BYP Interviews journalist and broadcaster Carl Anka
A career in writing is an exciting adventure of prose, idea and captivation. We enjoy reading things that teach us perspective, detail reality and capture intriguing moments in time.
A successful writing career may feel arduous. A career of rare opportunity and limited spaces to fill. However there are ways to establish yourself in a field which seems daunting from the outside.
Speaking to journalist and broadcaster Carl Anka we gain insight into writing as a career. Carl is an established writer who currently covers Man United for The Athletic. In this interview he offers advice for setting yourself up to write, as well as touching on the do’s and don'ts for aspiring writers.
What got you interested in writing and why about Football?
Carl: For me, Football is the most important, least important thing about life. I had a mentor who once argued that if there's a Sports Science, then there must be a Sports Humanities - using Football (and other sports) as a means to talk about people, cultures, history, socioeconomics. I like writing about the x’s and o’s tactics that go on in a football game. I like writing about football more when I'm actually writing about anthropology.
How did you start building your career in your field?
Carl: First things first, I started getting into the creative industries in 2012/13. If you’re reading anything on someone’s success in the creative/digital space, I think it’s important to timestamp when and where they were doing things:
The Internet has changed things dramatically in the last decade and the techniques I used in 2013 like networking and talking to people may be less useful in 2021 when more people own a smartphone and can message anyone anywhere. The most detailed explainer of the last 10 years of my career is covered in this podcast episode of “The Shirtless Plantain Show” I did during the first lockdown. You can find a link here.
But the short answer, and why I timestamp things is - I did a lot of unpaid internships. Two weeks at a magazine at Future Publishing, two at an animation magazine in Bristol, two weeks at FHM, one week at Zoo Magazine, two weeks at Total Film. Several months working as an unpaid editorial assistant at a website that shall not be named and no longer exists. I once took a two weeks holiday from my first proper media job at a charity so I could intern at The Times in their data journalism department. I did a lot of work for free after graduating (it helped a lot I was living with my parents) and I would tell anyone reading this not to work for anyone for free or for “the exposure” - the only person you should ever work for free for, is yourself. If only so you own the IP, so you don’t lose half of your writing portfolio when a website/magazine/YouTube channel goes dead.
I didn’t necessarily have an aim other than “learn lots and see how far it can take you”. If I started again in 2013, I’d ask myself to have a more particular aim, and to maintain better networking links with people who handed me their card. If I started again now in 2021, I'd set up an online space for whatever it is that I wanted to do, then set a social media account for it, then set up a publishing schedule and work from there.
What has been your favourite project to work on to date?
Carl: Writing a book with Marcus Rashford has been one of the most humbling, edifying and enjoyable experiences of my life. The time we had to work together has helped me in so many ways and hopefully, made me a better writer and a person.
What advice would you give to yourself before you put pen to paper or page?
Carl: Stop mucking about and put the damn pen to paper. Once during a particularly low phase towards the end of 2013 where I had no internships or freelance work to do I was moaning about how no one was giving me a chance. Then a friend told me, “You say you want to be a writer, but you’ve spent all day playing Xbox. And all of yesterday watching old cartoons. I haven’t seen you write in weeks”. Just do the work!
There are people out there who want to write but haven’t in months. Photographers who haven’t taken new photos in weeks. People who want to break YouTube who stopped uploading videos after the early three months burst when everything is new and your friends are hyping up your work. The creative industries are a hard, brutal slog, but you have to do the work before anything is possible. The best idea you've got in your head and mentioned to a friend at a house party is not as good as the worst idea you put to paper and finished.
1. Consistency of output
Carl: Do the thing you say you do, regularly. Not all the time and not every day but pick a schedule and stick to it where possible. Let people know that every 3rd Monday of the month you have something new if you have to. Just build momentum.
2. Clear communication lines
Carl: If you are practicing a craft, make it as easy as possible for people to find you doing it and to email or contact you to ask questions. Have the means to PAY you to DO MORE of it
3. Good networking skills
Carl: Be respectful of people also doing the craft you’re doing. Know the people who did it before you. Go to events, talk to people. Have a niche. The way I describe it is, if four people are hiring someone to do something you want to do, how would they describe you?
Complete this sentence, “We should get YOUR NAME in to help on THIS PROJECT. Everyone knows YOUR NAME is really good at SPECIALIST TOPIC” - the more topics you can fit into the end, the more times you can get selected for stuff. People say things about you when you are not there. Give them a reason to say nice things
4. Don’t underestimate the power of luck
Carl: This is the hardest bit. I once got an internship because the person who was supposed to start that week broke both of their wrists in a bicycle accident. I once got another internship because the person who was first choice for it, got another job the day before.
The creative field can be a brutal one that works on who you know, who you’re related to and who you bump into in the toilets of an art gallery. That stuff you can’t figure out for sure, so try and work out the other sections and you’ll find your luck improves over time.