storytellers-hagy-jessicaThe entry below is part of a new series on Inbound Hub called Storytellers, which will feature interviews with prolific storytellers from all walks of life: designers, comedians, marketers, journalists, and content marketing experts, discussing how they shape inspiring stories on a daily basis.

Jessica Hagy is a blogger, author, and Forbes columnist. If her name isn't familiar to you, her illustrations likely are: She has an unparalleled talent for translating business and lifestyle concepts, ideas, and challenges into deceptively simple doodles. Here's just one of them, courtesy of This Is Indexed and Jessica Hagy:


Below, Jessica shares with us her advice for blogging, illustrations, creativity, and inspiration: 

1) Your article "How To Be Interesting" went viral: What do you think it was about that particular story that resonated so much with people globally?

I think there’s just something about today’s short-attention-spanning, hyper-competing world that makes being interesting a massively important trait. People need to be exceptionally fascinating just to get noticed anymore. And we can argue that that’s kind of sad and cruel, or we can accept it, and all try to figure out what makes us interesting, and enjoy the ride.

2) Your blog has been recognized by Time Magazine and many others as one of the best on the web. How do you maintain creativity and quality content over such an extended period of time?

That’s a very complimentary question, so thank you! I use the blog as public sketchbook. I’ve mandated that I need to post every weekday, and so I’ve built a creative habit into my life. Think of graphs as a grammatical framework, just like sentences, with subjects, conjunctions, verbs, all parts of speech. I pretty much think of an interesting sentence, and translate it into graph form. The translation is what tickles my brain and, hopefully, the brains of my readers.

3) In addition to great prose, you're also well known for your illustrations, with a particular focus on Venn diagrams. Why do illustrations tell such a great story, and how can people who aren't great artists follow your lead on thinking about visual content?

Anything done with zest is art. There’s no wrong way to draw. And if you can tell a bit of a story with an image, and the rest in a caption, then the image has been useful, and it is artful. Images don’t have to be realistic drawings or even full thoughts to be compelling -- they are tools for communication, and everyone has a different way of using them.

Besides, 90% of content shared online is image-based (no idea of the source on that, but just look at your Facebook feed for evidence of its truth), so the simple act of changing a line of text into a jpeg means your message will go that much further.

4) You worked as a copywriter for years, and one thing you said is that "egos get in the way of ideas far too often," citing the example of "another piece of direct mail instead of a piece of history." How does anyone trying to be creative continue raising the bar, and how do you keep ego from interfering with your team's best ideas?

When I was a writer, I worked for an underwear company for a while. Even if what we were doing was going to impact billions in sales and be seen all over the world, in the end, we were just selling underpants. Seriously: It’s all just underpants. Perspective like that helps erode the hubris. Very few of us do actual world-saving work, but most all of us act like what we’re doing is equally important. The jokes write themselves.

And on top of that, we all have these subtle biases at work in our brains, and the best way to really focus on work is to ignore who produced it. It’s why musicians audition behind a screen for a spot in the symphony -- to separate how they are perceived from the music they make. If we can keep ourselves from being impressed by a well-known name or stop dismissing people’s work because of their age or gender or color or accent or whatever -- if we can somehow sidestep all of the insidious “isms,” then more good work will be noticed and less mediocre work will be spotlighted.

5) One of your posts described "imperfection as interesting." How do you know when a story, post, or illustration is "done?"

When I like it.

It doesn’t have to be anything other than something that makes me smile or think. There’s always going to be someone who adores the thing, and someone who hates it with the fury of a thousand internet trolls -- no matter what that thing happens to be. The only opinion anyone can really trust is their own, anyway.

6) What inspires you on a daily basis?

I like poking around in dusty corners of the internet, like edible fungus hunting societies and makeup tutorials for people without eyebrows and weird Twitter and asking Google things like, “What does the tooth fairy do with all those teeth?” Answer: She uses them to build her castles. Gross, right?

And when the screen feels too bright and my eyes get tired, I go outside and wander my neighborhood, which is up a steep hill from a gravelly beach. Sometimes I skip the internet and just kick sandy pebbles until I’ve thought some thoughts worth doodling.

7) Your latest book, How To Be Interesting in 10 Simple Steps, articulates just that in a fun, dynamic way: What's your best advice for making a story interesting?

Think through the story you want to tell, and toss out all the bits you’ve already heard in other places, in any format. What’s left are the interesting details or plot twists. The unique bits may not be the whole story, but they are the hanger the rest of the tale should hang on.

The story is in the telling: the special details. The spin you and only you can put on it. Hamlet may be done over and over again, but each performance is different. And the more different it is, the more memorable it becomes.

8) What stories or books influenced you growing up and why? 

I loved reading books that I “shouldn’t.” Label something "too grown up," or "not for you," and I was all over it. So I was devouring award-winning essay anthologies about themes (like human trafficking and nuclear war) that ten year-old me hadn’t even known about. I was really into Vonnegut (still am) and textbooks. Textbooks seemed taboo because of how expensive it was to be taught to read them. 

Have someone you think would be a great fit for a forthcoming Storytellers column? Let us know in the comments!

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Originally published Oct 29, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


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