Creative Careerist: Susan Johnston

About the Creative
Susan Johnston
 (@UrbanMuseWriter) is the author of LinkedIn and Lovin’ It, Rockable Press’ guide for freelancers and other creative professionals. Her writing also appears in print and online publications including, The Boston Globe and US News & World Report.

What does an average day look like for you in your creative career?
I get up around 8 a.m., eat breakfast, and catch up on email. By 9 a.m., I’m starting to tackle my to do list for the day. I schedule phone interviews with sources, but I don’t schedule when I’ll write certain projects or do other tasks, because inevitably, something comes up. A to do list keeps me on track but also gives me the flexibility to adapt when I get thrown a curveball. My days vary widely depending on my current workload, but they usually involve some combination of writing, tweeting, blogging, interviewing, invoicing, scheduling interviews, and taking a break for lunch and a workout.

How did you get to where you are now in your career? What key moments, decisions or circumstances brought you here?
I got here through a combination of hard work, networking, and organizational skills. I can’t really pinpoint a single decision or moment that got me here, it was a succession of micro decisions and circumstances that built to me leaving a job as a copywriter/project manager to freelance. Now, four years later, I’m so glad to have hit my stride and be able to choose most of my projects.

What excites you most about your work?

I love the ability to cover the topics that interest me. I also love the variety. In the past few weeks, for instance, I’ve written about buying organic produce and running a successful Kickstarter campaign and interviewed a young entrepreneur whose tech company has impacted millions of people in emerging markets.

What is its greatest challenge for you?

Work/life balance can be challenging because when you work from home there isn’t that separation between your office and home life. It’s way too easy to get sucked into email at 10 p.m. and feel like you haven’t really taken a break to recharge. That’s why I try to set some boundaries (“I’m turning my computer off now, email can wait until the morning”) and make evening plans outside my apartment so I won’t work 24/7.

How do you get your best ideas?

A lot of my best ideas come when I’m not technically working. For instance, when I click an interesting link on Facebook or share a funny story with a friend, there’s often a way to turn those amusing little asides into marketable ideas.

What do you do when you get stuck?

When I get stuck, I might work on another project or go for a walk to clear my head. The combination of fresh air and changing my environment by taking a walk usually works for me.

How do you make sure you make time for creativity in your life?

Honestly, this can be a struggle, because not all the work I do is very creative. When you do something creative for a living, there’s sometimes a tension between the paid work you do for clients and the creative work you do for yourself. It’s easy to put off the creative work because it doesn’t have a deadline or a paycheck attached to it the way client work does. I’m still finding that balance.

What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives who want to follow in your footsteps?
A huge part of having a steady income and getting paid for the work you love is building relationships with clients, editors, and colleagues who could potentially refer you to work or just serve as a sounding board. Instead of focusing on one project at a time, focus on building long-term relationships and look for clients who could potentially give you a steady flow of work you enjoy.


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