A Chat With Writer and Copy Editor Margo Aaron
I remember meeting Margo Aaron not long after moving back to New York from years of living in San Francisco. What was supposed to be a short meeting turned into one of those could-talk-for-hours discussions in which you think you’ve met your best friend for life. And then … we didn’t see each other for another year.
Life and stuff, ya know?
When we finally met up again, we talked about everything from writing to marketing to the world at large, and I was thrilled to have met someone as energetic and irreverent as I am. Case in point, this brilliant CTA:
Years of living outside of New York made me feel like I had to tone myself down to avoid putting people off, but here was someone as direct and passionate as I was. I wasn’t going to let another year go by before we hung out again.
These days, I feel lucky to count Margo as one of my very best friends and most important colleagues. I can hardly get through a week without talking to her about work and writing and marketing and life. Now, she’s sharing her experience and insights with all of us.
1) What kind of writing (or editing) do you do for work?
Copyediting. I make people's ad/sales copy convert better. I also edit students' work (I teach writing for the internet - so I do a lot of editing blog posts, headlines, emails, and sales pages).
Most of my writing "for work" is for myself. I write weekly emails to my list, bi-weekly articles, guest posts, and tons of social media. I also write promotional emails, cold emails, sales pages, media pitches, blog posts, headlines, subject lines, CTAs, and - basically anything you see that's writing on the internet, I do for my business.
2) What kind of writing do you do for fun?
The same as above. I love doing all of that. The only writing that's painful for me is writing for clients, which I don't do anymore. I'm a miserable ghostwriter because I'm terrible at taking direction or following editorial guidelines or writing in anyone's voice that isn't my own. Which is why I publish for myself these days.
3) What's your ideal writing routine?
MORNING WRITING! Wake up, brew some strong coffee, read a chapter in something "not-work-related" to get the juices flowing. Usually by the time I get through a chapter I've got an idea I want to start writing. I always pull out my notebook first and write by hand. Takes the pressure off. It feels more like you're capturing ideas and making notes than "Writing A Very Important Piece." Once the ideas are overflowing and my hand starts to hurt, or I feel like the piece I want to write it taking shape, I move to Evernote.
These are the best mornings in the world. Especially if I'm not rushed.
4) How often do you get to partake in your ideal writing routine?
On a good week, maybe 3 times a week. In a real week, maybe once...if I'm lucky.
5) Do you believe in writer's block?
Yes. I love the definitions that say it doesn't exist because you always need to get your ass in the chair no matter what. I agree with that. I believe that if you sit down and write through the block you can get something decent out. But creative ruts are real. We've all been in that place where everything we write sucks. Is that writer's block or just the creative cycle? I don't know. I just know that it happens. It's terrible and I hate it and it always eventually passes. But it does happen.
6) As a paid writer, when was the first time you lost trust in your own work?
Oh I LOVE this question. I don't think I "lost" trust in my work as a paid writer. I gained it. I lost trust in the system and in everyone else. TBH I had more self-doubt when I wasn't getting paid - like in college or graduate school where I was instructed to write in a "certain way" and I never could quite get it right. I started to think maybe something was wrong with me. Everything people said was "good" read terribly to me. I thought maybe I lost my edge, that my eyes were broken.
For college, it was "academic" essay writing. For graduate school, it was "scientific" writing. My professors used to mock me for being too "editorial" (tbh it felt like a compliment but they didn't mean it that way). I knew my writing was strong, but I wondered why no one else thought so. And that takes a toll on you.
It took me a long time to start trusting my instincts again after that experience. I would make my writing worse so I could fit into their mold and be considered "a good writer," from an academic perspective. Only turns out that academia is where good writing goes to die. Well, that and digital media. Jury's still out on which one is worse.
7) Do you ever daydream about doing another job when you're having a bad writing day?
Never. Never ever ever. I prefer a bad writing day to any other good day. What I feel, instead, is tremendous guilt and self-doubt. I'll go down that rabbit hole of self-loathing where I feel "self-indulgent" or "wasteful," having spent an entire day trying to write and having nothing to show for it. That is a mindfuck.
I don't ever want another job, I just want more time. More slack. More hours in the day to allow for these kinds of dips (which we know are part of the process, but somehow, don't allow for. It's insane).
And of course, there are days where I wish I didn't feel called to write and wonder how much "easier" my life would be if I were "normal." haha Whatever that means?
8) What are your personal and professional goals?
I want to help creative entrepreneurs punch their lizard brain in the face. There are plenty of very legitimate reasons we can't always do what we love (bills, sick parents, health issues, loans, war, famine, tornadoes). But when the reason you're not following your dream is you - that breaks my heart. And that's something we can fix. Because that's just fear. And the antidote to fear is taking action. My goal is to help creative entrepreneurs get out of their own way. Get them into the habit of trusting themselves again. I believe the world will be a better place if we're actively pursuing our dreams and the things we love. You're a better mom, cousin, sister, daughter, coworker...person. Taking care of yourself and your creative ambitions has a trickle-down effect that can change the world.
9) What's one piece of writing advice you got that still reigns true? What writing advice would you give?
The advice I was given: Ship your work. I had writing that I sat on for years, never feeling like it was "good enough" to see the light of day or share with the world. And it wasn't until I got into the habit of shipping regularly (in front of an audience) that my writing dramatically improved. There are two reasons, I think. (1) The pressure of a deadline is like gold for getting ideas out of your head and onto the page. (2) Something magical happens when your work meets the world. It's no longer so personal. You start to see what resonates, what doesn't, what hits, what misses, what you like, what you don't. It goes from the hypothetical to the real. You become better when you face praise and rejection. Real praise and real rejection. Not your friends or family, but your audience.
The advice I would give: Carve out blocks of uninterrupted time. Make them a meeting on your schedule and make them nonnegotiable. It's easy to say "I don't have time," because, as Liz Gilbert reminded us on Instagram this week, "Circumstances are never ideal for creativity." So do your best to engineer some. We can all find a million legitimate excuses for why we don't/can't do our work. Instead, I challenge you to look for reasons to do it. Starting with giving yourself the space.
I instruct my students on day 1 to create a writing practice. That's the most important part of our course. If they leave with nothing else but one hour a week or 5 hours a month that they're doing nothing but writing, then they will have succeeded.
Want to learn more about Margo, or gain some more of her valuable insights? Check her writing workshop out here and her website out here. Then read this “What's Holding You Back From Doing Your Work?” and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.