Today's interview for the slow living series is with my friend Hannah Jansen Morrisson, a copywriter from the Netherlands who left the city to live on a farm and raise her daughters, while running her own business and writers retreats. I'm very excited about catching up with Hannah, because she has, essentially, the life that I aspire to, balancing family life with three little ones, slow living on a farm and helping aspiring writers discover their own writing style through her writer's retreats.
From copywriting in the city, to driving trucks on a farm and writer's retreats at her farm house, Hannah talks about following your dream and living a slower more authentic live in rural Netherlands.
Name: Hannah Jansen Morrison
Job: Trainer & coach in writing & communications, organiser of writer’s retreat for entrepreneurs who want to tell a great story
LinkedIn: Hannah Jensen Morrison
- What is your morning routine?
I am not an early riser ha ha. We wake up between 7 and 8, have breakfast with our three girls Mirea, Eleanor and Clarice, and get them organised. We have volunteers living with us from all over the world, generally two or three at the time, who help us with our project: renovating, the gardens, playing with the kids. They also join us for breakfast and then our work day starts at 9.
- You have made a lifestyle change since becoming a mother. What was the motivation between leaving the busy city to settle into rural life?
My husband Richard, who is from rural New Zealand, is definitely the initiator of that shift. I grew up in the city, so for me living in the countryside was quite foreign. Before we moved, we lived in Amsterdam at a busy market street. Richard felt really quite unhappy there, he just needed more space, less people. When I was pregnant of our first one, we arrived at a cross roads: either country side in the Netherlands or moving to New Zealand. At the time, it just made more sense to stay here, so we decided to look for a place. With kids, I found city life not so great anyway – you don’t use the facilities all that much anymore, it is busy so you need to watch your child like a hawk – so when we found one of the most amazing, crazy houses of the countryside, we said: this is it, let’s go.
- Tell us a little more about your rural lifestyle?
The first year, it was really quite overwhelming. I mean, I really did not know anything about gardening and we have a massive veggie garden. Thank God Richard lived in the countryside before! It was a huge learning curve. Living in the country side means you got to be on it: when the berries are ripe, you must pick them in that very week or they will be eaten by birds. This means that in spring and summer time we are very busy: planting, picking, harvesting, cleaning, preparing chutneys, jams, preserves. It is a lot of work, yet very enjoyable and it does not feel stressful once you get the hang of it. Winter time is a little bit less busy and gives the opportunity to prepare for spring and summer. This way, seasons become far more important than they are in the city.
- What have been the benefits of moving to the countryside?
It has been and still is extremely enriching, in many ways. For one, there is nature. I never realized how little I know about it. When I was still living in the city, I would have literally not been able to tell you what a potato plant looks like, or when you can best eat beet root. I had no idea. I found out I really enjoy being in the garden, there is something very soothing about the pace of natural growth, because it goes as fast as it needs to go, not slower, not faster. We as humans have to adapt.
Secondly, only by moving here I realized I was quite overstimulated in the city. There is so much buzz, so many people, so much of everything. This can be very energizing and inspiring, but it is also draining. The country side is so much more tranquil: a tree doesn’t talk back that much ha ha. Some people find the silence scary, for me it is great. I have got so much going on in my head that the quietness creates a perfect balance. I feel more authentic because I get less external influence.
- What have been the challenges or downfalls of leaving the city?
I still go to the city quite regularly for projects etc. When you travel on the wrong hours, the traffic can be really quite bad. I also need to make more of an effort to stay in touch with people. Before, I would just catch up with friends for a coffee and you would be back on the go. Now, it is much more of a mission to meet up, so that is quite an adjustment.
Otherwise I am really happy with our move; I have never missed living in the city and there is no way that we would move back.
- How has your career changed with this move?
Dramatically. Before, I was mainly doing interim positions as a communications expert with major brands and companies, such as The Coca-Cola Enterprises, the Dutch public prosecution or an international bank. On the side, I was doing copywriting projects, such as editing a magazine on literature. That life was simply not sustainable anymore, because of the travel time AND I just did not want to spend my time in offices anymore. I just could not do it. When you are surrounded by so much nature the contrast with a concrete office is just too great. So I had to shift, and I shifted towards creating my own products: coaching in writing and communications, online and offline, and organising retreats for entrepreneurs. I love it, I add a lot of value to people and I can manage my own schedules. Bottom line: the country side made me much more entrepreneurial and it feels great.
