Emily Chertow: The Power of Putting Pen to Paper

I doubt Emily remembers this but my first encounter with her involved me pointing a camera in her face when she found out she was going to be one of the Homecoming emcees that year. In the short 30 minutes that I was silent behind the camera filming her, Emily stuck out to me. There are no gimmicks with this girl. She wears her heart on her sleeve and her love of connecting with people is just plainly undeniable. After she graduated I shot her a LinkedIn “friend request” and that was that. I knew she was in New York City trying to pursue writing, but how well do you really know a person from their profile? In January, a flyer for her pop-up journaling class came on my LinkedIn feed and that day I sat around Webster's Bookstore Cafe with about 8 other people that I had never met before. There’s something beautiful about putting yourself in an uncomfortable environment and then finding out only minutes later that you’ve connected with these strangers more than anyone else that day. True, authentic human connection is priceless and fleeting in this age of technology, and yet Emily was able to cultivate it effortlessly through her teaching of journaling. When I tell you this girl knows what’s truly in important in life, you just have to believe me. Then again, you will see for yourself in the next few minutes while reading the rest of this article.

N: Let’s start this conversation off with some of your inspirations with writing and see where we go from there!

E: There are three people actually! The first person is Leandra Medine. She is a fashion icon. She started this blog called “Man Repeller”, which is a fashion and lifestyle blog. She is just totally herself - so weird, so goofy, so original, so authentic. Everything she has ever posted is just saying what I’ve never been able to say before.

I started following her I’d say about 4 years ago now. She is just an amazing writer and fashion icon who’s making this powerhouse of a blog.

There are a few writers for “Man Repeller” that I’ve looked up to for a long time as well: Harling Ross and Haley Nahman. They are fashion writers and editors, but they write a lot about mental health. It’s just super relatable.

N: You talk a lot about mindfulness, especially during your journaling classes. Can you tell us some of the motivators behind why people even show up to your classes?

E: It’s pretty cool to talk about mindfulness and self-care with other people.

*side note - Emily started to tear up when she started talking about this. It just showed me how much she cares about the people that show up to her classes. It just became a super raw moment.*

It makes me emotional because I care about it so much. Before I even came up with the pop-up journaling class, I’ve always been really open about what I’m going through.

Something I’ve noticed that people have reached out to me about are my Instagram stories. I post a lot about anxiety and just taking care of yourself. It’s been really cool to see people reach out personally and be like, “Wow, I needed to hear this today!” or “Wow, I thought I was the only person feeling this way.” There are just all these avenues now that are allowing people to connect and say, “I can relate to that.”

I do think my journaling classes are not just a place where people are like, “Oh, this is so cool.” but it’s a place that people are coming because they are looking for a way to get self-care. They are looking for a safe space (that I hopefully make very clear) is a place that people can walk into and feel like a thousand pounds are lifted off of their shoulders. When I come to my journal I feel that I can finally breathe!

The word “cozy” is a really big word in my total existence of a human being. I just want to create cozy and safe environments for anyone coming to the classes.

The act that people are actually showing up to these classes BLOWS MY MIND. People are physically putting in their planner that they are going, which is the greatest act of self-care.

N: I’ve even realized during your journaling class I was able to block out a lot of the noise of the world and listen to my own thoughts. I feel like a lot of people recognize that the world is noisy, but they still let it all in.

I don’t want you to block these things out but rather acknowledge they are going on and work past them. I’m so glad you got that out of my class though! Thank you for sharing that!

N: I saw on your blog that you took a writing class in State College and the women teaching the class were so influential in your life. Can you tell me more about that?

E: Wow. Yes! Is that what you picked up on when you read it?

N: Yes! I could tell they just made an impact in your life and I would love for you touch more on that.

E: Those two women will never know the impact they made on my life when I met them...The place is called The Makery and their program was called “Write to Shine”. So I treated myself to a 5-week session of the mindfulness course. I was the youngest person there - it was mostly moms! I did it with the intention of doing it only once, but I ended up going pretty much every week of senior year!

