Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Chatting With Refinery 29’s Lily Herman

By Amari D. Pollard

Lily Herman is slaying the game. Just a year and a half out of college, she’s already a contributing editor at Refinery29 and has had stories on politics, culture, and wellness published on TeenVogue.com, Allure.com, and Glamour.com—just to name a few sites. She’s also the founder of (Net)Work B*tch, a popular networking newsletter for women. Ed2010 caught up with the budding editor about all things writing.

How did you become interested in writing?

While I definitely liked writing when I was younger, a high school English teacher told me I was a terrible writer, so I never thought to pursue it. I started college wanting to go into politics and semi-jokingly wanting to become president.

Lucky for me, Wesleyan University has a diverse media scene, so there’s something there for everyone. In high school, I’d read its award-winning campus blog Wesleying, so despite having no writing experience—aside from writing angsty posts on my Tumblr for a couple years—I decided to join. Wesleying’s structure was very fast and loose, so I got to write in a snarky manner about whatever I wanted.

When I was a freshman, the managing editor of Wesleying was Zach Schonfeld, who’s now a senior reporter at Newsweek. I had a lot of questions about the industry, and he was always happy to answer them since he’d had numerous editorial internships. Zach would cringe at me using the word “mentor,” but having supportive people who are a rung or two ahead of you on the career ladder really makes a difference.

While in college, you wrote for publications like USA Today and Her Campus and started TheProspect.net for college writers. What was it like balancing all of that with school and your personal life?

I once heard a great quote that life is about work-life integration as opposed to balance, so a lot of my college years were spent figuring out how I worked best and what things were important for me to prioritize. After I accepted that I liked waking up at six or seven and being asleep by eleven, it was easier to figure out where everything else would fall on my schedule. I also instituted a serious “no work on Saturdays” rule that I’ve more or less stuck to. And if I break that rule, it’s for something incredibly important or career-changing. Otherwise, I’m hanging out with friends, reading, napping, or doing something off the clock.

Would you say your work ethic in college set you up for editing/writing roles after graduation?

Definitely. I wrote over 1,000 pieces of published content during my four years of college, and learning how to produce quality work quickly has been critical to my career. Moreover, the biggest lesson I eventually learned was how to work under the worst of circumstances. I had to learn how to blast through writer’s block and get myself in the zone quickly on things I wasn’t as jazzed about writing. I also learned the importance of not getting too attached to one piece of writing to the point where you couldn’t submit it or accept criticism. Those are skills I use daily—and sometimes hourly.

How important is it for your writing to connect with people and open up a space for important conversations?

Oh, it’s crucial. It’s something I’m constantly thinking about, and now that a huge part of my regular writing is opinion writing, I’m perpetually thinking about my own views and how I can challenge readers in a new or interesting way. That involves talking to a lot of people (especially those who don’t look at challenges the same way as me) and doing a ton of reading.

Another big part of it is knowing that I don’t have all the answers. I will most definitely be wrong at times, and other people won’t always agree with me.

You’ve also created ways for other writers and working women to connect with and celebrate one another. Can you talk a little about your inspiration for your (Net)Work B*tch newsletter? 

I started (Net)Work B*tch during my senior year, after I’d gotten back from my second summer in New York. I had two main reasons for starting it: First, a lot of my friends were constantly asking me to spread the word about something, get them in contact with someone, or celebrate something exciting. And second, I still had nine months in suburban Connecticut before graduation, and I wanted to find ways to connect with the network I’d amassed—many of whom were in New York, two and a half hours away.

So I decided to start my own monthly email. (Net)Work B*tch is pretty bare bones in terms of design, and people mostly remember the GIFs. But there’ve been so many excellent connections made, and I’m proud that something so simple has done so much.

You’re outspoken about politics and have even started an initiative for volunteers to offer their skills to women running for office. Why do you believe it’s necessary to get involved and informed? How has the current political climate influenced your writing?

We’re alive at a time when there’s no excuse not to be involved and informed. One of the most rewarding parts of writing for women-centric publications is writing for audiences who are fired up and excited and smart. And especially given the amount of content out there, there’s a publication that every woman can relate to and get her news from.

In addition to the fact that politics is a major beat for me, the current political climate has made me—and lots of other writers—stop and think about what they report on and how they do it. What stories are we telling? Who and what are we missing? What other angles are we just not covering? These are the types of questions I’m always thinking about.

What advice do you have for the Ed Whippersnappers trying to make it in the industry?

Work smarter and not just harder. Make sure there’s a reason behind each opportunity you chase or accept, whether that’s earning money, acquiring a particular skill set, snagging a certain byline, or working with a game-changing editor. And make sure you’re making those moves for you. No one else has to get why you’re doing what you’re doing right now, but if it makes sense to you, then it’s worthwhile.

Amari D. Pollard is a Syracuse-based social media producer at Advance Media New York. She has written pieces for Parents, Popsugar, Elite Daily and Inside Lacrosse. She’s a news junkie obsessed with her collection of glasses, vintage shopping, and brunching. Check out her work at amaridawn.com and follow her slightly above average life on Instagram and Twitter.

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