Raegan Hedley is not afraid to put it all out there. A freelance writer and publicist, as well as the Winnipeg Market Lead for Bumble – which has her organizing and promoting events in the city – Raegan is unapologetically forthcoming. It’s perhaps perfectly fitting that her blog, What Comes Next, also features writing that is just as honest and candid as she is in person. In addition to her freelance work, Raegan is currently working on a book, both modelled and titled after her blog, that is a collection of essays about, quite literally, “what comes next.” These essays, including her own writing and that of some contributors, explore what comes after a variety of life events, from going on mediocre dates to losing a loved one to surviving sexual assault. Interested in starting a conversation about “navigating the after,” Raegan explained that she hopes to present a variety of perspectives that can deal with heavy issues but still leave readers with hope – hope that is free of the “positive-quotes-sparkle-emoji bullshit.” Don’t expect any sunset endings from Raegan.
Growing up, Raegan always kept a journal, and still does, although the ways in which she now journals have changed from the diaries of her youth. Today she tries to journal every second day but will often make notes in her phone when something comes to her: “I’ll have a revelation about something and then I’ll jot out three or four lines in my phone about it … then I go through my phone and decide what I want to share.” Her first public foray into writing began when she started a Tumblr blog about her experiences working in an underwear store, which provided a number of unique points of inspiration, like the time she found “a chicken finger wrapped in a $14 pair of underwear shoved in the back of a drawer.” Progressively writing more and developing her skills led to having her work published by The Uniter, Canstar Community News,and CBC.
While she does a good deal of personal writing as a means of working through issues and getting onto paper the thoughts that are floating around in her head, she explained that it’s her love of telling other people’s stories that’s really drawn her to the craft. Writing about herself is cathartic, but Raegan is also inspired by the multitude of other perspectives and viewpoints out there. As she says, “to think that the world revolves around me is not adequate or reasonable.” She’s also admittedly drawn to a challenge, and telling someone else’s story is a humbling endeavour she gladly takes on with an eye toward always improving.“I like sucking at stuff and inching my way toward something.”
Raegan enjoyed her full-time PR job for a number of years, but as her responsibilities moved away from brand journalism and toward more client-facing work she missed writing and started to seriously consider freelancing. She also began feeling the dangerous effects of burnout, explaining, “it got to the point where I saw where it was going and when I looked ahead I saw nothing but more of the same and the little light of hope in me almost went out and I realized ‘this has got to change’.” Rather than follow the inevitable path toward bottoming out, Raegan decided to make a decision in the interests of her own mental health and, after ensuring that she was set up financially, left her position and began to take on freelance clients and writing contracts.
Her work and experience has lead her to write about a variety of topics – from concert reviews to food reviews to a regular community column about her childhood neighbourhood – but her favourite topic is decidedly “very everyday stuff.” Taking the notes she jots in journals or her phone when a revelation comes to her as inspiration, she expands on those fleeting thoughts and explores their personal elements. This style of writing is not only therapeutic, but also allows her to connect with readers who are going through the same experiences. The dichotomy between feeling self-conscious about exposing what are very personal thoughts and feelings and the desire to continue writing and publishing those experiences is one that many writers face, and Raegan feels that she gains something of value every time she posts. “The action of putting something out is a way of giving myself permission to be who I am and to have my experiences and my thoughts,” she said. “It’s a way of saying to the world and to myself ‘no matter what anyone takes from this or if they like it or not, you are okay enough to put this out there’, and that means the needle is moving.”
“The action of putting something out is a way of giving myself permission to be who I am and to have my experiences and my thoughts”
I asked what makes her a good writer and, after pausing for a few moments, Raegan replied, “I have no desire to represent myself in a way that inflates me in any sense of the word. I have no desire to create any sort of narrative that is anything less than exactly the way things are.” With nothing to hide and no interest in contributing to the “highlight-reel mentality of self-representation and personal branding,” Raegan focuses on “guttural honesty” without being ashamed of who she is or afraid of being wrong.
While she’s comfortable with navigating difficult subject matter, Raegan explained that one of the challenges she faces is a matter of volume – she often writes three times as much as is required and ends up going through a lengthy revision process. She can also sometimes lose herself in the writing itself, laughing as she explained, “I get to the end of it and realize ‘what was the point of this?’” It’s perhaps because of her disdain for sunset endings that her writing “never ends,” she joked. She’s focusing now on going into each project with a very clear sense of her overarching message and working backwards from there. As telling stories is something important to her and her work, she’s also focused on incorporating a narrative element into every piece she writes: “Storytelling is so immensely powerful, so that’s why when you read a listicle there’s no soul to it. So, I always try to incorporate storytelling and make sure I pick and choose the right stories.”
Raegan’s advice for new writers is perhaps counter to what she sees as her own challenge: if you’re new to writing, volume is key. Write often, write a lot, and write about a variety of topics. She’s also found that having a trusted, critical mentor is key to developing her skills. While it’s easy to let criticism damage your ego, being open to feedback and using it to perfect your craft is paramount. An editor who will challenge you will also prepare you for the sometimes fast-paced world of freelance writing where you have little time for self-doubt or hurt feelings with the next deadline around the corner. For writers who are interested in exploring the personal, Raegan advises that you hold back on sharing your writing until you’ve “worked through it in your own way.” Part of ensuring that clarity comes from continually writing, particularly for yourself as a means of better understanding your experiences. Noting your fleeting thoughts can be part of that process, and Raegan shared with me one such note she had written the night before as she was working through her feelings about writing itself:
I’ve questioned a lot of things, changed a lot, and done a lot since finishing my degree. My opinions are different, my hair is different, my mindset is different. I am older, I am happier, I still bite off more than I can chew. But now I need special cream for my face, because: eczema. But there is one thing that has steadfastly not changed, and I hope it never will: my love for writing. It is a warm blanket after being out in the cold for too long. It is a way of making sense of the world. It is a way of bearing witness. It is a messy mud puddle that you cannot wait to jump in. It is an unruly teenager that sneaks out in the middle of the night but makes you proud at the end of the day. It is trying to herd a bunch of hyenas on acid. It is my first love, and I don’t believe how I feel is naïve, I believe it is meant to be.