March 7, 2018

An Interview with Writer and The Porch CoFounder Susannah Felts

Terrified, party of one. Have you ever had to write about one of your teachers? If so, please join me at my terror table. Today's bitch is not only my literal teacher, she is, as Oprah would say, my teacher. I met Susannah on the day of the Women's March when I took my first writing workshop with The Porch. On that day, in that workshop, Susannah was the first person I opened myself up to for feedback on my writing about 9/11. Neither of us knew it, but that day planted the seed of not only a friendship, but a personal essay 17 years in the making.

One of my favorite things about Nashville is that we have a literary center - and Susannah is responsible for that. Susannah and The Porch have taken me from blogger and storyteller to writer. My finest piece of writing is the personal essay on 9/11 that Susannah spent 8 weeks helping me edit and revise in her Personal Essay class. She will get a lot of exclamations marks after her name in the acknowledgments section of the book I hope to one day write. Meet my friend, my teacher, a Nashville treasure, Susannah Felts!

What do you do and what is the name of your business?

Hi! I’m a writer and cofounder/codirector of The Porch, a nonprofit literary arts organization in Nashville, TN.

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Well, there’s the writing, and then there’s the whole literary center thing. First, the writing: I’ve been writing/wanting to write/not writing and feeling terrible about it/trying to figure out how to make any money at writing for pretty much forever if you roll all of that together. Wrote for fun as a kid and teen, got serious about writing in college, got equally more serious and more confused about writing in graduate school, entered an era of really torn-up feelings about writing after that... and figured out along the way that it was nothing I was ever going to kick, and I’m happier when I’m at least making a stab at it.

Writing has simply always been a central part of my identity. Sometimes that scares me. Like, what if I really try to dump it someday? Am I even capable of that? I’ve joked (as have others) that it’s like a chronic illness. My, that is upbeat.

The literary center thing: I taught as an adjunct college professor for many years. There were great times along the way, including some fabulous students, some of whom have become longtime friends. And I learned so much (and am still learning) from teaching. But I got to a point with adjuncting where we had to break up. In short, I dug the teaching, disliked the exploitive system. I’d always fancied the idea of teaching independently in the community, and when we moved to Nashville I began doing just that, quietly and on a very small scale, at my dining room table after my toddler went to bed and at a coffee shop on Sunday mornings. It was wonderful; it was just what I needed at the time. Plus: I met some incredible folks who I count among my friends today.

Meanwhile, I had become aware of literary centers across the United States; many bigger cities have them, and after a few years of teaching my coffee-shop and home-dining-table classes, I had an a-ha moment of sorts: Nashville needs a literary center. That’s what this could blossom into. It helped that I was seeing a real surge in creative entrepreneurism in the city, and that people from other cities were starting to move here in droves. All signs pointed to GO. And around then the stars aligned and I met Katie McDougall, who became The Porch’s cofounder/codirector. The timing couldn’t have been more right.

I didn’t know that founding a literary center was what I was working toward all those years when it felt like my path was a bit winding—when I was straddling, or hopping between, the worlds of academia and journalism. But when the time came, I realized, with a happy shiver, that everything I’d done had prepped me nicely for this adventure. Which is not to say that I didn’t have to learn a ton on the fly about managing a nonprofit, because I certainly did. And oh boy, am I still learning.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I’ve agonized a bit over the answer to this question, wishing I had the perfect anecdote from a mentor to share, or some sparkling tidbit of wisdom gleaned from a book or TED talk. Nope. There’s no doubt something—many somethings—I’m forgetting. But right now I keep coming back to my gut. How when I’ve listened to it, I’ve usually been happy with the results. I had a gut feeling (grounded in visible evidence) that Nashville could support a literary center, and so far that’s proven to be right. I think many women have a strong intuitive muscle, but to some degree cultural messaging has discouraged us from using it. Do your research, absolutely; then trust your well-informed vision and gut.

I also recall Lisa Lucas, ED of the National Book Foundation, posting something recently on Facebook about always approaching people with an attitude of kindness/openness, or something to that effect. That really stuck with me (um, despite the fact that I can’t remember her precise words). It’s easy to to be driven by assumptions in a rushed, unkind way. Give people an ear—a real ear—and a fair shake; give them the best attention you can muster. If you’re going to network—and we all should, despite any negative connotations of that word—be real about it. Slow down and be curious.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

A no isn’t a forever no. It’s often a not-right-now. Even when it’s you saying no to yourself. It doesn’t have to be The End, Go Away, Goodbye. No can be healthy. I still have to re-learn this all the time.

