Stories about strip club lunch buffets, Hooters restaurant openings and the right-wing rantings of comedian Gallagher are just a few of the interesting topics Lindy West tackled while writing for The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper.
West, a Seattle native and resident who now writes for Jezebel.com, said she didn’t really plan on a successful writing career after graduating from college in 2004.
“I’ve never been one of those people who’s like, ‘I wanna be a writer…',” said West, who graduated with an English degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles, Calif. “I just got out of college and just didn’t have any other skills.”
West was unsure what she wanted to do with her life, but armed with opinions and a writing ability, she looked for work. Eventually, she found an internship in the LA area at LA Family Magazine.
She gained writing experience but didn’t enjoy working at the publication. She often found herself writing advice articles about subjects like parenting—something West knew nothing about as a 20-year-old intern.
“They would just throw these weird assignments at me, and then I would write these articles and nobody would really check them,” she said with a laugh. “Hopefully I didn’t damage anyone.”
West eventually moved back to Seattle and worked in retail. In 2005, she found an internship opening at The Stranger, a publication she loved reading. The three-month position mainly involved data entry in the theater section, and West said she was shy and quiet around co-workers.
On the last day of the internship, her editor—perhaps feeling bad for West—allowed her to write a 50-word play review for publication in the newspaper’s calendar section. West worked hard on the short piece, thinking of and mimicking what she thought good writing sounded like.
The work paid off, leading her editor to gradually assign larger assignments. West wrote full-time for the theater section for several years, then moved to the paper’s film section in 2007, where she began writing “Concessions,” a film review column.
In 2008, West became The Stranger’s film editor, and wrote for the paper for another three years.
“It was amazing,” she said of her time there. “The Stranger is just an amazing place to work, and there’s so much creative freedom. I really got to do whatever I wanted.”
It was a scathing 2010 review of the film “Sex in the City 2,” full of what West described as “unbridled outrage” about the film’s awfulness and what it does to women, that really launched her career, she said.
Roger Ebert tweeted about it and West soon began getting freelance work in magazines. She also got a literary agent, leaving The Stranger in September 2011 to move back to LA for eight months.
After returning to Seattle, West began writing and editing for Jezebel.com in March. She described her job as disguising activism as entertainment in order to entice readers.
West said she tries to write meaningful yet funny articles, and though people sometimes perceive her humor as flippant about issues, she said it is not what she intends.
“I hate writing something that doesn’t have anything funny in it,” she said. “It makes me crazy. I actually physically can’t do it.”
Humor is how West copes with the infuriating cultural climate of America, she said, because it allows her to express frustrations about the way women are treated in the media, the aggressive hypocrisy of the American right-wing and the way the privileged can turn a blind eye to racism and sexism.
“I think humor is a really great tool when it comes to addressing cultural ills and social inequalities because it makes the material more accessible to people who might otherwise be turned off by more earnest political discourse,” she said.
West’s sense of humor can also be read in her contributions to a newly released book, “How to be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself,” which The Daily Evergreen reviewed on Aug. 27.
The book is a collection of advice from The Stranger’s annual back-to-school issues, Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” columns and new material written for the project. The book intends to be useful yet entertaining, aimed at people moving out of their parents’ homes to confront adulthood for the first time, West said.
“Life is really complicated,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know when I first went off to college.”
West said she was shy in college and spent much of her time feeling embarrassed and nervous about herself. It’s something she advises anyone in college not to do.
“Everyone, I feel like, is just paralyzed by embarrassment,” she said. “People, instead of saying what they think, they say what they think other people want them to say. It’s boring.”
West loves comedy and has even done stand-up in Seattle and LA. Though she enjoys being funny with a microphone, West said she is too busy with her writing career to be truly successful at it.
For anyone pursing a similar type of writing career, West said the key is to write a lot and publish work.
“You just need to be doing what you want to do and getting better at it on your own, to whatever extent you're able, and hope you catch someone's attention,” she said.
West recommended writers find an internship at an appealing publication, be reliable, be creative and most of all, work hard to find their voice.
“I think that's what helped me a lot,” she said. “I was able to tap into my natural, original voice really early on, so I made myself into an irreplaceable commodity. A lot of people can write bland, nice, acceptable copy. Those people are replaceable. But nobody else has your voice.”