BABE #113: HURLEY WINKLER, Freelance Journalist & Copywriter
To know Hurley is to absolutely love her. We feel really lucky to have formed an invaluable relationship with this gal - both personally and professionally - over the past several months. Her talent and passion for writing is so evident, but her heart for the community and her sincerity in encouraging, uplifting and being present in the lives of those she cares about is what truly sets her apart to us. We have learned so much from her and loved using this interview as an excuse to pick her brain even more. You are undoubtedly a Babe, Hurley, and we're lucky to know ya.
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
Current city: Neptune Beach, FL
Alma mater: Lesley University; University of North Florida
Degree: MFA, Creative Writing (concentration in fiction); BA, English
Very first job: Counselor at a theatre camp
Hustle: Freelance journalist and copywriter // Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement Assistant @ Jacksonville Public Library
Babe you admire and why?
My friend Karen Kurycki. She’s a remarkably talented illustrator and designer. I admire the way she balances her success with giving back. Even though she’s taken on enormous clients like Nike and The Washington Post, she always makes time to serve her community through pro bono work and mentorship.
How do you spend your free time?
Journaling, reading, doing yoga, swimming in the ocean with my husband, and convincing my dog to snuggle with me.
Favorite fictional female character?
Johanna Morrigan from Caitlin Moran’s bildungsroman, How to Build a Girl. I think about her all the time. I wonder how she’s doing. Good fiction not only causes you to empathize with the character, but makes you feel like the author is empathizing with you by articulating those thoughts and feelings you haven’t exactly been able to put into words.
Go-to adult beverage?
If I’m out, I’ll order an old fashioned (or two). If I’m staying in, I’ll make a trayful of tinto de verano, a fancy way of saying “red wine and 7-Up.”
Favorite social media account to follow?
@zkend maintains the most stunning Instagram feed I’ve ever seen, and captures the Jacksonville Beaches in such a unique way.
My husband, Alex, and I first bonded over our shared love of Elvis Costello, Wilco, Talking Heads, XTC, The Clash, Jonathan Richman, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, The Pretenders, The B-52s, Joy Division, Blur, David Bowie, and Prince. Music is still a very big part of our relationship. Also, I’m always in the mood to sing along to Patti Smith, Liz Phair, Tegan and Sara, and Fiona Apple.
Favorite ice cream flavor?
I love Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free line. The P.B. & Cookies flavor makes my eyes roll back in my head.
Last concert you attended?
Go-to roadtrip snack?
Chex Mix and Red Bull.
Tell us about your hustle:
My hustle is tough to define because it encompasses many different roles. I’ve been taking on copywriting clients as a freelancer for two years now, and journalism assignments for one year. I write a column for EU Jacksonville called Creative Spaces that focuses on individuals in Jacksonville and the spaces they inhabit creatively. I’ve written all kinds of material, but I like to focus on product copy and blog content. Right now, my journalism work mostly entails art and culture coverage in the Jacksonville area, but I’m working to branch out. I also have a part time office job at the Jacksonville Public Library, where I develop adult programs for all 21 of our library locations. These programs include book clubs, finance classes, cultural presentations, etc. I also help organize the Jax Book Fest, which occurs every March at our Main Library. The coolest part of my hustle at the library has been contacting big name authors to find keynote speakers for the festival.
What does your typical workday look like?
Like most freelancers, I don’t have a typical workday. I wake up early to write because it sets a productive tone for the rest of my day. After that, it’s a mixed bag. On my days off from the library, I get most of my heavy fingers-to-the-keys writing done. I’ll also conduct interviews and meetings. If it’s a library day, I’m the programming office from 9-6. Most of my work there involves coordinating programs, planning the book fest, and sending hundreds of emails. I’ll take "lunch" to put on my freelance hat for an hour—where I’ll write articles, transcribe interviews, or work on my zine in the park across the street. Since I’m an early riser, I usually go to bed at 10pm. I do that on the weekend, too, when I don’t have any nighttime plans. I stay up past midnight about four times a year. When I say this, people think I’m #humblebragging, but I really just hate staying up late. My brain feels mushy past 9 p.m.
Have you always had a love for writing? Where do you think that comes from?
Yes. I grew up writing in my journal. I read Harriet the Spy in the third grade, which made me want to keep a composition notebook in my backpack at all times so I could observe people and write about them. Writing has always been my way of comprehending and understanding the world around me. It’s my reflexive processing method, and it has been like that for as long as I can remember.
When/how did you realize you wanted to focus your career around writing? Did you ever consider a different route?
I considered every other route, especially in college. Eventually, I realized that I was working hard and doing well in my English classes because I really cared about the material. My desire to explore other routes is what makes me a writer, though. I’m curious about everything and everyone.