They also highlighted how beautiful it is to gather with a group of people regularly and work through things that you all care about. I started to build a strong relationship with both of them in different ways. Last year was definitely the hardest year of my life, and I was able to be completely vulnerable with them and in that space. They didn’t just help me evolve in my writing, but they helped me evolve as a human being as well. They served as mentors, as motherly figures, and as friends all wrapped in one.

When I came up with the idea of my journaling classes, I bounced a lot of ideas off of them.

N: Do you remember any specific pieces of advice that stuck with you?

I actually stole one of my favorite prompts from them! The “How to Live” prompt is still one of my favorites that I do every class!

*for anyone that wants to know, the “How to Live” prompt is writing how you believe you should live your life at that specific time in your life*

N: I want to learn a little more about the Columbia graduate program you completed. It seemed like such an amazing season in your life, so can you tell me more about it?

E: I’m so thankful for my undergrad at Penn State, but a lot of what I learned was self-taught. I always felt like everything in undergrad is surface level, so I knew I wanted to further my education. I wanted to dive more into publishing and journalism.

I struggled at Penn State at times. Now I’m finally able to acknowledge how intelligent I am. I really never did that at Penn State. I would think, “I wasn’t enough.” The more I dove into what I cared about I was like, “Holy shit! I’m so intelligent and my brain is so powerful.” Being at Columbia, finally being around intellectual human beings that were corky like me, was very fulfilling. Penn State has some of the best people ever. But in the education system, it was hard to find people that cared about the work in the classroom that they were doing. The people at Columbia cared about the lectures we were sitting through. We learned so much in such a short period of time. So being in that more intense environment was very fulfilling for me.

N: How did you even stumble across this graduate program?

E: My boss, when I interned at The Washington Post, introduced me to someone very successful in the publishing industry that went through the course. As soon as I talked with her, I knew I would be applying for it.

N: What’s the full name of the graduate program?

E: Columbia Publishing Course. It was a 7-week course in the summer.

N: Let’s talk more about your life in New York and how that came to be.

E: I finished the Columbia Publishing Course and I was like, “I’m so ready to make my life in New York City.” I spent about one week finding an apartment. I walked into the Pub that was under my new apartment and said, “Hey, do you need a waitress? I’ve waitressed since I was 18, and I’m a really hard worker.” So that’s how I got that job! I actually just quit which is really exciting haha.

Then I was meeting with about 4 people a week for coffee. There is so much power in just cold-emailing people and saying, “Hey, I admire you.” or “Hey, can I pick your brain?” You gotta just shoot your shot.

My first pop-up journaling class was in Washington Square Park.

Link to Emily’s blog to read more of the backstory behind this first class

I was working at The Wing (co-working space and social club for women) as a barista for them. I knew The Wing was membership based who have well-connected, hard-working, driven women there. I have made some valuable connections just from that!

N: What have you learned the most from meeting people for coffee?

E: My biggest tip of advice is that when you meet with someone you should walk out with 2 more contacts. Always ask if they have someone they can introduce you to! Something I would always say would be, “After this conversation and hearing my perspective, is there anyone that would be very valuable for me to connect with that you can introduce me to?”

N: So you told me earlier that you just landed a new job! Tell us everything about it that you can share!

E: It’s crazy how it manifested! I’ve been talking so much about how I care about the community, bringing people together, and starting conversations. I’m basically going to be a Community Manager for The Washington Post. I can’t talk a lot about it because it’s a new initiative they are starting, but I’m just super excited about it. I’m so ready for it because I definitely have a business mindset so being in a job with a bit more of a structure is going to be good for me.

I’m also starting a podcast that is centered around coffee and conversations.

*I’ll keep you guys posted for when this launches! I know I’ll be subscribing to Emily’s podcast the moment it comes out.*

N: Can you give me a little teaser of the podcast? Who is the ideal listener that would really benefit from listening to your podcast?

E: It’s going to be a lot of unfiltered conversation! I’m going to be sharing drinks and stories with people. Everyone deserves to have their story heard. There is so much power in conversation. Our generation has lost touch with face-to-face interaction. I want to bring to light again that these conversations matter!

After Emily shared more about her podcast with me she had to run to work, but I remember feeling so moved from our conversation after hanging up the phone. I hope you enjoyed getting more of an insight into Emily’s life after college as much as I did. I hope you took even a sliver of advice from her story.