Posts Tagged: writing

Creative Ladies: Kelsey Macke

kels profile pic square

Kelsey Macke is a writer, a singer/songwriter, and a Youtuber, so she basically puts us all to shame with all of the awesome stuff she does. I mean, not only did she write a book, Damsel Distressed, but she’s also releasing a companion album along with it!
You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube, or you can check out her website and the website for Damsel Distressed. Also (exciting!), the cover for Damsel Distressed was just revealed over at MTV Act! After you read Kelsey’s interview you’ll definitely want to read the book, so go ahead and preorder a copy.
Even thought she’s obviously super busy, she still found time to answer my questions about her process, her inspiration, and her role models. Thanks for talking to me, Kelsey!

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.

Currently, most of my creative mojo is being funneled into my big 2014 project: My YA book and its companion album of original songs inspired by the book (Damsel Distressed + Imogen Unlocked).

On any given workday, I’m wading through some aspect of the editorial process, revising, re-writing, or implementing notes, and my husband, Daron, and I (our band is Wedding Day Rain) are working on writing songs, recording in the studio, and producing the record at the same time. It’s challenging, certainly, because being a writer or being in a band is often a full-time gig on its own. That said, I’m so excited that I have the chance to do both, especially since they’re so deeply intertwined in this project.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

I LOVE being a YouTube content creator. I suppose that some day, it could benefit or be a part of my career, but as of now, it’s a labor of love. I adore making and editing videos and being apart of such an incredible community of creative people. In addition to writing, music, and youtube, I’m an occasional actor, crafter, poet and intermittent baker.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

As a writer, I have to say that most of the stories I want to write are inspired by my students. I am a teacher, and my primary discipline is working with adolescents with emotional or behavioral differences. My main character, Imogen, is loosely inspired by over a dozen of my own students and also other young people that I’ve known or worked with.

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On the musical side, I’m inspired by my love for musical theatre. I think that while our music, as a band, isn’t as literal by way of story telling, we strive for the same sense of emotion and conviction that is often found on the stage. Additionally, I love listening to other musicians and bands and reveling in how a finite number of notes can be woven together in so many incredibly different ways.

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Honest, Balanced, Eclectic. (Also Vulnerable. Cause I had 4. And clearly, I’m a rebel.)

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

Certainly candy is one of life’s greatest inspirations. Though I might argue that cheese is a superior form of brain food.

As I’m constantly creating different things (paragraphs, choruses, videos, monologues, etc.) the process is almost always different, but I think one common thread is a willingness to be completely open and connected to my own feelings. When I’m writing something sad, if I feel like crying, I let it happen and refuse to judge myself for weeping at the creation of my own words. When singing a newly written harmony line with my husband, if I burst into a ridiculous grin from ear to ear and mess up the line because I’m giddy with joy, I don’t reprimand myself.

I wear my heart, not on my sleeve, but boldly right across my face and if it hurts or stings or sings, so be it.

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

A recent creation that I’m proud of is a short PSA I filmed for my favorite charity, NoStigmas.org. I created a video for their organization during the 2013 Project for Awesome, and it was used to raise awareness of their organization and also the critical need for mental health equality.

One creation from AGES ago (over 12 years ago, actually) that I’m proud of, is the song I wrote immediately following the events of 9-11-01. As the song spread from Texas to New York, and lots of places in between, I was privileged to perform it at numerous events benefitting first responders, firefighters, and police officers, and the sale of the single meant that I was able to make a donation to the Red Cross during a time when I (and many others) felt mostly useless.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

I’m sure there are lots of poignant and sweeping stories of falling flat on my face that I could share, but the one that first popped into mind happened when I was in eleventh grade.

It was the big basketball game. The one that had packed stands on both the home and visitor sides. The one that had coverage from the local station and was surely being broadcast on some local cable channel.

I was the lucky duck who’d been given the privilege of singing the National Anthem before the (kick off? first swing? toss up? IDK. I don’t do sports.) game started.

