[by Kendra Hovey]
If “Be Interesting” is on your to-do list today, you’re in luck, because Jessica Hagy’s blueprint for an interesting life is now in print (blue print, even). Described as a “small and quirky book with a large and universal message,” How to Be Interesting offers 200+ pages of insights, wisdoms and quips in pithy graphs, charts and diagrams.
Hagy previewed this project at the 2012 TEDxColumbus, sharing how she uses the tools of quantitative analysis to ponder some of the least quantifiable subjects—and also to poke some fun. It’s something she has been at for a long time now. In fact, her success today can be traced back to a doodle she made on a 3 x 5 card almost seven years ago.
“I was exhausted,” she says, “I was tired of working in a job that felt like an emotional dead-end, even if I was successful at it. I had no idea what to do with myself, and I was just doodling, trying to figure things out.”
That doodle became the inaugural post on Indexed, the blog she launched in 2006. There were more doodles on more 3 x 5 cards, more scans, more posts, and eventually Forbes came calling, as did others.
Hagy is originally from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She was educated at Ohio University (BA) and Otterbein (MBA). After ten years in Columbus and one year in London, UK, she now lives in Seattle, which is where, between book tour travels, she took some time to chat with us over email about her new book and more.
Now that your work has been given some large-scale love, do you have any wisdom to share on having your talents recognized and rewarded?
The good: The internet is an equal opportunity playground, and you can do whatever you like out there. There is room for everyone to be successful online.
The bad: You’ll learn a lot about people by how they react when their friends succeed. Not everybody is going to be happy about your happiness, and that’s really gruesome to accept and process.
The ugly: It takes years of work and thought and learning to be perceived as an overnight success. Read all you can by as many people as you can (even people you don’t agree with or even like) and tinker a lot—trial and error can lead to all sorts of great stuff eventually, but you have to get through a lot of tough trials and embarrassing errors first.
You started out with a simple and straightforward format, the 3 x 5 card, is that still your initial medium?
It is for the blog [Indexed] but anymore I’m hired to do a lot of content that doesn’t fit so easily into that standardized format. Essays and animations and strategy things—I am a creative mercenary and change formats to fit what needs done instead of just repeating what’s been done because it’s the easiest route.
I imagine life is busier now, are you sticking with your regular gigs—Indexed, Forbes, etc?
I work for a handful of steady clients (like Forbes) and I am constantly taking on new projects, so yep, really busy. Being online, every morning I check my inbox, there’s a new connection or opportunity or bit of info that can change the way I work and think—it’s never the same day twice.
If there comes a time when Indexed feels “done” for you, how do you think you will know?
Right now it’s a healthy creative habit, making a little chart out to start out the morning. There might be a time when I want to sign off the internet and go become a tulip farmer or a clay thrower or something, but only time will tell. For now, I’ll keep doodling.
What was the experience of giving a TEDx Talk like for you?
It seems that these days, no matter what your profession, you have to be able to spin your work into a TED talk. It’s like toastmasters became a prerequisite for everybody from astronomers to chainsaw sculptors. “Of course I have a power point presentation for you, I’m a champion tap-dancing fishmonger, after all!”
The TED brand exudes (and demands in return) a calmly extroverted, upper middle-class, tech-driven business-casual optimism. So much other published content and so many other conferences get created to reflect the glow of TED’s trademarked crimson that you cannot escape the TED-curated Zeitgeist. And so I weave that knowledge into my powerpoint presentations, like a good little tap-dancing fishmonger.
Is there a “next” project on the horizon?
I’m working on a project with a lot of other cartoonists, a collection of cartoons all based on a shared image, a book of illustrated poetry, and lots more content for my current clients. I’m finishing up a manifesto in watercolors this week—it’ll be live in a month or so.
Lastly, any thoughts to share on how to survive, perhaps even thrive, as a writer during this particularly challenging moment in history?