Sarah Hinson (’12) Follows her Writing Passion to Wildfire Advertising

I met a young artist named Em last night at a bar in Winston-Salem. We both described ourselves as creative types, and we both noted a disparity between reality and what my grad school professor liked to call “the aspirational self” (i.e. the ideal, yet unattainable, version of you who is forever flipping you the bird from her pedestal in the sky).

“When you’re always creating and thinking and driven by passion, there’s this self-inflicted pressure to be great,” Em said. “You just know you could do great things.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I replied, wondering whether or not I could call myself a real writer because, well, isn’t copywriting working for “the man” and not for the greater good or for truth and beauty and justice? “It’s like you always know you could be great, but you have to be extremely self-disciplined to get there, and most people don’t get there.”

This is called arrogance, and it’s an epidemic in the creative world. Scratch that—in the human world. Even if you admit that you’re far from being “one of the greats,” you still think you could be great—you should be great—and that, friends, is what your freshman English professor called “hubris.” You might not think you have it, but you do. It’s the little monster under your bed that likes to disguise itself as humility.

Anyway, back to me. This conversation had me feeling a little bad about myself. I lamented the fact that I’m not one of those writers who wakes up at dawn to work on her novel and devours essays from The New Yorker during her lunch break. I am a writer who wakes up late, spends the day writing about undergarments and cake flavors, and comes home to skim gossip magazines. Truth be told, I am a disgrace.

“I’m not even sure what a writer looks like,” my new friend admitted.

Hmm. What does a writer look like? The archetypal writer? The 21st century, tech-savvy writer? The queer writer? The technical writer? The sober writer?

Then it hit me: I am who I am not because of what I have to show for it, but because of who I am. I am a writer. Period. (Or, better yet, exclamation point!)

I am plenty of other things, too. I am a daughter, a cousin, an aunt, and a friend. I am a female and a feminist. I am queer, quirky, and sometimes quiet. Whether or not I look like these things doesn’t change the fact that I am.

Here’s my point: who you are is going to manifest in a million different ways, and none of these ways is better than the other. Furthermore, you have no way of knowing how all these spectacular little aspects of YOU will express themselves.

This doesn’t mean you won’t have to work hard to succeed. You will. There will be times when you feel like throwing in the towel, but as long as that little ember of passion still burns within you, keep going. If you think you’ve lost that little ember, do everything you can to get it back.

That means something different for everyone. You might fall in love. Fall out of love. Travel. Hunker down and read a few good books. Volunteer. Hike. Conduct an anthropological study. Dance. Just do something and, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up doing what you truly love to

I never thought I would love the ad world. There are countless things I never thought I would do, or feel, or say, and I’ve done, felt, and said all of them. I’m sure this will continue to happen until the day I die, because I don’t really know myself. The closest I can come to knowing myself is to become aware of that tiny burning lifespark in my gut.

I was a Literature major at UNCA with a minor in Mass Communication. I wrote articles and essays and interned with a local magazine and agonized over what I would do with my degree. (Here’s some more unsolicited advice: do not agonize. It won’t do you any good. Study what you love, and that will carry you through. I won’t say anything trite like “things will fall into place,” because no one can promise that. But your passion can sustain you, if you sustain your passion.)

Two years after graduating from UNCA, I received an MFA in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I wrote lots of nonfiction essays and long-form journalistic pieces and magazine articles. I wanted an editorial job. I agonized.

A friend told me to check out a few ad agencies in Winston-Salem, my hometown. I begrudgingly followed through and told each interviewee the honest-to-goodness truth: I knew next to nothing about advertising, I didn’t have any copywriting content in my portfolio, but I did love to tell stories that might resonate with people. I started my job at Wildfire few weeks later.

If you had told me four years ago—or four months ago—that I would be working in advertising after school, I would have laughed. Or shuddered. But, what do you know, it’s fun, and rewarding, and it has me writing and thinking, day in and day out. Sure, I might change career paths down the road, but I’m stoked to be doing what I’m doing right now.

Let go of that aspirational figment, especially if it makes you feel crummy about yourself. Let go of feeling like you have to carve out the perfect self, or the perfect path. Let go of the invulnerability you think you have when you think you know everything. If you’re open to them, unexpected opportunities will find you. Take them.


