Blogging

Welcome to SarahStarrs.com!

Welcome to SarahStarrs.com!

If you've been a long-time reader of my former blog, The Laughing Medusa, I hope you'll enjoy settling into my new online home. If you were already following my blog on Bloglovin', don't worry - their support team will be switching you over to this RSS feed so that you can stay up to date with all of my new posts.

There are still a few bugs to work out: broken links in old posts, images showing up with their filenames underneath, and signatures in wonky places. I hope to have all of that fixed up this week, so if you see anything strange, please let me know.

Although I'd originally planned to transfer all of my old content to this site, I decided it made the most sense to only import the content that directly relates to what I'll be writing about and the work that I do. That way this site only contains the best of the best. But you can still comb through The Laughing Medusa archives and read all of my old posts over there.

From here on out you can expect a new post from me every Monday. These will be epic, in-depth, mini guides relating to loving yourself, designing a life you adore, and making your dreams come true. By embracing slow blogging I'm going to produce fewer posts so that each one is more helpful, meaningful, and engaging.

But if you're worried that you're going to miss all of the other stuff, never fear: I'll still be sharing these pieces of myself on different parts of the interwebs. I'll be photographing my daily adventures and wacky sartorial choices on Instagram. You can find my favourite recipes, tattoo artists, and the things that are inspiring me on Pinterest. I'll be broadcasting on Periscope to share my insights as an expat, updates on my birthday list, and a few of my favourite self-love rituals (my user name is @sarahstarrs_). And as always, I'll be available to chat on Twitter where I love sharing the best things I've found online lately.

Along with my new slow blogging approach, I'm no longer accepting sponsored posts, advertising, items to review, or participating in affiliate programs - at least not right now. This is mostly to give myself space to focus on creating better content and offerings. I have so many projects I want to delve into and I want to give them my all. Getting free stuff and working with brands sounds like the glamourous side of blogging but if I'm honest, it had become stressful and I felt pulled away from the work I'm most passionate about. Ultimately these revenue streams just don't feel aligned with my values and intentions for this space.

I'll also be transforming my Inspiration Interview series into a project I'm very excited about: The Punk Rock Personal Development Podcast. From late August you'll be able to look forward to a new episode every week. I'll be talking to some really amazing guests about the practical tools, mindsets, and habits they use to embrace self-love, go after their dreams, and live life on purpose. We'll be delving deep into the struggles they've faced and how they're overcoming them. This won't be vague theories or new age mumbo jumbo (even if we do embrace a bit of woo woo every now and then!) I want to talk about the real things that are working for people so that you can get an inside look at how they're designing their lives.

Through this new platform I'll be releasing some exciting new offerings. First up are the Daydream Activation sessions. Through these one-to-one coaching calls I'll work with you to identify exactly what's holding you back from achieving your dream and I'll teach you strategies to overcome it. Then we'll work together to create a detailed action plan so you know what to do every step of the way. Does this sound like something you're longing for? Hop over here to get all of the details.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the new website. Thank you so much for supporting this new part of my journey.

Love always,

Writers Gonna Write.

writers-gonna-write

After talking about blogging and personal transformation, I dedicated the second half of my talk at the Nuffnang Useful + Beautiful Workshop to offering some advice for aspiring writers. I no longer work full-time as a freelance writer. Monday - Friday I manage the marketing and communications of a local East London charity, while writing and blogging on the side.

When I moved to the UK knowing no one, I was really craving the community and companionship of a 9-5 job (I know, I could hardly believe it myself). I'd been freelance writing for about a year but all of my clients were in Canada, so the exchange rate was making it really difficult to get by on my earnings. The UK freelance market looked really healthy, but I had no network here at that point. I knew that getting a full-time job was the best way to relieve my financial stress, start building a network, and find the community I was craving.

But I know freelance writing is something many people aspire to - whether for their career or a passion project. My experience editing magazines and working as a writer have given me a lot of insight into the current publishing world, so today I wanted to share some tips if you’re just getting started.

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” - Steven Pressfield

For anyone pursuing a creative career or dreaming of being an artist, I recommend reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Read it, reread it, and then read it again. It's that good.

The simple fact is writers write. Probably everyday. There are so many reasons why you might want to write - to make a living, to establish yourself as an expert, or because you have thoughts you can't keep to yourself. But you'll never move forward by just talking or thinking about writing. You need to set some goals, create a daily writing practice, and get to it.

Admittedly it can be difficult to know where to begin when your dream is to see your name in print, share your unique wisdom through your favourite publications, and start making a buck from your words. Here's my advice.

Defining your niche

Just like a good blog has a niche, so should a writer. It’s important to think about exactly what kind of writing you want to do and for what audience. Establishing your niche will help you gain credibility and connect with the right readers, while also keeping you focused. What do you want to achieve with your writing? What do you want to be known for? Start asking yourself what you’re already an expert on or have valuable experience in. Whether it's traveling luxuriously on a budget or how to make the perfect lemon meringue pie, what are three things you know that most of your friends probably don't? Who would this information help? Keep drilling down until you've defined a clear niche that you feel excited about.

