In high school, as I was preparing to apply to journalism school and prepare to conquer the media — I scribbled a byline bucket list into a journal I kept. Much like a five-year plan or clipping out images of foreign lands or engagement rings out of a magazine, this list served as my vision board. As I aged and changed and my career took on many shapes and forms, I’ve crossed off publications where my name has appeared, and I’ve added new ones.
My goals for myself have transformed over the assignments and the opportunities, and especially as I became my own boss two years ago, when I went freelance full-time. One feat I could have never predicted — or even dreamed of — all of those years ago was being recognized for my work. It was a hot summer day in Manhattan and I was sticky with sweat riding the train to my apartment. A woman tapped me on the shoulder and smiled nervously, asking if I was in fact, me. Confused but intrigued, I confirmed — and her grin grew wide.
“I love your writing. You’re such an inspiring, badass female,” she beamed.
The southerner in me with North Carolina roots wanted to hug her, while my New Yorker self knew better. Instead, I thanked her profusely and asked her to email me to stay in touch. She never did — but it was those two adjectives that stuck with me. I hear them when I’m doubting a story or anxious to pitch a publication that seems out of reach. I repeat them when sentences aren’t stringing together with ease, and it’s the same advice I give younger writers when I have a chance to mentor. Because I’ve always been a proud feminist, I’ve also been lucky to connect with other badass, inspiring female writers who are making moves — taking big strides in their careers.
Though there are countless women who are worth noting, we’ve found a handful who are willing to share their stories and give advice. My guess is you definitely will be hearing more about these powerful, incredible ladies:
Megan Nicole O’Neal: Advocating for victims and those with disabilities
As a freelance writer and aspiring author, Megan Nicole O’Neal, being outspoken wasn’t always a quality she captured. As a child, she was so painfully shy, she couldn’t order a meal at a restaurant. And at the age of 19, she suffered a heart attack, causing her to see how short — and immeasurable — life really is. From the moment she was discharged, she made a vow to do something out of her comfort zone each year, and to stop worrying what people thought of her. In the end, she’s become a powerful advocate for people with disabilities, standing up against injustices and well, using her voice — that once couldn’t be heard — for good.
In fact, some of her most powerful work has been from personal experiences, including a cyberstalker who would talk and call her cell constantly. Through research, she discovered Verizon only allowed users to block a number for 90 days at time, or they charge you $5 a month for the hassle.
“After a year of re-blocking my stalker every 90 days, I decided to investigate and wrote an article calling attention to this major cell company’s exploitative policies targeting victims of stalking,” she explained. “No one wanted to publish it because of the risk of calling out a mega corporation by name.” She received 40 ‘no’s before Forbes said ‘yes’ — and thus, the story went live and made a difference in policy.
These days, she’s continuing to contribute in depth, inspiring stories that fight biases against women, minorities, disabilities and beyond. And she’s excited to be working on her first book, a compilation of short stories from the perspective of different women from various walks of life.
On being a badass, O’Neal advises women to never be afraid to use their words — and step into their power. “It took me a long time to understand how speaking your truth, especially when it scares you, is liberating and opens so many of the right doors you wanted to walk through in the first place. Hiding your voice or playing small only serves to keep you where you stand,” she explains.
Kylie Carlson: Investing in the B2B of weddings
Though the wedding market has been an explosive market for more than a decade now, most of the content generated is geared toward consumers. However, when you consider the vast amount of vendors involved in pulling off wedding magic, having a resource to guide them through the many business roadblocks, strategy perspectives and other questions that come up was non-existent.
That is, until Kylie Carson, the publisher of Wedding Business Magazine and the CEO of the International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning started her own. Being fully invested within the community gave her an eagle’s eye view into a major void. “No one had ever committed to building an educational resource for the industry on a global scale: Most efforts were domestic to the United States, or limited to meeting the needs of one particular region,” she explained. “But after spending countless time with wedding professionals from all over, it was clear to me that we shared many similar challenges, no matter where we were from.”
In response, she sought out industry thought leaders to profile them and offer their advice, allowing the content to come from folks who have been-there, done-that. The success has been overwhelming, especially since Arianna Huffington agreed to be on the cover of their January 2018 issue. “It was such a big get, and we knew her story would inspire our readers. Since then, we’ve been proud to acquire contributors that set the example for strong, female wedding professionals,” she explains.