- You are keeping very busy offering communication strategy and copywriting for businesses, and also host writer's retreats at your home. Tell us a little more about these?
The main chunk of my work is coaching and training professionals on how they can communicate and write better. Most of my clients are in legal positions, HR or are entrepreneurs. I help them convey their message in a way that is clear and appealing. I enjoy working with these ambitious people, since they make so much progress in a short period of time. Approximately two days a week I am away seeing clients, the rest of the time is working from home.
I also wanted to share the joys of living at our place, so last Spring I started organising writing retreats for entrepreneurs. You know when you got this loop in your head going: how do I word my message right? In the retreat, I speed up that process and coach you to get out of that loop and get a crystal clear message on paper and get a great story out there. I get people here who are starting a magazine, want to structure a book or launching a new product. It is amazing what people achieve at my farm.
To me, working in this way means I can see a lot of smiles of my kids and doing the work that I love.
- How do you stay inspired and get past 'writer's block' when you are in a creative rut?
I got tons of tips of what you can do. Here is my top-3:
- Start with “free writing”: 15 to 30 minutes of writing anything, whatever comes up in your head. It truly doesn’t matter what it is. The purpose is just to feel free. We tend to get quite perfectionistic when we write and want to get our story down in that super quirky way that just does not want to come out of your pen. Free writing helps you to loosen up a little bit.
- Count back from 5 to 1. Sounds almost too simple, but it really works when you have a hard time sitting down and actually starting. When you get to 1, you start.
- The association game. Pick 3 words that are crucial for whatever you are making and that you want to write about. Let’s say you are designer of handbags and you designed a bag for the beach. So your 3 words might be “bag”, “beach” and “holiday”. Write each word on a big piece of paper and start writing down anything that comes up when you see those words. Use your senses as much as you can: what do you hear, see, smell etc. So then you might write down: “feet in the sand”, “sea shells”, “the rolling sounds of waves”. There you go, some ingredients for an appealing text.
- Since becoming a mother, what have you learnt about yourself that you didn't know?
I was adamant, as in 100% sure, that I would have boys. I am not a super girly type of person and perhaps because I have only brothers, I always considered myself a boy mom. So I was shocked when our first one was a girl and now I have 3 daughters ha ha. Bizarre! I found out that I had a little fear regarding having girls, I associate sisters with a lot of quarrelling and moaning about skirts and mascara. Perhaps because I had some school friends who were like that. Thank God it turns out not bad at all: my girls are awesome and cool. They love dresses but also trains and books and camper vans. And I love the irony of life as well ha ha.
- How do you juggle work /life balance, particularly since you work from home?
What I really love about farm life is that you have to team up to make things happen. I feel very blessed to have a lot of people around, most important one being my husband, to make things work. Generally, I work 6 hours during the day, and then I spend time with my girls in the afternoon. Then I work another 3 hours in the evening. I love it, because I don’t like working behind the computer for 8 hours anyway.
- Who are your creative heroes?
Of course, being a writer myself, I have a lot of writers that I love, like Marguerite Yourcenar, a French author, or more recently, Leïla Slimani, an insanely smart writer, also from France. From my childhood, I always remember the stories of Roald Dahl, his work has shaped my early years.
I generally get inspired by great storytellers, and those are not necessarily writers. I love for instance the work of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, I think it is amazing how he translates mythology into art. Or David Bowie! What a storyteller, what he did on his last album, how he talked about his illness in such a subtle way, it is so multi-layered and brilliant. Definitely an all-time favourite.
Recently, I have also been checking out entrepreneurs; the great ones are per definition able to tell an inspiring story. Like Marie Forleo or Gary Vaynerchuk. It is fascinating to me how they shape their brand by using stories. To me, these people are artists too.
If you'd like to know more about Hannah's writers retreats, check out the link to her website.