Building a portfolio

You don’t have to be a published author to start building a portfolio, otherwise how would any of us get started? If you blog and your writing niche is going to be similar to your blogging niche, start there. Ask yourself, what are the three blog posts you’re most proud of? Where are the gaps in your portfolio? Start creating content to fill them in. If you’re going to be writing about a topic that doesn’t fit with your blog, look for sites you could guest post on before you start pitching to bigger publications.

Perfecting your pitches

Pitching can be a peculiar and daunting beast until you get the hang of it, so set a goal to pitch a different publication each week or month (whatever feels good for you). When you go about writing your pitch, be sure to pitch a story, not just a subject you want to write on. There needs to be a “so what” - why is this going to be important to their readers? This is the difference between writing about vegan food and writing an article on "How to Transition to a Vegan Diet in 30 Days."

Editors are busy and get a lot of email, so try to keep the pitch to 300 words or less.

Make sure you explain why you’re the right person to write this particular article - perhaps it's because of your personal connections (someone you know that you could interview), education, first-hand experience, or something else that gives you a unique angle on the subject.

Find out the name of the editor and address them by name. You likely want to pitch to a subeditor rather than the editor-in-chief. You can find this information on their masthead, website, or through some creative googling.

Write the pitch in the tone of voice you intend to write the article in to give the editor a taste of your style and link to 2 or 3 articles or blog posts you have written that are relevant to the pitch.

If you're still feeling lost or intimidated, I'd recommend taking Grace Bello's How to Write a Killer Magazine Pitch class on SkillShare.

Knowing your worth

How much you get paid will vary greatly by the type of article you’re writing, your experience level, and the budget of the publication. Unfortunately there are many places who will take advantage of people willing to write for free. When you’re first building a portfolio, you might want to do some writing for free but I would be selective about the publications- make sure they're going to help build your credibility and provide exposure that is valuable for you. Eventually, you’ll need to decide what you’re worth and stick to your guns and this will mean saying no to writing opportunities sometimes. To get a clearer on what you should charge for an article, have open conversations with friends in the industry about what you're all being paid; I've found this to be really valuable in terms of blogging and it helps you avoid being taken advantage of.

Find an accountability partners

Whether you're writing your first book or creating a daily writing practice, finding an accountability partner is valuable for bloggers and budding writers as we don’t have bosses or coworkers to help keep us on track. Find someone with similar goals who you can check in with regularly. My friend Xandra and I email each other daily with a list of blogging tasks we're going to accomplish that day. It's great knowing someone else is expecting you to get the work done and to have someone to bounce ideas off of.

These strategies helped me while I was getting my first work as a writer, but ultimately you'll find your own way through research, trial and error, figuring out what feels good for you and, of course, writing.

Do you have any particular questions about writing you'd like me to address? If you're already working as a writer, what tips would you add to this list?

 

Top photograph by Shell De Mar.

On Blogging and Personal Transformation.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the Nuffnang Useful + Beautiful workshop. It was such a wonderful day spent connecting with other bloggers and sharing our experiences with one another. We ate salted caramel brownies from Julia's Handmade, Fran from Fall for DIY taught us to make our own camera straps, and there were six talks on blogging best practices. I was really honoured to be one of the speakers and to share my experiences on blogging, personal development, and freelance writing.

Putting together my talk made me realize how much I've transformed my life over the past few years and served as an important reminder that when we set out to change our lives, it can be frustrating that we can't just snap our fingers and make it all happen. But when we dedicate ourselves to living the lives we want, it's almost unfathomable how much the world opens up to meet us half way.

If you've been reading this blog for a little while you'll know that  I believe that life is the product of the choices you make and the actions you take, so I’ve dedicated myself to making big, bold, sparkly choices – which has resulted in some pretty magical things happening to me.

However, I wasn't always like this. I struggled with depression for many years and I tended towards being a bit of a naysayer. I loved the idea of traveling, writing for a living and living a stylish life full of exciting people. I was always drawn to books about these kinds of characters and I admired friends who lived their lives like this. But these seemed like things that were possible for other people. Not for me.

Instead I spent a lot of time focusing on what I should be doing. Getting good grades. A good job. Being financially prudent. And I worried a lot. I was convinced that everything would fall apart at any moment.

I've always had an inexplicable need to express myself and document my life. When I was little I'd make little magazines and write stories that I'd distribute to my friends and family. The Internet opened up the possibility to do this on a much larger scale. I’ve been blogging in one form or another since I was a pre-teen - otherwise known as the Geocities and Angelfire days. And I’ve been on almost every platform since then, but always 'in the closet.' I never shared what I was creating with my friends or family. I struggled with a real fear of being vulnerable. I preferred to let everyone think I was okay all of the time, instead of showing them what was really going on with me like I did online.

My views about live, the universe, and everything began to change around the time that I took a course on existentialism in university.

Essentially, existentialism comes down to this: Each of us is radically free. We all face limitations imposed on us by physical realities, our histories, material circumstances, etc. But we’re always free to choose. And that’s who we are: the product of our choices and actions.