I was all gussied up and feeling rather badass. I would be singing in front of most of my school and much of our community too. I took the microphone and began the song. I hit the first line in stride, the sound of my voice echoed off the wooden floor and smashed back into me, coating me in a thick layer of self-satisfaction.

My delivery was slow. Too slow. I wanted to show everyone how emotional and powerfully I could sing. I wanted to add runs and trills and impress everyone into tears and ovation.

And then somewhere around “dawn’s early light” I forgot the words.

I had been so enamored by the drama of my own performance that I’d forgotten what I was singing about, what I was singing for, and what being a singer really means.

Sharing music-sharing your voice-isn’t about making yourself feel good. It’s about getting your own ego out of the way and communicating so that someone else can feel good (or sad or hurt or free or whatever you might be singing about).

Some kind man behind me, (I think he was a ref) muttered the line (“what so proudly…”) behind me, and I took off singing again. This time with much less flourish, much more humility, and much greater understanding.

From then on, I’ve sworn to never again let my ego impede my art in any way.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

Oh, wow. I am pretty much in love with dozens of women who inspire me regularly. I think that I’m lucky to be connected and surrounded by so many incredible women who are routinely showing me new facets of beauty and creativity every day.

My agent, Jessica Sinsheimer is a creative genius. She is the queen of “DREAM BIG.”

My friend and critique partner, Annie Neugebauer is a staggeringly gifted horror writer, poet, and crafting GODDESS.

And I’m part of one of the biggest, most exciting groups of creative and intelligent women on YouTube: Wonderly. These girls are, literally, the embodiment of “creative ladies.”

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I am a sickeningly peppy morning person. If I wasn’t me, I’d hate me.

We’re talking full on dancing and singing and smiling before the coffee pot is even ON.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

I must admit that I’m a TV lover. I never miss an episode of Game of Thrones, Sherlock, or Glee. I can lose myself in the internet for hours, and I think that in some ways, it’s an effective way to reset my brain. Being that I’m involved with so many different ideas and projects at one time, I really love being able to scroll through the endless sea of tumblr and always have some new pretty thing to keep my mind from snapping back to the work I may be temporarily trying to escape.

(My secret recharge night includes a scalding hot bath with a lush bath bomb, and catching up on my YouTube subscriptions.)

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

I love reading books for inspiration-even when those books aren’t massive novels or touching memoires. I find popular children’s books, poetry anthologies, graphic novels, and even magazines can be just as inspiring as the latest Laini Taylor (omg. I adore her.) or Rainbow Rowell (I LOVE HER TOO.).

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

Reject any notion that you can only do one thing.

If you’re a poet and you want to create a short film, DO IT.

If you’re a crafter and you’ve an idea for a short story, DO IT.

If you’re an actor and you want to write a song, DO IT.

The only limit is your own fear.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

Love, create and appreciate beauty with reckless abandon.

Live with passion. Every day.

Creative Ladies: Leesa Cross-Smith

LEESA CROSS-SMITH PHOTO

I admire every single cool, creative woman I’ve had the chance to feature in this column, but I’ll admit that I have a little extra admiration for the women who are also mothers. Like, I have a hard enough time getting stuff done, and I’m not even caring for another human life, you know? I’m super in awe of Leesa Cross-Smith, a woman who runs a literary magazine with her husband AND has a book of short stories coming out this year. I can’t wait to read it! Leesa took to the time to answer my nosy questions and I’m so glad she did. Her interview is so wonderful and inspiring, and I know you’ll love it, too.

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.

My main creative gig is being a homemaker and mama to our two kiddos. We have one girl and one boy. On a normal working day I get up and get the kiddos ready for school and do carpool. When I get back home I do my second main creative gig, which is writing! I do social media stuff for writery things/my own writing as well as the literary magazine my husband and I run called WhiskeyPaper. I am almost always writing something, reading something, looking for something new to read and write. My husband and I have lunch dates/phone time together most days. And when it’s time for afternoon carpool, I go a little early so I can finish up the reading and writing. Once my kiddos are home, we have homework and I do dinner-prep stuff.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

I love baseball—everything about it. Watching it, reading about it, (sometimes accidentally) memorizing stats/batting lineups. It’s comforting. I also love to go for walks, read everything, bake, garden and knit. And I love binge-watching cozy television shows and hanging out with my family.

