Bonnie Cleaver is features editor at Weight Watchers magazine, a role which has her constantly ravenous from ogling scrumptious recipes. Prior to this she was senior features writer and alternatives editor at Good Health, where she indulged her love of natural and alternative health, writing about everything from synchronicity and premonitions to energetic healing, crystals and meditation. Since graduating in 2003 with a BA in English Literature (followed by a post-grad diploma in journalism), she has written articles for numerous magazines covering everything from health, wellbeing and psychology to travel, celebrity and popular culture, as well as appearing on national TV and radio programs. In her spare time, she can be found squashed under two very cuddly cats, pottering around antique and bric-a-brac stores or experimenting with new and delectable ways with plant foods, the latest being kale ‘chips.’
Describe yourself in 3 words: Grateful, grounded, gregarious.
What is your life motto? Go about life with a curious mind and open heart, with faith that you’re supported by the universe.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I got my first journo gig while I was studying journalism, working part-time as a writer at a gift and homewares industry mag. Jetting off to international gift fairs was a rather enticing introduction to the world of journalism! My next gig was writing for travel and food industry mags, although my goal was always to work in consumer mags, so it wasn’t long before I made the transition. Since then, I’ve worked at ACP kids titles, Cosmopolitan and Good Health, most recently taking up the features editing role at Weight Watchers magazine. Throughout my career, health and wellness writing has been an abiding passion; I’m personally fascinated by all things health, so it’s fantastic having my personal and professional worlds in sync.
How much time and effort did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Rather a lot!Luckily, I really enjoy magazine journalism – it’s the most rewarding process bringing a story to fruition, from immersing yourself in research, to interviewing leading experts, to the delicious process of being in the flow when you’re writing and finally, seeing your story in print. It makes the hard work well worth it.
What are the challenges in your line of work? Working in media teaches you to be a flexible thinker – there are countless situations that arise where you need to figure out a plan b, c or quite possibly d.You’ve got to be able to handle deadlines, and lots of them…but your stress tolerance does improve with experience.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Hard to think of a specific ‘mistake’, but I’d say in the course of my career I’ve learned how important self-belief is. I think a lot of writers struggle with perfectionism and self-doubt, but it’s all about trusting in your creative gifts – and most importantly having fun with them!
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? My lovely partner, who also works in media, often laughs when I say something like ‘Oh, I’d love to achieve ‘x’, but I can’t do that until I’ve thoroughly mastered x, y and z.’ He reckons you’re capable of being or doing anything you want to right now – not tomorrow, or in 10 years’ time once you’ve accumulated what you consider to be enough expertise. He’s spot on; achieving your goals and dreams is all about having faith in yourself and taking a risk.
In your mind, is formal training essential? I have a degree and a post-grad diploma, but in saying that, I don’t think you need formal qualifications to succeed as a journalist. You just have to work on your craft by writing as much as you can. Job-wise, a big part of it is who you know – so often in magazines, you get selected for jobs because you have a contact there who you’ve freelanced for, or who can put in a good word for you.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Absolutely, mentors are essential. Every one of my editors has been a mentor, some more hands-on than others, but all of them enriching my understanding of how magazines work. Because editors are very busy people, you’re unlikely to find one with lots of time to lavish on you. Your best approach is to work hard to support their vision for the magazine, be open to their feedback and listen to any pearls of wisdom they’ll offer along the way.
What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? If you’re trying to break in to magazines, internships are essential. Don’t be the invisible mail collector (although menial tasks are a given), make an effort to get to know magazine staff, and find out how you can be helpful to them. Also, build up your portfolio by writing for as many mags, websites etc as you can. You may have to start out writing unpaid for lesser-known mags, but once you’ve got a good portfolio, you can be more selective. If you’re pitching to features editors, do your homework: suss out their readership and the types of stories they run, ask if there’s a particular area or section of the mag they need articles for, then spend time brainstorming really compelling and catchy story angles.
What kept you going when you weren’t at your best? The relentless determination to deliver a good story that I’m proud never fails to help me push through deadline fatigue or transcribe-induced ennui. Also, sometimes getting back to your best is about taking ‘time out’ to do what nourishes you – whether it’s cooking a beautiful, healthy meal, going for a stroll in the sunshine, getting a massage, curling up with a book…being kind to yourself!
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? I’m a firm believer that we create our own luck. If you have a positive attitude and a clear vision for what you want to achieve, it really is just a matter of time before it all comes together for you. In the meanwhile, work hard, stay focused and trust in the process.