Anne T. Donahue shares her journey to freelance writing success and social media royalty

Anne T. Donahue (with chips). Via:
Anne T. Donahue (with chips). Via:

Anne T. Donahue is a Canadian writer, feminist, comedian and pop-culture enthusiast living in Cambridge, Ont. Anne works with MTV Canada, but has also written for countless outlets. On top of all that, she has a flawless Twitter feed. It is the Beyoncé of Twitter feeds. Legit.

Not only is her Twitter proof that people with high Klout scores are real, but it makes me (and I’m sure many others) nod in agreement after every 140-characters.

I emailed Anne gushing over her social media presence because instead of reading my book on the way to work (it’s an excellent book but I haven’t picked it up in weeks), I’m scrolling through her Twitter laughing or reading her newsletter like it’s an ancient scroll I need to survive (it basically is).

Anne was kind enough to answer a few questions about her journey as a writer, the lessons she’s learned along the way and how she crafts tweets more amazing than the time Blue Ivy Carter was born.

1. Okay, I am starting with this question because I spend my commute to work reading your Twitter feed and laughing out loud on the 501 Queen. Do you post your thoughts as they come? Or is there strategy behind the content on your Twitter?

First of all, thank you! I’m so glad you like it. Next time, I insist you stand up on t he 501 Queen and tell everyone why you’re laughing before making everybody around you follow me. Second, they’re all as I think of them! Which probably explains why when I’m on a deadline, I’ll tweet back to back like a Leonardo DiCaprio-obsessed Kanye West. So my strategy is pretty simple: every tweet is accompanied by a footnote screaming, “LOOK AT AND ACKNOWLEDGE ME.”

2. From your tweets, I know you love some Beyoncé. What’s your favourite song by the singer? Why?

See, this is such an impossible question because every song is perfect for every mood. I was very, very obsessed with “Drunk In Love” when it first came out, but the “Flawless” remix with Nicki Minaj is the literal embodiment of the alleluia Emoji hands. So currently, that has my vote. But tomorrow it might be “Best I Never Had” because I am just that carefree.

3. What’s your favourite part of living in Cambridge?

My favourite part of Cambridge is the fact that it’s home. I hate it so much sometimes, but even that feeling of, “Ugh this is so typical” is accompanied by a fondness for whatever is happening. Plus, it perpetually smells like fireplaces and BBQs from April to October, and I’m never going to have a cry about that.

4. What’s your favourite part about Toronto?

Man, my very clichéd answer is that the majority of my friends live there. Cambridge is only about 45 minutes away, so I still feel like I live so close to them. Plus, Toronto’s a genuinely lovely place: I love the buildings, I love the arts culture, the Jays, Drake. Plus, it’s so walkable? One of my favourite things to do is hang with a pal, grab a tea and then walk around for a million years. When my friend and I lived down the street from each other and were both so, so poor, we’d walk around, talking for hours on a Saturday night because that’s all we could afford. And it was awesome.

5. Did you always want to be a writer? Tell me about how you got where you are now, at MTV.

I always wanted attention, that’s for sure. I’m a monster. Writing, I think, was something I knew I was good at, but wasn’t sure how to parlay that into anything I was interested in. When I started college (the first time), it was for journalism, but I knew I didn’t want to be a “journalist.” Then, I thought I wanted to be a TV writer. Then maybe a performer. But the way social media and the Internet have evolved, they’ve created this great space to write in a more personal and analytical way. So I just wrote and pitched and wrote and pitched and eventually scored dream gigs like this latest with MTV. Is that the worst explanation in the world? It might be.

6. You’ve written for many different outlets – Cosmo, BuzzFeed, Hello Giggles and the Toronto Star to name a few. What’s one of the pieces you’re most proud of? Why?

I’m about to sound horrible: as soon as something’s written, submitted and posted, I don’t think about it anymore – mainly because then I’ll go crazy. So I don’t actually remember a lot of what I’ve done. But that being said, last week I wrote piece on anxiety for Rookie that I’m very proud of and it meant a lot to me. I write personally but never personally, so it meant a lot to have such a great response to something super vulnerable.

7. What’s the first step in building relationships with major outlets like the ones listed above?

My friend Carly Lewis actually articulated this perfectly a few years back: write well, accept edits, and hand in your work on time. I honestly believe that the willingness to work hard and to work with editors and to accept that you’re always learning – and always will be – is a huge help. Also, don’t be a dick! Nobody wants to work with a douchebag.

8. What’s your favourite topic to write about?

I think pop culture, en masse. It’s so broad and interesting and you can weave different aspects of it together to try and argue outrageous points, which I love. I do know that I don’t like “reviewing” in the strict sense of the word – I used to review albums and concerts and TV shows and movies, and that wasn’t the best because I’m bad at it. But I do like writing about “what it all means” and why and what it represents and like, which Zayn songs are about Gigi Hadid. #IMPORTANT

9. Where’s your favourite place to get your news updates?

Twitter forever and ever always, amen.

