Cherie Dawn is a writer, a maker, a mom and wife, and a semi-retired performer. She's also the Online Editor for the art division of Streamline Publishing. She lives on a small hobby farm in the rolling hills of Kentucky with her family, their three dogs, a flock of 13 hens, and 250 grapevines. Along with all the other hats she wears, Cherie practices yoga and is a Certified Yoga Teacher.
I just read my copy of Personified – congrats on your second book! Do you face creative fear? Is it scary when you’re publishing something new?
CHERIE DAWN: Yeah, it is, definitely. I just kind of ignore it and keep going. I feel like we could have a whole conversation about that alone. As far as the fear, I think it’s so relatable to experience it. I just kind of ignore it and rely on my personal experience and expertise in different areas, and other people to help me get a project to where it needs to be. That’s been the case with both of my books and probably other projects, too. I don’t think anything can happen really well in a complete silo—it takes both thinking and talking to other people.
After I published Personified, there was one night where I woke up at like three o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t sleep. I was freaking out, thinking, “What are people going to think? Should I have published that one thing?” And realizing, I can’t un-do it now because it’s out there. Nobody has come up to me and said, “I can’t believe you published that.”
Also, I once heard someone say, “If you’re not making at least one person upset, then you’re not being completely honest with yourself,” and I think when it comes to creativity there’s some kind of truth to that. If you’re pleasing everyone, then are you being as authentic as you can be?
How long have you been writing poetry?
CHERIE DAWN: All my life…forever. I started writing poetry as a way to journal when I was in elementary school. I have stacks of notebooks that are filled with it. At the end of the day, I would write a poem about my day or just something that happened. Even in college, if we were given a prompt to write, my response would be through poetry.
A while back, I was working (for a couple years) on publishing a book of my poetry. It was the poetry that I was writing when I was at my lowest low ever in my life. I thought maybe I could turn it into something to let people see that even though this was my lowest low and you might have a similar low, what can be on the other side of that, how things can change so much. I eventually hit a wall with it and then I just let it go, moving on to different projects.
Then when COVID started and everything stopped, nothing was happening, the calendars cleared, I was like, okay, this is my time to publish my poetry, but it doesn't need to be the original project. I decided to make it what Personified is.
Once I hit a certain point in my life, my poetry changed. Almost every work in Personified is newer, from the past five to 10 years maybe. The writing is just more lighthearted, more inspired by nature and love and family and the farm, all that kind of stuff. I tried to include the things that I thought were universal, even though they're very personal to me.
Personified: Poetry, Prose, Short Stories, and Words of Advice for Young People
This collection captures what it's like to make your way in the world with the emotional weight we add to the daily senses of our lives. From the changing seasons in the air, to saying farewell to a family pet; from losing control at work, Personified is a reminder of what it means to be young, and the things you learn along the way.
Through delicate and lyrical prose, stories that range from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and advice for the everyday and the days-yet-to-come, Personified taps into the innocence of childhood and the nostalgia of looking back, reminding us that to have loss one must have life, and life is to be celebrated. Learn more »
Do you keep a strict writing schedule, like writing a poem every day?
CHERIE DAWN: I like the idea of being that strict with myself when it comes to creative things. I feel like there's a time and a place for it for me when that comes more into play, like when I'm working on a bigger work, like a novel, because a novel is hard, it’s something that's easy to give up on, but poetry is fun. And for me, the goal with poetry isn't to write something that's always worthy of being published. It's just a personal expression of a moment in time.
And so I really don't write poetry every day; when I do, it's just one of those times when an idea floats to me. It’s like we have our creative muse out there, sprinkling down inspiration and sometimes my hand is out to catch it. Then I just put the words down. That dedication of writing every day comes in different forms and it varies for me; every few months I sort of change what it is I'm really focusing on because I can't focus on everything all the time. It kind of ebbs and flows.
I think the “I'm going to do this every single day” thing can be really good at times—but what I’ve learned is when I’m in one of those phases to talk to myself the way I would talk to a friend. If I miss a day or don’t get the hour of writing in, I try to be kind to myself and not think things like “I’m never going to get this done” or “that was horrible.” Being kind to ourselves comes into play as a creative person.
From the Personified intro — “What do you want to do?” is such a powerful question to ask! When and how did you start learning to ask that question in your own life?
CHERIE DAWN: That's a big question. I think that it probably started when I was in college or shortly after, I think that was when I started to really begin to find out who I was as a creative. When I came into tribal belly dance, which is something that I did for about 10 years and was a very big part of my life and it helped inspire Girl on Fire—being a fire dancer and eating fire and performing and everything was such an amazing part of my life. Prior to that, I had a very normal life: I went to work and took care of my kids. I had a husband and we did normal things.
