The Working Creative

Still Figuring it Out

April 9, 2015


I just got back from a quick business trip in Marfa, Texas. Before I left I bought a few plants that still needed to go in the ground. So I spent a good chunk of my morning that would usually be dedicated to writing or answering emails or combing my calendar instead getting my hands dirty.

This morning, as I was gardening, I remembered that I actually spent my first day freelancing, almost five years ago, potting some succulents for my brand new home office. I was on my back porch in my old house and couldn’t believe that I was spending my morning doing whatever I wanted – that I didn’t have to “go to work”. I was transplanting my cacti into pots that had no way to drain themselves and trying to imagine what life would be like being my own boss.

The whole thing became more surreal than it already was when a large man appeared around the corner. It was a city official who was coming to check on the abandoned house next door – but even the embroidered logo on his shirt wasn’t quite enough to make me feel at ease. He told me that I needed to paint my chipping garage and then offered to give me a massage. I said no to the massage and I never painted my garage. It was the first of many times I would say no to weird shit and refuse to get distracted with something like painting my garage.Two of the five plants I potted that day are still alive. And I’m still figuring it out.

Being Boss

January 6, 2015


You guys. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this creatively charged. I feel like I have a little extra electricity running through my body. That’s because today I launched the first episode of my new podcast with my dear friend and creative colleague Emily Thompson called Being Boss. (I felt so creatively jazzed about it that I told my sister and business partner Tara that this is the year we will finally write our Braid book. She took a deep breath and said “fine.”)

Starting a podcast is something that has been on my radar for a while – but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So when Emily pitched me on partnering up to do a podcast I said YES. It made sense. She first approached me on the podcast idea just two weeks before Christmas – followed up with a “Oh yeah, and I think we should launch in the beginning of January.” We spent the next few weeks naming, designing, branding, logistic-ing, recording, coding, editing, and birthing this little project – and now it’s here. And I’m proud of it.

After we recorded the first episode I almost chickened out. I wanted to tell Emily that maybe we should reconsider or hold off until everything is perfect – but that’s not how either of us roll and nothing is ever perfect. So here we are. Later this week I’m going to be approaching some really big deals and request interviews – creative powerhouses and people you will most definitely want to hear from – but first I need to go put on my big girl undies.

You can listen to Being Boss and read our show notes at or on SoundCloud. We’re working on getting it up and running on iTunes but keep running into technical snafus. Sign up for our newsletter if you want to be updated on episodes as they are released.

Getting Back to Work

September 22, 2014


Late last week I spoke at the Circles Conference to a packed (and quite stylish) audience full of designers. And now I’m nursing what my friend Brené Brown calls a vulnerability hangover.

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My talk was about how painful it can be to be a working creative because of The Fear. But that if we can just do a few things – like get specific about what both the worst case scenario and the ideal day look like, get clear on what we really want to be doing all day, and maybe make a mantra to remember what that is – then maybe it won’t be quite so painful to put your heart into your profession. I didn’t really get serious about my talk until two weeks ago. I had written out what I wanted to say – and when I read it out loud it sucked. So I recruited my speech writer and voice coach (that would be my sister and business partner, Tara) and we spent an entire Saturday afternoon out at my parents lake house writing my script – word-for-word. Then I spent the next week memorizing my cues and designing my slides. The night before my talk in the hotel room I practiced forgetting the script so I could sound casual. As if I was going to walk up on that stage and give a story that had just come to mind – like lunch with a friend. Then I practiced walking (the stage strut – not quite a model stomp) and talking at the same time without forgetting that words were supposed to be coming out of my mouth.

Oh. And that was all only after getting my snotty and over-tired baby to sleep on the hotel bed – two hours after his normal bedtime. Which for a baby, and a new mom, is kind of a big deal.

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After my talk I felt high. I had a quiet, humbling moment of gratitude when I found myself backstage. And then when I was sure nobody could see me I pumped my fists in the air – like a dorky protagonist in an 80s romantic comedy who just scored a date with the homecoming queen. I know it’s probably not cool to admit that I was proud of myself … but I was proud of myself.

I made my way back to the conference lobby buzzing with inspiration and energy. And that’s when I saw my sister talking to my creative girlfriends – my tribe from all over the country (and even Canada!) – and my baby crawling around on the floor at their feet … and for a minute I felt like I had it all. And that I could actually do it all. But today. Today, I have fears, my self-doubts, and my vulnerability hangover. And now I’m getting back to work.

P.S. You can watch the talk here. 

Talk notes drawn by Terence Tang.