A sunflower from Leesa's garden

A sunflower from Leesa’s garden

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

I am inspired by beautiful, cozy things—both natural and glossy-magazine/TV style. I love bright colors and carving out space to be quiet and pray and daydream. I am inspired by honest people who rise above their circumstances and keep the faith. I am inspired by faith and love and light and fighting my way out of darkness when I need to. I am a highly sensitive person/an empath…simply put—it just means that I am easily overwhelmed/startled/sometimes take on emotions that aren’t necessarily mine. I consider it a gift fersure, but I am also still learning how to turn it off when I need to so I’m not constantly worried/upset/taking everything on. (I had to train myself to avoid the news.) I am inspired by kind people, good listeners, generous/unselfish people. I also love the mountains, the ocean, the country. I have big love for Jack Kerouac books, hippie stuff/hippie grocery stores/hippie music, champagne, classic rock/90s grunge/90s R&B. So much good music. Be Good Tanyas/Frazey Ford. The Avett Brothers. Heart. Jonatha Brooke’s live album. Rookie Mag and Hello Giggles! Romantic YA fiction. Oldskool country music, pretty dresses, pretty Tumblrs, this Bible verse: But as for me, I will always have hope. Psalm 71:14 and this line from Lolita: “The softness and fragility of baby animals caused us the same intense pain.”

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Find the light.

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

YES! Lots of staring into space and candy eating fersure! I will seriously write a sentence, sometimes two and then stare off or poke around the Internet for fifteen minutes before getting back to it. I’m a pretty fast writer, but only because I stare off and think about it for so long before I start to get it down. I will wander around, go for a walk, go for a drive, clean the kitchen…all kinds of things and work the little story details out way before I sit down to write, so when I finally do…it comes together pretty quickly.

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my short story collection Every Kiss a War (Mojave River Press, 2014) ! It’s been years and years in the making and it was shortlisted for both the Flannery O’Connor Short Award for Fiction and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. One of the stories won Editor’s Choice in Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story contest. Every single story in the collection is a story I wrote because I wanted to. I wrote exactly what I wanted to write, exactly how I wanted to write it and part of me is still like I CAN’T BELIEVE I GOT AWAY WITH THIS. I love writing about complicated relationships and baseball and first kisses and first dates and sex and spirituality and boys and girls and clothes and late-night kitchen conversations and families and that’s what I did and it actually worked! I’m still over the moon about it.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

When I first started writing, I used to submit my work to/wanna be in litmags that weren’t right for me. I hadn’t fully realized what kind of writer I was/am. It was an important lesson to learn and I’m glad I learned it fairly quickly. Also I used to be too open/free with sharing my ideas…and I’ve seen people take my ideas and run with them. I have learned to value and protect my creative wellspring a lot more. I’m a very private person naturally, but I’ve learned to be even more extra-private when it comes to the things I’m working on and new ideas I have.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

There are so many! I’ll start with several awesome teachers I had in high school and college who really encouraged me and inspired me. Ms. Perkins, Ms. Matteis, Ms. Welp. I also love Neko Case, Rashida Jones, Miranda July, Amy Poehler, Julie Delpy, Joy Bryant, Lauren Graham, Mae Whitman, Monica Potter (Parenthood girls!), Zooey Deschanel, Antonia Thomas, Regina Spektor, Erykah Badu, Jessie Baylin, Loretta Lynn, Stevie Nicks, Miranda Lambert. Lorelai and Sookie from Gilmore Girls, starting the Dragonfly Inn! I just love all of their styles so much, both inside and out. I’m also blessed to have a lot of creative ladies I can call friends. I know a lot of women who have made a living, started businesses with their own two hands and seeing that sort of thing is always inspiring! And I’m always inspired by women who are also mothers, who still find the time to be creative.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I’m a natural night owl, but had to become a morning-ish person when I became a mama. But I love staying up late, working at night.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

