Today we interview freelance writer, blogger and political commentator Jill Miller Zimon. Jill has blended an incredibly diverse background in social welfare and law to become a sought-after author on political and other topics. She’s taken her passion for her family, her sense of humor and her willingness to find (or create) meaningful projects to carve out a writing niche for herself.
(Disclosure notice: Jill has written for me as a freelancer several times at publications that I edit. She’s good!)
Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Zimon: I suppose we could start with, “What is the definition of creative?” But I would say that my blog, for which I do not receive any remuneration at all, is my main creative pursuit at the moment. I’ve been able to branch out into political commentary, which I love. I’ve been on CNN and the BBC this year, and last year I was on the Cleveland public radio station more than a dozen times talking politics and regional issues.
My paid creative pursuits (are related to my) freelance writing. I write a family column and received my third award from the Parenting Publications of America organization for work in 2007 – for the first time, in the humor category!
Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?
Zimon: I don’t have a shred of formal training in writing. But of course, since I made it through college and two grad school programs, I had to know how to write, at least minimally, and I would say that my law school and social work school curriculum really did help me learn to write.
(Undertaking) training to think creatively almost seems like an oxymoron, but I have participated in workshops that help me think about how to think or where to look or what to try for inspiration, for looking at things differently and then develop ways to describe what I seek to describe. So I would say that there’s an infinite number of ways in which we “train,” but not always in a classroom.
I feel very fortunate that people who have been through formal training have supported and mentored me over the years.
What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
Zimon: Write everyday. That’s an oldie but goodie. Doesn’t even matter if it’s a letter that you never send or an e-mail that gets saved as a draft. I have, probably, hundreds of partially completed essays or rants that I may or may not use some day, but most likely, writing them led me to something else.
What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
Zimon: This is a difficult question that lacks a simple answer that works universally. Sometimes it’s spending an hour on the phone laughing with a good writing buddy of mine that gets me unstuck. Sometimes it’s a hug from one of my kids; sometimes it’s a deadline looming – for something else! – that gets me going on what I need to do immediately.
Eating a cookie, brownie or M&Ms does not usually help, but I often try it anyway – just to see if it still doesn’t work.
Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
Zimon: A friend of mine who is a formally trained journalist and I are working up a proposal for a new grant program that is intended to help women in new media. We’ve wanted to work together on something for a long time now and this project gives us a great chance to see if we can do that. We hope to use some very innovative software as a tool to propel investigative research into new directions.
How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
Zimon: I have a one-word answer for both questions: time.
I think about how much time I think the project will require in order for me to do it the way I want to, which will be the way the person asking me to do it hopes I will. I’m always concerned about over-committing and I tend to provide reasons why I might not be right for a project, just to be sure the person or people with the project are sure they want me and I am sure that it’s something I will be okay taking on. Setting up and understanding expectations from the get-go, and being on the same page as the people for whom you’re doing the work, is the number one priority to me when discussing a project.
Other elements range from being able to work on something unlike anything I’ve done before or, the opposite – working on something that is a passion of mine but with which I don’t often get to work (like the juvenile court system).
I want to feel good about the people for whom I’m doing the work and, no surprise for a freelancer, I like the pay to be commensurate, as best as possible, with what I’ll be producing. But that’s not always possible, and there’s always the not-for-profit work I’ll take just because it’s different and important.