It’s not unusual for developmental editor Kris Windley to watch her clients cry. It’s not that she’s mean or a bully, rather, she’s determined to help people discover their voice, even it means pushing through pain points and often ends in tears.
Good tears, though.
“Writing is hard,” says Kris. “It’s hard for every single person, even if you’re great at it. Even if you love it.”
Kris strives to help her clients love it. She usually works with female creatives—women who have a drive to help and a drive to put something fabulous into the world.
A lot of these women battle with imposter syndrome or simply don’t feel their voice is one people want to hear. “I spend a lot of time doing the tough-love kind of thing,” says Kris. Many of her clients have been telling themselves they need to be quiet, thinking their “secret quiet little message” isn’t acceptable or worth sharing
Kris tells them to speak up.
She pushes and prods and helps them find a way to overcome those feelings. “I want them to feel like what they’re doing every day matters,” says Kris, “and is big and is important and changes something for someone.” Because it is, and it does.
One of the ways she pushes is getting people to focus on their ‘why’s.’ Why are they living the life they’re living? Why are they pursuing this business? Why do they feel compelled to create or do the thing that they do? That’s often when the tears happen – when clients get to the core of why they started.
It’s an emotional and cathartic process, says Kris. “I know that when we find the problem … the thing that hurts, it’s the best part” because the next step is how to make it better. “But they don’t know that in that moment,” says Kris. “They only know that they’re crying in front of someone that they don’t really know that well.”
Figuring it out the problem, however, is worth it. Through the process, Kris says clients narrow in on their authentic voice. They get clear on their message in a way that is genuine.
The path to this creative mix of developmental editing and teaching, with what sounds like a little bit of counselling thrown in, wasn’t a direct one.
Although she always wanted to be a writer and tell stories, not believing she could make a living at it, Kris went to university to become a high school teacher. It seemed like the safe choice. After a few years in the teaching field, where jobs were scarce, she realized it wasn’t so safe after all.
Her next venture was to work full time at a private school for students with learning disabilities. She recalls working with a group of women in their twenties and thirties who were recently diagnosed.
The women had just learned that all of the struggles that they’d had in school growing up were because of a learning disability. “It wasn’t their fault, and they weren’t lazy or stupid,” says Kris. “They weren’t all of those things they thought they were.”
“So many people feel like their stories don’t matter,” says Kris. “I get table-flipping mad when someone is made to feel their voice isn’t important.” And so, helping people who feel they don’t have a voice or can’t find one realize they’ve always had it, became her passion.
It was a passion she threw herself into. But with the hours that required, adding onto the hours she’d been keeping for the previous decade—through university, teaching, and suddenly becoming a single mother to two young children—it was just too much.
“I was running a really hot engine for twelve years, and then it seized, and it broke.” She got extremely sick, over and over again. The doctor told her that her immune system was shot and she was going to have to sleep for about a year.
Shortly before this burn-out, Kris was told her then thirteen-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, was too old to be in daycare anymore, which meant Kris needed to figure out a way to be home to take care of her. The doctor took care of that. The first step of it, anyway.
Resigned to an enforced exile during which she had to hide under the blankets and freak out for a while, Kris started her business out of necessity.
She realized that being a writer was a legitimate job that worked for her particular needs. “You could be in your jammies and you could hide in your house when you need to, and still [write],” says Kris.
She started as a copywriter, and during what she now calls her ‘pyjama year’ started slowly building her business and taking on clients.
But something just wasn’t right.
She didn’t like the robot style of copywriting. She wanted to tell stories and help others tell stories as well.
A serendipitous run-in with a former student reminded her how much she loved teaching and sparked the realization that she could take all she’d learned about the structures for marketing writing that work best and mash them together with her passion for teaching.
She now works between the role of teacher and marketer, melding those two loves. “I do something very different,” says Kris. “Letting people know they’re not only allowed to tell their stories, but those are the stories that need to be told.”
Having the ability to work in your pyjamas (this writer knows what it’s like, I’m in my PJs right now) means you have to be your own boss sometimes, says Kris.
The start of her burn out was somewhat beyond her control. “All of the freaky crazy stuff lined up at once,” says Kris. Over one summer she had an infant at home, learned of her three-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy, and was busy learning sign language to communicate with her. In addition, largely, she thinks, because they married so young and weren’t equipped to deal with the challenges of raising a child with cerebral palsy, her relationship with her husband was falling apart, all while she was prepping to enter university as a mature student.
“We were packing up and choosing who had which water pitcher,” says Kris. Her husband moved out and two days later she started university with a baby and a three-year-old with a significant disability. She had to be supermom, super-student, and after graduation, super-career-woman too.
“It was tremendously difficult but really, really wonderful at the same time,” says Kris. “When life gets insane like that and everything changes you are infused with adrenaline and you just tear it up, and I did, which was great and exciting, but you can’t do that for a long time without doing some sort of damage.”
Kris never wants to get to that point of running the engine too hot for too long again.
So, now that she’s had her year of recovery, to avoid further damage Kris’ method of being her own boss is to focus on routine. “I have to be really careful about how I treat myself. Because that’s who I am, I’m a person who runs a hot engine,” says Kris.
She’s careful to take breaks when she needs them, but also not to let herself sink too far in the other direction. “It’s this weird in between thing where you don’t want to do anything and you want to do every single thing” says Kris.
Focusing on routine keeps her from doing too much or doing nothing at all.
She’s still more likely to do too much. Like many creatives, when Kris gets an idea she wants to tear into it. She loves to dream, loves to see a problem, have that lightbulb moment of how to fix it, or lead her clients to lightbulb moments of their own.
“I love that I can be completely myself in what I do,” says Kris. There’s nobody to answer to but herself, and from the sounds of it, she’s a pretty sweet boss.
Have a story you’ve been struggling to tell or a brand message you want to ensure is uniquely yours? Check out With A K Writing Services. Kris will help you learn to trust your voice, design your process, and share your message. If you want to jump in with something tactile right away and get a sample of Kris’ style while learning Four Ways You Can Change The World, check out her recent post and get a free Change the World poster.
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