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10 questions with me
On my career, the definition of content, and advice for writers with day jobs
Now that people other than my friends and family are reading The Review (and I’ve started asking other people questions of my own), I thought it might be helpful to reintroduce myself with a little Q+A. Luckily, a friend at Polywork recently sent over some questions to answer for their community of writers, designers, programmers, and other creative people.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself and your career journey to date.
I’ve always been a writer, but I haven’t always written. I studied English in college because I wanted to read and write and discuss those things with other people who felt the same way. What I didn’t know is how that would lay a foundation that’s lent itself to communications, audience development, and marketing in general.
After a few dead-end entry level positions, I joined a startup that makes literary merchandise and felt like I’d really hit the big time of marrying my personal and professional interests. I also tried my hand at cold brew entrepreneur and when that came to an end, I joined Chartbeat, a software company, as their Content Manager, where I’ve been for about two years now. Through it all, I’ve written copy for web, email, social, customer service and even a postcard or two.
2. How do you define content?
Someone recently described it to me as communication that’s one to many or at least one to more than one.
So, while more and more, and probably due to our shrinking attention spans, content often refers to multimedia or a medium other than text, I think of it as writing or talking or recording for a crowd.
You know good content when you see it. It’s a conversation starter. It’s a book or a show or a presentation you can’t help but recommend to a friend. And it is most certainly not the templatized, ghostwritten nonsense that proliferates on LinkedIn.
3. What made you start to do more creative writing, especially when your day job calls for so much writing?
Well, at first it was having the gift of space and time to rebuild a practice and a devotion to it. I was laid off at the beginning of COVID and when I asked myself how I wanted to spend my days, the answer was pretty simple. I wanted to write. When I eventually found another full-time job that’s heavy on writing and editing, I continued out of a sense of duty. Not to readers, but to myself. I had reopened the channel to the joy that writing brings me and I didn’t want to give that up again.
4. You recently wrote about "nomophobia", a term social media natives may not be familiar with — what inspired you to write more on this topic?
The concept is pretty new to me, too, and it’s basically a term for our unhealthy attachment to phones and social media. I decided to write about it when I found myself not only mindlessly scrolling in the few minutes between meetings each day but also using social media as a procrastination mechanism when I wasn’t feeling up to putting more strain on my brain after work hours.
I imagine any multihyphenate can relate to the challenge of carving out time each week for personal pursuits and the pang of realizing you just wasted an hour of free time with nothing to show for it. I’m all for resting and recuperating, but I worry about social media usage masquerading as rest and preventing our subconsciousness from doing what it does best and regenerating creativity.
Though social media does fall under my purview at work, it’s not a huge focus as other higher impact channels so I’m luckily not drinking the firehose 9-5 every day. For those that are, I highly recommend Rachel Karten’s Link in Bio newsletter.
5. How do you balance crafting content that gets attention without the noise?
I have the benefit of working with some great data scientists who ground my work in the hard facts and insights that our audience craves. From there, I keep in mind that it’s a regular human on the other end of the line and I need to explain data in the same legible way that I would explain the plot of a movie or give directions to the nearest subway station.
6. How do you balance giving so much time and attention to the personal as the professional in your life? Why is it important to you?
Some weeks are easier than others. Something interesting pops up in the news or I have a great conversation with a friend that I want to write about and I’m off to a running start. Other weeks, I beat myself up about not being able to come up with anything interesting and I’m definitely not fun to be around the night before I plan to publish.
In all cases, I think the key has been setting and sticking to a publishing cadence and allowing myself a few mulligans. Sometimes that means skipping a week altogether and sometimes that means being ok with publishing something that’s not going to win a Pulitzer or a Razzie. I’m in it for the long haul and accepting that life is going to get in the way some weeks means that I’ll be able to keep doing this for years.
7. What have you learned about personal and/or professional yourself to this point of your journey?
I think journey is the operative word here. I’m not where I want to be personally or professionally in the sense that I continue to set goals that will get me closer to my ultimate hope for my writing, which is to take it from a side hustle to the main event. If I could go back and accept that writing was an inextricable part of my identity, I might technically be a better writer today, but I think I would have missed out on some of the experiences that make me a better communicator.
8. Who do you think is doing content well or are there any publications/writers you can’t miss these days?
As a Substack user, I admire the journalists, novelists, and niche writers who have built audiences there. A few of my favorites are Anne Helen Petersen who writes some of my favorite pieces about work, Jami Attenberg who shares practical tips about being a writer wrapped up in gentle pep talks, and Hunter Harris whose Succession Power Rankings were almost as appointment viewing as the show itself.
9. What are your “tools of the trade” (i.e., tech stack) you’ve found helpful over the years for the personal/professional sides of your life?
I’m pretty low-tech. I don’t write longform pieces by hand, but for journaling and idea generation, I do swear by an unlined moleskine and a clicky pen that’s been lifted from a hotel or restaurant.
10. Any advice you’d give to writers with day jobs finding it difficult to make time for personal writing?
If it’s important to you, you’ll find time for it. And if you can’t find time right now, that doesn’t mean that things can’t change in the future. If you keep putting yourself in rooms with other creative people and eavesdropping on what they’re thinking about and working on, the wheels will eventually start turning for you. It doesn’t all have to come out at once. The important thing is that you don’t give up on it at the start.
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