I watch my stories! I really love re-watching TV shows (Felicity, Friday Night Lights, Gilmore Girls, My So-Called Life) and movies. I like to go for drives in the country. I also like to have a glass of wine and sit on the couch with my husband and watch hilarious things on the Internet.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

When I was really-really focused on growing my creative heart in college, I read a lot of SARK and Sabrina Ward Harrison. Those are a great start. Also anything by Anne Lamott or Miranda July.

The bookshelf in Leesa's bedroom

The bookshelf in Leesa’s bedroom

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

I know it’s gonna sound generic, but FIND YOUR OWN VOICE. Also THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU! It can be very, very overwhelming when you see how many (other) writers there are, but there is room for you too! You have something to say, to teach! You never know how you can be a blessing to someone. And work hard at it. Never, ever give up. (Lemme reference Calhoun Tubbs from In Living Color when he was all like “Seventy-five years in the business of the blues, still trying to make it” which is so hilarious but honestly, you gotta keep on keeping on no matter what.) Tenacity, y’all.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

Fight for it! Life isn’t always easy. Creating and working isn’t always easy, but it’s so worth it!

Creative Ladies: Carrie Murphy

Carrie Murphy

I’m so excited to feature Carrie Murphy as today’s Creative Lady because she’s one of my favorite people on the internet. She has curly hair AND likes One Direction, so obviously I think she’s super cool. I also love her book of poems, Pretty Tilt. If you like things that are about adolescence and girliness and feelings (as I clearly do), you should definitely read it. Carrie is such a busy lady and I’m so happy she took the time to answer my questions. You can find her on her website and on Twitter @carriemurph.

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.

I am a poet, a professional freelance writer and a birth doula. Most of my daily work is writing. Right now, I am a daily contributor to the fashion/beauty website The Gloss, as well as to the parenting website Mommyish. I also write for other websites and publications and I do some social media work occasionally, too. I work from home, which I really love.

On a normal day, I get up around 7 or 7:30, let my dog out, boil some water for tea and start trolling the internet for interesting/newsy things to write about. I write my two posts for The Gloss and my one for Mommyish and I’m usually done by about 11 am or before here in Mountain time. Then I am free to work on my other freelance writing work, work on posts for the next day, return emails, make calls, shoot the shit with my friends on Gchat, clean, write poems, grocery shop, have lunch, go to appointments, etc etc.

Some days I have meetings with potential doula clients or prenatal doula clients who have already booked me or postpartum meetings with clients who have already birthed. Some days I am actually at a birth!

I also teach writing (sometimes as an adjunct, sometimes in community settings) but I don’t have any classes right now. When I am teaching, my schedule looks a little different.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

Cooking!! I used to try to use it for career advancement, I guess, as I had a food blog, but I let it go defunct. But I really, really enjoy cooking. It’s a good way for me to be creative, but in a relaxing way.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

Oh man! The poetry of Richard Siken. Cactii. Babies. Pregnant people. Etsy. Textiles. Everything in my Feedly reader. Murals. Mountains. Thrift stores. My friends! Other creative people in general.

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

I read this question to my boyfriend and he said “Purple and wiggly,” which made me laugh. I think I would go with….casual and female-centric? This is REALLY hard!

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

Candy eating, YES. I come from a long line of rabid candy eaters. Candy helps everything!! But for real, I have different creative processes for different things, I guess. The process I use to write a blog post about fat-shaming is not necessarily the same one I use to write or revise a poem.

I have a pretty instinctive process for writing poetry, at least for a first draft. I just let the poem tell me what it wants to be, although I will usually begin from some sort of word, idea, or image. I keep a lot of notes for future poems on my phone, so when I am feeling poem-ish I will look at those and see which one strikes me.

