Meredith Chamberlain

We are thrilled to bring you an interview with Meredith Chamberlain, a writer whom we met through our Creative Lady Collective. Meredith creates brand voices for clients across a variety of categories, from shampoo to insurance. She is passionate about working with female entrepreneurs and collaborating with likeminded designers. We are always on the lookout for new inspiration and Meredith's suggestions definitely deliver! 

Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance copywriter.

I started out in publishing - magazines, books, and eventually digital. I was writing a weekly email newsletter for an arts organization, interviewing emerging musicians, designers and visual artists - and eventually started getting assignments to write what is now known as “sponsored content”. One of my close friends (who is also a copywriter) pointed out that what I was doing was copywriting, and that I could be paid a lot more for it. So when my company folded mid-recession, I started seeking out clients and building a portfolio.
In the beginning, I took every opportunity that came my way. I have a vivid memory of schlepping to an interview at a HVAC factory in Long Island City. Thankfully that one didn’t pan out, but I did accept a freelance position at ConAir (oddly many of my early opportunities were air-based), which required me to reverse commute from downtown Brooklyn to Stamford, CT several days a week. That experience got me an interview at Bumble and bumble. - my first full-time copywriting position - where I made invaluable connections and friendships. The art department there was very special. Learning to collaborate and concept alongside such a talented group of designers was a real gift.
After Bb., I worked at a few small advertising agencies full time, which eventually led to a burnout. I was working crazy hours on accounts that didn’t align with my personal values, and saying yes to every freelance project that came my way. It wasn’t sustainable. It took a solid month off, several pep talks from friends and former coworkers and a move to California to get my confidence back and finally commit to freelancing.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I was very lucky to work at Bumble and bumble early on in my career. Their tone of voice was a natural fit for me - smart and playful with a bit of British quirk to it (I’m a major anglophile). To have the opportunity to write in a voice I was aligned with and have that work to show to future employers was huge. Many of my freelance clients came to me through people I worked with at that first job - or through other onsite jobs. I tend to connect with designers I work with, and they reach out when they’re taking on a project that needs some copy.
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I swear by The Artist’s Way, and swimming. I do Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” every morning, which clears my mind of whatever neurosis has lodged its way in overnight. Swimming laps has a similar effect; the days I’m able to get both in are definitely my most productive. The next step will be turning my phone on airplane mode, like all the great writers do, but I’m not quite there yet.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

I respond very well to a structured brief. The more constraints I have the better. Once a brief is set, I’ll brainstorm rough ideas, which will lead to some fun lines, which i’ll then spin into concepts. If I’m working with a designer or art director, I’ll bounce my ideas off them, see what they respond to, and go from there. Collaborating with designers is one of the best parts of my job. Seeing my words laid out in design never ceases to delight.
There is a quote by French children’s book author Hervé Tullet that goes, “An idea is a surprise and it’s a celebration.” - that pretty much sums up why I love what I do. Many of my ideas still surprise me, and that is worth celebrating.
Full quote here for reference.
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom

Name one company that you'd like to write for in the future.

More than any one brand or company, I’d like to continue to collaborate with designers I admire. And I wouldn’t mind taking on some restaurant and hotel branding projects in the future. I’m hoping to get back into editorial writing as well. I recently wrote a piece for the Madewell blog and really enjoyed the process.

How do you stay creatively inspired?

Walking, swimming, reading, and keeping up on work that I admire - especially work that combines words and images, like that of Leanne Shapton and Maira Kalman.

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

Nothing I write after 8pm is any good. I know this about myself, and I plan accordingly. I fight the urge to procrastinate during the day, because I know my brain will be useless at night. This helps create boundaries. Honor your patterns, your energy, your ebbs and flows.
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I’ve been devouring the The High Low podcast recently.
@AnnStreetStudios Instagram stories are on another level.
Gather Journal’s Spotify playlists make me very happy.
I love Ruth Reichl’s twitter vignettes.
And States of Undress is my new favorite show.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Confidence, drive and imagination.
Meredith Chamberlain | Freelance Wisdom

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W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M

Jana Marie

This week we are excitedly switching gears and talking to Croatian-born writer Jana Marie who now resides in the Canadian Prairies.