10. What has been the most challenging part about establishing yourself as a writer?

Patience! I am so bad at being patient. I’m seriously a nightmare. In retrospect, I’m so grateful it’s taken me seven years to be a full-time freelance writer because I learned a lot and had to grow up and get over myself and hit bottom a few times, and all of those things contributed to writing better and having a better sense of self-awareness. But goddamn, it takes a long time to get there. Growing up is the worst and best.

Anne T. Donahue. Via:
Anne T. Donahue. Via:

11. What has the best part about the journey been? 

I think perspective. It’s like zooming out on a photo you were looking at super close-up. And now I’ll look at things that happened in 2009 or 2011 or 2014 and realize why they happened and what they led to and what I learned, and that’s so exciting since it feeds into the, “You have no idea what can happen” narrative. And I love thinking of life and work that way: you have no idea what could happen tomorrow or what you’re doing right now might lead to, and it’s so humbling. I think I’m actually starting to enjoy the journey versus eyeing the end result.

12. I love your writing because I find you really relatable. I read your piece about anxiety in Rookie and as someone who is living with it, as well; the entire piece had me like, “Oh my goodness, Anne. You get me.” Once, I was putting together an IKEA stool and despite being diagnosed unofficially with arthritis in my wrist, I was convinced I had the strength to put it together on my own. I failed and I sat in my condo crying and having a legitimate panic attack over a stool. Then I returned the stool because I couldn’t look at it any longer. It didn’t make any sense! But, your article about anxiety made sense. Do you find writing helps you manage your anxiety and stress? It helps me! Why or why not?

Well first, thank you! Also, I’m so sorry you had to have a panic attack – and I’m so sorry about your wrist. I do find that writing about anxiety helps, though! But I think for me, I have to be choosy. I can write about it in my newsletter since it’s a personal space, but when I write about it for bigger outlets I have to make sure I have something to actually say, otherwise I feel like it’ll turn into my dwelling on it. I like to make sure, when I’m writing personally, that there’s a bigger theme – whether it be something I learned or something I realized – just because those are the types of pieces I like to read (and it’s always all about me, obviously I mean come on).

13. How do you find ideas to write about?

I have no real idea! Which sounds nonsensical and weird, I know. I am obsessed with pop culture. I am thinking about movies and TV and fashion and music all the time. So ideas will just pop into my head, or I’ll look at a cultural event and challenge myself with a particular argument. But there’s no real rhyme or reason – minus having to sometimes pull over the car to email an editor: “Hey, can I write this or am I out of my mind?”

14. That said, describe your worst case of writer’s block. How do you get out of it?

I’m very lucky in that I don’t tend to get writer’s block very much. But I do tend to procrastinate which makes it feel impossible to write until you’re about five minutes until deadline. So in that case, I just force myself to write. And if I ever do feel stuck, writer’s block style, I’ll go for a walk or read for a while or go to the mall and it’s usually gone by the time I come home. And if I ever feel too stressed to write/be funny/function, I’ll go to the movies alone, which is my favourite thing in the world.

15. How do you incorporate feminism in your writing? Why is this important?

I think that if you want to be a person who opts to work on a more public platform, it’s important to be an advocate for social awareness and change. So that being said, feminism is a part of my life so it’s easy to incorporate it into my work because it’s natural to do so. But I also think it’s important to inject your work with a feminist mindset because it’s more than a buzzword, which is what it’s become thanks to so many “ARE YOU A FEMINIST” questionnaires.

I think when writing about feminism or citing feminism, you have to make sure your feminist standpoint is intersectional and inclusive and not just beneficial to white women. And that often means shutting up and actually listening and choosing to educate yourself. Which is just as – if not more – important than pushing one’s own feminist agenda. Especially because as a white, cis, hetero woman, my viewpoint represents a tiny fraction of the population, and my viewpoint’s been covered about a thousand times. So it’s time to listen to and acknowledge everybody else’s viewpoints and have everybody else’s backs now, too.

16. Is there a feminist writer you look up to? Who and why?

Oh man, there are so many. Honestly, if you go through my Twitter follows, the gang’s all there.

17. What do you hope to leave your readers with?

I would like them to laugh! Also, it’d be nice if work I did made readers think too – or made them feel less alone. My favourite part of reading other people’s work are moments of, “Oh my god, YES – she gets it/me!” So if I could do that, that’d be make so happy.

18. What advice do you have for up and coming writers?

Work so hard you want to die. Don’t actually die (please live), but truly follow the mantra of Rihanna: work, work, work, work, work. There are no shortcuts or luck, it’s all about working super hard and hustling harder and writing on weekends and on weeknights and maybe (definitely) crying in your car. It’s like any career: you have to work your way up, and when you’re first starting out you won’t know how you did it. But you will do it, and you will keep doing it, and then one day you’ll just be like, “Holy shit, I’m a writer look at me!”

19. Anything else to add?

Please RT.

Anne, thank you for everything. It is with love and absolute gratefulness that we share this:


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