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

Well, I wrote a book of poems called PRETTY TILT so that’s something I’m proud of! I have another book of poems, FAT DAISIES, coming out sometime this year and I hope I’ll also be proud of that, once I finish it.

Carrie's dog with her latest poetry manuscript

Carrie’s dog with her latest poetry manuscript

But I think, more than anything, I’m really proud that I have, for now, figured out a way to make a living by being creative. It’s not like I ever thought going into poetry was going to make me rich, but I also didn’t really give much thought to how I would make money once I finished my MFA, unless it was a vague idea of “teaching.” I kind of fell into freelancing because I didn’t know what else to do. Now, about two years later, I get paid to write, which is AWESOME. That might not always be the case (I’m pretty open to my career path changing, as it’s already changed like a billion times since I graduated from college and from grad school), but I am proud of the niche I’ve carved out for myself over the past few years, even though some days writing for the internet makes me want to repeatedly bash my head in and/or move to a cave where I only communicate via flowers.

But I also have my doula work to counteract that feeling. Being a doula is also very creative work, yet in a completely different way. So, at least for now, I feel pretty satisfied with having two jobs that allow me to earn money basically on my own terms, by doing what I’m good at and what I enjoy.

Some of Carrie's doula materials after a birth

Some of Carrie’s doula materials after a birth

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

I have a few that feel too personal to share, but I guess something I can say in general is that I’ve learned I should always listen to my gut. I’ve had a few times in my career, both in conventional jobs and in freelancing, where my intuition was saying NO NO ABORT STOP CARRIE NO and I chose to ignore it. Then bad things happened.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

I have so many! Like, for real. SO MANY. Are you ready?

All of the wonderful female professors I had in graduate school, Loretta Lynn, June Carter Cash, Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Anzaldua, Ina May Gaskin, Sandra Cisneros, Pablita Velarde, my mom (who has always been incredibly creative, from cutting my toddler snacks into special shapes and writing children’s poetry to knitting Christmas stockings and painting tiles for her kitchen), my aunt Trish, my friend Sarah, my friend Kelly.

The internet has brought me into the orbits of numerous amazing, creative women that I admire, like Juliet Ames (who runs the Broken Plate Pendant Co and is one of the first people I ever met who makes all her money on her own terms), the poet Rachel Zucker (who was the first poet/doula I’d ever heard of), my internet friend Ashley Ford, my friend the poet and publisher of Birds of Lace press Gina Abelkop, my friend the poet Leigh Stein, my friend the poet Elisa Gabbert, my friend the writer Amber Sparks, (I have a lot of cool, inspiring friends!!) Alle Connell the makeup guru of XoVain, the designer Emily Henderson, the writer Avital Norman Nathman, Feminista Jones, my Mommyish editor Eve Vawter, the designer Megan Nielsen, my friend Autumn Giles of the blog Autumn Makes and Does, Rebecca Woolf of Girls Gone Child, Kristen Oganowski of Birthing Beautiful Ideas…want me to keep going?

And also you, Kerry! You do so many things and seem so committed to the idea of a creative life. It’s admirable!

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

The older I get, the more of a morning person I become. I really do like to get up in the morning and just get going on stuff, especially the work I am getting paid for. Like, the time between when I step out of my bed and the time when I start work for the day is usually about five minutes, which seems kind of crazy, in a way!

For my own personal writing, it ranges, though. I feel like I work on poems more often during the afternoon or evening, just because that’s when I have time to work on them.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

Eat candy! Seriously. And watch shows about teenagers (Are you watching REIGN? Because you need to be), listen to One Direction, take my dog on walks, go shopping at thrift stores, cook meals, go out to eat, take naps, do yoga, go to ballet, talk about things that happened with my friends. When I’m feeling extra energetic, hiking. I’d love to eventually become someone who knits as a way to relax, but I need to get better at knitting. I also have a goal of becoming a person who meditates. We’ll see.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A WARDROBE by Elizabeth Kendall

BORDERLANDS: LA FRONTERA by Gloria Anzaldua

NOTES FROM NO MAN’S LAND by Eula Biss

THE BOYS OF MY YOUTH by Jo Ann Beard

ROLE MODELS by John Waters

All of theses books made me see the world differently, which I think is an important component of being creative (at least for me). I could also recommend you like 5000 books of poems, so let me know if you’re interested.

