I've been a bit intimidated by Lauren Sams - in a good way - ever since we met as baby editors years ago. She was already so mature and chilled and whip-smart and sorted and, as I got to know her, also a really lovely woman. And then, because she could, Lauren went and had a baby and wrote a novel (which just came out, and you can buy here). Now she holds down a hot-shot job as associate editor at Cosmo, acting Managing Editor at Cosmo Bride and freelances on the side. Given all this overachieving, it could be hard to like her, except for the fact that she's so damn fun and lovely and generous. She, in short, has her shit together. So I wanted to ask her - how?! No, really, I need to know. Read on for the ways she gets shit done, why 5am is an awesome time to write, and the five things this editor wants every freelancer to know.
Congratulations on having your first novel published! When did you first start writing, and what made you realize you wanted to make it your career?
Thank you! I am very excited! (I believe YOU were one of the first people I ever told I was writing a novel - I recall using it as subterfuge to conceal the TRUE scandal that night, the fact that I was up-duffed).
I digress (what a good writer I am!). I can't remember when I started writing, but it feels like I always have been, in one way or another. I definitely remember always being a reader, and the two probably go hand in hand.
I started writing professionally at about 14, I think - I wrote for our local newspaper (what up, Hawkesbury Gazette?). I did a little creative writing, too.
I actually never thought I could or would be a writer. Sometimes I still don't think I am! But I was doing a bit of writing for a job I had at uni (hey there, Sydney!) and someone told me I was good at it. She suggested I could, in fact, write for a living - aka cold hard cash. Obviously, I was smitten with the idea and have pursued it ever since.
Can you give us a run-down on how you got started in mags, and how you got to where you are?
I started at Cosmo in March 2008, which is a long time ago in that people still had Nokias then, but also isn't that long ago because the Kardashians were already a thing.
Most people will tell you they got their jobs in mags through work experience. I didn't, and so I always feel a little awkward telling this story. I was writing for the CLEO website when Joanna Barry, the features editor at the time, told me there was a job going there. I interviewed for it but Nedahl, who was the editor at the time, told me I was too inexperienced. This was true, as I had exactly zero experience.
Fast forward six months and I had some (very little) experience, and another job came up - online editor at Cosmopolitan. I interviewed for it about three times (maybe four) and finally, I got it.
I was online ed at Cosmo for almost four years. This was at a time when The Internet was Not Really A Thing yet, which was good (I had almost complete control of what I was doing) and bad (I had almost complete control of what I was doing). I would suggest to future managers that it is not advisable to let 22-year-olds have complete creative freedom on the corporate dollar.
During this time, I also wrote for the mag, and that's how I got noticed by my editor, Bronwyn McCahon, and deputy ed at the time, Jessica Parry. I wrote the entertainment pages and four or five features a month (again, The Internet was Not Really A Thing). I was then promoted to senior features writer, but very quickly, an awesome job came up - Deputy Editor at Girlfriend.
I loved being at Girlfriend - never have I seen a group of people who care about their readers more. Anyone who thinks magazines are vapid or silly should watch Girlfriend's features meetings, during which staff members debate stories about body image and sex and romance, wanting very much to straddle the fine line between educating our readers and neither talking down to them nor expecting too much. We also talked about 1D a lot.
Then I had a baby - sidebar - and just as I was about to go back to Girlfriend, I got a call from my old pal Jess Parry, who asked me to come back to Cosmo. I adored Girlfriend, but I'm a Cosmo gal at heart, so off I went. Now I'm associate editor at Cosmo and currently acting managing editor at Cosmo Bride. I love both.
Have you always combined writing fiction in your downtime with your magazine work, or did that only happen with your novel?
Nope. I was one of those, "I'm definitely gonna write a book... someday" people. I just needed that one good idea, I thought. So one day, I had the idea and I started writing it. And once I did, I remembered how much fun it was.
Lots of people dream of writing a novel. Where did you start? Did you decide you wanted to write a novel, and went out and found an idea? Did you research what was already out there?
I did - I had an idea that seemed feasible and fun, so I went for it. I ended up finishing it for a publisher who was interested, but in the end, we parted ways. But meeting that publisher led me to my current, actual publisher, Nero Books (an imprint of Black Inc), through Jeanne Ryckmans. I was working on a new idea and sent Jeanne the synopsis and some sample chapters. She liked it and so did her team. Yay!
You hold down a demanding job, have just had your debut novel published and you have a two-year-old (and a husband, and two dogs!). What are the challenges, and how have you worked around them?
Mmm. The main challenge is time. It's hard to do all the things. So I don't (nobody does, right?). I try to prioritise (it doesn't always work) and I am upfront with my husband when I need him to help me, or when I need to work (and he does the same with me).
