Oct 21, 2016
30 Under 30: Haley Mlotek, Writer
You might have seen Haley Mlotek’s byline in nearly every publication that matters—The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Village Voice, even in the pages of this very magazine. If you’ve read it, Mlotek has probably written for it. Her writing occupies that genre-less space; it’s not quite strictly personal, not entirely journalistic. Her voice is distinct, even if she’s not writing about herself. When you read one of her pieces, you notice her presence—not an overwhelming one by any means, but casually standing by, steering you in the right direction. As an editor, she’s seen her name on the masthead at The Hairpin; these days, she’s covering style for MTV News.
Where do you live and how old are you?
I live in Clinton Hill, and I turned thirty in July.
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened?
I was certainly a kid who read a lot, and I wanted to read about kids like me—I mean, I was very shy and didn’t talk a lot, but I still identified with all the Jo Marches and Anne Shirleys, girls who had something to say and said it, and those girls usually wanted to be writers, so I was like well I guess that’s what I want to be too! But I really didn’t think writing was a thing people did for money, or if it was, I didn’t think there were any options besides straight journalism or straight fiction. And even when I started to figure out that you could do lots of different kinds of writing—probably when I was a teenager, and some very kind teachers started to take an interest in me—and there were lots of different ways to make that into a career, I was still really hesitant. Or really practical, I can’t decide. I only started writing for publications when I was about 25, and I always, always had another source of income. The Hairpin was the first full-time job I ever had where writing and editing were my main responsibilities, and I didn’t even try to work full-time as a writer until I was 29. Slow and steady, or something?
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career?
Yes, in the sense that almost any place can be made viable for someone looking to build a career, but viable is a pretty big net to cast; is it the smartest place, or even just a secure place, for a young person to build their career? Who knows.
There’s a long list of reasons not to move to Brooklyn to build your career, which we all know, I won’t repeat them here, and they’re all very sensible reasons. As far as locations go, it is definitely not an accessible, fair, or simple place for young people who are trying to build a career. It’s not the practical choice, but I am not as practical as I once was. I’m very glad to be living in Brooklyn and to be making a living in New York, and I want to keep doing it, and if I was asked whether someone should do the same I would say yes, definitely, if you can and you want to, what other kind of viability are you waiting for? But it is by no means the only place, or even the best place, to start a career. It’s a great, great place that I love learning how to live in, and I also hope I get the chance to learn how to love living in other places.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Usually when I’m asked this question I get nervous and so I answer with a joke, like, I don’t know but I know what I’ll be wearing. I’m not sure, is the honest answer, and even more honestly I don’t tend to think that far ahead in the future. The most honest I could get is to say I know who I hope will be there with me.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
Of course. Yes. All the time. Well, maybe not leaving entirely; I think about the other jobs I’ve had and how much I liked some of them. When I’m extra frustrated with writing I sometimes remember these really early mornings at a previous job. My boss would be working from another time zone and I’d have to get there around 7 just so we could have a few hours of overlapping email time, and I would make coffee and sit in this very beautiful, very sparse office, and wait for her to tell me what to do, and then all the work would be, like, spreadsheets and highlighters and very precise pricing calculations, and I loved that work. Work that had real to-do lists, you know? My previous jobs were all “task one, task two, task three,” and then I could finish them and cross it off and feel that accomplishment instantly. When I was freelance and all I did was write I would have these sad little lists like “Today: write first draft” and then ten hours would go by and it still wouldn’t be done, and even if I’d made progress I couldn’t feel it.
On the other hand, I often talk to other writers or friends who feel like they didn’t choose their jobs so much as their jobs chose them. My sister is like that—she always, always knew what she wanted to do, and when she was just getting started in her career we would talk about how certain she was. There are people I know who say something similar, like, they could only ever be writers, and I love that so much, but that doesn’t describe how I feel about it, exactly. Writing isn’t the only thing I could do, and I’ve had other jobs that I’ve loved just as much, but I keep choosing writing. And even now that I’m back to having a job as an editor, where I don’t do as much writing, I’m still waking up early to write, still spending weekends writing, still choosing that over and over again. I like the idea of it as a choice I keep making.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?
Read everything, write clean copy, file on time, when you get harsh edits say “thank you” and mean it, triple-check your contracts, ask for more money than you think you can get, be kind.
Who are your role models in your industry?
I want to be Jazmine Hughes when I grow up.
To learn about more sub-30 standouts, visit this year’s list of 30 Under 30.
Image by Jane Bruce
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