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You are your own best advocate, so boost yourself in whatever way makes sense. Make connections. Be persistent. Send another email. Try again. Keep going. Do not read the comments. Try to grow a thick skin (Still REALLY working on this one myself). Give yourself permission to be pissed off. Give yourself permission to take breaks. Learn and understand the conditions you need for your work and do what you can to make those conditions happen often. Pay it forward.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

I have two personal mottos, neither of which really have anything to do with being creative.

One is a quote from June Carter Cash (said by Reese Witherspoon during her Oscar acceptance speech for WALK THE LINE): “I’m just trying to matter.”

The second is crescit eundo, which is the motto of the state of New Mexico. In English: “It grows as it goes.”

Creative Ladies: Ashley C. Ford

AshleyFordHS

Ashley C. Ford is an awesome writer whose work you may have seen on Buzzfeed or The Rumpus, among other places. She’s also one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. She was nice enough to answer my nosy questions about her creative inspiration, processes, and role models (and she’s the second person in a row to mention Roxane Gay!). You can find Ashley on her website and on Twitter @iSmashFizzle.

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.

Writing is my main creative gig. Nothing makes me feel more aligned with my purpose or more productive. That’s the work that gives me the most joy. For my day job, I get to work with people I adore in a creative industry (marketing), but my position is more on the administrative side. On a typical day, I’m here by eight preparing the office for my coworkers. Then I’m in some internal meetings, emailing vendors, and doing a host of other things. After work, I go home and write, read, or both. There’s also room to be social in there sometimes.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

Dances classes are always fun. There’s something about moving my body that gets my head in the right place to be fully present in my creativity. I can be a hesitant writer. I write a sentence, erase it, write another one, erase half of it, and so on. My dancing is instinctual. I’m just following my body. I also paint, knit, and sing. Anything that gives me space to be in own wacky head.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

Nature, love, and other writers. Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love trees. A good tree will make me kind of weepy. I have a favorite tree in my neighborhood. It’s 400 years old. Love is everything. I know that’s not cool, and so cliché, but until I find something that makes me feel better than love, I’m going to roll with it. On a day-to-day direct inspiration level, the writers I get to interact with are the most inspirational parts of my life. Roxane Gay, Daniel José Older, Cathy Day, Mary Miller, Kiese Laymon, and Tayari Jones are some of my favorites. They aren’t writers with work that just appears out of thin air. I get to see/read them putting in the work. It pushes me even more.

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Write it down.

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

The most important thing I do before a serious writing session is paint my nails harlot red. It sounds silly, I know, but if I know I’m going to have a substantial amount of time to sit down and write, red nails just help the process. Of course that isn’t an every day thing. Most days, my process is just sitting down with my computer open, the right playlist, a pad of paper and a pen, and I just go. I take a lot of mini-breaks because I need that. I used to try to keep my head down and plow through, but now I know that doesn’t work for me. I need those tiny spaces between thoughts. It’s also important that I be very comfortable. I mostly write in leggings and oversized sweaters. I don’t have to be cute to do work.

