meet sarah mccoll

photos courtesy Pink of Perfection

When the Internet feels bloated with inane semi-celebrities and nasty newspaper commenters, I gravitate to Sarah McColl – the sweet, gracious and whip-smart voice behind the popular blog, Pink of Perfection.

Described as “a guide to the simple pleasures of a creative life for the budget-minded bon vivant,” Pink of Perfection (or POP to its equally well-mannered readers) is a charming mix of recipes, inspiration, DIY projects, entertaining tips and thrifty finds. Sarah and her boyfriend (now husband), Sebastian, launched the blog back in 2006 as a forum to share the ups and downs of living a crafty, creative life.

The original POP featured video interviews and how-tos, but both Sarah and Sebastian were soon too busy with thriving careers to continue shooting and editing those time-consuming segments. Today, Sarah nurtures the blog for a loyal fan base and works as a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn. She’s written for high-profile magazines including Bon Appetit and currently blogs for the Shine network on Yahoo.com.

While it took some time to figure out what she wanted to reveal on POP, Sarah says the blog is now a comfortable online home and a source of creative motivation: “It’s as much a place of inspiration for me as it is for readers.” That down-to-earth approach comes through in a voice that’s warm, encouraging and unabashedly feminine – just like Sarah herself.

1. What fuels your work?

It’s like that old saying, “I only write when I’m inspired, but I get inspired every day at 9 a.m.” Habit is what makes me sit down every day, but inspiration is something totally different. I’ve been coming off a period where I felt like was phoning in my posts for Pink of Perfection, but I took a week off, relaxed, read some magazines, and that made all the difference. It’s important to let yourself go through those fallow periods.

It’s good to have habits that increase your chance of productivity, but when it comes to what actually fuels my writing, there are so many things: other blogs, great books, great art, podcasts, the seasons. I love being as open as possible to beauty. I’m really a sucker for beauty – in the biggest sense possible.

2. How do you organize your life so you still have the time, energy and focus to be creative?

You have to figure out what works for you and when you’re at your sharpest. I like to get up and just start the day. I like to get right into it. That doesn’t always mean that I get dressed, but it’s very ritualized, because I know that I can really focus in the morning. After lunch, it’s like my brain goes into a whole different space. But the morning is also the time when work is the most fun for me. So then it becomes an encouraging habit. And if your habits support your enjoyment of what you do, it’s much easier to get up the next day and do it again. You have to learn how to set yourself up to succeed.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I’ve always really admired Molly Wizenberg from Orangette. I assume she had full-time job when she first started the blog, but after a while she landed a column at Bon Appetit, which is every blogger’s dream. It’s a very legitimate, old-school outlet. Then her book came out, and she seems very entrenched in her community with the restaurant she now runs with her husband. I’m sure if I spent a day in her life I’d think, “whoa, this is too much!” but from the outside it seems like a lovely mix of national-level publications, a personal blog, and a restaurant where she gets to do something practical and hands-on (the opposite of cerebral writing) and she gets to interact with the local community, too. She seems to have it figured out.

When it comes to someone who’s at the level of Nigella Lawson, for example, who has TV shows and books and fame, I worry that you’d actually get away from the nuts and bolts of what made you start in the first place. So if there’s somewhere in the middle where you can live and make enough money and not be a superstar, that’s definitely the goal.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your work?

Two. Freelance writing and advertising income. Pink of Perfection is part of the Martha’s Circle ad network.  Monthly revenues are determined both by page views and how much ad space the Martha Stewart team sells.

Sometimes I have a crisis of conscience about advertising, but I always come around to the fact that people are getting to enjoy content that they like – for free – so it’s okay to find a way to make it sustainable for me.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Freelance writing, editing and blogging.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

Technically speaking, the blog ads. But I don’t think of the POP advertising as passive, because I do feel like I have to – and I want to – create new content in order to get the page views that pay the ad dollars.

7. What tools or moneymaking opportunities are available to creative pros that you think most people don’t leverage?

I always thought about selling stuff on Etsy, but I don’t think I’m a tremendous crafter who has the level of skill or artistry necessary to sell things that other people would spend money on. I love crafting more in the sense that it’s fun to do things with your hands and it’s meditative.

I also love Three Potato Four, which is a husband-and-wife team who run an online shop filled with a beautifully curated collection of great objects that you’d want in your home: ceramics, art, furniture, etc. I think so many people have that fantasy of having a shop of their own. But I’d only ever do that online.

This is random, too, but I’ve found that selling books on Half.com can be surprisingly lucrative. Every bibliophile has stacks of cookbooks they don’t use or duplicate copies of a book, and I’ve sold stuff on there, plus vintage dresses and other items on eBay. I don’t know if it’s a good tip, but it’s something I do sometimes!

8. What have you done that has brought the most opportunities and attention to you?

When I started the blog, it was really important to me to convey the idea the nothing is so hard. Our culture is obsessed with experts and people who are super-specialized. Throughout my whole life, I’ve felt frustrated that people want you to specialize. They want you to be really amazing at one thing. But for anyone who’s interested in a lot of things – like cooking and crafting and figuring out how to create a life for yourself – that feeling that “you have to be excellent at something or why bother” can be discouraging.

I try to use a voice on the blog that says “You can do stuff. It’s just dinner. Or it’s just knitting.” It is just that and you can do it, but it’s also so much more, because it can really transform how you feel about your daily life. I don’t know if that’s brought me the most attention, but it’s really important to me.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

As much as I hate to say it, buying a smartphone has made my life so much easier. I was afraid that having a phone that was clever would make me feel over-connected. But it actually makes me feel less panicky about whatever I’m missing.

Another important investment for me was changing blog platforms. I started Pink of Perfection on MovableType, and in early 2009, I moved it to WordPress and I hired these really great designers to redesign my blog. It made the blog look much more professional. The original design we had in 2006 was really forward, but by 2009 it needed to be spruced up.

I think sometimes people forget to make sure the look of their blog works with the content. If you have great, smart, intelligent, wonderful content, I think sometimes people might not get to that because we love things that are aesthetically pleasing and design-y and that can make as much of an impression as your actual content.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

You can do creative work, and your creative work can be important and it can be invaluable to other people and it can maybe even succeed in making the world slightly better. But you can’t continue to do that work if you can’t pay your bills, if you can’t keep a roof over your head, and you can’t keep eating. So, I definitely think there’s a line that you can cross, but you have to be able to take care of your basic needs so you can keep doing the work that is good. It’s hard though, because it’s a constant negotiation to figure out how to do what you love and stay pure and honest with it, and at the same time, get paid for it.

Thanks, Sarah!

posted 15 Apr 10 in: design, food, interviews. This post currently has 3 responses.

3 Responses so far. Add Your Own.

[…] Cheri Hanson about creativity and writing; her interview with me is posted on her fantastic blog, Inspired Outsiders. Happy weekend to all you […]

 

Thank you so much for this interview. I am an avid follower of Sarah’s since her blog launched in 2006 (I even “stalk” her on Shine), and I have always wondered how people like her make it work professionally and financially. Here answer to question 8 especially resonated with me.

This is the first time I’ve come across your website, but I am definitely going to explore it more.

 

Thanks, Gina. Both Sarah and her blog are terrific. I’m really fascinated by how creative people make their lives work, as you said, both professionally and financially. Please send along your questions and let me know what else you’d like to see!

cheri / 19 Apr 10
 

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