Lianne Domenic (’11) Works at Amsterdam Start-Up

During the fall semester of 2010, my senior year at UNCA, I participated in a study abroad program that took me to Leiden, the Netherlands. I picked this particular destination in order to get in touch with my Dutch heritage and improve my Dutch language skills –  Lianne in Leidenalthough I was born and raised in the States, my mother is Dutch and much of my extended family still lives in Holland. I was originally supposed to be there for one semester. Four years later, I still call Leiden my home. It all started my junior year when I discovered I had already earned enough credits to finish my Literature degree a full semester early. Not ready to graduate and face the adult world quite yet, I decided an adventure abroad was just what I needed to cap off my undergraduate career. Not a week later I walked into UNCA’s study abroad office and registered with ISEP. I arrived in Leiden in August 2010 and spent the semester in a whirlwind. I had classes three days a week and was free to fill the rest of my time exploring the city. Leiden is about the same size as Asheville, though geographically the two couldn’t be less alike: Leiden is flat and coastal, its streets cobbled and narrow. While the Appalachians are filled with old growth forests and time-worn mountains, Leiden boasts thousand-year old churches and a university dating back to 1575. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two cities can be measured in height: While Asheville sits over 2,000 feet in elevation, Leiden is more than a meter below sea level. Despite these dHooglandsekerkifferences in geography, in my eyes the cities are like sisters: Both are bustling with people and activity, both have a strong sense of community and hometown pride, and both share a great mix of urban landscape and natural beauty. In addition to exploring Leiden, during that semester I traveled to Scandinavia to visit Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. I kissed Oscar Wilde’s tombstone in Paris, ate chocolate waffles in Brussels and rang in the New Year atop London Bridge. I flew to Portugal for a weekend and, thanks to an unexpected union strike, had to take a last-minute train to Spain just to fly out of an airport in Galicia. After five months full of these kinds of adventures every day, I wasn’t ready for this journey to be over just yet. And so, what was supposed to be a five-month exchange my senior year of undergrad has evolved into a life of unexpected and unparalleled opportunity and adventure. After my initial semester abroad I returned to Asheville for six months to complete my bachelor’s thesis and graduate in May of 2011, but not before submitting an application for the Book and Digital Media Studies master’s program back in Leiden. The BDMS program focuses on the transmission of information through analog and digital media, from the earliest manuscripts written by cloistered monks, to Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, to the development of the World Wide Web. When I found out I had been accepted into the program for the fall of 2011, I was elated and didn’t think twice before accepting their offer of admission. I packed my bags and moved abroad for the second time in one year. Of course, obtaining a master’s degree and going on a semester exchange are two very different experiences: Unlike my previous semester at Leiden, I had lectures every day and a substantial amount of work to do at home, so the amount of free time I had to travel and explore was greatly diminished. The opportunities the course presented me with, however, more than made up for this fact. As part of the course, we regularly visited the university’s special collections library where we got to handle fifteenth-century manuscripts and some of the earliest print books published in Europe. Once a week we would travel to The Hague to meet with the curators at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (the National Library of the Netherlands) and to Bibliotheca Thysiana, a privFragmentate library dating back to 1653.   We took a class field trip to the renowned Frankfurt Book Fair, with a pit stop at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz on the way. We went to the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp. In the early spring of 2012, we were invited to come to a twelfth-century abbey named Rolduc, where we spent three days in a room piled from floor to ceiling with dusty, uncategorized manuscripts. We went through them one by one searching for “fragments” – scraps of even older manuscripts that were cut up and used to create the “new” one.   In addition to my studies, I also participated in a work placement at the publishing house Elsevier. I interned in the newsroom four days a week, sending out press releases, managing social media accounts, and liaising with the media. This placement was the first real work experience I had, and constituted an invaluable part of my education. In July of lImbull officeast year, just a few months after I finished my internship and graduated from Leiden University, I began working at Imbull, a small start-up based in Amsterdam. Imbull is a performance marketing company that is active in 20 countries on the website My responsibilities as country manager for the US market range from managing international accounts and affiliate networks, content creation and editing, and translating between Dutch and English.   There’s no part of my job that I don’t love – even the daily commute. Every morning I ride my bike to the train station in Leiden. From there, it’s a 40 minute train ride to Amsterdam, which I spend reading, chugging coffee and generally just trying to wake up. Once I arrive in Amsterdam, I hop onto another bike (in the Netherlands there are more bikes than people) and cycle into work.   Oh, and our office is hardly usual either – it’s in a church!   It’s been nearly four years since I first came to the Netherlands, and I have no plans to leave any time soon. Beginning an international career is a difficult and daunting task, but I can proudly say that I am making my way.   If you have any questions about studying abroad or working internationally after graduation, I can offer plenty of advice, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me! As they say in Dutch: Tot ziens!