Circles Conference

September 9, 2014

The thing that has consistently been on my to-do list for the last two months is “write, design, and practice (practice, practice) Circles talk.”

The countdown is here – Circles is happening Sept. 18-19 – and I should really be practicing delivering a talk that doesn’t sound over-rehearsed. So I’m going to go do that. The on-site conference is sold out but you can sign up for Circles Live at 75% off using my discount code “andkathleen75”.

Write Before You Die

September 5, 2014


If I’m being completely honest, when Gwen Bell (now going by Gwendolyn Bell) emailed me asking if she could call me from a pay phone in Mexico I was afraid she was going tell me that she was in serious trouble and needed me to wire her some money. Because who uses a pay phone anymore? (How sad is it that my mind went to an elaborate hostage-type situation all because someone doesn’t have a smart phone.)

I’ve been following Gwendolyn’s work for a few years now. It started when she shut down her blog and began writing directly to her readers’ inboxes. She is the one who taught me that your email inbox is a sacred space – and I remember that every time I send out a newsletter to my list. Gwen is the one who taught me to take the work you’re doing and cut it in half. Then cut it in half again. The stuff that’s left – that’s The Work. Gwen also taught me about stoicism when she shared the art of negative visualization (imagine how much worse things could be … then be grateful) and recommended I read Stoic Joy: A Guide to the Good Life (it’s a good one – read it). Gwen Bell reminded me that truth is better than content. One of the things I love most about Gwen Bell is that when the work, or publishing platform, or city she is in no longer serves her she moves on. She’s bold and while I may never be quite as radical as Gwen, she’s taught me to be a little more brave – of course I admire her.

I first made contact with Gwen, after following her work for a couple of years, when she was dealing with internet trolls and typical hater bullshit and was basically like “I’m out.” I emailed her to say that I really liked her and her work – I asked her to keep me on her list. We emailed a couple times back and forth and eventually had a video chat. Gwen was in Brooklyn and I was in Sayulita, Mexico. I was completely distracted by the fact that I had just found out I was pregnant. Gwen was really into Git (open source collaborative coding) and it was a little over my head. But I was still grateful for the opportunity to connect. I asked her where her bravery comes from and Gwen shared with me that her mom died when she was thirty – so for Gwen everything after thirty was gravy. She might as well go all in… because life is short. It may be presumptuous, but I left our chat feeling a bit more like friends.

So when Gwendolyn asked me to call me from a real live pay phone in Mexico I said yes, of course. But first I bought her most recent work – Write Before You Die. It’s a 30-day course that is designed to get you writing – with prompts and even guidance from Gwendolyn if you choose. These days I consider myself a writer more than anything – but with a big shift in identity and new boundaries I’ve been second-guessing myself. So, I am looking forward to working through Gwen’s prompts.

When Gwendolyn called she sounded different than the last time we spoke. Maybe because she’s been speaking almost exclusively in Spanish these days – but there was a warmth to her voice. She immediately asked about the baby and told me that boobies for breastfeeding in Mexico are called “chi chis” – I’m hoping this will be Fox’s first words after “mama”. We were only able to talk for about 15 minutes but after some chit-chat about the weather and the baby we went deep fast – that’s how I prefer it. Centering your work around the idea of death, like Gwen is doing with Write Before You Die, can come across as morbid but I get it. (True story: I wrote my first will when I was five. And I think something about making life has me thinking a lot about death these days.) When I coach creatives who are working through The Fear it reminds me that we’re only here for so long – so why not just go for it? Gwen acknowledges the darkness of death but it’s her aim to shed a little light on it.

Gwen sees the importance in sharing your story – in your words and in a way you want to be remembered after you die. And she shares a sense of urgency in getting your story out now, because tomorrow is promised to no one. The Dali Llama has been known to say that he spends time daily thinking about his own death and that inspired Gwen to do the same. And so she does. Every day she asks herself “Is there anything else I need to say before I go to bed?” She said to me that it’s important to preserve for yourself the way you want to be remembered. Nobody else can do that for you.

When Gwen and I chatted almost a year and a half ago I was supposed to write up a recap but I found myself feeling overwhelmed about what to write – days passed and then weeks passed and new priorities showed up. So, just hours after our pay phone conversation Gwen sent me a link to her own notes on our interview. That was fast. I used to write that fast too. I used to capture, shape, and share my life as it was happening and these days I’m limiting myself as I figure out what it is I want to share – how I want to be remembered after I die. It can be paralyzing.

So I’m recommitting to hitting publish. It won’t be perfect but Gwendolyn reminded me that that’s not the point.

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