Ashley's first print publication in Indianapolis Monthly

Ashley’s first print publication in Indianapolis Monthly

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

The first essay I ever published with PANK magazine was a moment of reclamation. I did not set out to become a nonfiction writer, essayist, or memoirist. I wanted to be a poet. But I had all of these stories inside me, real stories from my past. When I shared those stories, I was shedding shame for things I never had any business being ashamed of, and I was experiencing real honest human connection for the first time in my life. Looking back, I would make some different craft choices for the essay, but the decision to publish it wouldn’t change. It was a version of bravery I hadn’t experienced until that point.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

Well, if my attempts at poetry count, then I learned I’m not a poet. But I’ve also learned that if you put in the work to be good at any kind of writing, you can do it. I never worked at my poetry. Now, I’m scared to try again, because I’ll hate how bad I am at it. The lesson I learned? If you’re not going to work at writing it well, don’t write it all.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

Roxane Gay. She is my mentor, my friend, and among the most important writers of our time. I am constantly trying to teach myself to think the way she does, not so that I come to the same conclusions, but so I can be more thorough in my writing. She articulates herself, and the voices of her characters in a way I have yet to master. I am always going to be looking up to her.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

You know, I used to be a morning person, but I’m beginning to write much better at night. Not sure why the switch occurred, but I just roll with what works.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

Self-care is a buzz word right now, but it’s something I’ve been trying to cultivate in my life for a long time. When I need to relax I love to watch a favorite tv show, take a long walk, have a solo Harry Potter marathon, or lately, I’ve been writing a pen pal at the end of the day. I’m protective of my emotional state.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

The Boys of My Youth by Joann Beard, On Writing by Stephen King, and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

Read everything! Write everything down. You never know what you’ll come back to, or need to remember. Also, be gentle with yourself. Telling the truth can be hard work, and writing it can be even harder. Don’t give up on your story.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

Creative Ladies: Kerry Winfrey

Kerry Winfrey
GUYS. IT’S ME! I made myself this week’s Creative Lady! Don’t worry, we’ll be back to interviewing much cooler women soon, but I thought it was time I finally faced my own questions. I never realized how hard they were until I actually had to answer them. Also, I feel very fraudulent referring to myself as a “creative lady,” even though one of the points of this series is for us all to realize and acknowledge our own creativity. Easier said than done, I guess. Anyway, if you guys are interested in being featured in Creative Ladies, please send me an email at welcometoladyville@gmail.com. Until then, you can find me on Twitter @KerryAnn, on Tumblr, and on…this very blog.

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.

I stay pretty busy. In addition to my 9-5 job, I also have a pretty large business-y freelance writing gig, this blog (eyeroll), my “fun” freelance work (like my HelloGiggles column!), and then, of course, there’s fiction writing. So my biggest struggle every day is just to have enough time to do a few of those things. If I’m smart, I wake up early and either get some work done or work out before I go into my day job, but I haven’t been doing that since winter started. Whoops. So after I get home from work, usually I make dinner or H. and I go out. I like to eat really early because it helps me break up my day…like, work all day at day job, eat, work all night on other stuff. If I eat too late it feels like my night gets all cut up and I’m not as productive. So after that I make sure my blog’s set up for the next day, then get to work on whatever my most pressing assignment is that night. Either it’s an article for my big freelance client or it’s my HG column, usually. And some night it’s the fiction writing. I try to stop working at least an hour before bed so I can read, relax, or (sometimes) workout. Oh, and did I mention that I usually blast One Direction or T. Swift every night to keep my energy up? Because I do. My weekends are more relaxed because I can basically work on freelance or fun stuff all day.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

I love sewing and crocheting. I’m not that great at either, but it’s so rewarding to make something tangible with your hands when you spend so much time writing. Writing is really subjective, and it’s hard to say whether it’s good or not, but that’s not the case with crafting. You can just look at it and tell whether or not you did it wrong, which is a relief sometimes.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

God, I did NOT realize how hard these questions were when I wrote them. I guess…feelings, as silly as that sounds. When I watch something I love or have an interaction with someone and I get or observe a certain feeling, I’ll think, “I want to create that.” Whether it’s a certain kind of humor or a swoony meet-cute, I’m almost always inspired by trying to make other people feel what I feel. Which sounds weird when I type it out. I’m also just inspired by funny things, in general. I like laughing and I just want to make other people laugh!

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Weird but good-hearted.