So it was great. But once I discovered the fire arts, I think that's when my internal fire ignited. Although I'm not a fire eater today, I pretty much retired from that and I’m not actively in the fire arts, that fire is still continuing to burn, just in a different way. I've added different wood to the fire.
I discovered what really makes me excited and what I really love to do. I'm always looking for that rush and I'm always evaluating that. Very often I think, “Before I do this thing, do I love to do it? Is that really going to make me happy? Or would it make me happier to do this other thing?”
It's not always a popular answer with other people in my life, but I think that's where boundaries come into play. I think that that's really important for everyone and especially creatives and for women. But I think learning to ask “What do I want to do?” probably started with the fire arts and just working with that element. I think it's something we can continue to ask ourselves because it does evolve.
Answering “What do I want to do?” isn’t always easy, at least not for me. But one thing I’ve been looking at is what I am I effortlessly pulled to? Because the things we want to do rarely feel like a slog, even if they’re hard work.
CHERIE DAWN: It's definitely a path. It's easy for us to say “Find your passion.” I feel for people who are figuring out what they’re good at, or what they’re passionate about. It's a lot of trial and error. And one thing that has helped me with things that might be considered mundane, you know, the things that we have to do, is to consider how it’s for the greater good.
This came up for me just yesterday cause I'm teaching my 16-year-old how to drive, so we have to spend like 60 hours in the car giving him lessons. As we go into it, I think to myself, “Okay, I'm raising this young man, I'm going to teach him how to drive.” It's not just teaching him how to use the turn signals. It's about teaching him how to transport himself, so he can go out into the world and hopefully do amazing things for other people and follow his passion and inspire other people.
I think if we can take it to that level of thinking about why we're doing something and the ripple effect that it could have, then it gives it a layer of spirituality that gives you more inner peace about doing what you're doing and it not just being another chore.
Does your son know that that's going on in the background for you? Or is that just kind of your own personal process?
CHERIE DAWN: It's pretty much just going on in the background because they're like, “Mom’s a hippie,” and that's fine. Sometimes we talk about these things, but I also think that I've just like naturally rubbed off on them in many ways. And I think that that's all that we can kind of hope to do. I ask them a lot of questions and let them ask me questions, and I feel like we talk about everything. I know that they don’t get all of it, yet, but I hope my example is showing them.
You seem to have good recall of what it’s like to be a young adult — you “speak the language!” I noticed this in Girl on Fire especially. What keeps you fluent in adolescence?
CHERIE DAWN: I definitely recall what it was like for me. I don't know how I keep my finger on the pulse now because it has been so, so long ago in some ways. Sometimes when I'm writing characters who are in that age range, like in the novel I’m working on now, we see the main characters through their teen years first. It's been a challenge to tap into that and to think about what that would look like in today’s world versus what it looked like in the nineties when I was a teenager—you know, in the 1900s!
I just try to listen. I just try to listen to them, and not try to impose what my experience was like on them, because I can see that it's different. Mostly, I think it’s better, too, for them—their high school experiences are better.
The iPod Shuffle poem from Personified really struck a chord with me—I’ve enjoyed listening to music from 15+ years ago because it’s sort of like a time machine, transporting me back to a younger version of myself. Is there a song or artist that transports you back to a specific time or feeling?
CHERIE DAWN: Just the other night we were on our way home from a concert where the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra played for free at a park. On the way home, somehow—I don't know if a random song came up on the playlist—we started listening to songs from the Pixies and the Violent Femmes. Those are two groups I’ve stopped listening to the way I used to. We listened to those two bands all the way home and just reminisced about the concerts that we went to back in the day. Those two bands take me to high school and college years.
One major difference now versus growing up in the 1900s (haha) is the internet. How has it changed the pace & tempo of your life, and how have you seen it through your family, too?
CHERIE DAWN: It's hard to say. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with social media, not necessarily the internet as a whole. When the internet was new, we were like, “Wow. There are so many great things that we can do now. So many ways to communicate and learn.” And then we have what it is today, right? Basically just an ongoing argument. And cat memes, which are great.
I love having it, but it's definitely changed the way that I think about communicating and expression as a writer. If I tried to publish something 20 years ago, I think that it probably wouldn't have been possible or it would've been very unlikely. Whereas now, it's a lot easier to communicate with people. It's easier to find agents, research, and network.
I try to use it for the better of my own mental self and humanity at large. I heard something that I thought was really helpful: “We should use social media and not let it use us.” I use that as my mantra when I find myself mindlessly scrolling.
It’s awesome that the internet has made the publishing process easier. Are there any surprising lessons that you learned through self-publishing two books?
CHERIE DAWN: Yeah, there definitely are. I can only speak to the self-publishing process from a personal experience. At first I was surprised by how hard it was, because there's so much information out there and you don't really know where to start. And that's the question that I hear most often. People reach out and ask me, “Hey, I'm thinking about publishing, should I try a traditional publisher or should I self-publish?”
