When I was working at Harper’s Bazaar in the Features department, one of the first people I met was Claire Howorth, who immediately struck me as an anomaly in the fashion world. Cheery, upbeat, and nice! I was baffled. Plus, she had a subtly quirky style that never seemed to be trying too hard (as the sartorial choices of many fashion-world fixtures often appear to be). It turned out that she was a freelance journalist, dipping her toes in the Bazaar world before moving on to other publications. Having recently decided that freelancing was a career path I wanted to follow, I paid close attention to her hard-working ways–her expert handling of publishing world stress and the plethora of impending deadlines. Beyond that, Claire is witty and hilarious, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick her brain in the hopes of adopting some of her journalistic and life-at-large skills. Before Bazaar, she survived her twenties while working at Grove/Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The Daily Beast, and The Daily, and has contributed to Garden & Gun and The New York Post, among other publications. Next month, she’ll begin working her magic over at WSJ. Read on for what is, unsurprisingly, my next favorite interview for 20 SENSE.
1. Describe your trajectory since turning 20 up until now. First I worked in book publishing, then I worked in magazines, then I worked in digital, then I worked in my living room. Along the way, I met and married a wonderful person.
2. What surprised you most about your twenties? What went exactly as expected? Things can go as hoped, or as desired, but I don’t believe anything can go as expected for anyone, ever. And your twenties are tough! You’re still growing into your disproportionate puppy paws, so you flail around, you stumble. You’re learning how to be a grown-up; you’re taking care of yourself for the first time; you are often experiencing your first, second, third, and subsequent hard-core let-downs, both personally and professionally. The upside is that you are always learning, always adapting, always coming more into your own, whatever that may be, even if it doesn’t feel like it. But: you have the next decade to look forward to. Wise folks will tell you that your thirties are so much better, and the biggest surprise is that they are so far correct.
3. Do you feel like you’ve found your niche or are you still searching? I hope to always be searching! Niches are small spaces—more square feet, please.
4. What did your twenties teach you about romantic love? Friendship? On both fronts, do not waste your time with anyone you think you have to impress. Save that for your boss.
5. What motivates you? Spending too much time being unmotivated.
6. Where do you get the most inspiration? How do you snap out of a creative rut? I avoid watching Law & Order reruns (my favorite idling), I exercise, then I sit down and force myself to come up with ideas for pitches, novels, screenplays–anything–even ones I know are horrible and that I would be embarrassed for anyone to see, including myself. But the ideas get better, inevitably, and you find a groove. It’s like siphoning your brain—sucks to get started.
7. What did you believe in your twenties that you know now to be false? This is not a true-or-false, but the creeping #fomo has ceased entirely.
8. If you had to create a twenties survival kit what would it include? Confidence.
9. What are the best parts of freelancing? The worst? The best is the “free” part—freedom. You have all the power in the world to create the type and amount of work you want. And the worst part is directly related: self-discipline.
10. What advice would you give to young people [like moi] who want to make it as a freelancer? This advice comes from the editor side of my brain: Pitch your favorite ideas, plus two, to your favorite publications, plus two—your rate of return on yesses will be much higher if you broaden your scope. Also, be patient with your editor on communication. They are juggling a hundred balls, only one of which is you. And from both writing and editing experience, I’d say to trust your editor’s edits.
11. What publications do you enjoy reading the most? I read a little bit of everything. Even if I didn’t want to, I would make myself read a little of everything. And I follow news and politics pretty closely. One absolutely necessary source, though it’s not reading, is NPR, which I have on whenever I’m home. You can absorb so much information passively while you work or cook or whatever.
12. Best writing tip you’ve ever been given? One rule I try to follow is to put down everything as it comes—barf it all up, then clean it up. I’m sure other people have said that, but I’ll attribute it to my mother, who is a writer. But my most instructive tip came from Mike Hogan at VF. When I was about to do my first interview, he told me to let a beat or two more than felt comfortable pass before asking the next question. People have a natural compulsion to fill silence with more talking, and sometimes you get the best material when you let them ramble. I have never once done an interview and not thought of that advice.
Categories: 20 Sense