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

I try not to eat when I’m working. I know myself, and I would just stress-eat everything that’s in front of me. I do like to drink tea–I used to drink coffee, but I had to cut back because it was giving me MASSIVE ANXIETY! I work best when I just sit down and tell myself, “Okay, you have an hour to finish this” and then I cut out all of my distractions and get to it. I use Freedom a lot, because otherwise I’m like, “Oh, just let me check Twitter. And read every single tweet from the last three hours.” I definitely stare into space A LOT though, and I’m a big fan of freewriting. Sometimes what’s going on in my head feels so confusing that just writing through it is the only thing that helps.

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

God, Kerry! These questions are so hard! I’m proud of EVERYTHING I’ve done, because all of it still seems so unbelievable to me. Even the fact that anyone reads this blog is crazy. But if I had to pick one thing, I’d say finishing a first draft of a YA novel. I’m not saying it’s good, but it is an entire draft, which wasn’t necessarily something I thought I could do. I wrote 50 pages of so, so many books before making myself finish a whole draft, and now the whole process seems a little less daunting.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

Ugh. Just one? Okay, this one’s embarrassing, but here goes. Once I applied to write for this local publication and I had to attend a pitch meeting. I was so, so out of my element. The meeting was in a bar, it was mostly dudes, and it was VERY clear that none of the ideas I pitched were working. Like, at all. Everyone there was perfectly nice, but it was just very clearly Not My Thing. Later on I was flipping through that magazine and I saw an article that started with the line, “A great steak is like sex.” Listen, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that kind of writing, but anyone who’s ever read this blog knows that that’s not my style. At all. So it was a good way for me to learn that I can’t do EVERY kind of writing. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer! I’m still glad I took a chance and tried something outside my comfort zone. That’s the only way you can learn, even if it does mean you have to spend a super awkward evening in the basement of a bar feeling like you’re the biggest loser in the entire world. We all have our own voices and specialties, you know?

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

So many! Meg Cabot is a big one, because she writes so much and is a good example of what it means to be a “working” writer. Miranda July, because she’s always true to her voice. Dolly Parton, because she does what she wants and doesn’t care if anyone thinks she’s weird. My mom, because she’s the most creative person I know (seriously, I won ALL the Valentine’s Day box decorating contests in elementary school, and it wasn’t because I was decorating them). In general, any woman who works A LOT is a role model of mine. There’s nothing I admire more than a good work ethic.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Definitely morning, although I love spending my evenings working, too. Basically anything but the afternoon. I might as well take a nap then because nothing’s getting done.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

Unfortunately, I’m a stress-sleeper, which means that if I’m at all upset I sort of shut down and go to bed. Not helpful. But! On the flipside, working out helps me healthily de-stress. H. and I bought a treadmill so I can slowly, clumsily run at home where no one can see me, and that’s what I do when I feel like my heart’s about to beat out of my chest because I’m so anxious.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: Sort of cheesy? Sure. But it’s still great. When you’re totally, completely stuck, this is a good one to read.

It Chooses You by Miranda July: Such a great explanation of her creative process, complete with doubt and fear. Also I cried at the end!

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller: This is a perfect book. I could read about Carly Simon all day long.

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

1. Don’t stop. Any break I’ve ever gotten is because I just kept doing something, past the point of it being practical, and didn’t stop until someone paid attention to me. This is the only business plan I have, honestly.

2. It’s okay if you aren’t creative full-time. When I was in college, I remember being disheartened hearing about how many writers don’t make a living with writing. But WHO CARES? Having a day job doesn’t make you less valid. It just makes you a responsible adult who enjoys paying bills on time. I think you’re a better writer if you have lots of different experiences, and those experiences include working.

3. Don’t tell people what you’re doing until you’ve done it. Self-explanatory.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

The quote I always keep in mind comes from Marilyn Monroe. I know, I know. That makes me sound like one of those people who puts misattributed Audrey Hepburn quotes on her Facebook wall. Whatever. Here’s the quote: “I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night — there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.” I think about that one all the time. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or bog yourself down with the logistics. You just have to dream the hardest. Simple.