As you might know, lately I’ve been celebrating the success of others. It’s something that makes me feel good when I’m struggling to motivate myself. While my last article touched on some of the women I find inspiring, I felt that I didn’t quite do them justice. I joked at the end of the article that it might indeed become a series… While I’m not about to commit myself to yet another long term goal at this stage, I did want to share a conversation I had with Melanie Doncas, of Whim Online Magazine.
I’ve known the lovely Melanie Doncas for longer than we’d care to admit now. We giggled our way through senior high school, and then Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong. Mel had always been creative, and was definitely a big fan of magazines. A little while ago now, Mel and I met up at the Short Black Panther cafe to talk about how she started her online magazine Whim, her production process and the challenges of not working the typical 9-5 job…
What was starting your own publication like? What inspired you and how did you go about getting the process going?
I still remember the day I decided to begin Whim – it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and I was about to resume another study period of journalism the next day. Whim first began as a blog where I could write about the things that really inspired and interested me, and I also thought it would look good on a resume when the time came for me to apply for full-time or even part-time journalism work.
I was also doing some unpaid blogging work as an internship for a website and I began to wonder if I could actually get my own site up and running, especially after I had realised that the process wasn’t that hard – It was all about staying motivated and posting regularly which was the hard part, as well as building an audience and getting to the stage where others actually wanted to submit their work to feature on the site.
The idea to turn Whim into an online magazine was probably in the back of my mind all along, but I was particularly inspired to do this after reading other online publications such as Pony Anarchy and IZE Magazine. At the time, both of these publications were being created and run by Editors who were also still at Uni, so I think this particularly motivated me.
Walk us through the typical production process of an issue of Whim…
The issues used to be quarterly, so I felt like there was a long gap in between issues, but now the issues are bi-monthly so I find that it has become easier to fall into a ‘set’ production process pattern. There is usually a submission collection period of approximately 4 weeks where the issue’s content is slowly being built up.
During this time I also like to email interview questions to those whose submissions have been accepted to appear in the issue. The next 3 weeks is spent designing each page, laying out the photoshoots and features and then inserting the completed interviews and other text. The last week is then spent tying up any loose ends which I may have discovered whilst putting the issue together, such as missing credits or titles of shoots, double-checking which links the contributors would like included alongside their feature etc. I also like to proofread the issue several times during this period.
Someone commented to me the other day about how a new magazine springs up every day now. But at just over 2 years old, Whim‘s doing incredibly well… What do you think sets it apart from the other publications out there?
Thank you Helen! I have to admit that for a long time – probably the first 12 months or so – I still felt as though Whim was attracting an audience at quite a slow rate because I have the tendency to sometimes compare it to other online publications which may have been running for a lot longer than Whim! I think Whim’s aesthetic and subject matter sets it apart from other publications because it concentrates mostly on topics and imagery which is whimsical, dreamy and even quite ethereal.
I think Whim belongs to a niche and more and more people are beginning to turn to publications such as this as platforms for inspiration and positivity. One of my favourite compliments that Whim has ever received was when it was called “a breath of fresh air in a Cosmo-dominated world” because I believe that mainstream publications can’t cater for everyone – Sometimes it’s nice to switch off from what is wrong with the world or topics such as celebrity gossip or diets and to focus on what is beautiful in the world instead.
How was it stepping into the shoes of both the designer and the publisher?
It can be both fun but daunting at the same time! I’ve always been quite creative and loved making things, so designing each page and the overall look and feel of the digital issues can be very enjoyable for me. At other times though I do get a little anxious that due to my very limited expertise and training in design that this may be hindering the issue or making it appear a lot less professional than other digital publications available online. I would like to one day hire the help of a professional graphic designer, but while Whim is still very small I don’t mind trying to do it all myself – It’s definitely a learning curve! For me, I find that being the editor, designer and publisher of the issues goes hand-in-hand, but this may also be because I’ve never experienced it any differently haha.
Although Whim is predominantly fashion, photography and art – there is always creative writing featured in your online issues… What’s the process behind selecting and editing the pieces?
I’m very lucky because I’ve noticed that the creative writing submitted to Whim for consideration in an issue is always of a very high quality, so there is usually little to almost no editing that takes place. Also, there are only 2-3 short stories in an issue and perhaps up to 2 short poems, so these are always the highest standard from all of the writing submissions received and I can tell they have been edited by the writer extensively before submission, which makes everything so much easier! I always look for creative writing pieces which are dreamy or whimsical, and more importantly that they are quite uplifting, positive, or even quirky. These themes just tie in nicely with the rest of the content and it wouldn’t flow as well if the stories left the reader feeling shocked, uneasy, sad etc.
The majority of readers at Writer’s Edit are writers themselves, all having to adapt to the digitisation of the written word, ‘instant publishing’ online, the demand for fast content… As a writer yourself, with a background in creative writing and journalism how did you adapt to these changes, was Whim a part of that?
I think the biggest thing that helped me to adapt to all of these was my journalism course because I studied several subjects which covered the ‘future of journalism’ and how we as journalists could adapt to things such as an audience’s demand for fast content and the growing shift in print publications and newspapers turning into exclusively online platforms.
For the last 5 or so years I have been readings blogs regularly and for the last 3 years I have had jobs which involved me having to work online – everything from being an internet researcher to a viral content creator – so I think I’ve been able to adapt quite easily. Being a part of an internet-addicted Gen Y probably helps too!
In recent years, there’s been a lot of conversation about how creativity is valued in education. As someone who’s studied creative arts at a tertiary level, what was your experience like?
I think creativity is extremely important and beneficial to education, because it allows us to think outside of the box. Subjects which follow strict patterns or set formulas are often considered harder or more ‘intelligent’, but I think the beauty of creativity is that no two minds think exactly the same, and our creativity is only limited by our imaginations.
I loved studying creative arts at a tertiary level because I felt as though I had more of a personal connection to my work or what I was learning about, because often your work feels as though it has come from somewhere a little deeper inside of your mind – Not straight from a text book. If it wasn’t for embracing my creativity through studying Creative Writing at university then I probably would not have wanted to develop my own publication which focuses on celebrating the creativity of others, because this is still a topic I find so interesting.
You’ve gone against convention (no strict 9-5 job for you), how challenging and/or rewarding have you found it?
I definitely enjoy this a lot more than I would if I was working for other people in a conventional 9-5 job because it’s nice to be able to set my own routine and be my own boss. The only thing which has been quite challenging with this though is not having a guaranteed, regular pay check. I definitely feel as though I have to work a lot harder or longer at first to earn an income through my own publication and a lot of this is a big learning experience – I find myself trying different things as I go along and just seeing what works and what doesn’t. But in saying that I do also work some casual and freelance positions on the side for a more secure income stream. Overall I find going against a ‘conventional’ job more rewarding because it allows me to be as creative as I want each day and it’s nice to focus on something I love doing so much – It feels less like a ‘chore’ that way!
Mel has also written and published a successful e-book for Whim readers titled The Ultimate Guide to Whimsical and Dreamy Photography along with the second edition The Whimsical Photography Playbook.