The XXY Editors Discuss their Relationship with the Written Word

The XXY Editors Discuss their Relationship with the Written Word

In light of our first writing event this upcoming week, the editors at XXY Magazine got together in a Slack messenger chat to discuss their “journey” (sorry, Anna) when it comes to the written word.

Editor-in-Chief Tahmina Begum discusses the monumental beginnings of putting (the tangible and digital) pen to paper, Junior Editor Michelle Houlston talks about validation in putting your thoughts out there and Features Editor Vanessa Moore on the difference between writing and journalism.

tahminabegum [8:11 PM]

I want to know how everyone began writing? Their “journey” you could say, though I hate that word.

michellehoulston [8:12 PM]

Good question! I think with me it just started from having opinions I felt were bigger than myself.

tahminabegum [8:13 PM]

But when did you start – how old were you?

michellehoulston [8:14 PM]  

I guess, seriously, around the age of 22.

tahminabegum [8:14 PM]

And Vanessa?

vanessamoore [8:15 PM]

Mine was completely random actually. After university, I went travelling to India and I sent a funny group email to all my friends about the highs and lows of my trip. One of my friends who’d read the email was working for a fashion and culture magazine in Hong Kong. She asked if I’d be interested in freelancing for her after I moved there to do my Masters. I said yes, and the rest is history.

michellehoulston [8:16 PM]

And you Tahmina?

tahminabegum [8:16 PM]

‘Cause see, I’ve known since I was about four. I’m always having an internal debate within myself on whether it’s because I’m “good” at writing, or if that’s just what I’m known for; what I’ve moulded myself around and told people. So I’ve always written in some form or another; stories, miserable poetry somewhere still on the Internet. I’ve had a blog since I was 11 and just really fell into that era of documenting everything.

michellehoulston [8:17 PM]

Yeah that makes sense. I think if you’ve had that overwhelming passion from the age of four, it must be a combination of both.

tahminabegum [8:17 PM]

Maybe I’m just a sweet talker and everyone (hopefully) believes it.

vanessamoore [8:18 PM]


tahminabegum [8:18 PM]

Does anyone remember their first “official”published piece?

vanessamoore [8:19 PM]

Mine was academic. I wrote my undergrad law dissertation on freedom of speech and the right to self-realisation. Guess you could see even from then you couldn’t shut me up!

michellehoulston [8:19 PM]

My first thing published was for XXY, the “Women, Power and Choice” piece!

tahminabegum [8:19 PM]

Michelle that makes me so happy. And OMG that’s so you Vanessa. Of course you wrote about that, you political beast.

vanessamoore [8:20 PM]

I love that you think that.

tahminabegum [8:20 PM]

LOL. Mine was for a student website discussing how money can’t buy you class and someone commented, “This ain’t Vogue! This is just a student magazine.”

vanessamoore [8:20 PM]

Too funny. I can totally see you doing that.

tahminabegum [8:21 PM]

And I remember oddly being prepared for the hate; as a budding journalist I was told you’d get so much shit.

michellehoulston [8:21 PM]

Haha that’s so great, Tahmina! I think it was a confidence thing for me. I’ve always written everything down. Just most things have been for my eyes only.

tahminabegum [8:22 PM]

Same, 13 notebooks and going.

vanessamoore [8:22 PM]

I think it can work both ways though. Some writers don’t find their voice until much later in life.

michellehoulston [8:22 PM]

So true.

tahminabegum [8:22 PM]

That’s the funny thing. I still don’t feel like I’ve found mine even though I feel like I’ve been doing this forever.

tahminabegum [8:23 PM]  

So that takes me to my next question! I want to know the biggest difference, or even lesson you’ve learnt (in relation to writing or not if you feel like sharing, we’re an open church here) since you’ve started writing to now.

michellehoulston [8:24 PM]

Oh, that’s a tough one.

tahminabegum [8:25 PM]

