How to write a think piece: Neha Kale

Bella Arnott-Hoare  

Neha Kale’s no stranger to writing for the hungry web.

She’s a culture writer and think-piece master (who’s written for Daily Life, the Sydney Morning Herald, SBS, Broadsheet, The Collective, and edits VAULT magazine).

But what’s the difference between click-bait and genuine insight?

Neha pulls back the curtain ahead of Between The Covers for her hot tips on hot takes: where to find them, how to write them and where to pitch them.

Choose subjects wisely: follow curiosity, read relentlessly.

For me, this process is really instinctive. I naturally want to write about artists or culture creators whose aesthetics or ideas are original, who are trying to advance the cultural conversation in some way or whose process fascinates me enough that I want to know more. In a lot of culture writing, there’s this pressure to focus on what’s new or cool. Although newsworthiness is obviously important, I find real value in sometimes stepping away from that and being driven by curiosity as much as I can.

In terms of the cultural criticism I write for SBS or Daily Life, it’s more about reading relentlessly, consuming different forms of media and then trusting the connections that I’m making between ideas that have been floating around in my head. Often, a response that I’ve had about a piece of news or trend I’ve observed doesn’t make sense until three months later (I’m always reading Longform on my phone and jotting things down in my Notes app!). Also, before I write anything I always ask myself whether I’m adding something new to the discourse around a topic or illuminating an aspect of it that hasn’t been covered before — if the answer is no, I won’t write it as the last thing that I want to do is add to the noise.

Find a fresh perspective.

It’s strange, this process hasn’t really changed for since I was back at uni over a decade ago! I read everything that I can find on the subject and try to identify the ‘gap’ in the topic, the element that’s been sidestepped, for whatever reason – usually that’s the basis of my argument. Generally, that’s also exactly what excites and motivates me to write about it — the act of writing helps me work through my thoughts and sometimes that leads me somewhere I don’t expect.

Practice and pitch widely.

I studied Professional Writing and Cultural Studies at uni and although that was amazing in terms of helping me learn to think critically, I also worked corporate writing jobs and jobs in custom publishing while freelancing for Broadsheet Melbourne, back in its early days on the side  — that was invaluable in terms of helping me learn to write to deadline, on brief and for a particular audience while covering rent so I could really focus on pursuing what interested me and honing my writing voice.

When I moved to Sydney to freelance, I pitched my work everywhere – I published a print feature in the Herald and the editors at Daily Life accepted a piece I’d written on spec which led to regular writing there which eventually led to other opportunities. I’ll always be so grateful to editors who saw something in my work early in my career and gave me a shot – as an editor now, I try to do the same if I can!

Be authentic; care lots.

Write about what really lights you up, pitch everywhere when you’re starting out and care intensely about your work — as rates dwindle, this is getting harder in terms of compensation but writers who care, who go the extra mile and who show readers how they see the world still stand out. When you start out, there’s this urge to emulate other people’s styles — that’s fine, but tuning into what you want to say and how you want to say it is what will really sustain you. Also, it’s incredibly important to have both original ideas and an original way of expressing them.

Remember the world needs artists.

It’s been such a hard few months for so many people that I know and art and culture — as well as writing that engages with it critically and imaginatively — is so essential, not just as an escape but for exposing truths that we might not have considered and exploring new ways of seeing and being in the world. To that, I’d like to add that we also need a multiplicity of perspectives when it comes to art and culture writing — writers from different backgrounds who are brave enough to challenge the canon and offer new perspectives and worldviews.

Read Neha’s work:

VAULT magazine – a profile of visual artist Nick Cave and why we need art more than ever.

Daily Life – the dangers of the starving artist myth.

SBS Life – identity and culture, from food trends to gentrification.

Vice’s weekend series over the summer: mallrat teens and coastal aesthetic.

Web – and tinyletter.

Neha joins EWF for Between The Covers at Macquarie University on March 30. For tickets click here.