Tea talk: Tina Essmaker, Editor in Chief of The Great Discontent
In this Tea Talk, we talked with Tina Essmaker, Partner at Wayward Wild and Editor in Chief of The Great Discontent. We covered how she she turned her passion into her career, the origins of TGD, storytelling, being a creative and more. Check out the full interview below!
Location: New York, NY
Hobby / passion project: I turned my passion project into my day job
Life motto: Run to the roar
*Cover photo of Tina by Ryan Essmaker*
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always been curious and had an interest in people. After high school, I attended Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, and earned my undergrad degree in social work. While in college and after graduation, I worked with runaway and homeless youth in the small community in Michigan where I was born and raised. Post-degree, I became officially licensed as a social worker and served as an advocate at a transitional living program for six years.
During that time, I also picked up copywriting work for clients. My husband, Ryan Essmaker, ran his own creative studio and his clients often needed help with copy. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I took on small editing and copy jobs, which was a great way to strengthen my skills as a writer.
On top of social work and copywriting, I wanted to do something creative. Ryan and I had talked about making a magazine for years. After five years of being married and working day jobs, we got serious about using our nights and weekends to focus on a creative project together. We turned our living room into a studio and began fleshing out the idea for The Great Discontent in January 2011.
We launched the online magazine in August 2011 and it has now grown into an internationally recognized brand, which includes TGD in print, film projects, and other collaborations. It’s been exciting to watch TGD grow, and to grow along with it.
Where did your passion for editorial and storytelling come from?
I’ve always been engaged in stories. When I was a little girl, I used to read books by flashlight after my parents sent me to bed—if the story was good, I couldn’t put a book down. I obsessively checked out books from the school library and especially loved ones with a strong heroine, like Nancy Drew.
I also crafted my own stories and was thrilled about any school assignment that involved writing a narrative or essay. Words have consistently been a part of my life.
How did The Great Discontent come to be? What inspired you to start it?
Ryan and I had talked about working on a creative project together for more than five years, but we were both working day jobs and, despite the best of intentions, we often chose to relax in the evenings. From time to time, we discussed the idea of creating a magazine, but we continued to table the idea. Because we both had day jobs, it was easy to procrastinate and make excuses about why we didn’t have the time or energy to work on a project.
Then we both read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which helped us realize that we were sabotaging ourselves and each other, and that there was no good time to start a project. We just had to do it. That is what motivated us. It was our “Aha!” moment.
The idea for The Great Discontent as an interview-based publication stemmed from our curiosity about the creative life. We imagined what questions we would ask if we could spend an hour in conversation with people we admired, people who were doing creative work for a living. This was partly because we aspired to do creative work ourselves, and partly because we wanted to make a connection with the broader creative community.
Once we had the motivation and the concept, we got practical. We decided to launch as a digital publication because Ryan had the ability to design and develop the site, and I agreed to serve as editor and run our social media. It was a team effort and we divvied up responsibilities based on what we were each skilled at doing. Thankfully, our skill sets are complementary.
It’s been incredible watching TGD evolve and grow into such a success. What do you think it is that makes people love it so much?
What I love about TGD is that our subjects talk about successes and failures. Even if they are higher-profile or more well-known, the people we interview seem relatable, which is very important to us. We don’t put our subjects on a pedestal. We publish candid conversations that give insight into the reality of creating for a living, including the risks and struggles. Readers nod in agreement when they read our interviews and identify with an individual’s story. That’s a powerful experience.
Do you find New York to be a good place for creative professionals?
There are no shortage of opportunities in New York, but I don’t think you have to be here. That said, it’s easy to meet people here. For me, the biggest benefit to being in New York is the opportunity to meet people who do a wide variety of work. For the most part, people are welcoming and friendly—at least in my experience.
There is a strong creative community in New York, but you must tap into it. It’s easy to get involved in work and give in to a busy schedule. I try to remind myself to take advantage of the proximity I have to such amazing people while we’re all here.
Who have been your favorite interviews for TGD so far?
Personally, my favorite was the Portland-based author, Cheryl Strayed. I interviewed her in July 2012, a few months after her best-selling memoir, Wild, was published. Cheryl is a constant inspiration to me in the way she writes and her straightforward attitude toward life. She doesn’t hold back, and I appreciate that. She has also worked extremely hard to get to where she is now, which I can relate to. It was a treat to speak to her via Skype video chat and learn more about her evolution as a person and writer.
How do you maintain work-life balance?
It’s a struggle, especially in New York. People in the city tend to work long hours and juggle side projects on top of day jobs. Then there are the extracurriculars. I could go to an event or opening every night in support of friends and colleagues—there’s always something going on. I have to constantly be mindful of my schedule because I tend to work long hours and not take time off, which isn’t healthy. I need time away from the computer, whether that entails a long weekend, a few hours of downtime, or a real vacation away from the screen.
What grounds me is staying connected to friends and family. I fly back to Michigan as often as I can to visit family, and I try my best to keep in touch with my closest girlfriends via texting, talking on the phone, or planning trips to visit each other. Being around people who know me outside of my work—and who’ve known me since I was a kid—helps remind me that there is more to life than work, and that I am more than my work. It gives me perspective, and I feel lucky to have those relationships.
What’s your favorite work environment and set-up to get in the zone?
I have a simple setup since most of my work does not include heavy lifting. I’m mainly sending emails, editing, and writing during the day. I can’t live without my MacBook Air, a notebook and pen—yes, I like making a to-do list and crossing off items—and, if I’m at my desk, I’ll connect to my Thunderbolt Display.
If I’m editing or writing, which is usually the case, I need quiet. I can only listen to music when doing research or brainstorming. Aside from that, there are multiple coffee breaks during the day because I just can’t help myself.
Have a question for Tina or a suggestion for someone you’d like to see us interview? Leave your questions and ideas in the comments below!
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