry as a writer?
Probably that you can jump from being a new writer to writing op-ed columns for the New York Times! I did lots of boring grunt work before I started scoring the bigger opportunities - writing up boring stories, etc. It’s a drag at the time, but it does teach you to keep grafting and find the good in everything you’re doing - you’re not going to write a Pulitzer Prize winning piece on your first try, but you might learn something new that might help you out with that later in your career.
What are the biggest insecurities that you have as a writer? How do you manage them?
That I’m not working fast enough! I’m definitely not the kind of person who can sit down and start magically producing words, I need to let stuff marinate in my head for a while. I’ll sometimes reach for my phone in the middle of the night because a particular turn of phrase just appears in my head. That’s cool too! Sometimes you can’t force things - unless of course you’re on deadline.
Part 2: The reality of creative success
What is the difference between a published author and someone at home writing? Is it experience? Luck? A university degree? Networking? Attitude? Etc.
I think it’s mainly attitude and work ethic. Obviously, there are people who are privileged with the access, education and networks who will start the race earlier than people who aren’t. But when I did the Women’s Prize for Fiction podcast and interviewed all the women who’d been nominated for the prize this year, they kept telling me that they just wrote like crazy – they would wake up early, squeeze it around work, do it on the weekends… And they just kept at it for ages. One author did it for ten years before her first book. It was really inspiring. I think it’s easy to look at people who get book deals in their 20s and get discouraged, but I think talent and hard work will always win out. Otherwise there’s no point and we may as well all give up now, right?
Do you think people are born creative writers or is there a level of honing that skill? What is the balance between the two?
You definitely need to hone it. I’m such a better writer now than I was 10 years ago and that was all down to practice. You might have a better imagination and more free time when you’re a kid, but stuff that you learn as you grow up - like work ethic, etc - is more important IMO.
How would a young person know that their work has reached a point where they can start approaching agents and publishing houses?
Share your work with your friends and family, especially people whose opinions you trust and respect! Ask them to be honest and critical with you. Take their feedback into account and review your work - is there something you could change or improve? Then do some research and figure out if there are any agents or publishing schemes that you like – a good way to find this out is through Twitter, or by finding out who represents some of your favourite authors.
Part 3: Social media and publishing
How do you think creatives can use social media to their advantage?
Oh yeah, definitely. For better or worse, social media followings can influence whether or not people in power - the ones holding the pursestrings -think you’re legit or not. But I think that while it lets you get your foot in the door, it doesn’t help you keep that door open. You’ve got to have the actual talent to back it up.
What’s the most effective social media platform for you and why?
Twitter, definitely. I’m a writer by trade so that’s the platform I naturally gravitate towards.
What are your predictions for how social media will be used in/change the writing world in the future?
Strangely enough, I think it’s already helped publishing a lot. It’s helped people get more eyes on their work and it’s democratised access to a lot of opaque parts of the publishing industry - you can see agents at work on Twitter, authors talking about their process, etc. There’s a lot of information out there if you put in the graft to figure it out.
How do you think social media has influenced the way people write (eg. more relaxed writing structures, less formal language, less grammar)? Is the skill of perfect grammar still important for writers when using social media?
I mean, have you seen my Twitter recently?
Who are some people you’d recommend aspiring journalists and writers follow on Instagram?
Obviously me - @miss_zing. But I also @VICEUK where I work, obviously - we are trying to experiment more on Instagram and use it as a publishing platform in its own right. But to be honest, I mainly use Instagram for leisure purposes – Twitter is the one I keep up with for work purposes.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
1) Favourite place to write?
Social Sciences 2 at the British Library, which is where I basically wrote most of the Forgotten Women book series.
2) Best place to meet new business contacts?
3) Favourite work-related person you followed on instagram?
I try not to use Instagram for work, to be honest!
4) What time of day are you most productive?
From about 9pm onwards.
5) One thing you do to look after your mental health?
I started unfollowing people on Instagram that I just wasn’t close to or who made me feel shit about my life. Seriously, unfollow more people. Instagram culls are great. Or mute them if you’re not about that unfollow life.
6) Working alone or working in a team?
Both in equal measures.
7) If you were a fictional character who would you be & why?
The dragon from Neverending Story.
8) What you thought success was vs what you actually think success is now?
When I was a kid, I thought success was me winning an Oscar for Best Actress. Suffice to say I’m not an actress so I have no hope of ever winning an Oscar.
9) What was your first ever job (doesn’t have to be creative)?
I worked as a life model in university! It was in the basement of a local church and it was very, very cold.
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