Sorry, you know what I’m like. Still waiting on the universe to tell me its secret.

michellehoulston [8:25 PM]

I think I’ve learnt that when it comes to something that I care about, something I’ve written, then I am a lot more protective over it than probably anything else. It’s like, I’m always learning. Sometimes you write something and someone takes it and reads it completely how you wouldn’t. And it’s like wow, language is great.

vanessamoore [8:26 PM]

I’d say mine is the difference you find when you’re writing commercially. That also definitely ties into the editing process.

tahminabegum [8:27 PM]

I think I’ve learnt a range of things. Whether it’s working with someone who doesn’t love what they do, and to me, writing is so personal that I can’t imagine not doing what I love. I think someone told me, just because you put your time into writing something doesn’t mean it deserves to be published, and publishing it doesn’t validate it as “real” writing.

michellehoulston [8:27 PM]  

Oh I love that!

tahminabegum [8:27 PM]  

I think Michelle, not to sound patronising I was like that, and I don’t know if that’s a time thing. I remember becoming a Deputy Editor and brainstorming ideas that I didn’t necessarily want to give out to my writers. I felt like they were my babies and worst, I didn’t know if they would be executed well, as terrible it is to say.

michellehoulston [8:28 PM]

Yeah there’s a compromise inevitably in that.

tahminabegum [8:29 PM]

But now I’m like, I’m happy if anyone writes the same idea I have – because it’s out in the world, the ideas are there.

michellehoulston [8:29 PM]

But if you’re an editor it’s different, the standard of writing for the entire publication has your print on it at the end of the day.

tahminabegum [8:30 PM]  

Omg I’m feeling the pressure, thanks M!

vanessamoore [8:30 PM]

I totally connect with that too Michelle, and I’d add that when you’re an editor your ego also has to go out the window a bit because you’re trying to do the best for someone else’s work.

michellehoulston [8:31 PM]

I agree V.

tahminabegum [8:31 PM]

Yes, I always say you wouldn’t want to publish something unless you would put your own name on it.

tahminabegum [8:31 PM]  

Do you feel like there has to be a point to what you’re writing? For example, Michelle, your “Time” article? It’s almost abstract in a great mind fart way.

michellehoulston [8:31 PM]

Haha. A “great mind fart” – perfect!

tahminabegum [8:32 PM]  

But do you know what I mean – about the point? Does there always need to be a point? Or is that another conversation?

tahminabegum [8:32 PM]  

(I just realised all our slack icons are different and it’s freaking me out.)

michellehoulston [8:32 PM]

No, no. Some of the best pieces I have read have been, in form streams of consciousness.

vanessamoore [8:33 PM]

I’m not 100% in agreement with that. Nowadays the media landscape is so much more brutal with all the competition that’s out there, so I think it can be even more important to make a point and do it in a relevant way.

tahminabegum [8:34 PM]

I don’t know if it’s connected to having to fight my corner for writing, as someone from a background where writing is still “not for us” as an occupation – I mean, as a woman of colour – as one with a voice. I always felt like there had to be a point to make use of time, to justify someone else spending time reading it.

vanessamoore [8:35 PM]

The amount of “noise” that’s out there means you have to be even louder, so to speak.

tahminabegum [8:36 PM]

But I’m kind of hoping small thoughts I have will be put into words this year instead of writing massive features – in the sense that I see great publications like the New Yorker or Man Repeller discuss topics we all think but never say or write, because we think they’re too small. I want to do more of that ‘cause I think so many people can resonate with it.

vanessamoore [8:36 PM]

I really like that trend too.

michellehoulston [8:36 PM]

I completely understand Tahmina! It is like the burden of struggle, how does this link to being a brown woman? An Asian woman? Etc

tahminabegum [8:36 PM]

Like my piece I wrote for another magazine on being told I sound like a white girl. I feel like growing up, that piece was always there in my mind, but I can’t work out why I feel like letting it come out now.

michellehoulston [8:37 PM]

I’m so glad you have found the words!

tahminabegum [8:37 PM]  


vanessamoore [8:37 PM]

Perhaps because race is a huge issue at the moment?

tahminabegum [8:37 PM]

It’s been on the minds of thousands of women but it’s never been put down on virtual paper so to say – is it because it’s not as important as the other issues?

vanessamoore [8:37 PM]

I mean politically it’s everywhere.

tahminabegum [8:38 PM]

I guess so, it’s on everyone’s minds. Thanks Trump.

vanessamoore [8:38 PM]

Yeah, thanks Brexit.

michellehoulston [8:39 PM]  

I think it’s great that race is being discussed. But it feels like the people who are listening are the ones already convinced.

tahminabegum [8:40 PM]

Backlash is interesting because that itself is a trend or wave. I remember writing one of my first pieces for XXY on feminism before the fourth wave, and getting lots of hate from women. It’s the same with my pieces concerning race and now those same pieces get love.

vanessamoore [8:40 PM]

I think there’s a huge backlash at the moment because of Obama’s presidency ending as well as the huge migrant influx that’s happened in Europe over the last couple of years.

tahminabegum [8:41 PM]  

Changing tack a bit, what writing do you feel like you can resonate with?

vanessamoore [8:41 PM]

I’m super into reading opinion pieces right now. I feel they’re a great way of informing yourself about current affairs (especially from newspaper columnists) but I also look at them to improve my own writing.

michellehoulston [8:43 PM]

Yes, I love a good opinion/think piece. Also I love female authors. I just have so much time for women.

tahminabegum [8:43 PM]

I also love modern poetry that hits you in the back of your throat or ovaries.

vanessamoore [8:43 PM]

Loving the imagery there!

tahminabegum [8:44 PM]

Also, talking about think pieces – which I really do think is the blur between journalism and plain old writing – do you think there is a difference, or do you see a difference between writing and journalism?

vanessamoore [8:45 PM]

I’d say a big part of the difference is time. Because a journalistic piece needs to get out there quickly to be relevant.

michellehoulston [8:46 PM]

Agree V!

vanessamoore [8:46 PM]

Whereas writing longform can be a much slower process.

tahminabegum [8:47 PM]

I agree, though looking back now, I wrote first before journalism but I feel like my brain justifies writing by thinking I was a journalist first, ‘cause that’s a profession. And that’s the thing, with journalists getting crap, because it’s seen as a job, and less of a passion. It’s all got to do with the connotations.

michellehoulston [8:47 PM]


tahminabegum [8:48PM]  

I just made a hand gesture and realise no one could see it…

vanessamoore [8:48 PM]

I still think you can find passion within the constraints.

tahminabegum [8:48 PM]

If anything I am grateful for deadlines or I’d be watching Downton Abbey all the time.

michellehoulston [8:48 PM]

Haha yes, pressure can be good.

vanessamoore [8:49 PM]

Procrastination is especially hard for writers, for sure.

tahminabegum [8:49 PM]

Also with journalism, to protect the baby, I feel like people forget there’s so many different kinds.

vanessamoore [8:49 PM]


tahminabegum [8:49 PM]

There’s the Daily Mail kind – sorry not sorry.

vanessamoore [8:50 PM]

Yeah it’s almost like a race to the bottom there.

tahminabegum [8:50PM]  

And then there’s stunning pieces about like how a mother feels after sex and the big “O”. No one’s talking about after a baby. I read that piece five years ago and still remember it. But I’m not sure if I’m saying that from my perspective of being educated and being aware of these publications – like who has the time if it doesn’t interest you in the first place?

michellehoulston [8:51 PM]

I’m from Liverpool and no one reads The Sun, no one. I remember being on a train back from Oxford via Birmingham and a man sat next to me was reading The Sun, in broad daylight. I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time I had ever seen it. So openly.

vanessamoore [8:52 PM]

I think our British media is so partisan it’s almost taken for granted that you know which papers are left and right wing and the type of content they’ll have.

tahminabegum [8:53 PM]  

I never thought of that Vanessa. Was that a difference you saw when working in China?

vanessamoore [8:54 PM]

I’d say having lived abroad for quite a few years it was like I could see it so clearly with fresh eyes. Also in the US it’s even worse, with Fox News etc.

michellehoulston [8:55 PM]

When I was in America, I found their news and entertainment media often hard to differentiate. It was hilarious, but not in a good way.

vanessamoore [8:55 PM]

Their right wing is so much crazier than ours. Impartiality seems to go out the window in favour of opinion in the States.

tahminabegum [8:56 PM]

It’s insane.It fits perfectly with this fake news epidemic.

michellehoulston [8:56 PM]


tahminabegum [9:00 PM]

Back to writing. And this is a big one-

tahminabegum [9:00 PM]  

How do you know you’re a writer and what “makes” you one?

vanessamoore [9:01 PM]

I can only speak from personal experience.I remember the first time I got paid for writing it was like I was getting free money. Because it’s something I’d do anyway.

tahminabegum [9:01 PM]

Haha yes. I can buy food?! Even shoes?

michellehoulston [9:02 PM]

I used to think it had to be when you were being paid for it that you became a writer. I used to think it was when somebody who had the creditability to call you a writer, like a critic or something. Now I think I’m a writer, because I write.

tahminabegum [9:03 PM]

I think we had this conversation and I said the same thing, M. There are some days when honestly I don’t know why I’m doing it.

vanessamoore [9:04 PM]

Yep, word to that.

tahminabegum [9:04 PM]

Like I think what am I doing with my life – you know those days? I reassess and it always starts with the question, why?

michellehoulston [9:04 PM]

Yeah, I have doubts whether I am even good at writing.

vanessamoore [9:04 PM]

I get that too. But then on the flip side, I actually don’t know what else I would (or could) do…

tahminabegum [9:05 PM]

SAME. I guess now working in a commercial field for my 9-5, I understand the gifts writing brings, and that’s always going to be my centre. Sometimes I think people are saving lives out there and I’m here protesting via words and is anyone going to see this? Or I’m sobbing about a trailer I saw and noting it down, then I remember thinking writing and making people feel something is for those who are more than just surviving.

vanessamoore [9:08 PM]

I love we’ve each had a mini-vent, this is so like therapy!

tahminabegum [9:08 PM]

I know right.

michellehoulston [9:08 PM]

This has been a great conversation.

tahminabegum [9:08 PM]

Is there anything we want to say to anyone who may want help with their writing before we depart? Emotionally and digitally?

vanessamoore [9:10 PM]

I’d say on the practical side it doesn’t matter whether you use pen and paper, laptop or even phone (I’ve actually written so much stuff in notes on my phone recently!) Just get it down, even in bits and pieces. You can always collate and edit later.

michellehoulston [9:10 PM]

My phone notes are so full too!

tahminabegum [9:11 PM]

I agree and fuck anyone who says it isn’t practical, but also don’t make any excuses about not finding the time. Also, don’t feel like you have to know so much about the predecessors of literature to write or anything like that.

tahminabegum [9:12]  

Michelle, anything to add?

michellehoulston [9:14 PM]  

Always try and enjoy it, don’t let something or someone diminish what it originally was to you.

tahminabegum [9:15 PM]

And for writers too scared of the competition, someone out there with less talent and more drive will be killing the game so to speak, just ‘cause they’re there.

tahminabegum [9:15 PM]  

Ooh – I love that M. We’re so mushy, I love it. Let’s end there.

Conversation by Tahmina Begum, Vanessa Moore and Michelle Houlston.

Visuals not owned by XXY Magazine


XXY Magazine Presents: Write or Wrong?

Wednesday 3rd May 2017, 7pm

Buster Mantis, 3-4 Resolution Way, London, SE8 4NT

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