How have your past education and work experiences prepared you for the work you’re doing now?
In college, I helped produce a radio program called Swamp Radio. We recorded the show live, so I learned how to think on my feet and manage a large cast. I also edited and wrote for Perversion Magazine, a literature and arts print publication I helped start with my friends in 2013.
How do you stay organized and on top of your work? Similarly, how do you balance and switch between your various roles and writing styles?
I keep a planner filled with all sorts of deadlines. A great majority of these are self-induced mini-deadlines, like “finish a shitty first draft by the end of the day.” These mini deadlines are steps that lead up to the completion of a large project. I’m also a list queen. If I write a task on my list, I’ll make it happen. I keep a lot of spreadsheets that help me stay organized. In-between, I’ll walk my dog or grab a snack before I move onto the next task. Switching from freelance work to library work is easy because I have a commute separating the two. All writing requires the same approach of goal-setting and goal-reaching. Switching between different types of writing—articles, short stories, poems, product copy, social media—became easier once I identified the commonality. My mentor, Lynn, taught me this.
Who are your favorite writers?
Carl Hiaasen characterizes the state of Florida hilariously and truthfully in his work. Cindy Crabb first attracted me to the zine form through her series Doris. I keep a copy of Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help next to my desk—her humor is experimental and sharp. And Patti Smith completely changed the way I examine my own creative impulses when I read Just Kids.
What are some of your favorite writing-focused platforms, websites, and resources?
In graduate school, I read a ton of writing craft books, but they were a little too rigid for my enjoyment. I like prompt books—I always recommend the anthology Naming the World to anyone who’s interested in writing. Also, anything by Austin Kleon or Lynda Barry. They each use words and images to discuss the creative process. I don’t really use online resources. I maintain a Google Chrome folder called “Really Excellent Writing,” filled with hundreds of pieces of journalistic inspiration I’ve collected for years. When I’m feeling stuck in an article, I’ll read some of the articles in that folder. When I’m feeling stuck in fiction writing, I refer to the shelf of my 30 favorite books next to my desk.
What are you currently working on in terms of your fiction writing? What has that process looked like?
Fiction-wise, I’m working on a short story for 15 Views of Jacksonville, an anthology produced by Bridge Eight literary magazine. I’ve also been revising a handful of stories that need development. It can take me years to finish a short story. I’m forcing myself to push work across the desk to various submission platforms, but that’s a job of its own. I graduated from an intense MFA program earlier this year, so I’ve been feeling a little burnt out. Building a story on the page is an all-consuming task. I know I’ll eventually return to it with more enthusiasm. I’m enjoying writing other things for now. As long as writing, I’m satisfied.
Similarly, tell us about 'Nickname.' What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?
I first discussed making a zine with my friend Aysha Miskin back in 2014. She’s a talented illustrator, and we work really well together creatively. We decided on a zine because it’s simple to produce, and we both like the physical form, which feels a little archaic in the digital age. From the start, Aysha was gung-ho about the project, but I kept getting hung up on my own perfectionism. I wanted the zine to look and feel a certain way, but toiling over “doing it right” was just holding me back from making it happen. Earlier this year, Aysha and I returned to the zine project. We still had our work from 2014 on Google Drive, so we chose the pieces we wanted to include and added some new stuff. Setting a release date and giving the project a name helped us get it together. We named the zine Nickname because of our uncommon first names. When Aysha and I introduce ourselves to people, they always ask, “Is that a nickname?” When your artistic medium starts to become your career, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started writing/painting/sewing/dancing/singing in the first place. Getting serious about writing caused me to lose my playfulness for a few years. The zine is teaching me how to get it back.
Do you have any advice for women or freelance writers in the beginning stages of pitching their work?
Pitching is hard. It’s the email equivalent of taking off your clothes to lay on a table and place sushi on your breasts, Samantha Jones-style. I don’t know anyone who enjoys pitching. Realizing this discomfort has been helpful for me. It’s hard enough to believe in yourself, let alone convince an editor (most likely a stranger) to believe in your work, too. I advise fellow freelancing ladies to make their pitches specific. State the article’s topic, your goal for writing it, and a reasonable time you could have it ready.
How have the technological advances of writing affected both your job and personal perspective as a writer? What have the upsides and downsides of that been for you?
The switch from journalism to “content” is a tough one to swallow. Everything is an ad. When you’re trying to write a truthful article, but you’re not allowed to say anything negative about the subject, it starts to feel dishonest. The market couldn’t be more confusing for fiction writers. Anyone can be a fiction writer because anyone can self-publish a book. Often, you can even make more money self-publishing than you would with a traditional publisher. Literary magazines are changing, too, because so many of them are only available online. So, is it better to publish a lot of your work with any publication? Or is it best to be selective about where you publish, knowing that you won’t publish much of your stuff? Most of the answer depends on your personal goals as a writer. You have to have strong instincts. An accepted submission can mean nothing, or it can mean everything.
