Name: Marissa Miller
Job Title: Freelance journalist for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vogue, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, BBC Travel.
College/Major: Concordia University, Montreal. Major in journalism, minor in creative writing
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Marissa Miller: The only constant in my day is coffee. Other than that, each day is different from the last. I typically go to bed at a stupid hour, but assignments start coming in as early as 7 a.m. Usually it’s news for Teen Vogue so I need to be super on the ball for that. Then by the time I’ve taken care of timely pieces I have about 100 emails in my inbox to parse through. Some are from my dad asking me dad things, and the rest are from editors and publicists. From there, I’ll work on some pitches and send out several even before I’ve completed other in-progress ones. I’m on my email so often that when I close my eyes I can see my inbox like some sort of inescapable nightmare. Daily yoga is also non-negotiable.
What is the best part of your job?
MM: Not having to wear pants is nice, but truthfully hearing from young women that I’ve inspired them to write, or feel better about themselves or take up a new hobby never gets old. I love knowing my writing has impacted someone in some way. I always think of my writing existing in a vacuum because it’s such a solitary activity, so the feedback makes me feel like a part of something bigger.
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
MM: I completed a really incredible digital editorial internship at Air Canada’s enRoute magazine. My supervisor was an editor named Renee Morrison who’s just so whip-smart and focused and was kind enough to take me to spinning with her a few times at lunch. It was around six months of writing, researching, fact-checking, handling social media, translating, coding, photo sourcing, figuring out how to use the damn scanner (What do you want from me? It’s like a shower. Everyone’s works differently!). After I completed that they hired me as a freelance editor to work on various travel campaigns and travel features, which was super rewarding.
During that time I was nearing the end of my undergrad. I got a LinkedIn message out of all places from CEO at a creative agency who was interested in my portfolio and wanted to talk about onboarding me as a social media manager. I was pretty shocked because other than my stint at enRoute, the only social media I’d done were my dumb tweets during class. I told him I still had exams left and that I’d be going on Birthright a week later, so could he wait for me? “Of course,” he said. Unheard of. I got the job and quickly learned that I was paid to make puns.
What words of wisdom (well-known quotes, an anecdote from your boss) do you find most valuable?
MM: I’m currently my own boss so the words of wisdom are an interior monologue on loop. I like to start my day with a little positivity since the world can be a flaming trash fire sometimes. There’s this newsletter called Thoughts From The Universe and I get it every morning. My favorite one so far is “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.” That saying alone has shifted my mindset in almost everything I do.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
MM: As for mistakes, I make them constantly, and I totally catastrophize them in my head. It’s obviously so gross when someone’s like “What’s your biggest flaw?” and you’re like “I’m a perfectionist! I work too hard! I care too much!” Nah. Cut the crap, you know? The mistake that sticks out most was when I got a little too comfortable. I was interning at a women’s magazine on the digital side when I got an email from an editor from another vertical who didn’t oversee me. She told me she saw my tweet about being a “slut for SEO” and that it wasn’t professional and that I need to be a better ambassador to the brand. I get it. Don’t tweet something you wouldn’t want splayed on a billboard. At the time I thought it was an A+ tweet because it’s equal parts sex-positive and equal parts nerdy and equal parts a demonstration that I was absorbing all the SEO techniques I was learning on the job, but if you have to defend a joke, it’s probably not very good.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
MM: Honestly, everything is so surreal it’s kind of given me an identity crisis, and that’s what my in-progress book is loosely based on. A couple weeks ago The Washington Post sent me to cover the terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque. I had never covered a mass murder before, but I realize you have to start somewhere. And it’s amazing to think one of the top newspapers in the world trusted me with such a delicate and heinous story. After covering that, I can confidently say I can report on anything. Except hockey. I’m the worst Canadian. I have a few more New York Times features coming out on subjects I really care about like mental health and sustainability. In the general sense, I’ve been put on this earth to experience life and then write about it, and that’s pretty cool.
Anyone who’s known me for like five minutes knows the entire story about how I interviewed Kylie Jenner at her 18th birthday party for Teen Vogue, so I won’t bore you with the details. Also, this is super lame and sappy, but my fiancé was briefly my editor at the school newspaper, so start pitching away, kids. You never know who might ask you out on a date even though you actually had zero idea it was a date and next thing you know you’re engaged and share a bank account and what?
What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
MM: I don’t do any hiring, but I definitely would like to someday. I was an editor for the magazine insert of a local newspaper a couple years ago where I commissioned freelancers and my main criteria for giving them the green light was if they could entice me with a mean lede and are responsive over email. I can’t tell you how many strands of hair I’ve lost waiting for emails on deadline and then being sent to voicemail, which is actually the ether of technology. I pride myself on responding to emails in a timely manner and I appreciate it so much when others do the same. Did that sound like a subtweet?
What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
MM: Gather ‘round, kiddies. Okay, don’t hook up with a coworker. Kidding but not kidding. But really, be relentless. I can only speak from personal experience, but to succeed in journalism I’ve found you have to make it your entire life. I have terrible work/life balance and that’s directly the reason why I am where I am. If I go out on a Saturday night, I’ll come back home at 2 a.m. and look at my piece with fresh eyes. Leaving my work behind for a bit allows me to process it subconsciously. If I’m trying to take some time off to prevent burnout, I’ll read a book by a journalist or someone whose writing I admire. If you live and breathe writing, it won’t feel like a job at all. Sure, it’ll make you miserable sometimes, but if you can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of your life, it’s worth it.