Claire is for sure my current girl crush. I'm going to be honest and throw in a quick disclaimer that I definitely had to cut this interview down by roughly 50% because, like myself, Claire is a lover of words (and, like myself, she could probably go on forever.) I can personally relate to so much of what she had to say, and as a fellow writer, she gives me hope and inspiration to keep doing what I'm doing. Claire - you're an angel, and a true babe who hustles. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me on your international flight. :)
Hometown: Lake Charles, Louisiana Current location: I’m currently on a flight from Hong Kong to Chicago. After that, I’m heading to Indiana and then Dallas. I think Louisiana is my home base for now, but that could change. Alma mater: Louisiana State University Degree: B.A. in Mass Communication (concentration: Public Relations) Hustle(s): I’m a self-employed writer and editor. Right now I’m editing for TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms), completing an editorial fellowship with Upworthy, and consulting for Jennie & Co.
Babe you admire and why: Jennie Armstrong. We met in the LSU Student Union six years ago, connected over our love of travel and activism, and never looked back. She inspired me to finally start my own business, answers my endless questions about how to hustle like a boss, and just toured around (and worked from) Southeast Asia with me for five weeks. Plus, she’s not just a babe; she’s an actual boss – my boss. You can check out her company here.
How do you spend your free time? I wish I could say yoga or jogging, but the truth is I fell down a Netflix rabbit hole recently and started watching The Blacklist. If I’m not working or writing or getting annoyed at myself for not working or writing more than I already am, I’m probably watching The Blacklist.
Go-to adult beverage: I don’t drink, so I’m the girl at the table ordering a Dr. Pepper and looking deeply offended if the waiter says they only serve Pepsi products.
Biggest pet peeve? If I’m at the gym running on the treadmill and there are other treadmills open, don’t get on the one next to me. That’s just rude. Running is hard enough. Don’t make it worse.
Tell us about your current hustle: The hustle is real right now. I left my full-time job in June and I’ve been self-employed ever since, doing a little bit of everything. Oh, you need a Squarespace website built? I’m sure I can figure it out. Want me to edit your speech on the legalities of escrow agreements between surrogates and parents? Sure, I’ll just Google anything (read: everything) I don’t understand. Over the past few months, I’ve worked for an international nonprofit, a local business, and random people I’ve met on the Internet. I’m also on contract with TWLOHA, which means I get to continue helping people tell their stories. As for my current hustle, I’m really excited about two things: my editorial fellowship with Upworthy where I’ll reunite with my old MTV editor (the incredible Alexis Tirado), and my work at Jennie & Co.
What does your typical workday look like? I’m a night owl, so I’ll usually try to sleep in a bit. Once I’m up and ready, I drive to my “office” - aka my table at Starbucks. Lake Charles lacks co-working spaces, so I’ve taken up residence in our mall. With working remotely, the good and bad news is that there’s always work to be done, and I’m usually working hours after most people have gone to sleep. If I need to unwind, I’ll watch Netflix or read before I call it a night.
When did you first get into writing and what kept you anchored to it as a career? Out of all of your questions, this one is the most difficult. I think I always enjoyed writing growing up because I was good at grammar and knew how to communicate what I was thinking or feeling via words. Outside of getting good scores, though, the first time I actually remember thinking, “Is this what I should do with my life?” was after one of my English teachers in high school took me aside and said she liked something I had written for class. (Is there any better feeling for a writer?) At the time, I didn’t know any writers. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the authors we read in school were dead. So instead of deciding to be an author, I thought it’d be easier to go into journalism. Somehow, along the way, that morphed into me getting my PR degree.
My first professional writing gig was for MTV. I hit the jackpot with that one. And once you start getting paid to write something, you’ve got some capital; work to point at and say, “Hey, look, I can do this." Looking back, I think I actually got into writing because I wanted to write novels. I just got confused along the way, believing the only way to be a writer was to be a paid writer. And since I got paid to write articles, I kept writing articles. I stopped writing for free (unless it was for a good cause) – and that included writing for myself. It’s very twisted and sad and I’m finally figuring out how wrong it is. So now that I’ve met writers and my friends have published books and I remembered why I got into all of this in the first place, I’m refocusing on what I loved in the beginning. Hopefully, not too far in the future, you’ll be holding a book of mine in your hands. That’s the dream.