They’ve also established the International Wedding Trend Report, and continue to position themselves as experts within the industry. Looking ahead, the publication will be getting on overhaul on everything from Instagram and Facebook ad to copy writing and beyond, all geared to help these small wedding-focused businesses reap success.
To be a badass female, Carson applies the logic of always being authentic — a tool she uses when penning her monthly column. “Your style won’t be a fit for everyone, and that’s ok. What’s most important is that you believe in what you’re writing, and that everything you write has a purpose,” she adds.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti: Making waves In multimedia journalism
If you’ve been following along industry trends within media and content writing, you know a journalist isn’t merely tasked with interviewing and writing these days. To be at the top of the pack, honing varied skills will earn more gigs and a higher income for talented wordsmiths. One hustling freelancer has taken the ball and has not only ran with it — but juggles many. As a multimedia journalist who speaks at conference regularly, has her own podcast and contributes written stories, Suchandrika Chakrabarti is definitely a busy boss lady.
Like many renowned writers, her drive came from tragedy, since both of her parents passed before her 20th birthday — her mother at age 16, and her dad at 19. Though she had many reasons to isolate herself after these two intolerable experiences, she decided to focus on the one thing that always brought her joy and happiness: writing.
The issue though, while attending the University of Oxford, was she couldn’t get the words out, feeling completely overrun with grief. In response, she came up with a silver lining to get her through the process: “I decided two things: no matter how bad I felt, I would always be kind to others and to myself. That felt to me part of the healing process; and, when the day came that I was ready to write, I would write, no excuses,” she explained. “I got my degree. I found work as a journalist. I drank too much. I battled the process of double bereavement for control over my life. Years later, the day I’d hoped for finally came round. So now, I write; and I’m always kind.”
Today, she’s been featured in countless conferences and interviewed across the board of many industries and topics. Her ability to distinguish many styles and use her voice across various media makes her a voice to be reckoned with — and one that isn’t slowing down any time soon.
For those who want to follow her path, she urges young writers to take their time. “Don’t force the writing before it’s ready to be out in the world. Once it’s ready? Don’t let anyone or anything tell you that you can’t do it.”
Brittny Drye: Creating a space for the LGBTQ community
By definition, an entrepreneur has the ability to look at a landscape and pinpoint exactly what’s missing — and fill the space. For Brittny Drye, this hole was within the LGBT and wedding community, where gay and lesbian couples were rarely featured or highlighted in a meaningful way. Though some advice was geared toward this underserved population, it wasn’t enough for the unique hurdles many couples must get through to make it down the aisle.
“I started Love Inc., which is an equality-minded wedding publication, when I realized that not only was the wedding industry as a whole extremely heteronormative, but those few resources that were LGBTQ-focused were just for LGBTQ,” she explained. “No one was being truly inclusive with their content — it’s not a gay wedding, it’s just a wedding.”
Her site and publication has been applauded by many outlets — from The New York Times and OUT magazine to The Advocate, Refinery29 and many more. She was also asked to be a judge for the New York Pride March, an honor within the community. She’s also pushed the fashion envelope with her V3 and V6 spreads, featuring varied gender dynamics and making them norm: “In V3, male models wore everything from a gorgeous classic tux to an elegant wedding gown. In V6, we celebrated gender fluidity with androgynous looks that are wedding-worthy,” she explained.
Coming up, she’ll launch a podcast — and wants to up the ante on the family vertical of her site. “Just as I saw in the wedding space, the parenting content world is very focused on the hetero mom, and there are very little resources and inspiration out there created for same-sex parent families,” she explains. “I want to bring that same equality-mindedness I brought to the wedding space into the parenting lifestyle space even more.”
Drye tells writers they have an important responsibility with their words. It’s a gift to write — and she says you must use it. “We need change in our society more than ever, and being a writer, you have a unique opportunity to bring awareness to a greater audience than the average person,” she urges. “If you see the need for change within your beat/industry, be that change, be that leader…It’s easy to flow with the status quo, but to be truly great, stay true to yourself and see where that leads you.”