Writers@Work: Interview with Author Jessica Hagy by Rochelle Melander
19 May 2015
Note From Rochelle
As summer approaches, I’m planning writing projects and reading lists. To help you write better and read more, I’m welcoming many guest writers to share their best writing tips and favorite summer reads. In addition, I’m hoping to have frequent book giveaways. If you have recently published a book and would like to participate, send me an email.
Today’s tip is a Writers@Work interview with Jessica Hagy, whose most recent book is The Art of War Visualized. I’ve been reading and recommending Jessica Hagy’s work for a long time, and was delighted to meet her at Boswell Book Company this past April.
Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time.
Thank you! It’s always surprising that people know my work, even after all this time (I’ve been at this since 2006). In some moldy crevice of my brain, I’m still a little kid hiding notebooks full of drawings from teachers who would toss them out.
I’m curious how you moved from business to reflecting on life through charts. How did you start sketching and writing?
I’ve always been someone who draws in margins, but I was working as a copywriter when I started my blog of charts and graphs (www.thisisindexed.com). The grammar of charts and graphs is as readable as the grammar of a sentence, so turning verbal ideas into visual formats felt right to me. Sentence diagrams come in many forms.
Your blog has an incredible launch story—can you share what happened?
In the summer of 2006, I uploaded maybe a dozen images to my free blogspot site, and within a month the site was everywhere. I had a literary agent (who is still helping and guiding and encouraging me) and I was drawing for the BBC. I think the first “big” link was on Metafilter, and from that point the site was just pinging around the internet.
I didn’t tell anyone in real life that I had the blog for months, and so that was a very strange time for me. The internet was embracing all these little thoughts I had, but in the real world, I was keeping my head down and getting work done and I was 90% invisible. I’d never gotten such a positive response to anything I’d composed or said before, and it was honestly overwhelming.
Your new book is a visualized reflection on The Art of War by Sun Tzu. What inspired you about that book?
When I read The Art of War, I was expecting a brutal book (how to arrange heads on spikes and so on). But the content was actually very measured, very thoughtful, very pragmatic. I liked that, and I liked the idea of using the text as captions for my cartoons—so I could both honor and put a new spin on the original text.
What’s your daily writing and sketching practice?
I draw mostly in the mornings, but I don’t start work until I have left the house, gotten some coffee, and walked at least a mile or two. Clearing my head and mentally sorting through my day in advance is crucial. Once I sit down to sketch, I riff on ideas and vocabulary words that I have latched onto, and then scan the images I want to share.
My office is the front bedroom of my house, and it’s full of piles of paper and jars of paint, books in towers on the floor, markers all over the place and sticky notes on the walls. I work best while inside my nest of art supplies.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I am always latching onto to little hooks of information, and I find those by eavesdropping on the world. A funny word, an odd turn of phrase, a pattern of events, a mannerism I see strangers echoing in each other, how paint peels and the paths snails take on the sidewalk—it’s the little, subtle things that I gravitate toward.
Little details can be spun into bigger things. Everything can be a metaphor for something else. That it’s my job to play with all those little hooks, well, that’s a fact I’m grateful for multiple times a day.
What are you reading and reflecting on right now?
I’m actually reading a lot of business books right now. The Lean Startup, the old Carnegie book about influencing people, and lots of Wall Street Journal type articles. Something tells me that it’s time to point my art at the world of business, and to see where that goes.
Jessica Hagy is an artist and writer best known for her Webby award-winning blog, Indexed (www.thisisindexed.com). Her style of visual storytelling allows readers to draw their own conclusions and to actively participate in each narrative. She mixes data (both quantitative and qualitative) with humor, insight, and simple visuals to make even the most complex concepts immediately accessible and relevant. Her commissioned work frequently appears in various web formats, galleries, books, magazines, newspapers, television outlets, and advertising campaigns. She lives and works in Seattle, Washington.