Through her writing, Jana Marie examines the interplay between self and society as she works to both illuminate and explore the power of contemplative thinking. Her recently completed two-year project, 100 Mindful Days, which combines teachings from the worlds of personal development, self-care, and wellness, will soon be her first book.

We are deeply appreciative of her insight and know you will be too. Thank you Jana, for sharing! 

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance writer.

Truthfully, I found myself in the world of freelance almost entirely by accident. It was certainly something that I’d thought about, in a distant, wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-do-that sort of way, but it was never really a concrete goal or definite interest of mine until I started working 9-5.
When I was working 9-5, I felt small, stifled, and completely replaceable. It felt like all I was doing was taking up space, and it didn’t seem to make much of a difference whether I put in a 10% effort or a 110% effort. I was deeply unhappy, and I was also very confused.
For perhaps the first time ever, I really started to appreciate the value of time. I could finally understand all of those quotes about the shortness of life, something which I had never been able to wrap my head around before simply because I had never felt that way. Time, to me, had felt infinite; it seemed like I had an endless amount of time to pursue my dreams, travel the world, and do everything that I wanted. But, when all of my time was suddenly being taken up by my job, I realized that wasn’t the case.
When I started to add up all of the time that I spent getting ready for work, commuting to and from work, actually being at work, and then dealing with the effects of work on my physical, mental, and emotional health, I realized that I really only had a few good hours a week to myself. And, once I realized that, I realized that there was no amount of money they could pay me to keep living that way.

Can you tell us about your writing process?

As I am increasingly coming to realize, very little writing gets done if I’m not properly taking care of myself. Robert Henri, in his book The Art Spirit, does a great job of capturing this sentiment. When talking about his process as an artist, he says, “I spend six to eight hours a day in actual painting and the rest of the time getting ready for the work.” That's exactly how I approach my own work.
I need to make sure that I’m staying in a mindset which fosters writing. That doesn’t mean waiting to be inspired — it means making sure that I keep myself physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. And the easiest way I’ve found to do that is by creating and sticking to a consistent routine.
For instance, I wake up at the same time every day. My alarm goes off at 6:50am, and I’m walking the dog by 7. I leave the house at 8:15 and arrive on campus around 8:45. It’s about 9am by the time I’ve picked up a coffee and settled into my writing space. I then spend the next 2 or 3 hours writing until I begin to feel weary, which is when I’ll stop for a break and go get some lunch. After lunch, if it’s nice out, I’ll spend some time reading outdoors before going back to my writing for the rest of the afternoon.
What is perhaps the most crucial part of my day, though, is my evening walk, which ideally lasts for between one and two hours. It’s during that time that I mentally unpack and process the day, letting the things that I’ve been working on start to marinate and co-mingle with other, often-unrelated thoughts. I watch the sky change. I think about my place in the world. I think about our place in the world, as humans, and how incomparably small we are in the grand scheme of things. It really helps me put things into perspective and not get too wound up in all of those trivial, day-to-day stressors which can sometimes take up a lot of our energy.
All of that contributes to my writing. On days when I don’t follow my routine, I feel deeply untethered and don’t have a lot of motivation to see things through.