Around the same, I started dipping my toe into the world of personal development and discovered writers like Gala Darling and Alexandra Jaye Johnson who were talking about self-love and living a fabulous life in a no-nonsense way that really resonated with me.

I saw a lot of similarities between the concepts of self-love and existentialism – namely an emphasis on personal responsibility and taking control on your own life.

I started a blog called Becoming-Sarah (here's a screenshot - I've come a long way!) to document my budding interest in self-love, personal development, and healthy eating. I wrote on this site for about a year without telling my friends or family. I got more interested in blogging and wanted to take it further but I had been in such a vulnerable place when I’d started and I didn't feel comfortable throwing back the curtain and exposing the journey I'd gone through with everyone I knew. I wanted to start fresh. So I shut the site down and stepped back from blogging for a while.

Looking at life through the lens of existentialism and self-love shifted something inside of me. Not all at once, but slowly I started to take risks because I knew I had to take complete responsibility for my life. The things I want were possible and it would be my choice if I denied myself them. Looking back, one of those first steps that proved to be truly pivotal for me was taking my first trip to Europe after graduating university. This set in motion a string of events that would change my life in so many ways and really shaped who I am today.

But getting back to blogging, The Laughing Medusa was born out of a sense of desperation. After graduating university I was hired for a job that I was in no way qualified for – I became the editor-in-chief of an independent women’s magazine in Toronto. It was a really small operation and I had my fingers in everything - copyediting, setting the editorial direction, liaising with writers, hiring staff, assigning stories, laying out the print magazine, updating the website, working with advertisers, and organizing distribution.

On paper, it sounded amazing and it afforded me some really wonderful opportunities. I'm grateful for everything I learned and the possibilities it opened up for me. But it was also a nightmare. My boss was really horrible to work for, there wasn’t a lot of integrity to what we were creating, and I started to have anxiety about my job almost all of the time. Even though I had come to understand that I was in complete control of my life, I felt trapped and didn't know how to leave.

Looking back, I learned a valuable lesson. Even the most glamourous dream jobs will have nitty gritty aspects that you hate. It's important to learn to know when to push through because those are just the downsides of doing the work you love versus when things don't feel right and you should cut your losses. For me, it was the latter but it took me a while to work up the courage.

I needed an outlet to get back in touch with my creativity and to recommit to my own personal growth. The Laughing Medusa was born as a hodgepodge of whatever was going on in my life at the time and over the past three years, as I’ve grown my audience and learned more about blogging, I’ve gotten clear on what I want my blog to be and what my goals for it are. So my branding and mission have been a slow evolution. You just have to look back through my archives to see how much blogging has helped me grow as a writer and as a person.

A year after starting my blog I quit my job to start an independent magazine with a friend and travel across Europe doing research. We were writing about how creative communities were resurrecting post-industrial cities like Detroit and we felt so passionate about what we were doing.

To pay my expenses I started freelance writing. The magazine endeavour ultimately wasn’t very successful – we only ever published one issue. But I'm so proud of what we did accomplish and the experience taught me so much about business, self-publishing, and going after your dreams. My biggest lessons were to grow your audience before moving into print - it's very expensive and can be difficult to navigate. Be careful about who you go into business with and get everything in writer. And work from a plan, not from the seat of your pants. This might sound obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in the momentum and excitement you're creating. The plan will change, but it's important to have something to refer to.

Ultimately, our travels for the magazine inspired me to move to London. After visiting on our trip I fell head over heels in love with the city and one year after my first visit, I moved here for good.

Moving here has been one of the scariest and most wonderful things I’ve ever done. Life as an expat is something I’ve written about a lot. It’s been here that my blog has really begun to flourish and I’ve been afforded so many opportunities because of it – like winning a scholarship to go to The Blogcademy in Berlin and meeting some of my closest friends.

It's hard to believe how much my life has changed and it just keeps getting better and better. I still struggle with fear, self-doubt, and resistance - I think those feelings are part and parcel of putting yourself out there and living a creative life.

But I'm a happier person these days. I prioritise my own joy. I focus on incorporating into my life anything that will make my reality better align with the visions I have for myself. When I have a big dream, I look for ways to make it happen rather than getting bogged down in the impossibility of it all.

It all started with the decision to love myself and blogging has played a huge role in sticking with that commitment.

Self-love can seem like a tricky, amorphous concept and even if we want to love ourselves, it's difficult to know where to begin. Try reading Adventures in Self-Love: Where do I begin? and 50 Simple Steps for Cultivating Self-Love if you need somewhere to start. And if there's anything you're struggling with, don't be afraid to reach out; I'd love to help.

It's easy to get frustrated because we aren't where we want to be. But it's important to look back and take stock of how far you've come before you decide on what step you'll take next. So let us know, what big changes have you made over the last few years? How are you different now? What have you added to your life? What have you let go of? Take a moment to be proud and grateful for all of it.

P.S. Nuffnang was kind enough to feature me as their Blogger of the Month, so hop over if you'd like to read my interview!

Photographs by the lovely Shel de Mar at The Blogcademy in Berlin.