From medicine to words: How Liz Hew launched a career in writing and content production
Writer and content creator Liz Hew’s creative journey began at Kings College London, as a medical student. Feeling unfulfilled, she made the leap from medicine to English literature – a change she describes as abrupt and frightening, but one that ultimately led to her first big commission at Dazed. Since then, she has written for the likes of gal-dem, AnOther, and Notion, on everything from youth culture and internet trends to mental health. Currently working as a content executive at an AI tech startup, Liz also creates content for brands like Glossier, Chanel Beauty, Laura Mercier, and Aesop. We speak to her about pitching and the precarious world of freelance writing.
Writer, Digital Creative, Content Executive at an AI tech startup
Glossier, Dazed, Notion, AnOther, gal-dem, Bobblehaus, Barbour International, Makeup Revolution, Simone Rocha x HM
BA English Literature, King’s College London (2016–2019)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance features writer for both digital and print publications, and I also write copy for brands. I’m a digital content creator on Instagram – I work with various cosmetic, fashion, and lifestyle companies to help bring their campaigns to life. I also create content that can be rolled out across their social marketing channels. I’ve recently signed to Rare Select Models, which has made my life much easier when it comes to actual campaign modelling! I also run various social media accounts now and again.
Recently, I’ve started a new role as a content executive and community manager at an AI tech startup within the podcasting industry, which allows me to neatly tie together all the skills I’ve acquired while freelancing. In the day, I look after internal app content, copy for comms (such as regular newsletters), and content for social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, which involves graphic design and basic video animation.
“It’s great to be working as part of a small team, putting our heads together to build a utilitarian app for the masses.”
I’m involved in influencer marketing, as well as running a Discord (software) community server. There’s a lot of outreach demanded in my role, which is always exciting because you’re constantly interacting with super-interesting people. Plus, it’s great to be working as part of a small team, putting our heads together to build a utilitarian app for the masses. I mainly work from home – where I’m happiest! But frequently shoot outdoors or in a studio for clients.
If you could sum up your job in a GIF, what would it be, and why?
My work life can be singularly summed up in this GIF (below) of my favourite BTS member, Yoongi. I resonate with his introversion and desire to be a rock – it’s relatable, as sometimes my work-life balance can become seriously unhealthy.
I find it hard to switch off, mainly because I have anxiety and I love to be working on several projects at once, but like Yoongi here, sometimes you just need to rest. This year I’m actively trying to prioritise my health and wellbeing.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I’m constantly inspired by my community of friends on Instagram. There’s something very beautiful about connecting with strangers, fostering friendships along the way, and coming together to celebrate and amplify the work of other creatives. Seeing womxn support womxn across all intersections is the kind of energy I love to champion.
I treat Instagram as one massive mood board that’s ever-changing and evolving, On a visual note, I count Rachel Nguyen as a huge influence. Mostly her blog and YouTube presence, and the way she creatively adapts new tech in her content, and how she captures her personal experience so aesthetically, I think of her as the original Cool Girl™ of the internet.
I’ve also been heavily influenced by the work of writer Molly Young, who just writes so sharply and observationally. Her profiles are a treat to read, and I’ve enjoyed her lockdown zines tremendously: check out The Things They Fancied, which is about the eccentricities of the wealthy throughout history. It’s a ride from beginning to end.
“Seeing womxn support womxn across all intersections is the kind of energy I love to champion.”
What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year?
My first print cover stories for Notion. I love nothing more than speaking to very cool, driven, and riveting people, listening to their stories, and relaying their personal narratives. I got to speak to Tate McRae, the Canadian teen dance prodigy and viral hitmaker behind some very recognisable TikTok tunes, and Liverpudlian producer and singer Jetta, who is one of the most charismatic and talented people I’ve ever met! To see my words on these seriously brilliant individuals in print, was such an exhilarating experience.
I got to work with my superstar friend Maria Maleh, who was involved with the creative direction of the photoshoots. This project further led me to connect with filmmaker Jade Ang Jackman (who directed Jetta’s dreamy Taste music video), and slow-fashion designer Azura Lovisa, who is responsible for the stunning, otherworldly ensembles worn on set.
When a single project can introduce you to so many inspiring creatives, and you’re able to witness everyone’s prowess come together to breathe something to life, it’s the best feeling.
How I got here
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I think having a curious mind is paramount; the desire to really connect with people and care about their stories is another.
I had been studying medicine at university for a couple of years before I realised I couldn’t carry on without some form of creative output; the specific skill sets and training involved in medicine is an entirely different realm, needless to say!
I had started contributing to small independent magazines, and it wasn’t until I switched over to English literature that I truly began my ‘creative’ journey. I’ve always loved to read extensively and write stories, and I’ve always been into art, photography, and illustration; when it comes to content creation, just having an experimental approach to things is so valuable! For profiles or writing in general, I’d recommend reading as much written work as you can. From contemporaries to epochal pieces.
“Know the voice and audience of the publication you’d like to write for, and find the right editors.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
Not going to lie, it was a bit disconcerting switching from a STEM practice to an arts and humanities course so abruptly, mainly because I was just so anxious thinking about the job and financial security that I would be leaving behind.
When I switched courses, I remember diving straight into contributing for my uni’s Her Campus chapter and various small magazines without much direction or industry knowledge. I attended a few panels hosted by prominent writers and editors while at university to learn the basics of pitching, and it was around this time that I started writing for larger online publications such as Dazed. I was just cold pitching all these ideas all the time!
I also started getting involved with brands like Glossier while still at university. Giving more thought to curating a social media feed was a massive springboard for early content creation work. It’s been an organic progression, and I’ve learned so much since then!
How did you go about landing your first writing assignments or pitches?
