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Ann Storr

We spoke to Ann Storr, brand storyteller, public speaker & member of the Guild of Food Writers.

How do you describe what you do for work, and how long have you been doing that?

I’m a brand storyteller, helping organisations to tell their food, sustainability or psychology stories. This umbrella term only came to me in February 2020, although I’ve been working in these ‘spaces’ for my whole career. Now I get to pull together all of my interests and work on projects where I’m becoming an expert. That’s pretty amazing and I feel very lucky. All in all I’ve been working for 17 years, fully self-employed for about 5.

What is your workstyle, and what led you to working in this way?

I’m a freelancer who also has a side project, StorrCupboard, which lead to amazing media opportunities but about £5 in actual income. 

After 11 years at the Institute of Psychiatry, I needed a huge change. The project I’d worked on concentrated on maltreatment of children (and how to stop it). Reading about horrible things done to children, day in and out, got too much. 

Academia was not the right setting for me to flourish; I’m grateful that I learned about telling stories to communicate complex ideas from some of the best psychologists in the world, but I butted heads too many times with the entrenched systems and structures.

I’ve been a working mum since I was 24, so work has always had to be flexible to my kids; now I’m a single mum, a job that needs me present 9-5, Monday - Friday, is not possible. So, although freelancing is challenging and stressful, at least I don’t have someone huffing and puffing that I’m not at my desk at 9am.

What's the most challenging thing about your work?

Keeping momentum of sales and marketing bubbling away: when I’m deep into a project I love the reading, the learning and writing; remembering that I have to keep marketing when I’d rather be ‘doing the work’ is a pain in the rear.

Like a lot of people, imposter syndrome is always lurking around the corner. Mixed with perfectionism, I find that marketing myself is like pulling teeth. Working on the “give people free help” style of marketing I’m finding it easier.

What's the most rewarding aspect of your work?

This sounds rather naive, but working to make the world a better place. I’m currently working on a behaviour change project, which is pulling together everything I care about - listening to people, thinking about how to make sustainability something that they care about, and how to express that in characters and language. I’m so grateful that I get paid to do this! The team is so strong and smart, so every 10 minute catch up has new information and learnings, which I am using to help other clients.

My memory is quite ADHD - don’t ask me what I ate for breakfast but I can direct you to the perfect podcast from 2 years ago that will illustrate your point. Accepting that, as a storyteller, it’s essential that I read widely and deeply, has been a game-changer. One of my favourite things to do it go somewhere like Foyles or Libreria, and just choose a few books at random and see if I like them, totally based on gut feeling (or this technique: open at page 81. If you like it at page 81, where the action & tone are settled, is a better stress test than blurbs or design). This keeps me always thinking about tone, story and how to communicate, so that I can help my clients tell their stories in a fresh, clear and authoritative way.

What healthy habits do you have in place to look after your mental health at work?

Realising that I struggle to manage my schedule was an eye-opener, so working with a VA has been game-changing. Within 2 weeks she identified good energy times of the week and what I call ‘scratchy’. We worked in transition times because, between children with extra needs, lockdown and the normal stresses of life, it can take me time to transition from ‘mum’ to ‘storyteller’. Making time to meditate, exercise or just potter for half an hour has made a huge difference to my productivity.

Headspace’ mini meditations are so helpful when my day gets derailed by the latest Covid change/kids being at home a lot/plans changing. Being part of groups like Doing it for the Kids and Leapers also provides a huge network of support, even for personal issues when you just want someone to say “poor you” or talk about cute dogs - it’s lovely to have a gang you know are the other end of the keyboard.

If you could have known one thing before you went self-employed, what would it have been?

Get to co-working spaces and networks ASAP. I was working blind for years, struggling with not understanding things like domains and whatnot.  Having a solid (or developing) understanding of strengths and weaknesses is also essential. Working in the wrong industry for years really played with my sense of ability, and it took me years to get a handle on my skills. 

Tell us something surprising about you

I’ve been told I’m very ADHD (and I’m just waiting on the test). That sort of diagnosis is quite disorientating, because it’s changed how I see myself. It’s a relief in many ways, as sitting still is not something I excel at; I make huge, sometimes strange, mental leaps and am not good at routine. Now I know this, I’m making it into a strength. On a lighter note but not wholly unconnected note, I’m a pretty good quilter/crocheter/knitter, and my house is 50% blankets.

And finally - can you share a piece of work you're super proud of?

My proudest work has never been published! One is a site about a health monitor that mixed clinical information, family stories and sales/subscription information. The other is for a vineyard, and I told an English ‘escape to the countryside’ story, and the photography is stunning. So I’ll say my new website, www.annstorr.com. The brand I commissioned is stunning, I’ve worked on the customer’s journey and how to help them find what they need. Building it was a labour of love and pushed me into discomfort over and over, but I’m proud of the look and feel, of how much work I have to show people, and my friends say that it sounds like me. I’ll take that.

Work With Ann

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Ann Storr, interviewed by Matthew Knight.
Originally published on 2020-10-23

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