To get around the time issue, I woke up at 5am and wrote for 1.5-2 hours before the rest of the house woke up to write this novel. Once I got in the habit of making myself a pot of coffee, it actually wasn't that hard!
In your magazine work, you’ve worked on staff and freelanced. What’s your advice for freelancers when it comes with working with editors, and what’s your advice for people wanting to become editors?
Dear freelancers - always be on time (unless you have an exceptionally good relationship with your editor. And I mean exceptional). Spellcheck (I'm not kidding). Send your citations along with your work. Read the magazine, so you don't pitch something that has already been done. Don't write a sell that includes your own name. Done.
As for people who want to be editors... I think to be a good editor, you need to strike a balance between decisiveness and flexibility. A great editor (and I have been lucky enough to work with two, Bron at Cosmo and Sarah Tarca at Girlfriend) will know what she does or doesn't like (and most importantly, WHY) immediately and unfailingly. But she'll also know when to step away and think about it from the reader's point of view.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?
It gets better. I jest, but... it's true. The more you write, the clearer your voice. And that's it, really.
If you could go back and change something in your career, what would it be?
Uh, I would not scoff at the Home and Away publicist who offered me interview time with a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth.
How important has the input and/or support of others been to your writing?
Tremendously! I wouldn't have even been a writer, had it not been for a colleague telling me it was within the realm of possibility. And I'm more a "tell me I'm great" person, in terms of motivation, then a "tell me I suck" person.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Finding the time! If I had a couple of extra days every week, things would be sweet.
What professional project has given you the most satisfaction?
I work on a project called Fun Fearless Female at Cosmo each year - it's an awards program for women across a whole range of categories. It's in its ninth year now and I've worked on probably five of those years. Last year, for the second time, it was my project to helm, and it was so satisfying. Honouring so many deserving women, and seeing our readers come out to vote for them, is very special. You really feel like you're a part of something.
Also, once, at Girlfriend, I came up with the cover line: "Your face called. It wants the sunglasses on page 92."
What’s next for you - do you plan to keep writing fiction?
Yes! I just got the offer for my second book, and I have another two on the backburner, that haven't been bought (yet! hopefully!). I'd love to publish a YA book one day.
When do you feel your most creative?
Immediately after coffee. Jokes! Um, that is a good question. I think I feel creative when I'm busy - not so busy that I'm exhausted, but that good kind of busy that keeps you alert, not alarmed. That's when the synapses seem to fire.
What’s your biggest distraction?
Food. Chores ("ooh, I'll just put a load of washing on/put the washing on the line/take the washing off the line, that'll be useful"). Twitter. Instagram. ie way too many things.
What do you do if you fall victim to writer’s block, or feel like you’re in a rut with a story?
I work on something else and come back to it. Sometimes you just need some space. It's so easy to think you know the story inside out but don't know how to proceed (in fiction and non-fiction) until you take a step back and read it with fresh eyes. Something always makes itself known and then you can pick it back up.
What does a typical work week look like for you, with your mix of office work, fiction and/or freelance writing and family?
Mondays are my day with my daughter. We go to ballet or music. I try really hard to exercise on Mondays, because some weeks it's the only time I get to. Tuesday to Friday, I'm at work. If there's freelance work to do, I usually do it after work. But I have a limit - I am no night owl. 10pm - max 11 - and I'm out.
Saturday and Sunday, I try to get any work I have to do done in the mornings, so the rest of the day is family time. At some point over the weekend we'll go out for pizza, our fave meal, and it will be the highlight of my whole week!
How do you get shit done?
I have this little thing I say, "There is no later." So there's no "I'll do this one thing first, I'll get to that later." I make a list and I systematically go through and tick things off. I'm not a meanderer, I can't graze on chores! That's how I get shit done. ALSO: I have a mother and mother-in-law who are tremendously helpful and without whom our lives would not work.
When you need a break from work, what do you do?
Watch TV! Drink wine. Cuddle my husband/baby/dogs. Not in that order. Sometimes all at once.
What’s the one pleasure or habit, no matter how busy you are, that you won’t give up?
Kale smoothies. But seriously, I always read to my daughter before she goes to bed. We have a cuddle and read Madeline. She's two and she knows it off by heart. And I always read before I go to bed. I really like reading.
What are the best and worst parts of being a creative?
The worst is definitely the money, of which there is none. The best is everything else.
What’s your number one piece of a advice for people wanting to pursue a creative career?
Don't let that thing I said about money stop you from pursuing a creative career. It's FUN.
Thanks, Smelch. I'm still in awe. And I can't wait to read your novel!