What would you do with two more hours a day?

Read more, write more, cook/bake a little more. I’d like to think that I’d attempt one of the dozens of craft projects I’ve thought longingly about over the past few years—I review lifestyle books for BookPage, which means I’m constantly elbow-deep in books about embroidery and kitchen lithography and paper flowers and granola recipes and so forth—but let’s be honest: the writing and reading would come first and take up the full two extra hours. If I can have three hours? Crafternoon, hopefully on the porch, with a beer in reach!

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

You know, there’s a flip side to every ‘sacrifice’ that makes nothing feel like much of a sacrifice to me. I sacrificed a full-time editorial job to go back to the hand-to-mouth existence of a freelance writer/adjunct teacher, but it never once felt like a loss. I’ve spent countless hours on getting The Porch up and running that could have been spent working on my own fiction, but this work feels nourishing and necessary to my writing life, too. I guess if there’s anything I’ve consistently missed out on in the interest of other goals and desires, it’s making much money. Or I’m just really lousy at that.

What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

It’ll be this novel I’ve been working on for years, if I can publish it. I’m proud that The Porch is thriving, making a difference in people’s lives. And I really love making connections between people and sharing info, even just little things like a book recommendation or an album to listen to or another local writer with whom you should probably be pals. I love it when I feel like an arts and culture connector—and I equally love being on the receiving end of that equation! Always curious. Always looking for the next new fascination.

Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?

I started to agonize over this one, too, wishing I had a really Instagrammy morning routine to share: this perfect tea in the perfect mug, that book I read a page from every morning, a beautiful journal written in with a favorite pen, some yoga pose or sniff of a personalized blend of essential oils, whatever. Again, nope.

Then I realized: I totally do have a morning ritual! And it looks like this: I wake up sloooowly--I’m not a jump-out-of-bed, bushy-tailed type. My husband, bless him, brings me coffee. And my daughter, who is 9, comes and gets in the bed with me for a little bit and we snuggle and chat while I drink about half my coffee (and then it’s usually time for all of us to get cracking). I absolutely love that this is how the days begin right now. I know it won’t be this way forever, maybe even not much longer, and that’s part of what makes it precious.

How do you decompress at night?

Not gonna lie. A glass of wine or a beer is a likely part of this picture.

Also: Book. Couch. Phone (not talking, just scrolling). Too much phone. I wish I journaled at night.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

When stuck on something I’m writing, I give myself space to let my brain do background work (I think of it like apps that are running on your computer or phone while you’re doing something else). I’ll take anywhere from a half a day to a few days off, depending on deadlines, and go for a walk, listen to music, read. Reading someone else’s work has un-stuck me many, many times. That’s really the magic move.

I’m not a big motivational quote gal. Or maybe I just have a terrible memory for this sort of thing. But I can happily return again and again to the wisdom of Dani Shapiro in Still Writing and that of Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic. I came to Gilbert hesitantly, but I fell in love. There’s so much power in that book if you allow yourself to receive it. There, that’s my quota of woo-woo for the day.

Also: Right now, I’m reading Creative Quest by Questlove (to be published in April) and finding it a great companion (or alternative?) to Big Magic.

What does self care look like in your life?

Naps! Exercise (used to be running; lately it’s Alison Egerton’s butt-kicking classes at the Maddox Y), time spent in nature, sweet treats, chill time with my family. Pausing whatever I’m working on to watch the cats chase each other around (cat stampede!) or to watch the cats sleep, or to watch the cats wash themselves, or to pet the cats. Watching cats, pretty much. Can watching cats be considered self care? That’s what self care looks like in my life. Watching cats. That, and maybe a facial once or twice a year, the occasional retail therapy splurge, and every damn day: MUSIC IN MY EARS. Often quite loud.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Oh, this is the best part. Nothing better than giving credit.

Above all, my mom, Susan Felts, whose creative energy and talents I can never match. She’s talented in so many ways and has a much better follow-through/completion rate on projects than I ever will. She has been my biggest supporter all my life, has encouraged all my creative explorations large and small. I’ve learned so much from her about how to be in the world, unafraid and kind and enthusiastic and curious and never stagnating, always young at heart.

Margaret Renkl, who has been a true, generous mentor. She makes me laugh with her talk and cry with her words, and she has spiffed up my writing countless times. I have sometimes lamented a lack of mentor figures in my life, but I have Margaret, and for her and her brilliant way with words I am very grateful.

Julie Shapiro, who is a fierce example of how to live a passionate, badass life in the arts while being a good friend to so many. I don’t think I have the time-management skills to be a Julie Shapiro, but I’ll always hold her up in my mind as a paragon of pursuing big goals and dreams in the arts. Many “What Would Julie Shapiro Do?” moments up in here.

Gretchen Kalwinski, who has cheered me on from afar and helped soften my hard edges and helped me become a better friend through being one of my best.

Katie McDougall, without whose optimistic tenacity and shared enthusiasm for the idea of literary community there would be no Porch. Working alongside Katie, I’ve grown in some very important ways.

Thalia Dills, not yet a woman, but you can bet she is already helping me be a better person, every day.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Nothing has really matched The Wire for me, although Breaking Bad came close.

Snacks: Trail mix, chocolate items of many kinds, Cheez-Its, those strange “natural” Cheetos you can get now, and salted almonds.

All photos courtesy of Susannah Felts (via Heidi Ross)

P.S. Meet my last bitch:  Calligrapher, Claire White!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

February 22, 2018

Why I Will Always Cry at Coldplay

The second the music started, I knew it was Coldplay, and I knew I was going to cry. It was Adam Rippon's debut at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and he was skating to "O" by Coldplay. Over the years, there have been a lot of early aughts bands I'm embarrassed to like. Coldplay is at the top of that list. My affinity for Coldplay is probably the most cliche thing about me. Oh, a woman in her forties with a passion for Chris Martin? Next!

When big things happen, you tend to remember the soundtrack of the time, or at least I do. When I turned eight, I got my first boombox. Thriller had just come out and I choreographed all the girls in my class to "Beat It". When I got my first car, grunge was taking America by storm and I drove all over my small town blaring "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Jeremy" on the CD Discman I had plugged into the tape adapter in my 1989 Chevy Cavalier. Like every girl who remembers her college years as a string of fraternity parties, "C'Mon 'N Ride It (The Train)" will always hold a special place in my Chi Omega heart. But only once has a song or a band been present for two major life events. And that band is Coldplay.

I moved to New York City in 2000. If you either don't remember, or weren't old enough to know the adult contemporary charts, Coldplay was HUGE in 2000. "Yellow" was released in 2000, and later, the full album, Parachutes. Every bar in New York played that album. And I mean... Every. Bar. Sweet and Vicious? Parachutes. Spring Street Lounge? Parachutes. Asylum? Parachutes. That bar in Williamsburg that was just couches? Parachutes. H&M?! Parachutes. Also, I was dating my first Wall Street guy and he was English. Even though he (inevitably?) turned out to be a part-time coke dealer and stole money from me, I had a hard time breaking up with him because he was my own personal Chris Martin. (It's okay, I broke up with him. But I would still sometimes give him $40 when he would show up outside of my office in his pin-striped suit and hold my hand as he walked me to the Citibank ATM.)

Moving to New York was my first great liberation. I had a family I didn't fit into anymore, a boyfriend with suicidal ideations, and a lifelong best friend who was moving to Japan. Nothing at home felt good, so I moved to New York and started over. It's a shame Parachutes is an album full of ballads because I had the time of my life, until I didn't.

I had been in New York ten months when 9/11 happened. I was twenty-five and had no idea how to process what I saw, or how to ask for help, so I did neither. I switched to auto-pilot and pretended I was fine. I did a pretty good job of not feeling anything until August 2002 when Coldplay released A Rush of Blood to the Head. It was a month before the one-year anniversary of 9/11 and the cracks in my armor were starting to show. If Parachutes was the soundtrack to my liberation, A Rush of Blood to the Head was the soundtrack to my undoing.

On September 19, 2002, I, along with my best friend Tim, rode a train to Long Island to see Coldplay in concert at Jones Beach. It was my first time seeing them live and I cried through the whole concert. They played with the Atlantic Ocean roaring behind them and it was more than my fractured heart could handle. I was no longer carefree and riding the subway to unknown parts of Manhattan, or trying to get cute guys to buy me drinks in bars. Instead I was pretending to have fun at parties and waking up in the middle of the night paralyzed because I smelled smoke and was convinced my bedroom was on fire. But every day, I woke up, pretended I was fine, and rode the subway to work with A Rush of Blood to the Head playing in my headphones.

I left New York in December of 2002. Exactly two years after I moved there. Coldplay ushered me in, and Coldplay ushered me out. Today their music is a bittersweet reminder of both my potential and my trauma. It bookmarks this huge, fun thing I did in my twenties - moving to New York City, and the grief that ultimately drove me out.

P.S. More on my 9/11 trauma.

P.P.S. My visit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

February 15, 2018

Pros and Cons of Switching to an Instagram Business Profile

Once a month I hold open Office Hours on Facebook Live to answer people's quick social media questions (for FREE). This month, I talked about the pros and cons of switching to an Instagram business profile. Think of this as a companion guide to the video.

Rejoice! You can schedule posts in Instagram if you're a business (and you use Hootsuite, Sprout Social, or SocialFlow). Can any business on Instagram schedule posts? No, only businesses with a business profile. What's a business profile? Should you switch to one? Glad you asked!

Fun fact about me: People pay me to help with their social media!

Because of that, I switched to a business profile. I get a lot of engagement on Instagram and I wanted to open the door to some of that engagement turning into business.

With a business profile you get:

  • a contact button
  • business industry category
  • clickable business address
  • analytics
  • ability to run ads

One very important note, you must have a Facebook business page to use an Instagram business profile.

Should you make the switch? Let's look at the pros and cons.


  • If you're a restaurant or retailer, that clickable address is a huge pro.
  • Email? You love it! Can't get enough. See also: don't have a website.
  • The life-changing ability to schedule posts if you manage multiple accounts, or just don't want work on nights and weekends.
  • In-app analytics that show you things like demographics on your audience, times they're active in Instagram, and reach/engagement on your posts.
  • Ability to "boost" ($$$) your posts and reach people outside of your audience.


There are no "real" (I'm using air quotes) cons to making the switch, but here's some food for thought.

  • A contact button? Please, you haven't answered an email since 2012.
  • You have a great website that people should visit and on that website is an FAQ that answers any question someone would email you about.
  • You don't have or want to share your physical address (raises hand).
  • You have other ways to pull your analytics.
  • Switching solely to see an increase in engagement or sales.

If you're looking to get more followers and increase engagement, switching to a business profile isn't necessarily the answer. Learn how to organically grow an audience and increase engagement by scheduling a one-on-one consultation.

What do you think? Did you make the switch? What's it been like so far?

Let me know in the comments!

P.S. 5 Ways To Increase Engagement With Hashtags

P.P.S. Overwhelmed? Good news, you can hire me to help.

February 7, 2018

An Interview with Calligrapher Claire White

I have a confession to make. I can't write in cursive. When I was little, I couldn't wait to learn cursive writing - it seemed so grown up! I learned it, like all good third graders, but at some point I lost it and never got it back. I remember how to make cursive letters, but I don't remember how to join them. Don't believe me? Ask to see my signature sometime.

An inept aptitude for proper penmanship is my cross to bear, which is what led me to today's bitch. Claire is a calligrapher with one of the most beautiful Instagram feeds I've seen. As someone who can't even sign her name, I can't imagine being so good at handwriting that people will pay you for it. And I'm not just talking wedding invitations, I'm talking hand lettered Valentines for your galentine. Meet today's bitch, Claire White!

What do you do and what is the name of your business?

Hello there! I’m Claire White, the owner of White Ink Calligraphy. And (drum roll), I’m a calligrapher. I’m also an attorney, but that just isn’t as fun to talk about.

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Roughly four years ago, I took a calligraphy class from the oh-so-talented Meredith Bullock, to learn calligraphy for my wedding. This class was just an introduction to calligraphy, and I immediately fell in love with the art.

Not a lot of my followers know this - so this is a These My Bitches exclusive - I hit a not so great patch in my adult life recently... aka Divorce (shoutout to the little boy who felt threatened by a strong, independent woman) - and found therapy in my calligraphy practice. Practicing was a great tool for me to be able to clear my head, focus on myself and what I was doing in the moment - which was likely a mixture of long flourish lines and figuring out how the hell to mix the perfect gold ink consistency. I took back my maiden name “White” and, essentially, it was at this time that White Ink Calligraphy hit the ground running; basically out of girl power and saying to hell with everything else. And with this said, most of my close friends were worried about me working with engaged couples during this time in my life, as a good girlfriend should worry! However, I found that working with these engaged couples through the details of their wedding was a breath of fresh air - it gave me hope and truly brought my spirits higher. (Que Andra Day’s “Rise Up” in the background).

I threw together a logo and put myself out to the world as a calligrapher. This was SO HARD for me. How could I get a “calligraphy doctorate” or what made me good enough to call myself an actual calligrapher? In the creative industry, there aren’t fine lines or boxes that have to be checked off, which I love. Just do it. Go hard. Be a boss. Everything else will fall into place.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

Enthusiasm above everything. Be enthusiastic about your skill or product. Be enthusiastic about the process. Geek out on your trade. Enthusiasm is infectious and trumps Instagram and Facebook algorithms any day. Show your audience your nerdiness about your craft and it will pay off. It always amazes me how my social media followers tell me how much they adore my behind the scene photos or Instagram Stories of me sitting on my living room floor, wearing the same sweatshirt I wore in my last story, nerding out over handmade silk, handmade paper, deckled edges, etc. WHICH IS SO NERDY! But my enthusiasm over my work shows my followers my love for the craft - allowing my clients to share my enthusiasm and story when others ask about their piece that I did for them.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

White Ink Calligraphy is my side hustle. So time management is everything. I’m always looking for ways to streamline my emails, canned responses, invoice tracking, etc.

Secondly, because I think this is so important: Comparison is truly a thief of honoring one’s success. In this super social media heavy world we all take part in, early on I found myself looking at other calligrapher’s work, wondering how my work stacked up to theirs. I quickly stopped doing that… it only drove me crazy and was a huge distraction.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I mean... be a boss for 2 more hours. Right?!

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

I’ve never considered my side hustle to include any sacrifices. The hustle keeps me happy. I’m a goal digger and genuinely get satisfaction out of setting goals and doing everything in my power to reach them; even if I fall short. If we want to talk about sacrifices - law school was a huge sacrifice (for my sanity!). I got about halfway through law school and wasn’t positive I wanted to even practice law... but, I’m not a quitter; so I pushed through, which was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever been confronted with. Don’t be a quitter. Set goals and you will exceed your personal expectations.

What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

I’m still a baby at this whole creative entrepreneur thing. I recently had my first publication in the Southern Bride Magazine, which was huge for me. I’ve compiled the most amazing photos of my work, thanks to my friend-ors in the wedding industry, and have put together a portfolio that shines. I’ve had the opportunity to teach a few calligraphy classes and watch my calligraphy travel the world (check out #whiteinktravels on IG).

White Ink Calligraphy just hit one year. If that’s not something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?

Every single morning, I take a mug of coffee outside and throw the ball for my golden retriever. Rain or shine. It usually takes about 20 minutes with the “chuck-it” (this ball throwing contraption) before he is worn out. We go inside; while he is catching his breath and cooling off, tongue usually on the floor, I’m making myself breakfast.

How do you decompress at night?

Wine. Usually, always.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

I tend to work best under time constraints or pressure (that’s the lawyer in me). So when I’m working for a styled shoot or some sort of thing that I know I’m on a deadline, I have no problem waiting until the last minute - because that is usually where my best work comes out. I know my capabilities and have trust in myself. “Waiting until the last minute” - It sounds awful, but it’s true - and for good reason, I suppose.

What does self care look like in your life?

My self care time is when I’m working out. I’m a huge fan of the barre method and have found a few spin instructors I’m obsessed with. Self care for me is sweating. Gross? Whatever; it helps me unwind, and being constantly reminded to relax my shoulders doesn’t hurt. I work out for my mental health just as much as I do for my physical health.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

I’m a junkie for keeping up with local businesses; what’s new, changes that are made, etc. So I’d have to say that all the fab ladies in East Nashville that are doing big things are true inspirations: my barre studio owner; the owner of the local boutiques that I shop at, the business that is the one woman show in the wedding industry - all are truly inspiring.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I’m about to show you how basic I can be: Game of Thrones and boom-chicka-pop popcorn.

All photos courtesy of Claire White

P.S. Meet my last bitch:  Online Media Manager, Charlotte Weatherington!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

February 1, 2018

Self-Care and Saying No

I should really change my blog to Thoughts From A Recovering Perfectionist. Back in the fall, there was a week where I broke my brain by doing too much. Partly because I said yes to a lot of things I didn't realize would happen in the same week. And partly because I'm a people pleaser, and guess what people pleasers do? They say yes.

I did three events that week that should have been a month apart. And one of them was my blog party, which I had been imagining and planning for years. Unfortunately, my party was the last thing scheduled that week and by the time it rolled around, I was exhausted. I had a panic attack a few hours before my party because I was tired and my house wasn't clean. The party ended up being fine. No one noticed my bathrooms weren't clean, or that I was a tiny bit disassociated, but I woke up the next morning with a red, hot, swollen, itchy rash on my spine.

Here's the thing, everything I said yes to that week, I wanted to do, but, turns out, it was more than I could handle, thus, spine rash. It's not like I'm constantly saying yes to things I don't want to do. It's that, and here's where the recovering perfectionist comes in, I don't know my limits, or rather, I don't respect my limits. I also have to keep in check my attraction to adrenaline and excitement. It's one of my favorite hiding places, see also: Ironman 70.3 Augusta.

Here's what I learned. I can't prioritize what I'm holding if I'm holding more than I can carry (I know, read that again). Here's a fun exercise. Pick up eight small items around your house and hold them in your hands - all of them. Now, without dropping them or setting them down, arrange them in order of importance. You can't. And neither can I.

For two weeks, I went HAM on self-care. I said no to everything. I thought, this will be easy, no one ever asks me for anything. Lolololol. In the first 24 hours, four people asked me to do things for them (*for free). I was like, ohhhhhh, now I see. Me the individual came first. If I had to drop something I consider self-care: yoga, meditation, exercise, the answer was no. Sound fun? It wasn't.

*You guys, you have to pay me to 'pick my brain'. You might be surprised to learn this, but lattes don't pay my mortgage, or more importantly, buy my dog's dementia medicine. Shout-out, Linda!

When the two weeks were over, I started saying yes again, but only after waiting 24 hours to respond (this is a new rule that I am very much enjoying). Around this time, I heard Oprah on Dear Sugar and Shonda Rhimes on Super Soul Conversations. They were both talking about how saying no is saying yes to yourself. Oprah said she keeps a list of times it felt good to say yes. When someone asks her to do something, she looks at that list and remembers how it felt in her body to say yes to something she wanted to do.

Because I do everything Oprah says, I made my own lists. I made one like hers, times it felt good to say yes, and a second list of times my instinct said no and my mouth said yes. Everything on the second list ended in disaster - broken contracts, unpaid invoices, unreturned emails, lost friendships - you know, fun stuff.

I'm saying no more often. I have a piece of paper with examples of how to say no taped above my desk. I still get excited and forget to wait 24 hours before responding, but I'm getting better. This is going to seem contradictory, but if you haven't read Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, read it. And listen to those podcasts. Hashtag: Oprah2020. Hashtag: j/k. Hashtag: I'm kidding! Don't blow up my mentions.

Okay, here are the podcasts:

Dear Sugar: The Power Of No, Part 1 - Oprah Winfrey
Oprah's Super Soul Conversations: Changing Your Life By Saying Yes - Shonda Rhimes

P.S. I wrote about self-care after the election and it's sadly still relevant.

P.P.S. Have I ever regretted being vulnerable online? Not really.

January 24, 2018

2017 Reading Round Up, Part Four

As a reminder, these are off-the-cuff reviews that I peck into my phone as soon as I finish the book. A literary critic, I am not.

Here's what I've been reading!

The Best American Essays 2017The Best American Essays 2017 by Leslie Jamison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So glad I read this. Blown away by this collection of personal essays. There are more than a few that I can’t stop thinking about.

Double Exposure (From Every Angle, #1)Double Exposure by Erin McCarthy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I mean, I’ve definitely read worse books. I give it two eggplant emojis! (My friend Louisa and I bought these as a joke and then Instagram-Storied our way through reading them, which you can watch here. #BookReport)

Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa CookbookCooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m sure it’s intended to be heartfelt, but it struck me as outdated and meant for a very specific audience. Some of the ingredients and instructions seem above my skill level, but there are a few recipes I’d like to try. It’s just so bizarre that she wrote a cookbook about cooking for her husband.

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New FavoritesSmitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New favorite cookbook, hands-down. I read it cover to cover and bookmarked so many recipes. I love Deb’s writing style and I can’t wait to start trying out these recipes.

