Author Spotlight: Anna Beth Chao of AB Chao
FM: Where do you find unexpected inspiration for your blog?
ABC: I am not even really sure anymore — there is so much inspiration everywhere these days. I have a notebook with me at all times to write down my to-do lists, and there are pages and pages in the back filled with random words/ideas/descriptions of things. A lot of times I’ll get inspiration for a post just depending on what’s happening in my life — my headless photo this week, for instance, will probably feature me carrying a box or something, since I’m moving this week. And, of course, there are a zillion blogs and Pinterest boards and magazines to keep me inspired. My camps have also been a huge source of inspiration: I get to travel all over the country at least once a month, and getting out of one’s comfort zone can really lead to good inspiration. Plus, I tend to visit very cute cities.
FM: How do you balance your time between design and writing?
ABC: There is really no perfect balance — I spend most of the days I’m not out shooting or running camps in front of the screen. Sometimes I am writing a post; sometimes I am searching frantically for cute things to put in camper goodie bags; sometimes I am just surfing around looking for a particular item for a client or myself. I’m terrible at sticking to an editorial calendar, or anything like that — the one constant on my site is that I run a headless photo and/or Camp Notes just about every week. I lack discipline when it comes to things like organizing receipts and book keeping. If anyone would like to volunteer to be my intern, please let me know.
FM: What app can’t you live without?
ABC: I can’t live without Wunderlist, because I am so totally disorganized at all times. When I struck out on my own, I had no idea how to do the business/technical part of things, and I am still learning how to manage it all. I combine the app with hand-written lists (complete with check-boxes!) and somehow I am able to get it all mostly done. I also can’t live without Camera Plus Pro, since it makes my iPhone photographs look a million times better than they actually are.
FM: What advice would you give someone interested in a career in design writing?
ABC: The first thing I would say is that you have to be super-brave and kind of brazen about putting yourself out there, no matter how dumb you feel. It really never hurts to ask — the worst thing they can say is “no,” in which case you accept it and move on. And don’t be afraid to write or contact someone whose site you admire with a pitch of one of your amazing ideas. I got my first online writing job by charming Sarah Bunting (former co-editor-in-chief of Television Without Pity) at a blog conference with my ability to chain-smoke cigarettes. (It was 11 years ago – don’t judge.) When I got home, I cold-pitched her a recap of one of my favorite shows, and asked her if she had any job openings. She did, as a matter of fact, and that is how I became a TWoP recapper for five years. That job led to a TV writing job in Los Angeles, which led to my realization that I could actually write for a living. On the Internet. On a blog. About cute chairs.
The other piece of advice I would give is that it takes time — you can’t expect to become a huge success in a week, or a month, or sometimes even a year. I’ve been writing online since 2001, and I am just now seeing a little bit of success. That’s a lot of words, y’all. And it definitely takes hard work, tons of time, and cultivating one’s own voice. Nobody wants to read the same thing over and over again, so it’s really important to have an authentic, unique point of view about things.
FM: What is your approach to social media?
ABC: I love it! I hate it! I have…mixed feelings, obviously. Frankly, I find social media to be both an incredible boon and a total pain, sometimes simultaneously, so I guess it just depends on the day you ask me. I definitely tend to stick to the things I’m most comfortable with: Twitter, for sure, because I’ve been using it for so long, and because I love it; and Instagram, because it intertwines with Twitter so well. I’m just now getting into posting links to my site on Facebook — I don’t really love Facebook, but it’s what all the kids are using these days, so I’m getting over myself on that front. As for some of those new-fangled places, like Pinterest — and here is where I show my old-school journaling age — I can’t get too involved with them or it makes me feel like an overstimulated crazy person. So I sort of hover around the edges there.