Tania flew into New York City from Australia a few days ago and it’s all a bit of a blur—she’s running (literally, she is the only person I’ve met who walks faster than me) on little sleep and a lot of caffeine. Jet lag is only partially responsible: this, she says, is her natural state of being. Tania is the woman behind TheWriting: nerve-striking handwritten quotes that have landed her collaborations with the likes of Oscar De LaRenta, Estee Lauder and Marie Claire. While she scribbles snippets of her soul at night, Tania runs social media strategy agency Cake by day. When I ask how she keeps the faith in both self-made ventures, her response is as bright as her hair and as bold as her red lip: “Fear is wasted energy.”
“I’m blown away that I’m here—I didn’t even know that what I’m doing was an option. I come from a family of doctors and lawyers and assumed that professionalism was my path. So I studied law, thinking the whole time, this is shit. I grew up in Adelaide, Australia—a tiny town where you couldn’t connect with anyone. Which is why I got into social media: I wanted to speak to everyone around me. I quit law, moved to Sydney and got into journalism. I started working in the newsroom for a TV channel, but it wasn’t for me. I applied for a job at a PR agency with high-end fashion clients, despite the fact that the position required five years’ experience and I had none. At that point Instagram had just started, but no one was using social media as a tool. I said that I could help them be the first, and they made a role for me. It made me realize that I could make a mark, regardless of being from a small town.
I was eventually poached from that agency for another, and went through a really dark time. I was working 80 hour weeks for no money, away from my family, living in a shoebox. When you’re thrown into an environment like that, you either thrive or sink. I was kind of floating, not sure what the hell I was doing. TheWriting came out of that. I started writing little notes of encouragement to myself. I hate that whole cliche of ‘quotes that inspire’—but sometimes they actually do. You can read something that validates your thought process or pushes you in the right direction. People started listening to me—something I never anticipated. Next thing I know, I have 50 thousand people following me from all around the world, from The Coveteur to P. Diddy. I’m trying to play it cool, like yeah, whatever. But actually was like, what is going on! I’d be lying if I said that TheWriting was successful because I worked in social media strategy. I had no intention of it becoming what it did.
As TheWriting gained popularity, I ended up quitting my PR job and worked in advertising for a bit. They offered me a lot of money to do their social media, and for the three months that I worked there I spent every single dollar I earned on online shopping—because the only moment of happiness at that job was when something arrived on my desk. I walked into the office one day, looked around at how miserable everyone was, and quit. That’s how Cake started. I went home. I wrote out my logo. My friend was like, we’re going to redo that (probably a good thing). It was the biggest rush, but I had no idea how I was going to survive. I worked out that if I lived on tuna and crackers only, I could last for five months on my savings without earning any money. That night I ran into my old boss from my first job, and told her I’d was opening my own social media strategy agency. She said, can we contract all of our clients out to you for social? I got four clients within a few hours, and I was off. During the first campaign I produced, I was asked by the Cool Hunter to take part in an art show he was working on with artist CJ Hendry. I’ve never worked harder in my life. I slept even less than before. I worked on the art exhibition at night, and on the Cake campaign during the day. My boyfriend at the time thought I was a psycho, but really, he was just an asshole. On top of all this work, I ended up going through a breakup. Which, honestly, was the best thing that could have happened. That experience showed me that in order to get anywhere, you need to work your ass off.
That if I keep working, something might happen.
When you’re running your own business, you need to be on all the time, you need to keep that momentum. But with TheWriting, I can’t be. I had some Visa issues recently where I had difficulty getting into the U.S., and it was a really stressful time. The morning after I arrived in New York City, I woke up at three in the morning and thought, what have I done? I’ve left everything behind. Cake was doing really well in Sydney, and I could have been comfortable. And comfortable is not a bad thing. I think sometimes we say comfortable like it’s a dirty word—but there’s a difference between being comfortable and complacent. Sitting awake that night I thought—you know what? I just need to let myself be here right now. While all of that was going down, I didn’t post anything for a week, because I didn’t want to channel negativity into it. Everyone was like, ‘You should look at it as fuel for your work.’ Um, no. I think you need to have an emergency resource for when you’re feeling down. Coffee is a big thing for me, and McNally Jackson is my special place. I go there and get lost in books and magazines and words. Sometimes you have to retreat and become really insular. We all have our own little ways to restore ourselves that no one else knows about—your own methods can surprise you sometimes. For instance, I have a shot of whiskey every time I go into an important meeting. Regardless if it’s eight in the morning, regardless of the fact that I never drink by myself otherwise. At the risk of sounding sexist, I feel like whiskey is a man’s drink and it gives me balls.
Also, red lipstick is part of my uniform. I suggest you try it.
TheWriting can be intimidating sometimes. I don’t want to lose control over it. I feel like the bigger my fan base gets, the more chance there is of people not liking what I’m putting out. I don’t know if that’s something all artists deal with. But there’s so many people doing the same thing now: black and white handwritten quotes on Instagram. People copy what I do all the time. I’ll think, you didn’t hear that! I heard that from the homeless man outside Kings Cross. I used to get really pissed off, but it worries me less now. Unfortunately, social media can really mess with your head. People will say to me, I wish I could find something like TheWriting for myself. Firstly, get off Instagram! Stop telling me what your grid looks like and go do something. You need to have purpose. If you’re putting something out there solely to make money, or with bad intentions, people can smell it from a mile away. Whereas if you have a true passion for something and you live and breathe it, people automatically want to be a part of that. Before it really took off, someone wanted to buy TheWriting. They said that without them, I’d be nothing. That was two years ago—imagine if I had believed them. I decided, I’m going to have longevity and I’m going to keep this alive. With decisions like that, I think you know within the first second what to do. You go through the whole thought process and come full circle, right back to that initial gut feeling where you started from. Sometimes you make bad decisions, but that’s how you learn. I love all the bad decisions I’ve made, even though I hated them at the time.
If you never fuck up, you’ll never grow.
My parents used to say that I always started things and didn’t finish them. But I think I just started the wrong things. If you keep listening to things like that, they become harder to block out, regardless of how strong we are. Society pushes this idea of success on you, but who is that person who has everything? Who are we all trying to be? You can tell that you’re doing the right thing when it’s second nature. When you don’t have to think about it. When I was doing law, I would almost have an anxiety attack when I walked by the school grounds. It’s the same when you’re in a bad relationship, you’re always overthinking and have that constant niggling feeling. But when you’re with someone who’s right, you don’t have to think about it. I also believe that once you learn to accept sacrifice, that’s when the good things happen. Maybe that’s what we’re getting wrong. That we expect the success, the money, the happiness, to all be in some pretty box with a bow. But it doesn’t happen that way.
I think we all need to stop talking so much, and start listening to ourselves.
You can talk to people, get advice, but not everyone has your best intentions at heart. You take on other peoples insecurities and agendas, and that’s when we mess up. When I quit my job, I didn’t listen to anyone. I didn’t ask anyone’s opinion on whether I should start Cake, I didn’t call my mum or dad. Usually I’m the total opposite, always asking, do you think I should do this? But I thought, no. That was the first time I’ve really listened to myself. And by doing that, I had this sense that I shouldn’t be scared. I felt like I was going to be OK. And I wonder if the reason it did turn out OK is because I believed it would.”
Photographed by Amy Woodside
As told to Amy Woodside, November 2015