Do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I’ll often hear a lot about the way in which our personal lives are coming in second to our work lives, but I really don’t think that has to be the case.
This is something which has been said many times before, but it’s worth repeating. If you take a look at the phrase ‘work-life balance,’ you'll notice that ‘work’ is first. It’s not ‘life-work balance’ — it’s work-life balance. That, to me, says a lot. It says that the priority is still work, and that, if there’s any room left afterwards, life will just be squeezed in around the edges. If that’s the story we keep telling ourselves, that is precisely what is going to keep happening.
I had a much more difficult time finding a balance between my personal life and my work life when I wasn’t working freelance. Back then, it felt like I had no life at all, which was a big part of what made me decide to pursue a freelance career. I didn’t want to spend my entire life looking forward to the weekend only to be so exhausted from work that I didn’t get to do much during that time anyway.
These days, I no longer feel the need to strive for a work-life balance because I no longer feel any tension between my life and my work. It’s a symbiotic relationship: my life feeds my work, and my work feeds my life. The two need to work together in order for either one to function.
My advice to anyone struggling with maintaining a balance between their personal life and their work life would be to spend some time genuinely re-evaluating their priorities. For starters, make a list of the most important things in your life. Then, make a list of all the things that are preventing you from devoting more time to those things. I think you’d be surprised to discover just how much can be trimmed away.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

There is a wonderful quote by Federico Fellini that I so often find myself returning to: “If there were a little more silence,” he says, “If we all kept quiet… maybe we could understand something.”
I need a lot of time to myself, and I need a large part of my day to be spent in quiet, still spaces. I wasn’t able to have either of those things when I was working 9-5. Back then, it didn’t feel like I had any agency or personal space. There was no breathing room, and there was always someone who needed something else from me.
I don’t think it’s possible for us to be our best selves if we’re constantly being inundated with noise. And so, without a doubt, my favourite thing about working freelance is the tremendous amount of mental space it allows me to have. It’s amazing just how much of an impact a bit of breathing room can have on your overall well-being.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Patience, curiosity, and commitment.

Erin Gleeson

This interview is part of Freelance Wisdom's Mama Month - a month long celebration of freelancing moms. 

Erin Gleeson is the author of New York Times bestseller The Forest Feast and new book The Forest Feast for Kids. She is a Bay Area-based artist specializing in food-related photography and illustration. Her primary clients include magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, and restaurants. She has an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York and teaches photography in Continuation Studies at Stanford University. 

Hello Erin, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a freelance photographer, illustrator, and author. 

I have been a freelancer since the beginning. I was an art major in college and knew I wanted to go into photography so I moved to New York City right after I graduated to be in the middle of it all. I had no money and a lot of roommates and I loved it!  After interning at a magazine, assisting several photographers, and doing lots of odd jobs to make ends meet as an unpaid or underpaid intern/assistant, I decided to go to grad school so that I could teach photography in addition to being a freelancer. I got an MFA in photography at SVA in NYC and then taught photography as an adjunct for 4 years at FIT in New York while freelancing as a food photographer, before moving to California for my then fiance's (now husband's) new job in 2011. 
Up until this point I was taking freelance photo jobs I didn't love to get by and a bit disheartened by my often unstable freelance career. There were so many times I thought I should stop and get a more dependable job in an office, but I was always so hopeful that the right kind of art-related freelance work would come, so I stuck to it. When we moved cross-country, I had to start all over to create a new freelance clientele for my food photography business, which was scary. It was, however, a really pivotal time for me because I suddenly had breathing space from my fast-paced city life and a few months "break" while unpacking and settling to think about what direction I wanted to take.

"There were so many times I thought I should stop and get a more dependable job in an office, but I was always so hopeful that the right kind of art-related freelance work would come, so I stuck to it."

This quiet time in the woods allowed me to be free and creative in a way I hadn't been in a long time and from that I came up with my idea for The Forest Feast.  It began as a personal food blog project and was a different aesthetic for me, as I started incorporating my watercolor illustrations and hand lettering into the photography, which I had never done before. I think this aesthetic was somewhat unique in the food blog space at that time, and people began to notice. About 6 months in, a literary agent saw my blog online and reached out to see if she could help me turn it into a book. I remember feeling like I wasn't ready and that this was something I hoped to do in the future (not yet!!!), but my agent reassured me, I dove in and  the book came out in 2014.
It became a NYT Bestseller the year it came out which blew me away. This book has really opened a lot of doors for me and I am so grateful. Plus, it was a total dream project to work on for a year.  My second book, The Forest Feast for Kids, came out earlier this year and is an adaptation for children of the first book. My third book, The Forest Feast Gatherings, is my biggest project to date and is a book full of menus for entertaining. It comes out this September (2016). In the past year I've also had a line of stationery and gift items come out, all featuring watercolors and photography from my books, and I am working on other food-related Forest Feast product collaborations. I still teach photography, currently at Stanford in Continuing Studies; I like the combination of freelancing and teaching.

