Ada’s favorite workspace within the Sonoma Meadow House,where we held the interview and photo shoot.
When you combine over a decade of experience in the magazine industry, relentless motivation, and a whole lot of heart, hard work really does pay off. Just ask poet and writer Ada Limón, 34. After working for nationally renowned publications like GQ and Martha Stewart Living, Ada’s taking a year-long hiatus from her fast-paced life in NYC and job as Creative Director at Travel & Leisure to enjoy her well-earned dream of writing remotely from a quaint cabin along Moon Mountain Road within California’s Mayacamas Mountains. That’s right, she’s reached a publishing-industry promised land—a beckoning mirage that aspiring artists everywhere have only heard exist, allowing herself a year to write her first novel while soaking in her surroundings in her native town of Sonoma, which also serves as the setting for her latest project.
We left ModCloth’s San Francisco office to visit the soon-to-be-novelist on an enchantingly foggy day to get the details on why Ada has the best job(s) ever.
What advice can you give to young artists who want to “have their cake and eat it, too” when it comes to balancing a professional career while seriously embracing their creative outlet?
It’s incredibly frustrating to be an artist in a world that often does not pay to be an artist, but I would tell anyone who’s up-and-coming that you still have to pay your rent and eat. Your art is not going to suffer if you have a job that allows you to do so. Once you’ve actually figured out how you’re going to support yourself, then the tricky part comes, and you have to focus on balance.
As creative director at a high-profile magazine, I managed a lot of people. When I came home at the end of the day, I had to figure out how to shut down and find that [other] person who’s not constantly thinking about headlines and reaching the consumer or selling a product. And that, I think, comes from silence. The only place where that inner voice can speak is in silence—at least for a writer. That was a very important thing for me to learn. Just allowing yourself to let go, to not do anything for a little while. I have the great privilege of doing that right now, because I’ve worked for it, and I’ve been able to put aside enough that I can do it. I cherish it every day, though—that I can go on a three-hour walk and just be in my head. It’s an amazing experience.
So, would you recommend that aspiring writers create “working artist banks” to save for pursuing their creative outlet in the future?
Yes, I did. I started one in 2002, and added to it little by little. I deposited anything that I received through poetry. If I received $1,000 for a book, a grant, or anything writing-related, I’d put it in there. People do it all the time if they’re planning on having a kid. You have to think of your art like it’s a child. It is your child. You have to make it that important, or else you won’t do it. It’s hard, but the joy of really creating something that makes a difference or touches somebody—that’s huge.
Was there a point in your career when you thought, “I’m officially a writer now”?
I would say, the first book. That was when I could say it without sort of being scared, thinking someone was going to call me out and say, “No, you’re not.” Yeah, that was the moment where I thought, okay, this is everything I’ve worked towards.
Do you tend to find more inspiration in urban or natural environments?
That’s a good question. I would say that my inspiration usually comes from the conflict between the two—how in the natural world I feel very much like myself there. Then, there’s the excitement, danger, and energy of the urban setting, which is so addicting and fascinating. In my work I usually find the tension is between the two. It’s kind of who I am, really—an ex-current New Yorker living on top of a mountain. I mean, you have to cross two cattle guards to get to me. It’s a little bit different than Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In addition to having poems published in leading journals like The New Yorker, Harvard Review Online, and Pleiades, Ada has written three poetry books: This Big Fake World, Lucky Wreck, and Sharks in the Rivers.
What can you tell us about the novel you’re writing now?
[The novel] is about a woman whose life is a wreck, and she’s responsible for it. She moves back to her hometown, Moon Mountain in Sonoma Valley, and she discovers dark secrets hidden in the community. It’s slightly mysterious, a little bit of a love story, and a lot about self-discovery and forgiveness.
When you were a little girl, what was your “dream job”?
Probably an actor. I was really into pretending and the imaginary world. Then, I tried to be an actor and realized I didn’t really get to make things up. I had to be in someone else’s fantasy, but as a writer, I actually get to create it.