When did you realize you wanted to be your own boss, and how long did it take you to make the leap? When they told me I had only 15 days of vacation during my first post-grad job, I factored in holidays and obligations and thought, wait - that’s no time at all. So it was always in the back of my mind that one day, I want to have the freedom to pick up and fly across the country or overseas and work from there. But I didn’t have any sort of plan. I knew pretty early on after starting at TWLOHA that Florida wasn’t for me, but I loved the job and the people and it was easier to stay than leave. Eventually, I had to get out; it was both a long time coming and very sudden. Once I got out and really thought about what I wanted, I knew I had to make a go of working for myself.
What are some “safe” things that you gave up to be where you are now career-wise? I think it’s very, very important to talk about money here. It is a huge risk, no matter how much you have saved, to leave a traditional 9-to-5 job. You’re giving up all security that comes with your health insurance as well as a stable, consistent paycheck. I gave up excellent health insurance when I left, and I still miss it - I want my dentist, my OBGYN, and my therapist back!I would also love to know where my future paychecks are coming from and when they’ll hit my bank account. Having a consistent paycheck is a luxury, and I’ll be honest and admit that it’s my biggest concern right now.
How did you land your freelance gig with MTV, and do you have any tips for other writers? Twitter! I’m guilty of always being up late and staying up-to-date with my feed. I used to tweet a lot with an amazing guy named Joey Parker. He was writing for MTV Act at the time, and he put in a good word for me when they started looking for writers. I owe my entire writing and editing career to him and to Alexis Tirado. She hired me for my first professional writing gig, a debt which I’ll never be able to repay. Having (and using) my Twitter account has led to every single job I’ve ever had, so I always encourage people to put themselves out there (on the Internet.) Start interacting with people you admire, or who have jobs you’re interested in, or who are people you might pitch to in the future. Don’t be weird. Don’t be pushy. Just interact with them like they’re human beings (…because they are!) Tell them when you like their work. And, when you’re ready, start pitching. And if you’re not getting paid to write yet, write for yourself. Start a blog, write some funny tweets, publish the Instagram caption that will make your followers feel something… it all counts in some way or another.
Best TWLOHA memories? This is not a lie, swear: I used to say I’d quit any job to work for them. I found out about the organization in 2008 when I was struggling with some mental health issues and was touched by the way they communicated with their audience. If I looked right now, I could probably find the full-page newspaper ad TWLOHA put out in USA Today in 2012. I was working in New York at the time, and I kept it. When a position opened up, Jamie emailed me to ask if I wanted it. I got to work for an organization I love, and they reached out to me. Who gets that lucky? After that - I’d say getting to sit behind Renee, the woman who inspired the company's original story - at a screening of the official TWLOHA movie, was the best memory. That was surreal.
Now for the shallow question: have you worked with any celebrities in the past? I’ve interviewed Woody Harrelson,Mariska Hargitay, and Lucy Hale, and I once created an Instagram contest for Miley Cyrus fans that she ended up sharing on her own platform.
Do you have any noteworthy work or internship moments? One time I interned with Meryl Streep’s daughter, Grace Gummer. Except no one told me she was her daughter. She started in the middle of the summer and I was asked to show her around. I spent the entire tour talking about how it was nothing like The Devil Wears Prada(the movie had just come out), and I still cringe when I think back on that. I had to pretend for the rest of the summer, even after I found out, that I had no idea who she was because I was so embarrassed. To her credit, she didn’t embarrass me further by letting me know that I was explaining a Meryl Streep movie to Meryl Streep’s daughter. Now that I’m typing this, though, I wonder if she went home and told her mom about it...
Career advice for other babes? I’m stealing this from a Tumblr post I saw years ago: “Effort will not betray you.” Work hard, help those around you, and stay curious.
Any final parting words? I think I’d be a terrible freelancer if I didn’t plug the fact that I’m always looking for work. If you’re reading this and need a writer (pop culture, feminism, etc.), a copywriter for your website or business, or an editor, I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.