Originally, I started writing at really small online publications that didn’t pay their contributors. I would never do that now – and I don’t recommend it! – but I recall thinking at the time that I was just a student and this was a very casual side hobby. I remember feeling so elated when I was paid for a piece the first time, and it helped embolden me to pitch to more places.
My advice would be to really know the voice and audience of the publication you’d like to write for and to find the right editors. I’m aware that this is a huge grievance within the industry; sending pitches to the completely wrong department, getting names wrong, and so on. You wouldn’t think it still happens, but a little research can go a long way!
Include relevant links to your work showcasing your range, and always be sure to include a reason as to why this piece should be written by you – for example, if the topic is close to your heart, or if you have any prior experience which would benefit the quality of the piece in any way! Look up calls for pitches on platforms such as Twitter; this is a great way to start, as editors will be actively taking a look at the pitches that arrive in their inbox, and it’s fantastic for finding direct topics and issues that impassion you.
“You’re a writer the minute you begin to write.”
It’s such an overused phrase, but pitching (cold-pitching particularly) can be absolutely soul-crushing if you’re being ghosted constantly or receiving rejections outright. The mental resilience required to go freelance is staggering. Keep a tracker of all the pitches you’ve sent out; if an editor takes too long to get back to you and it’s a timely piece, then send a follow-up message just to let them know you’ll take it elsewhere. You’ve got to keep moving and pushing onwards!
Lastly, especially for those entering the first steps of their careers, be gentle with yourself and give yourself kind affirmations. You’re a writer the minute you begin to write.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Imposter syndrome, thinking my ideas don’t matter, and burnout. It happens to everyone who undertakes freelance work, but the combination of those three is so deadly to creative energy. I try not to let my inner saboteur take over, but it does happen occasionally! I would also say late invoice payments. However, that is so part and parcel of freelance work, it’s not even funny. It can get demoralising, which is why working with a healthy, diverse range of clients at once is always in your best interests.
Having worked in social media, how important would you say social media and self-promotion have been to your own career?
For content creation, social media is hugely important, as it’s the main vessel in which people can discover your work. Also, the type of content creation I’m referring to is entirely based on aesthetic quality. I treat social media as a visual diary of sorts and it’s opened so many doors; from clients finding you and approaching you for work, to being cast for campaigns. It’s tremendously helpful for connecting with like-minded people in the community and growing your network.
Funnily enough, I don’t promote a lot of my written work on socials – I recall struggling to marry these two halves of my work early on, but I’m getting better! Self-promotion never hurts, but I’d suggest not putting too much pressure on yourself as a writer.
In this day and age, there is a real emergence of defining yourself as a writer with a clear personal brand on social media or being online all the time, and it can be fatiguing, particularly if you’re not that active on socials anyway. Whenever I’ve sent a cold email to an editor, I don’t include links to my Instagram as I’d like to see if the quality of my pitch can stand on its legs.
“There is a real emergence of defining yourself as a writer with a clear personal brand on social media or being online all the time, and it can be fatiguing.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I’ve been financially supporting myself since I switched courses at uni, so I took up various retail jobs as a student, worked odd shifts in a café, and even started cat-sitting locally, which I still do now! In my final year, I worked extensively in the digital communications department of my Student Union, signing up for open day ambassador shifts, and so on.
I think it’s always a fine balancing act, especially if you’re based somewhere expensive like London. This is probably why my work ethic is engineered in such a way. I’ve been fortunate to find a full-time role during the pandemic, which does help supplement my freelance work in a more stabilised way.
My biggest piece of financial advice is to always save a portion of your earnings, and to unsubscribe from excessive retail marketing mailers –your wallet will thank you.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Influencer Pay Gap is an amazing resource page shedding light on how exploitative the influencer industry can be. This has been so useful during the negotiation process and advocating for yourself as a freelance content creator.
The WOW Magazine is a beautiful publication and the first of its kind in the UK celebrating Asian culture and inspiring Asian women. I’m constantly in awe of the concept and visual artistry of each spread.
I love flicking through The Gentlewoman and its previous issues; the whole publication is a celebration of inspiring modern women through the lens of style and culture. Whether I’m learning about the trajectory of someone’s career, or getting a glimpse of their personality and intellect, I’m always inspired by their pages.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
One that I’ve been nursing in my mind came into my life recently through my friend and talented graphic designer Lucie, and it’s: “Where you are is not who you are.”
This post is an adaptation of Nayyirah Waheed’s quote, and it’s so important to not lose track of this, particularly when burnout is very real within the creative industry, and more so if you’re freelance. Career growth isn’t a linear process, and sometimes opportunities can arise when you least expect them! Acknowledging that your intrinsic value isn’t tied to your level of productivity is something that I’ve been trying to honour.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
Be bold, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to reach out to grow your network. I think a lack of confidence or self-belief can get in the way of many people realising their full potential, and sometimes you just have to think, “What have I got to lose?”
For fledgling writers, always keep a journal, so that you’re constantly utilising your voice, and look towards blogging if you’d like to build a portfolio from scratch. Search for others on Twitter, attend some workshops (I went to a ton of free ones while I was a student), sign up for freelance work mailing lists, and even apply for mentorship programmes so that you can directly benefit from the industry insights of a seasoned writer!
For content creation, quality is always prized over quantity. No matter how small you perceive your follower count to be, there’s an abundance of clients who are looking for the right creators with organic, authentic engagement. Keep shooting content, and see what works best for you.
Know when to switch off and unwind, I’ve seen people in the community lose their joy for content creation, from dwelling on numbers and metrics. Social media work should keep you inspired and uplifted, so if your levels of passion and creativity have plateaued somewhat, it’s time to take a break and seek inspiration from the beauty that the rest of the world has to offer.
Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali