Category: Writing

Meditate, Create & Cultivate w/ Cyndie Spiegel – Workshop Recap

“Goals take commitment but are much more achievable when handled realistically and from a place of possibility.” – Cyndie Spiegel

Cyndie Spiegel is a business strategy coach for creative entrepreneurs who believes in the profound effects available through integrating meditation into your career. I first discovered her on Periscope and instantly connected with her upbeat personality and creative spirit as well as her background in fashion. I also find Cyndie particularly relatable because she never fails to lighten the mood or emphasize a point with a swear word (or two). I finally had the chance to meet her in person at the Freelancer’s Union popup event, Meditate, Create, and Cultivate.

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly curious about meditation. I read a couple books (both of which I would highly recommend – a personal narrative by Dan Harris called 10% Happier and a beginner’s guide called 8 Minute Meditation). I started practicing but never consistently. Then, within the past couple weeks, meditation started popping up in various facets of my life – in a yoga class, on Periscope, and in my horoscope. When I saw Cyndie’s workshop, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to delve deeper.

cyndie spiegel calligraphy cult_edited

Image c/o Cyndie Spiegel + Calligraphy Cult

Meditation is often thought of as a spiritual practice. However, Cyndie believes in approaching it in a more practical way. She guided us through a basic ten minute meditation followed by a series of activities focused on letting go of limiting beliefs and gaining clarity in goalsetting. First, Cyndie directed us to sit comfortably, close our eyes, and root ourselves in the present moment. Next, she encouraged us to honor the time to connect with ourselves and our inner wisdom. As the minutes went on, Cyndie reminded us to be patient, keep sitting, and focus on our breath. The activities that followed aimed to harness the clarity and openness gained through meditation and apply it to a goal we intend to accomplish in the next three months.

To me, goalsetting can be intimidating and overwhelming. The simple act of stating a goal can make you feel vulnerable or anxious as the pressure to achieve it amounts. Detailing the steps, checkpoints, and barriers to accomplishing a goal can be equally staggering. You may begin to realize that the path to your goal is long or that there may be a number of roadblocks along the way. These feelings and beliefs are the exact limitations that can prevent you from realizing your goal. After using Cyndie’s meditation method, I felt the negativity dissipate, and I was able to approach the goalsetting process with more confidence. I left the event feeling incredibly energized and excited to expand my meditation practice into my career and my current and future goals.

Creative Habit: (Don’t Just) Go Outside

Today I’m kicking off a monthly series, the Creative Habit, inspired by Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I highly recommend reading). The focus of the book and this new monthly series is best summarized in a passage from Tharp’s practical guide:

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt    of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone. Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for new ways to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way… Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That’s it in a nutshell.”

Since leaving college and the cushion of being surrounded by countless peers, professors, and mentors all of whom were writers or dancers or artists, I’ve struggled to maintain my creative self. In my experience, the older you get, the more you lose that youthful abandonment and in turn, begin to lose your creativity. In addition to outside forces impacting our creative selves, we’re at greater risk of inhibiting our own creativity as adults. We allow the left brain to kick in with logic, analysis, and judgement, and we become quick to extinguish or abandon our natural creative impulses. Slowly but surely, over the past five years, I’ve fought to maintain my creative self. It’s challenging, and that’s why I believe in forming a creative habit.


For this Creative Habit series, I’ll present you with a creative assignment toward the end of each month. Then, for the thirty days that follow, I challenge you to incorporate the creative habit into your routine. The tasks will start out very basic so that you can discover what creative habit works best for your lifestyle and your creative self. September’s challenge is to simply embrace the last several weeks of summer weather and go outside every day. I don’t just mean walk from your car to your office or step in the backyard to let out your dog – really go outside! When was the last time you sprawled out in the grass and gazed at the sky? Do you ever go on a walk or run without your headphones and let your surroundings speak to you?


So many of us are confined indoors for 80-90% of the day. As a freelance writer who typically works from a home office, there have been periods where I didn’t leave my apartment for three to four days at a time! This is an extremely unhealthy work practice, and I can definitely say my creativity was at an all-time low during these stints. Now, living in New York City without a car, I’m forced to spend time outside almost anytime I need to go somewhere, but that doesn’t always mean I’m engaged with my surroundings. Most people who are going from Point A to Point B on the streets of NYC are in their own worlds – talking on the phone, listening to their headphones, or even reading a book or newspaper. Remove the extraneous technology, noise, and distractions! Don’t just go outside, be present in the outdoors and appreciate your natural surroundings.

Go Outside

Over the next month please share your experience making a habit of going outside with the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit

The New School Best Online Editors Panel Recap

As a resident of New York City for nearly nine years, Alyssa, my friend and fellow writer, is a master at finding the best events in the city. When she emailed me about an event at The New School called the Best Online Editors Panel, I was immediately intrigued. I started typing, clicking, and digging on the web. I quickly discovered that tucked away in Greenwich Village sits The New School, a progressive university that attracts intellectual and creative minds. The event featured a panel of eight online editors from publications like Tin House, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, Dame Magazine, and more. Plus, the panel was hosted and moderated by none other than writer, teacher, and New York Times bestselling author Susan Shapiro. Needless to say I purchased my ticket and replied to Alyssa that I was in.

The New School

While the event was geared toward journalists, I found the information to be beneficial for any type of freelance writer or blogger. Whether you’re pitching an article, blog post concept, or even partnership opportunity, engaging with publications or businesses is a major part of journalism, freelancing, and blogging. Ultimately, the panel discussion was centered on navigating these interactions and relationships successfully.

Susan Shapiro || Image c/o The New School

Susan Shapiro || Image c/o The New School

There were three main questions that led the panel. Each of the eight online editors had his/her own unique approach to working with freelancers, and along the way, Susan Shapiro interjected interesting feedback from her students and aspiring writers. Below I’ve summarized the key takeaways from the discussion.

3 Questions Answered by Top Online Editors:

  1. Should I submit a pitch or a finished essay?

This seemed to be the most polarizing question of the evening. The verdict? A fifty-fifty split. Below are five of the arguments:

  • It depends on the publication or an editor’s preference.
  • Do your research on the publication and the editor before submitting.
  • Kera Bolonik, executive editor of Dame Magazine, suggested writing the full piece and pitching the standout lines in a summary of two to five sentences.
  • Another debate arose within the discussion of this question: should you attach your work as a document/PDF or include it in the body of the email? The verdict, again, resulted in a fifty-fifty split.
  • Jerry Portwood, a professor at The New School and executive editor at Out magazine, posed a solution: do both so all your bases are covered!

Applying the advice beyond journalism: There’s a fine line between a well-developed idea and a concrete idea with no room for creativity. When pitching any type of concept or partnership opportunity to a potential client, it’s important to research the brand and the point of contact. Be clear on what they expect and show your knowledge of their business in how and what you pitch.

  1. What should freelancers NOT do?

This question elicited some tough love from the panel. Below are the five key DON’TS for freelancers:

  • Don’t submit a piece or a pitch on a Friday. It can wait until Monday!
  • When an editor rejects your piece, it’s the end of the conversation. Don’t reply to the editor asking why or looking for an explanation. At most send a simple thank you for his/her time.
  • If you have a story, even one that’s not fully developed and could only amount to a few lines, do not publish it on a blog or give it away to an unpaid source if you ever hope to submit or pitch it to an editor.
  • Never send a general pitch or simply pitch your services – you must be specific! Don’t make an editor work for the piece!
  • Don’t take rejection personally. In this industry, success is all about being in the right place at the right time.

Applying the advice beyond journalism: It’s pretty self-explanatory how these DON’TS can apply beyond the field of journalism. The fourth point is specifically key for any type of freelancer or blogger. Avoid sending general or form emails to potential clients, and don’t make them work for your partnership! Be specific each time you reach out to a brand. This personalized approach will illustrate both your understanding and passion for their company as well as your confidence in your business and services.

  1. How can freelancers make their work better?

The third question from the panel allowed the editors to give their last words of wisdom for freelancers. Below are five closing pieces of advice:

  • Enlist a ghost editor to review your work before submitting to an editor.
  • For an even stronger edit, read your story aloud before submitting.
  • Learn to love being edited. You can get better every day and with each and every new piece you write.
  • Know a publication before submitting a pitch or piece to them. Do your research, know exactly what they’re looking for down to the word count, and show your knowledge through what you submit.
  • Be passionate and enthusiastic in your writing. Write the story you just have to tell.

Applying the advice beyond journalism: Much of this closing advice is about the editing process. For other freelancers and bloggers, editing is not always part of the process in a literal sense. However, consider having a friend or colleague review an idea or concept before pitching. Once you’ve secured a client, remember to remain open to their feedback or criticism. Again, successfully building and maintaining relationships is crucial for journalists, freelancers, and bloggers alike.

A final note from the online editors: Buy publications you value. Engage with publications you admire on the web by clicking and sharing links. Support the industry!

This final note from the online editors is, of course, applicable across industries. No matter what type of freelance work you do or blog you have, support your industry!



Pitching for the Digital Space Recap

I didn’t attend Columbia, but when I stepped out of the cab and onto the campus, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Nothing compares to the energy of a buzzing college campus.

I walked into the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and took a seat next to my friend Alyssa. My youthful feelings faded as I quickly realized we were two of the only non-students at the lecture. At the front of the room sat a long, lanky lady with fitted jeans, a black tee, brown lace-up ankle boots, hair in an effortlessly coiffed topknot, and bright red lips: Ann Friedman.

Ann Friedman Profile Image

Photographed by Jason Travis c/o Ann Friedman

You may think you don’t know Ann Friedman, when in fact, you probably know Ann Friedman. She writes regularly for New York magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review in addition to contributing to publications like The New Yorker, Elle, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Guardian, and countless others. Still not sure if you’re familiar with Ann Friedman’s work? Then maybe you know her by her famous pie charts regularly featured on The Hairpin.

Ann Friedman What is Normcore

Ann Friedman is a full-time freelance writer. No, she’s not secretly unemployed. No, she does not live a life of non-office-regulated luxury. No, she’s not flaky or a weird loner or any of the other all too common freelance stereotypes. If you’re wondering exactly what a freelance writer is, look to Ann Friedman. She’s a pretty successful one.

Without further ado, here are three takeaways from Ann’s lecture on Pitching for the Digital Space:

  1. Kissing Sideways: Don’t kiss up. You should always be kissing down and sideways, to the people who are going to be working alongside you and coming up behind you. Create a strong support group of colleagues rather than seeking out one powerful person to shape your career.
  1. Writing Something You’re Excited About: It’s a privilege to write something you’re excited about. It took Ann ten years to reach this point in her career. Working with difficult clients, being published in less-prominent publications, writing on subject matter that is of little or no interest to you, getting paid abysmally or *gasp* not at all are all part of the process. Do something on the side (might I suggest a blog?) that represents the work you want to do.
  1. Breaking the Story: In today’s digital writing world, it’s no longer about breaking the story and being the first person to write on a particular subject matter. It’s about writing on a topic in a new way, with a distinct voice, or for a particular audience that makes a great story.

The backbone of each of these three takeaways is that freelance writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The right person, a particular publication, or a single story will not “make you.” Relentless perseverance, unfading passion, and above all, time are the keys to a successful freelance writing career and ultimately making a name for yourself as a writer.

Creating a Unique Digital Persona

More and more I’ve found myself deeply valuing my time spent exploring and gaining inspiration outside the Internet. This is not what a blogger, social media manager, web writer should say. Call me an old soul, but I remember the not-so-distant past when my creativity was constantly fueled by the world around me, not images on Instagram or quotes on Pinterest. I think I’m part of a confusing (or rather confused) generation who is both excited to be on the cutting edge of a grand new era of technology and who has a fond memory of a youth without said technology – a generation that continually grapples with their physical persona (outside the Internet) and their digital persona (on the Internet). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel both blessed and cursed to know both sides.

Some people manage to be, say, 80% detached from the digital world. Sure these people probably have an email address and a cell phone, maybe a Facebook or LinkedIn account, but not much more. The rest of us call these people “disconnected.” I’ve made the accusation myself, namely because my boyfriend (oddly enough a web developer) is one of these people. And to him (and others with raw digital personas) I’ve defended blogs and social media hundreds of times, touting their widespread popularity (audience) and overall value (free to those who participate, lucrative to those who create) – they’re an integral part of our society, numerous industries, my life! I can confidently say I’m thankful for my experience in the blogosphere and on social media, but what happened to the experiences outside the Internet? The Instagram-able, Pin-able, hashtag-able experiences that supposedly make up this media? I can’t escape the technology completely – in fact it has quickly evolved into a very inescapable part of most of our lives – but I can slow down, take a step back, and remember there is still a beautiful world out there – it doesn’t just exist in images on the Internet.

Regardless of your level of engagement in the digital world, the Internet has a powerful influence on our lives. Time and time again, I’ve been influenced by other bloggers, digital media, friends and followers on social networks – so much so that every now and then, I lose track of where my digital persona ends and others’ begin. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. So this February, instead of the digital world telling me “blog me,” “Instagram me,” “share me,” I’m calling the shots. I’m reconnecting with my unique digital persona. My blog and social media have been quiet for the past few weeks and will continue to be in the month of February as I pursue this introspective exploration of my digital self. Stay tuned, readers… MORE SOON.


Yours Truly,


Cait Marie

Photography by Angie Webb Creative