Here’s yet another post starting with the somewhat familiar Twitter is awesome statement, emphasising how powerful the platform is in connecting with some brilliant people. That’s exactly how I met the shrewd Maja Pawinska Sims.
Maja is a writer and journalist. She has also been Weber Shandwick’s Editor, EMEA, and has been working closely with the agency for 16 years as a freelancer. She recently landed an exciting job as Associate Editor (EMEA) at The Holmes Report.
I first reached out to Maja when I was doing my research for my undergraduate dissertation. I enjoyed reading her tweets and thought she built an incredible brand. She stood out from the crowd, sharing insights into many areas of life, work, arts and science. She helped me massively in creation of my thesis on personal branding amongst public relations professionals on Twitter.
I was hoping to chat to her about writing, blogging, public relations, and journalism. On the gloomy Wednesday evening, we were supposed to meet at the coffee shop where I’ve been writing my dissertation. Although due to the long queue, we decided to go to the Library club in Covent Garden — you couldn’t imagine a more characterful place for a chat about writing.
Writing routine and writer’s block
My first question to Maja is on how she got into writing. She says that she always wanted to be a writer, ever since she was little. When she studied English at the university, she started thinking that journalism would be a good way to make a career out of writing. “I feel like I have quite a narrow range of skills, but what I do do, I do well. I know I can write.” says Maja. “It’s real privilege having built a career around the thing I know I’m good at and love doing.”
I then ask about Maja’s writing routine. She emphasises that it depends on the purpose of her writing. At her new job, she’s writing news and, as she stresses, it requires completely different skillset to writing for a personal blog. The former is all about thinking fast, asking the right questions and assimilating a plethora of information, and getting the right angle. “There’s the pace to news which drives you forward,” she says.
As Maja mentions, her natural and most comfortable area is with longer forms connected with analysis and thought leadership. For these, she does a lot of prior research. She then needs time, space, and silence to write. She works mainly at her home office.
I then nudge the conversation towards writer’s block. “I’m a great believer in letting the subconscious get on with resolving problems. You can’t sit and stare at blank piece of paper forever,” says Maja. “Even if you’re on a deadline, sometimes you just need to get up, walk away, do something else.” She also emphasises that getting some rest and taking a break from writing really helps.
Inspiration and becoming a better writer
In writing and blogging, sometimes it gets really hard when we lack inspiration. Maja’s solution to it is simple. She observes the world around her, sees what captures her attention and makes her question things. “I go where my attention and passions take me. Whatever sparks a reaction in me is always worth looking at whether I can write something about it. I will write about anything, as long I am interested in it.”
Once inspiration strikes, putting pen to paper can be challenging; we still need to articulate our views somehow. My next question to Maja is about becoming a better writer. Maja says that it’s possible to learn a certain amount of techniques, structuring the story, using fewer, simpler words to have a better impact, but willingness and passion to communicate is crucial: “If you really want to write it’s because you know that it’s something you have an affinity for,” she asserts. “Write more, write often, write everything, don’t be precious about people editing your stuff. Take suggestions, learn from others, and on that note, the most important thing is to read. You can’t be a great writer unless you read.”
The power of writing and how to start a blog
Next up, I chatted to Maja Pawinska Sims about her blogging story. She started blogging when her daughter was born. She blogged because she was a new mum and she wanted to explore the new role she found herself in. Blogging for Maja was “one of the ways to help her work out what she was doing, and to find the humour and the pathos, and the connection with others in the same position.”
She then makes a really strong point on how powerful blogging is. “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and when I started blogging about my cancer treatment journey (although I hate that word), a lot of people said that my blog made them laugh and made them cry.” She emphasises that she was always trying to find the light in these moments and she doesn’t think that writing should make us shy away from emotions, even if we’re writing for industry blogs. It’s always important not to disengage emotions from our our work. Maja also stressed that finding a human aspect in each piece is hugely important — why should I care, why does it matter?
Maja also mentions that blogging can be therapeutic. What’s more, writing out is helpful when we want to be able to articulate things, sometimes for the first time. She makes the similar point to Jeremy Waite, who I also interviewed about writing, stressing that it’s easier to make sense of things, once we write them down.
I then ask about tips for aspiring bloggers. I really love the simplicity of her answer. Maja advises not to overthink it and “just do it. Write whatever you want to write about.” She also says that having a niche to write about is helpful, but definitely not required to start a blog. What’s more, there’s noting wrong with not always sticking to the topic and writing about more personal things: “We are more than one label.”
How can PR pros learn from journalists and vice versa
Maja, having worked as a journalist, but also having experienced the world of public relations has some unique insights. I was keen to learn on how both of those industries can benefit from each other. “You’re all on the same side,” she declares. There can be a tension between PR people and journalists, but both parties can benefit each other and help each other. The main thing is to find a common ground and understand each other.
If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!