A picture is worth a thousand words, but you need both to tell the full story

How working with a talented photographer allowed me to accept the moniker of ‘writer’ and appreciate my own skills.

Kristin Brodie
CARDIGAN STREET

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Flatlay image of a desk with a laptop, notebook, and camera arranged neatly on it.
Image credit: KonstantinKolosov, Licensed via Envato Elements

When I began the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT, I was struck by something that was said to us in one of our first ever lectures.

“Everyone here is a good writer. That’s a given. You’re all the best writer you know. That won’t make you stand out anymore.”

Yikes. There was a collective wince as all the first-year students squirmed under that harsh truth.

This might have been a timely and necessary reality check for some students who may have been supremely confident in their abilities. A good reminder that they were but a small fish in a large pond. But it only served to further daunt me.

What was I doing here?

I am supremely uncomfortable when people describe me as a writer, even though I have been working in marketing and copywriting for a few years.

Young, moustachioed man in dress shirt and vest sits at an old-fashioned desk in front of a typewriter.
Perhaps this is the image I had in my head for what a ‘real’ writer looked like. (Image credit: AboutImages, Licensed via Envato Elements.)

It was this imposter syndrome that made editing such an appealing path for me. Editors often operate as an invisible hand on a piece of writing. They’re stealthy, undercover agents who disappear into the page and leave only clean copy behind in their wake. It felt like all the enjoyment of getting into the nuts and bolts of sentences without the pressure of my own by-line. Even better, writers’ block isn’t a thing when the writing is provided for you.

Eventually, I got comfortable with my classmates and peers. Yes, they’re a supremely talented bunch who time and time again blow me away with the quality of their work. But they’re also just like me: trying to figure out what to do in this world with their bizarre affinity for words.

However, when it came to the final assessment for the Advanced Editing course — a collaboration between PWE students and RMIT’s photography students — I was terrified that I would be unable to provide any value.

I know nothing about photography, and I have the artistic understanding of a doormat. I often proclaim that the part of my brain responsible for creativity has shrivelled and shrunk like a raisin in the sun.

So when I sat down for a ‘meeting’ with my photographer (through the covid-appropriate medium of Microsoft Teams, of course), I was taken aback when beaming, she announced, “I’m so excited to have a writer for this project!”

A writer. Gulp.

Computer keyboard with the keys spelling out the word “HELP”.
My thoughts when being labelled ‘the writer’. Image credit: rawf8, Licensed via Envato Elements.

I didn’t consider the irony in my hesitancy to be labelled as a writer yet having no problem with considering Carly, my partner in this project, a photographer — even though we’re both students at the same university.

I am supremely uncomfortable when people describe me as a writer, even though I have been working in marketing and copywriting for a few years.

As it turns out, working with a photographer was a rich insight into a mind wired completely different to my own. If my mind is a library of scribbles and long winding sentences, Carly’s is sharp focus, crisply framed subjects and moody lighting. ’Twas a match made in heaven.

The process of working on the photobook together was a dream. It was completely unlike the editing horror stories we’ve all heard shared from battle-hardened editors, told with a torch held underneath their chins like children telling a spooky story around a campfire.

Group of kids telling scary stories on Halloween. Young boy telling the story is holding a torch underneath his chin.
“…and the editor never heard from their author ever again.” Image credit: seventyfourimages, Licensed via Envato Elements.

Authors who won’t take feedback, photographers who ‘ghost’ their editors until the eleventh hour, and even downright hostile responses to a suggestion of even the slightest copyedit were all presented as possibilities when working as an editor in the real world.

What I instead experienced was genuine collaboration and a mutual understanding of the expertise of each individual in the group. Each of us trusted that the others were working towards our shared goal, which allowed everyone space to contribute.

We tend to compare ourselves to the best in class. Amateur or aspiring writers look at the highly edited and published work of acclaimed authors and despair at the chasm between their work and that of their heroes. Garage band musicians lament at the difference in quality between themselves and the music of bands with millions of dollars’ worth of production value behind them. And I’m sure that photographers too, look at the work of the most famous artists when judging their own skill.

This comparison has a place, sure. It’s great to have idols and ambition and goals. But it may be just as important to recognise and appreciate your own garden-variety talent.

Am I the next Joan Didion? Unlikely. I’ll probably never have her biting irony or effortless style. But am I able to help my friends, family, and project collaborators bring their visions to life with clear copy and solid word choice? Well as it turns out, yes, I can.

Black and white image of Joan Didion at her home in Hollywood in 1970, staring into the camera and holding a cigarette.
Joan Didion at home in Hollywood in 1970. Image credit: Julian Wasser / Netflix

This project helped me to identify myself as a writer in a way that none of my previous experience, job titles, or grades ever has. It took me to stop being surrounded by writers and start working with other creatives to understand that I could add value as a writer.

Oddly enough, collaborating on a photobook with a photographer was a soothing tonic for my imposter syndrome. It has shifted the way that I view my own skills as a writer and editor.

I can now see that I do not have to deny or minimise my abilities for fear of attracting Australia’s famous tall poppy syndrome. Instead, I can view my talents as tools that I can use to help other people who have different ones. And that’s great. This project has opened the door for me to view my skills in a more generous light. There needn’t be shame in claiming an ability; it can be a wonderful opportunity for collaboration.

I am so grateful for the experience I have had. Now it’s time to change my Instagram bio to include ‘writer’.

Special thanks to Carly Blower for the opportunity to work together on her photobook.

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Kristin Brodie
CARDIGAN STREET

Professional Writing and Editing student at RMIT. Copywriter at Envato. https://www.kristinbrodie.com/