In the beginning, you don’t even know which way to start. I like to tell people that it's difficult, but it's not impossible. It will take time, because you have to do research to decide if traditional publishing or self-publishing is the right thing for you. You sort of have to go through it yourself.
It's been surprising to me how hard it is to market and promote yourself. It’s easy to get into weird head games with yourself where you don’t know if you’re promoting too much, or too little—you don’t want to bother people, but you do have to keep up with the promotion. I think it's a lot of navigating those processes and figuring out what works and not giving up on any of it, and continuing to follow your path.
How did you decide to self-publish rather than follow the traditional publishing route?
When we worked together at F+W Media, I was very fortunate to have made a lot of friends who had industry knowledge and could guide me.
Just knowing about Writer's Digest helped—I’d go into the break room and there would be extra writing books laid out on the table, free for the taking. I had access to those resources and so I encourage people to research on their own as well. Go to the library or go online and start with Writer’s Digest—it’s a great place to start and will save a lot of time.
There are pros and cons to both traditional publishing and self-publishing. It can be more expensive to self-publish because you pay for the process out of pocket, whereas if you go through an agent, you don't have to pay anything out of pocket and you might even get paid in advance. That might be the biggest turning point—do you have the money to self-publish?
And even that said, you can do it pretty cheap. It's up to you to decide how much you want to invest. I chose to invest in a professional editor who really helped me get Girl on Fire to where it needed to be. I also invested in a professional graphic designer for the cover and that was a huge help. My advice to writers would be to talk to people who have done both and just ask around because everybody has different experiences they can share and different pieces of advice.
I pitched Girl on Fire to a lot of agents, probably 40 to 50. And I got a lot of rejection. I had one or two who were interested. I think it was around that time that one of my friends from F+W was like, you know what? You should just self-publish at this point. You have the branding experience, you understand social media, you know how to promote it, all these things. So that's what I did.
With Personified, it felt like a no-brainer to just go ahead and self-publish again, because I had done it once, I knew the steps, and I really felt like it just had to happen right then. It was one of the projects that had been on the back burner for a long time. When I had that opening of time, I knew I just had to get it done.
That's the essence of who I am as a person. That's one of the reasons I don't have that struggle with “should I quit my day job?” No, because I'm doing what I should be doing.
What skills from your "day job" as an online editor inform your other pursuits?
CHERIE DAWN: I've realized that because of my career, I've become addicted to blogging and writing newsletters. I’ve had my own blog and website, on and off over the years, that has evolved as I have evolved. Blogs and newsletters are one of the things that I do now at Streamline, and it's interesting because it works both ways. In my “day job” and on my own site, I want people to come away with something: to learn something, or be inspired.
I've realized over the years, that's the essence of who I am as a person. That's one of the reasons I don't have that struggle with, “Should I quit my day job?” No, because I'm doing what I should be doing.
I’ve had my own website, newsletter and social media platforms in various stages and evolutions ever since I started working in the publishing world in 2000, when I started thinking about creating my own audience and creating content for them. What that looks like has changed over the years.
I’ve learned things from work that I can apply to my personal online presence, and it happens the other direction too. I might come across an interesting idea or research that I can share with the Streamline audience. I think this symbiotic relationship strengthens me as an employee and it also strengthens my creative endeavors on the side too.
How often do you get new ideas?
coming up with new ideas is a challenge
my brain is always overflowing with new ideas
How hard is it for you to follow through on your ideas and make them happen?
I have to force myself to follow through on things
I love carrying out tasks and completing things
What does your work-life balance look like right now?
I live at work!
I NEVER WORK
I struggle to sit down and get work done.
What’s the #1 thing you recommend outsourcing so that you can focus on the parts of your business that really light you up?
I would say cleaning. I had a housekeeper for a while and then we moved way out into the country and I don't have one now, but one day I'd like to get one again. I'm so focused, I work constantly, because I want to write, and I just love to always be working on projects.
What’s your favorite non-work thing right now?
My favorite thing right now that we haven't talked about and nobody else really knows…my favorite thing is like at 10 o'clock at night, I just turn on my bedside lamp and I snuggle up in bed and I read, or I journal for half an hour, and that's my favorite thing. It gets quiet and I'm cozy and grateful, you know? So that's my favorite thing right now.
CLOSING: Any other thoughts or tips you’d like to share with fellow business owners & entrepreneurs?
I think my top tip has to be tied to yoga somehow because we haven't really talked about it in this conversation, but that has changed my life and almost everything that I've talked about somehow ties into my yoga practice. I would say to just check your breath once in a while. Check and see if you're breathing throughout your day. If you feel like you need to take a deep breath, take a deep breath. And if you need to just close your eyes for minute, close your eyes and find ways to make that quiet space at some point in your day.
Thank you, Cherie, for being generous with your time and sharing your perspective and advice!
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