How much of your average workday involves using creativity? How does being creative affect your productivity? Do you ever struggle with it?
I go through phases. I’ll have weeks of flourishing, bountiful creativity. I’ve learned to take advantage of these fleeting times. After a creative stretch, I’ll start feel mechanical and a little dead. I know I’m sinking into a tough time creatively when my bathroom is spotless, my car’s interior is vacuumed, and my dog smells nice. When I’m not “feeling creative,” I welcome any distraction.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
During my time as an undergraduate student, all of my creative writing teachers were male. Professors have told me that my writing is “cute” and “quirky.” I can tell so many horror stories about mansplaining and man-terruptions in the classroom. Due to these negative experiences, I’ve avoided male writing mentors. I am not interested in receiving their guidance. I gravitate toward female-dominated work environments. I know so many brilliant lady copywriters, journalists, and library professionals in Jacksonville. I try to work with other women as much as I can.
Who are some specific friends, teachers, mentors, etc., that have influenced the course of your career?
I’m really lucky. Through the years, so many people have taken stock in me. My boss at Swamp Radio, Ian Mairs, was also my teacher in high school. He still pushes me to make work that counts. My writing mentor, Lynn Skapyak Harlin, always checks in on my story goals and life goals. I have a phenomenal boss at the library who allows me to keep a flexible schedule. She worked as a journalist for a long time, too, so she knows how sporadic my work week can be. My best friend of ten years, Becca, has cheered me on every step of the way. Aysha pushes me to throw my work into the world and never look back. My friend Brentley has opened a lot of doors for me by sharing her editor contacts and helping me get hired at the library. I made incredible lady writer friends in graduate school, too. We still have a group chat, where we give writing-related progress reports.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job(s) that we might not see?
Isolation is such a cliché writer trait, but it’s a cliché for a reason. Knowing this, I try to have a meaningful conversation with someone everyday, even if it’s just the barista.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Not having work makes me frantic. All freelancers experience this. I overcome these patches by sending pitch after pitch. When I have this kind of free time, I refer to a list of compelling topics I keep called “Stories I Don’t Have Time to Write,” and pitch work based on that.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
I’m overwhelmingly organized. Most writers are not. I also respond well to deadlines.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
The middle of anything writing-related—a story, a profile, a copy assignment—is so boring. The beginning is fun. When I first start writing something, I feel like I’m on fire. But in the middle, the flames die down. It just makes me want to slam my face on the keyboard. This aversion to the middle of things makes it hard for me to finish anything. I’m also a huge procrastinator. I admire people who turn things around really quickly, but I need that deadline adrenaline to get my wheels turning.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Terry Gross is an attentive interviewer, and I learn from her methods whenever I listen to Fresh Air. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, inspire me to work with confidence and set big goals. I know a handful of creative writers in the Jacksonville area—Laura Lee Smith, Teri Youmans Grimm, Tiffany Melanson, and Lynn Skapyak Harlin—who always make me see the possibility in my goals.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Freelancing takes a lot of belief in yourself. People commonly advise to “fake it ‘til you make it,” and I couldn’t advise it more. New freelancers should take on different types of pro bono work as practice. It takes trial and error to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I didn’t know I could write product copy until I did it for the first time and felt like Elaine Benes writing the J. Peterman Catalog. More practically, any freelancing Babe should hire an accountant. W-9 life is the fine life until it’s suddenly April. I am terrified of messing up my taxes, so it’s beneficial for me to have someone to trust.
How do you find a work-life balance?
When I feel slammed, I’ll make plans to not have plans later that week. Examining my long-term goals helps me maintain this balance. A big goal of mine is to have a happy marriage. When I spend time at home with Alex—even if we’re just sitting around watching the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm—it feels productive because that action is aligned with a larger goal. It sounds a little robotic to think of time on the couch as a way of achieving a goal, but when I’m feeling guilty about being away from my desk, I hold onto this reasoning.
What are your goals for the future?
I want to write a book someday. I want to be the mother of many adorable dogs. I also want to hang out with my husband until we’re dead. And I think I’d like to learn how to ride a skateboard.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Make friends with fellow babes. They are your greatest asset in life.
Pick up a copy of Nickname!
Jacksonville residents: Swing by Coniferous Cafe this Wednesday, 10/4 during Art Walk for the official Nickname zine release! This is the most efficient way to play your part in supporting our Babes and they work they create. (Spoiler alert: we'll be there with BWH merch in tow, along with some other killer Babes in our community.) Check out all the details here.