A few more editorial intern tips (this ironically rambling and not properly edited piece follows How to be an editorial intern, #1)…
• Learn to use a semicolon, or don’t use them at all. When abused, they tend to make your sentences unreadable; when applied correctly, they’re a thing of nuanced beauty. Please refer to the Lonely Island for how not to use semicolons.
• Write a blog, especially if no one else will publish you yet. If you say you really want to write, you must have some proof to demonstrate that. Don’t waste time packing your cover letter with lots of empty sentences about how you have a “genuine passion” for writing — instead, use that time to actually demonstrate that passion. Pick a topic you want to cover, and do it well. If you want to break into a particular field, focus on that… but even if you blog about something entirely different, your writing can still be of interest to prospective contacts. In the earliest stages of your career, the most important thing to demonstrate is that you’re capable of using language well.
• Make your blog good — it’s really, really, really hard to edit your own writing, but you absolutely must. Your writing samples can be even more important than your CV when you’re starting out and don’t have much experience yet. It’s not your diary: even if you think no one’s ever going to read it, don’t let the poor thing be littered with errant apostrophes.
• Ask for feedback. Quite often editors won’t have any problem at all pointing out to you that you really need to learn how to punctuate/spell/grasp the right tone. If you want anyone to pay you to write, learning from feedback is vital.
• Learn to love the house style. In writing and editing, there are rules… and then there’s style. A publication will choose its house style and you’ll need to stick to it — you won’t be expected to know it immediately (there will always be things that you still don’t know years later) but you should do your best to learn it. Try to differentiate between the hard rules of grammar (where to put an apostrophe, for instance) and the style decisions (such as what gets a capital letter in a headline); when you’re switching between different publications you’ll often find the styles contradict each other (but the rules remain reassuringly the same… mostly).
• If you’re not sure about something, ask. Please, for the love of God, don’t just make something up.
• If you’re interested in an internship but have questions or worries, speak up before you accept it (or as soon as possible after, if something changes). Don’t accept the internship and then announce on your first morning that you need to leave early every day and can’t do any of the Fridays — it may well be entirely fine, but it’s not fair to give no warning. If the placement is for three weeks, but you can only afford to take two weeks off work, most editors will understand that, and they might be able to be flexible.
• If everyone’s taking turns making tea, join in. They will judge you and say mean things if you don’t.
• If you’ve accepted an internship and then get a job or for some other reason decide not to come, let someone know. Don’t just not turn up. This happens frequently and is a surefire way to evoke fury, and announce to a company of your peers that you’re rude and unprofessional. You might not think that matters while you’re skipping off to your shiny new office elsewhere, but one day, years from now, you might find yourself at a job interview sitting across the desk from someone whose name sounds vaguely familiar…