If you’re a twenty-something looking for advice, Adulting is your jam. It’s smart, funny, and actually helpful without ever being condescending. Kelly Williams Brown, the woman behind the site, is just as wonderful. She talked to me about her very cool copywriting job, glitter, calligraphy, and her tendency to procrastinate (I think we can all relate to that last one). I so enjoyed this interview, and I know you guys will too. You can find Kelly on Adulting and on her website. Oh, and buy her book!
What’s your main creative gig (this can be your day job, your freelance work, or both)? Describe what you do on a normal working day.
Right now, my main gig is working as creative and copywriter at Leopold Ketel, a wonderful Portland boutique ad agency. So it could be anything from writing a jingle for the Oregon Coast Aquarium to shooting a video valentine for First Dog Bo Obama from the Oregon Humane Society. Sometimes, it’s writing a 4-word billboard and sometimes it’s crafting a 20-page business document.
What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?
I am so deeply into crafting, specifically, Copperplate calligraphy and covering things with glitter (paper maché skulls, boxes, etc. As far as I’m concerned, glitter improves everything). Interestingly enough, a lot of my hobbies focus on the appearance of words — I do a lot of calligraphy, a lot of cards and a lot of heat embossing — and try to mail at least one beautiful letter a week.
Some of Kelly’s calligraphy.
What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.
Deadlines. And the expectations of others. I wish I were kidding, but it’s true. I am someone who can accomplish a great deal, but am not a self-starter. I got to a place in my career where I could write a book because I had put in the 60 hours a week of writing SO MUCH for a newspaper. And I think no matter what your pursuit is, practice and learning the craft of it is key. So if you aren’t lucky enough to have an angry editor demanding her piece … well, pretend you do. Or pay a friend to do an elaborate editor role-play?
In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.
Funny, useful, beautiful. I need everything I make to be at least two of the three.
How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?
Are you watching me? Yes, all those things. Like a lot of creative people, I have ADHD. Not in the flippant, ‘I’m soooooo ADD you guyz!’ way. As in the ‘diagnosed in early childhood, causes serious frustrations in my life, requires a lot of work and effort every day’ way.
I always, always have that voice in the back of my head that has better ideas than actually doing my work. “Hey,” it starts. “Why don’t you just check Jezebel.com really quick first? Ooooh, that’s an interesting article. Maybe read more about that on Wikipedia? HEY I HAVE AN IDEA, let’s cover this mason jar in glitter! And seriously, as soon as you do that, you’ll get your work done!” etc., all day, every day.
But I also (usually) meet my deadlines. My usual process is procrastination procrastination procrastination sleep procrastination procrastination frustration procrastination procrastination PANIC PANIC PANIC GET IT ALL DONE RIGHT NOW IN THE NEXT TWO HOURS. Somehow, it works for me. But it’s not very fun.
What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?
My book. I’d never thought of myself as someone who had the ability to focus on one project for that long, to flesh something like that out.
Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?
My grandmother, Barbara Dowdell (aka Grannybarb). Grannybarb is someone who creates constantly — if it’s not stained glass, it’s watercolors. If it’s not writing, it’s sculpture. If it’s not composing music, it’s jewelry making.
She’s much older now and can’t do much of her art anymore, but in every room of my home, I have her little watercolors. Lots of them are tiny, the equivalent of little doodles, and some are on the back of business cards she got over the years. I love that she even sees unwanted business cards as canvases.
What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Definitely a night owl. I feel like I’ll always get these amazing essay ideas right before I fall asleep and am never able to remember them in the morning.
But more important than the time is the people I’m around. Among the many wonderful qualities of my boyfriend is the fact that when I’m around him, I feel funnier and smarter than I do alone. Ditto my best friend Allyson. Being around people that I love and whose talents I admire is tremendously inspiring.
Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?
Glitter. Calligraphy. White wine. Farting around on the internet. Repeat!
What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?
You know. it’s tough because there are a lot of incredible books on creativity. But more than that, I think it’s important to spend a lot of time with work that you admire. For me, whenever I read something by Tina Fey, or David Sedaris, or David Rakoff, or Cheryl Strayed, it reminds me how far I have to go if I want to make something great.
What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?
KEEP GOING. This is so critically important that I’m going to turn it over to a bit of advice from Ira Glass that is just about the best thing I’ve ever heard:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
What’s your Creative Lady motto?
Oooh. I’m not sure I have one! Let me think … OK, I think since mottos should be in Latin, I’ll just translate my three words above. Hilares, utile, pulchra.