You are a mom to your adorable son Ezra. How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take one?

I am working about 3 days a week now, so I have to be pickier about the jobs I take on. When I was starting out in New York, I took any job that came my way, and ended up shooting a lot of events, which I don't love to do. In the past couple years I have been able to phase out that type of work and focus on Forest Feast related work, which feels like a huge luxury. The blog has really opened up a lot of opportunities for me to work and shoot from home which is great as a parent. I partner with brands for posts on my blog and am able to do it all from my little studio at home. 

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Deadlines! I work my best under deadlines so if I am not given one by a client, I try to give them to myself. I'm also an avid list-maker. A couple things that help me save time are Gmail's Boomerang for scheduling emails (so that things can go out first thing in the morning, even if you're writing late at night),Latergramme (to schedule Instagram posts), and Google Shopping Express /Instacart (grocery delivery!!). When Ezra was really small and I carried him all the time, I used my iPhone and Mac's dictation feature for sending emails, which was faster than making time to sit down and type with 2 hands.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancing mom so far?

The work ebbs and flows. Some weeks are simple and 3 days of work feels like plenty, but some weeks are jam packed and I have to go up to my studio after Ezra goes to bed at night. I don't really have a 9-5, and since I work from home, the lines get blurred between work and life. In the beginning we had a nanny who came to our house part-time, but I quickly realized it was too distracting for me, and hard for him to see me pop in and out constantly. Daycare has been much better for everyone.

Do you have any advice for creative women hoping to attract a book deal?

I highly recommend working with a literary agent. They do take a percentage but I am convinced that mine paid for herself many times over by negotiating on my behalf. An agent can open your options up exponentially and introduce you to many more editors/publishers than you might be able to find on your own. Plus, my agent continues to bring in new opportunities for me beyond the book and is a constant support in all I do to grow my brand. If you're looking for an agent, look in the acknowledgements of books you like– authors usually thanks theirs.

What is your favorite thing about being self-employed?

Being able to travel whenever I want!

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients and collaborations?

I think the more good content you put out into the world, the more people will keep you in mind and reach out. I get a lot of emails daily from PR companies hoping to partner with my blog and most of them don't fit. But once in a while there is one that does. Luckily I haven't had to do a lot of reaching out lately, but I used to send regular emails to clients I wanted to work with to keep them thinking about me.

"I think the more good content you put out into the world, the more people will keep you in mind and reach out."

As you know well, freelancers are just as much small business owners as we are creatives. What are your tips for managing the nitty-gritty components of your business? 

As a freelancer I think it's ideal if you can be open with other freelancers in your field to know what everyone is charging and how they are negotiating contracts. I am part of a group online that is very open about this, and we share business ideas, which is so helpful. Make sure you're not undercharging! There are also digital agencies popping up to partner influencers (bloggers, etc) with brands, which I am considering doing since my head is more on the art side than the business side. (Sometimes I think I should have gotten an MBA in addition to an MFA!). I'd love to have an agency handle the negotiation and paperwork side of working with clients so I can focus on the art.

As a busy mom and business owner, what is your best advice for finding a work-life balance?

After years of having my photo equipment under my bed in the city, I now have a little studio space (converted garage). Having a separate space has really helped me. Even if it's just a corner of a room or a walk-in closet, having a place to go that's separate can be key! Having a baby has also helped me work more regular hours. He eats dinner at 6 and goes to bed at 7:30, so I know I have to fit my work in before that (and hopefully not after). I used to be a real night-owl, so becoming a mom has given my days a better structure. No matter what, he's up at 7, so I can't pull an all-nighter.

Fill in the blank: The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are: 

Passion, business sense, and perseverance. 

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