A Peek into a Writer's Life

Writing About Writing

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I’ve always thought it was a little too meta to write about writing, but when my good friend Matt Villano—who I’d consider both a mentor and an inspiration to me as a journalist—asked me to participate in this blog hop, I figured why the heck not (particularly as you guys seem as interested in my career in magazine journalism as my travels, and I don’t blog nearly enough about the former).


Last week, Matt posted his own rare look behind the curtain, then posed these four questions to me:

1) What am I writing or working on?

So many things, I can barely keep them all straight. I’ve had a handful of Travel Mindset campaigns to work on this month—Panama City Beach, Gatlinburg, Airbnb—that they’ve kept me busy on the writing side. I also have a monthly travel column for Nashville Lifestyles, our city magazine owned by Gannett, and am still contributing semi-regularly to Entrepreneur as well as other consumer magazines such as Southern Living when I’m needed.

I’m updating my Nashville guide to USA Today quarterly (if you’re coming to town, shoot me a note and I’ll email you the PDF), as well as just finished a bunch of Nashville content for The Guardian (you can view it here). I’m not actively pitching magazines at the moment (lack of time, really), but only taking the assignments that fall in my lap as I can barely keep up with everything else I have going on. On the side, I have a book marketing client, a handful of web development and corporate copywriting projects, and other random odds and ends that occupy every last “free” moment I might have.

My next few months are so full of travel—some for work, some for fun—that I can barely keep it all straight (and I’m already missing Ella knowing we’re going to be apart for more time than we’re together!). This weekend, SVV and I head to New York City to see a dear friend get married. In early June, I jet off to Montana for a week for a trip I’ve had planned with five dear friends for the better part of a year. I return the day Bonnaroo kicks off, and we’ll have a full house of fellow festival-goers bunking at our place (good thing we have a lot of room!). And—this just in—during in the four days between Bonnaroo and the family heading off to Europe, I’ll now be flying down to Orlando for a quick 48 hours to cover the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley media preview. Of all things on the docket, I might be the most excited about this development!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

And then of course, there’s the 23 days (holy crap, so long!) that SVV and I will be traveling through the Mediterranean, but you’ll hear plenty about that all in due time. Also, in the few days I’m home between New York and Montana, I’ll be gearing up to cover CMT Awards and possibly CMA Music Fest (TBD). June sure is my favorite time of year to be a Tennessean with all the musical happenings in these parts!

And then there are two pretty big things happening when I return from Europe in July:

First, I’ll be acting managing editor at Nashville Lifestyles until mid-October while the current editor is away on maternity leave. This is exciting for me as I’ve really missed working in an office these past six years and being part of a team. Plus, I’ll get to plan the editorial mix for those three issues (September, October, November) and hopefully interview some awesome Nashvillians in the process. Not to mention, it will keep me relatively homebound—well, at our Nashville condo, that is—during the week at least.

Second, I’ll be throwing myself into Thrillist’s new Nashville edition with full force. I was recruited last August to spearhead the Nashville launch and it took until now to actually get it greenlit. So I’m excited to let the snark flow as I extensively cover the city so near and dear to my heart.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

If we’re talking blog specifically, I’d say that I tend to write more first-person narrative (and fewer listicles) than your average travel blogger. I’m loquacious—that comes as no surprise (my print editors are forever asking me to cut down the stories I submit to them)—and if given the chance, a little bit (OK, a lot bit) sarcastic. While it may not serve me well as far as search engines are concerned, I’ve always cared less about SEO-centric content and more about making sure I’m engaging and entertaining. Plus, it’s no big secret that my posts are very photo-heavy, as these days I prefer telling stories through visuals than the written word. This reason is twofold: For one, in a world of 140 characters, I feel like people aren’t reading blogs as carefully anymore and just skimming the surface. Second, I’m writing so many words a day for my other projects—seriously, an average day for me is probably a minimum of 10,000 words, and that’s six days a week at least—that by the time I get around to blogging, I’m clean out of prose. Photo content just seems easier as it taps into a separate part of my brain.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There was a time I only wrote about travel. These days, I’d say it’s half of what I write, at most. As I evolved as a journalist, I found writing solely about consumer travel meant that I was missing out on my favorite parts of writing and what drove me to go to J-School in the first place, and that’s the interview process. In the last year, I’ve really gotten back to this nucleus of why I write (to meet other people and help tell their stories). The nice thing about working in a diverse field like journalism is that you get the opportunity to explore multiple areas of interest, which is why I’ve continued to expand my portfolio to include topics beyond travel and entertainment (including food, startups, business, technology, you name it). At the end of the day, my curiosity is what drove me into this industry in the first place, and that same curiosity is what keeps me reinventing myself as a writer and exploring a plethora of subject matter.