What Unites Us: Reflections on PatriotismWhat Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. It’s fine. I could have lived my life without this book, but it didn’t hurt. If you love his FB posts, you’ll probably love this book. If you find yourself exhausted from this specific perspective, leave it on the shelf.

Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West VillageJack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West Village by Maya Jankelowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really sweet book. I eat at Jack’s Wife Freda every time I’m in NYC. I’ll probably never make any of these recipes, but the book is worth it for the introduction and the pictures. If you love the restaurant, you’ll love the book.

LitLit by Mary Karr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Slow start, strong finish. I’ve been reading this off and on all year. Putting it down every time a new book caught my eye. It didn’t hook me initially, but once I sat down and committed to reading it, I was blown away. I loved her perspective on sobriety, recovery, and prayer. Moving and beautiful.

What HappenedWhat Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is everything I wanted it to be. I cried a lot while reading it, but I feel more peace and hope than I’ve felt since the election. It gets a little tedious in the middle, but stick with it. The ending is worth it.

Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is for readers familiar with Stephen King’s high page count and slow start. All the action is at the end. I didn’t find the book “scary”, but I did find it fascinating. It’s probably scarier to male readers. I really enjoyed it. If you’re on the fence, read it. Just know that it won’t get going until around 150-200 pages. It’s worth it.

The Things That MatterThe Things That Matter by Nate Berkus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book and am going online right now to buy it (I read a library copy). This book is where Nate tells his story of surviving the tsunami and losing his partner, Fernando, what happened, how he grieved, and how he moved on. It is also a huge design book filled with pictures of homes he designed, or friends’ homes that he thinks you should see. It’s a really great book.

P.S. Forgot what I read in the third part of 2017? Here you go!

P.P.S. Are we friends on Goodreads?

January 17, 2018

5 Ways To Increase Engagement With Hashtags

Being a business or brand (or blog) online is a constant struggle between trying to get more followers and trying not to embarrass yourself while getting more followers. Should you use hashtags? Should you follow everyone back who follows you? Should you pay for one of those services that guarantees followers?

The one thing I get asked about the most from every client, in every pitch, and from all of my friends is hashtags. I even started holding open Office Hours so you could ask me questions live and get answers in real time. So without further ado....

Here are 5 ways to increase engagement with hashtags!

1) Search for hashtags that describe your product/brand and the people you're trying to reach. Look for hashtags that are relevant, but less widely used, i.e. with 5k-100k uses instead of 1-2 million, that way your post will rise to the top in the section. Hashtags with over a million uses are getting updated every second and your post will get lost in the fray.

2) Use your own name and/or brand as a hashtag. A good hashtag does two things: covers your overall brand, and is specific to your post.

3) Create a community hashtag for your product/brand. Make sure and include the hashtag in your bio:  "Show us how you use our product with #____". Then you can repost pics showing people using your products. A good example of this is, #igotitatgoodwill.

4) Use between 11-30 hashtags on a post to do well in the Instagram algorithm (30 is the max allowed). It's personal preference whether you include them in the post or as a comment.

5) Find brands like yours with a strong hashtag game and copy theirs!

Tips and tricks!

Use predictive text on your phone for the hashtags you use the most so you don't have to copy and paste every time. Open Settings, go to General, Keyboard, then Text Replacement. Click on the + in the upper right corner to add your phrase. The phrase is the list of hashtags you want to fill in. The shortcut is what will automatically expand into the word or phrase as you type, i.e. blog, business, etc.

Look for trending hashtags, but again, beware of hashtags with 1 million + uses. Hilariously, a few months ago, #september was trending, but unbeknownst to everyone using it, they were all shadow banned because the tag got so overused. [insert scream face emoji]

Every 30, 60, or 90 days, do a search of the hashtags you're using and make sure they're still relevant to your posts/brand.

Please for the love of god tell me what a shadow ban is!

Shadow bans happen on hashtags with over a million uses. It's because spammers use the trending hashtags and clutter the feed with content that goes against Instagram's Terms Of Use. So everyone under the hashtag gets a temporary "shadowban" while Instagram investigates and decides which posts get to stay. To avoid this, use a mix of hashtags with different sizes (5k-100k) and beware of hashtags with sexual connotations. As all of my friends in the burlesque community can attest, Instagram is a prude!

P.S. How do I know all of this? Because it's my job!

P.P.S. Overwhelmed? Good news, you can hire me.


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