The Monthly Q&A: Paul Bugeja and Sally Holdsworth

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This is a double-handed Q&A from two of our communication committee members; one is working in the industry and the other is hoping to enter!

Paul Bugeja is an editor, content manager and digital disruptor working both as a freelancer and for Arts Centre Melbourne. Sally Holdsworth is a student in RMIT’s Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing; she combines study with freelance and contract work.

How has your month been?

Paul: Great! A little hectic as I’m on the move living-wise, so juggling that around work and study is fun. I have just started working for Channel 9 on Hot Seat Millionaire in the Question department as a verifier (read: editor/researcher), #bestgeekjobever, which I’m loving. Also been head down to knock off an assignment on contempt and defamation for my Media Law and Ethics class as part of my MA Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne.

Sally: I’m studying part-time and right now there are assessments falling due, so most students are juggling many balls! One of the units I’m really enjoying is Advanced Editing: we are currently working on a collaborative project with RMIT’s photography students, who are each creating a photo book on their chosen subject. Editing students are each paired with a photography student to work on the writing and editing aspects of the books. There are some incredibly interesting people and topics being addressed photographically. While the photos have the starring role, the task of the editor is to ensure that the small number of carefully selected words complement the images and add impact to the photo story. For the editing students, it’s a real-time opportunity to work on copyediting, structural editing and proofreading. We’re all looking forward to seeing the finished books.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Paul: At a time when our profession, and where it fits in the order of things, is changing, it’s all about being quick on your feet. So, trying to keep abreast of everything digital, being open to learning on an almost daily basis and not being scared to take risks and make some mistakes along the way is imperative. Evolve or be relegated to the dustbin of professional history!

Sally: As a student, aside from balancing the study workload and allocating the right amount of time to each unit, I have to admit that social media has really kept me on my toes. I use technology in the workplace, but have avoided doing much in the social media space. Now, I find myself blogging, tweeting, storifying, wordpressing and hootsuiteing. It’s a bit of a head-spinner at times and I’m valiantly doing my best to keep up. In terms of writing and editing, it’s interesting to contrast the short-form precision that digital writing often requires with the more expansive nature of narrative long-form writing.

I’ve prided myself on being a grammar pedant – and a competent one – but it has been an eye-opener to revisit grammar rules and see how they have evolved over the years. Now when I’m editing, I often find myself double-checking the detail – just to be sure! The Style Manual is my bedside reading companion. Just proves you never stop learning.

What do you love most about your work?

Paul: That I’m a bit of a juggler and not really locked into one job. That two of my roles are so flexible that, as long as I have my lappy and an internet connection, I can work from anywhere. That I get to constantly learn new weird and wacky things about the world in my Hot Seat question-verifying role. That digital is moving so quickly you wonder what might be possible next – and then it happens. That my eyes are going slightly square from so much screen time and that it’s OK because we’re probably close to having some amazing medical development which means I can trade them in for new ones. That I will probably work ‘til I’m 80. No, 90. No …

Sally: I love being a student again and I really enjoy the portfolio of activities I’m currently working on. Each day is different.

For anyone thinking about pursuing a career in writing and editing, I recommend RMIT’s courses, both the diploma and the degree. They offer an excellent mix of practice and theory, the units are wide-ranging, and the lecturers and teaching staff all have valuable industry experience and connections.

Right now I’m combining my studies with freelance work, which helps me put the lessons into practice; whether it’s producing an e-newsletter, researching, writing and editing a financial article or creating an ad for a magazine. I also edit for a volunteer-run community newspaper, which has given me hands-on experience in editing for different writing styles.

How did you get here?

Paul: Along the path less travelled … shhhh …

Sally: I worked in corporate roles (mainly client- and marketing-focused) in the financial services industry for more years than I’m willing to own here! I’ve always valued writing and communicating, so about three years ago I took the opportunity to follow a new path that led to the Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing for Business at RMIT. From there I progressed to the Associate Degree.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year?

Paul: 30–50 hours per week across study and work. Occasionally a little less, occasionally a little more. There pretty much isn’t a week where I don’t do some kind of work. Ewww – that would be just weird.

Sally: Term time it’s full on! The contact hours are manageable, but this course really requires extended focus to get the most out of it. I love the breather that semester breaks provide. Next semester I’m hoping to find an editing internship to round out the theory and hone my editing skills and editor’s eye. So I plan to be busy again – in a good way!

If you are comfortable discussing salary, can you give an idea of an indicative rate of pay for the kind of work you do?

Paul: OK, take a deep breath, because the days of editors receiving $60–100 per hour as freelancers are over (for most, anyway). Most digital roles are going to earn you $65–80K per year, or $35–50 per hour.

If you didn’t have the job you are in now, what would you like to be doing?

Paul: Just writing. And travelling constantly. And writing while I’m travelling. I have a book I’m trying to finish and a couple of film scripts that I don’t have the time to work on. So, someone drop me a cool million if you have it so I can get back to my real work!

Sally: My practical career goal is to use my business experience to provide editing, writing and business consulting services to small companies. My (now not-so-secret) dream career goal involves books and publishing – you’ve gotta dream!

Thanks, Paul and Sally – a great team effort!

Paul Bugeja is Editors Victoria’s communication officer, and can be contacted at Sally Holdsworth is a member of the communication subcommittee and can be contacted at