4) How does my writing process work?

I have so many half-finished

…oh, sorry, where was I?

Right. I’m quite ADD when it comes to work—and always working on at least five assignments at once—that I tend to hop around among documents every few minutes, rarely completing one story from start to finish in a single sitting. You’d be pretty amazed by the number of half-finished Word docs on my computer (or blog posts in my dash, pitches in my drafts folder). Many times I’ll get back to them…eventually. But other times, my attention will be grabbed by a shiny object—SQUIRREL!—and I won’t actually ever touch them again. (Fellow journalists out there: Please tell me I’m not alone.)

Kansas City

In terms of the process itself, I tend to write the middle of a story first, then come up with an ending that sums up the point I want to leave behind with the reader, then return to the lede, typically leaving it for the last and trying to make it as punchy as possible. But I’m also forever cutting and pasting paragraphs and moving them all around, so often the finished product looks absolutely nothing like the first draft.

I get my best inspiration when I’m not at the computer, which can be problematic. Full stories write themselves in my head while at the gym, driving, running or doing anything that involves being disconnected from technology. So I’ve learned to keep a recorder close by and dictate my inspiration to my iPhone notepad as it sneaks up on me.

I also work best at night. I feel like much of my day is spent on social media or answering emails or doing phone interviews that as soon as 5pm hits and my inbox goes silent, that’s when I can really get to the meat of my work. I’ve always been a night owl so it’s not uncommon that I’m writing between the hours of 11pm and 2am. That’s also why I get up and spend 8 to 10am at the gym each day, as I know I’d just be sitting in front of my computer checking Facebook anyway, so I might as well get my calorie-burn done first thing in the morning before I really get into the zone.

Who wants to Blog Hop next? If you’re a fellow writer or blogger and want to participate, answer the four questions above on your own blog, then leave your link in the comments below so I can read what you have to say, as well.

  • May 20, 2014

    Fun read. I have curiosity about so many subjects, too, and find myself wishing I could read and write about almost everything. I felt like I was reading about myself when you mentioned getting your best inspiration when you’re not in front of the computer. I write great stories in my head when I’m running and then try to get them down when I get home, but they’re never nearly as good or interesting. So frustrating!

    • May 20, 2014

      It is frustrating, right? My most brilliant stories always seem to write themselves while I’m running, and then I only remember a fraction of them by the time I get to a computer (or pen and paper!).

  • May 20, 2014

    When I feel tired or lazy I always think “what would kristin do?” and according to the list above- it’s WAY more than the average person. seriously- you rock. Can’t wait to see how the Nashville Lifestyles works out and all the projects for us, too. 🙂

    • May 20, 2014

      Girrrrrrl, you crazy. You do as much as me—I don’t know how you keep all your TM campaigns straight! Also, I think you should Blog Hop next 😉

    • May 20, 2014
      Daniel Bear

      ughhhhh. Me too. Let’s get a line of kitschy bracelets made.

  • May 20, 2014

    I have so many unfinished blog posts in my drafts it’s unreal! I do not know when I’m going to actually finish off writing about any of them (probably 6 months later) It’s always so interesting to find out how other people write, sometimes when my writing’s a bit stale I try changing my routine or how I approach writing something to give me a different perspective. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t.

    • May 20, 2014

      At least you plan to finish yours…many of mine never come to fruition, ha 😉

  • May 20, 2014

    I love getting an inside look to how writers work. I love story-telling in person to friends, which is why I started blogging. When it comes to writing, I write like I speak- then I have to edit FOREVER lol, but it’s all I know! I was the type that got all A’s in science and math but my writing was way sub-par.

    • May 20, 2014

      That’s as good an approach as any to getting the job done!

