Nina Myers McCammon has been such an inspiration to me in these first months of launching my own creative endeavor. I've been glued to her "Made in America" and "American Beauty" stories as they unfold online on her fantastic blog, 50 States of Style. I'm wowed on an almost daily basis by her photographic eye, her ability to capture a sense of a place, and by her down-to-earth, friendly voice that tells the real stories about the real people who make a living by crafting, producing, and selling American-made products.
I'm certain that this interview with Nina will click with anyone who has made the commitment to daily creative work, especially those out there who are just starting out, or are trying to balance it all with another paying gig and/or full-time parenting.
Hello, Nina! Tell us, how did you get your start?
I interned at a local newspaper in high school and studied broadcast journalism at Ithaca College. One of my professors suggested I go into hard news writing, but I preferred a lighter, more conversational style and knew pretty early on that I wanted to work in magazine publishing. When HR recruiters from Primedia and Conde Nast came through at college fairs, I grabbed all their business cards, and as graduation approached, I reached out via email (that being said, email was still a very new thing, so honestly I probably stalked them via telephone and wrote old-fashioned letters. Am I totally dating myself? Ha). A few months later, I got a job at Tiger Beat magazine as an associate editor, which remains one of, if not my favorite, jobs ever, because so many musicians came through the office; people like Pink and Jessica Simpson, who are famous now, but who were just these fresh-faced kids at the time (I guess I was, too?!) I was given a lot of responsibility and learned so much in such a short time. I went on from there to work at IN New York, Esquire, Niche Media (Gotham, Hamptons, LA Confidential, etc.) and Country Living.
How did you break into those big name publications?
I got an informational meeting with David Granger, the Editor-in-Chief of Esquire, in 2005. I really believe that timing is everything, because during that meeting, I found out the market editor, who had been at Esquire for five years, had just given notice a few days earlier. I lucked out. Country Living was another perfect timing scenario. I emailed the HR director at Hearst and asked him if there were any open market positions, and he said there was one, but the offer had already been sent out. Within a day, that person declined so the opportunity became available.
What was your motivation for starting your blog?
I wasn't honestly thinking about anything other than my son Theo for the first two years. But almost to the day of him turning two, I felt the fog start to lift (not mom brain...that is very much intact) and I was able to see clearly that I missed having something of my own; a creative outlet. I had been suppressing my creativity to care for Theo, and it was worth it, but once he started preschool and I had a few hours a week to play with, it gave me some time to think. Suddenly I was bursting with ideas, but I had nowhere to organize them, so I started the blog. I knew I was going to focus on American-made, as that is something I have become very passionate about since working at Country Living, but I gave myself some time to iron out ideas and build up a bit of content before announcing it. It's still a major work in progress and I would say almost weekly I switch things up. For example, when it first started out, it was just going to be about American-made products and designers but then I added "American beauty" to the tagline because nature is a huge part of my life.
How do you do your research and discover products and shops you feature?
Aside from trade shows and market appointments, I am constantly on Pinterest, Instagram, and Etsy. I follow people who inspire me, and look at the lists of people they follow and from there I get lost in this huge tangled web of creativity. I'm constantly overwhelmed by all the talent out there.
How do you stay motivated, especially as a new blogger just starting out?
I think because this is still so new, it's not hard to motivate. I'm sure there will come a time when I'm singing a different tune, but for now, it's a joy. There are definitely days where the ideas slow down, or I get writer's block, and that's when I step away. I put my computer down and go do an activity, either alone or with my family, and it's amazing how many ideas I've gotten just from getting out of the house and living my life.
What is your advice to someone starting out?
Be authentic. And, in the words of Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press: "Own it!" Get yourself out there without apology. And don't obsess over metrics, i.e. "followers," and "likes," and "page views," and all that, especially not in the beginning. Just focus on what you're doing, and if you believe in it, and work hard, you'll be successful. There are days where I get down and totally doubt myself, but I keep going because what's the alternative? My husband's colleague has a great mantra: "Otherwise: inertia." The only alternative is not doing something, and what good is that?
What tools do you use to stay organized?
I'm a huge fan of Google Doc spreadsheets. I have loads and loads of spreadsheets broken down by state, category, story, etc. Staying organized is critical. I use my iPhone to take photos, and I use the app Tape-A-Call to record my phone interviews.
Where do you work?
My bed. My husband doesn't understand why I don't go upstairs to the loft where I have a desk, or downstairs to the office that he's set up for himself, but the former has become my wrapping station (gifts, cards, etc.) and the latter is so big and there's very little insulation so it's cold. Maybe I'll have better luck down there this summer when it's 100 degrees.
I'm very fortunate to be able to stay home with Theo, but I don't avoid distraction and I don't stay focused, especially not during the week. I get loads of time with him during the day, but ultimately cram in all my work the mornings he's in preschool or napping or when my parents babysit. He watches Bob the Builder, and sometimes we eat pizza twice in the same week. And I often do work at night after I've put him to bed. I'm serious about parenting, but I'm also serious about work. One thing that I've started doing recently that has really helped me find balance outside of being a mom, is that on Saturday afternoons, Ross and Theo have "guy time," and I get a break, which is usually when I get lots of ideas. It's nice to miss them a little bit, and then I get to come home and tell them about my adventure and hear about theirs. I'm a better mom and worker because of these outings.
I'm always hearing about bloggers who have gone beyond paid ads (sponsored posts, writing a book, providing a service like teaching other bloggers, or corporate sponsorships) to make money. What do you think? Do you see yourself going in any of these directions?
It's really hard to make money at blogging, which is why I think you always have to have your hand in other things, whether it's consulting for a brand or collaborating with a designer or writing a book. It'll be a while before I get to that point. I'm just trying to have fun for now.
What's coming up next that you're most excited about?
I am very excited about my 50 States of Style "50 Series" which features inspiring creatives, from beauty, home, and fashion designers to artists, editors, and bloggers. It's going to be fun. I'm also trying to get my "Where We Live" series going, and eventually I'm hoping to blow out the "States" section, which sadly still says "coming soon."
Who inspires you right now?
I'm inspired by sites that are supporting up-and-coming artists, like Madesmith and Young + Able. There are so many talented makers out there, and sadly their work is often overshadowed. But they're out there and the American made movement is strong.
Maybe it's the reporter in me, but I am always looking for stories to tell, whether it's a treasure in an antique shop or a crazy looking flower on a hike. Also, my friends who are doing such a good job balancing work and motherhood inspire me (YOU!) and so do old movies and the beauty of the Hudson Valley, where I live.
Aw, thanks! How can people contact you or follow your work?
All photos by Nina McCammon.