I always wanted to write books. Authors had the only power I was interested in: They could make people feel alive with a story. After college I took a job as a copywriter in an ad agency and started telling a lot of advertising stories—attempting to sway people to buy cars, or yet another morning Starbucks, or one detergent over another. I knew those weren’t the kind of stories that gave people chills or made them want to clear cobwebs out of their souls. But it did keep the electricity on in my apartment, and I told myself that was enough.
Towards the end of my 20’s I hit a rough patch, one of those seasons when life throws you sideways. And one day I was walking home from work in New York City when I realized that I called myself a writer, yet I hadn’t tried to write my way through what was happening in my head. Every day I used words to build multi-million brands but I had forgotten the real value of stories—that they could build people up, too.
That night, sitting on the green couch that took up the entire living room of my fifth-floor walkup apartment, I started a blog that changed my writing life. I wrote with no worries of what might sound good, what a client might say, or what would sell. Night after night, month after month, I dug for my own truths and then offered them up to whomever might be out there. And what I got back will probably keep me writing for the rest of my life. Simple emails along the lines of, “Me too,” and “All this time, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.”
The experience taught me what I probably wasn’t ever going to learn in an advertising agency: When we get real, we reach people.
Since then I have published two novels that are deeply rooted in truths that matter to me, Copygirl and Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am. And in a twist I probably wouldn’t even have dreamed up for fiction, I also relocated my life from the city to a ranch in the middle of Texas.
At first, I thought I was moving to the country to be with the man I love and to have more time to write books. But I made an interesting discovery out there in the land of wheat and cattle—I loved the slower pace of that life. And as it ended up, companies in need of a copywriter didn’t care if I lived in Manhattan or the middle of nowhere and so it was the start of a new freelance advertising business as well.
We lived off grid for about a decade—right up to the point that our kids started wondering what it would be like to have people for neighbors instead of cattle. Today we live in Waco, Texas, but we still spend as much time in the country as we can. One big change that happened when we moved to town—I shifted my focus away from advertising and joined the editorial team of Magnolia Journal.
Recently someone asked me if I miss advertising now that my days are spent in the magazine world. I will always freelance for a few clients, so I’ll never totally leave copywriting behind. But I’ve also come to see that I don’t have to divide writing up so that my advertising writing is separate from my magazine writing and all that is different from book writing. That’s like trying to keep the part of me that loves the country life separate from the woman who gets giddy when the pilot says we are starting our descent into New York City.
The parts build on top of each other. They inform each other. What might appear to be messy contradictions, could actually be what’s necessary to make a whole. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what kind of story reaches into a person, shakes them, and makes them feel alive. All that matters is that it happens.