  • May 20, 2014

    This should be on your bio page! A very interesting wrap-up of your life and career- And I have to admit- I am SO ENVIOUS of your Harry Potter trip! We’re going in October and can’t wait!

    • May 20, 2014

      Haha, not sure the first thing I want people to know about me is that I’m a total spaz when it comes to how I approach my day job 😉

      I will give you all my tips to WWoHP when I return! Glad you guys are going in October when the crowds will have subsided.

  • May 20, 2014

    So excited to work with you for a few months at Nashville Lifestyles AND that Thrillist is finally getting off the ground. Was looking back through old emails the other day and saw one from you late last year talking about Thrillist. Better late than never!

    • May 20, 2014

      I know, right? It’s taken foreeeeeever. I have an email about that I’ll be sending you later this week!

  • May 20, 2014

    I can’t imagine being a full-time freelancer. I watch my wife juggle everything and it just seems so stressful sometimes. Of course I’m trying to do it more and more while handling a newspaper office job. I agree with you on that 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. window. It’s crazy, but as we’re putting our son to bed at 9 I feel really tired. But by 10 or so those creative juices are going again, sometimes helped by a little whiskey. I’ve written plenty of stories like you say with getting to the lede last. Basically, if a lede hasn’t come to me within 30 seconds I’m moving on and getting to it last.

    • May 21, 2014

      Same! I struggle over the lede so much of the time, so if it doesn’t just write itself, I’ll leave it for the very end (and then inevitably my editor will change it anyway, ha!).

      Also same to the getting tired around 9pm part and then getting a second wind 😉

  • May 20, 2014

    So fabulous about the managing editor gig! I’m excited to hear how that goes for you. As always, your schedule blows me away!

    • May 21, 2014

      Haha, for the first time in a long time looking at my June through October calendar is starting to give me heart palpitations (and not in a good way!).

  • May 22, 2014

    So exciting with the managing editor job. Congratulations! And thanks for the inspiration on writing. I work as a copywriter / journalist myself and I can relate to many of your points. Nights are definitely my most creative time of day as well 🙂

    • May 29, 2014

      Glad to know I’m not just weird like that 😉

  • May 22, 2014

    I’ve read a few of these posts, and I’m kind of loving how different everyone is. I really consider myself more of a world class scribbler than a legit writer, but I really love reading about how differently everyone approaches things!


  • May 27, 2014

    Congratulations and well done! It’s so interesting and a little bit nosey to see what makes other writers and bloggers tick. Always a surprise!
    I’ve been following you for a few months now and I do so because of the way you write, as I consider it to be of a more personal nature. Thanks very much and kudos to more of the same. 🙂

    • May 29, 2014

      Thank you, Victoria! That means a lot!

  • May 28, 2014

    Here’s mine! (Although it seems my site has already sent a trackback.) Thanks for the post idea! http://carlaswank.com/2014/05/28/four-questions-endings-and-beginnings/

  • May 29, 2014

    I’d certainly say you have your hands full! The ADD thing is something I’ve struggled with as well… it doesn’t help to have a dozen tabs open with a million different things happening…

    Out of curiosity, would you say it’s becoming easier or harder to pitch major publications? I’ve actually heard it both ways.

    • May 29, 2014

      Ha! The million tab thing is so true (a million tabs on three open browser windows is even worse!).

      To pitch national publications, you almost have to have an “in,” unfortunately. Even after freelancing for 10 years for more than 50 glossies, I still rarely hear back if I pitch a mag where I don’t know anybody. And the pitch acceptance is becoming much lower—i.e. many of my editor friends say they rarely accept freelance pitches but rather use the freelancers they know to write pieces where the ideas are generated in house and then farmed out to contributing writers.

  • May 30, 2014

    SO nice to read I’m not the only one with dozens of drafts.
    I also get post ideas in all kinds of places, which results in note taking on all kinds of things: my cellphone, loose scraps of paper, a notebook. I also often send emails to myself to remind me of stuff and then ignore those emails.
    Aaah 😀

  • June 25, 2014

    WELP. I gave it a shot! More questions than answers I’m afraid, but definitely helpful to me personally! 🙂 And you are definitely a great inspiration, so thank you!


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