In the few years since she moved to Austin, transplant Libby Webster has quietly risen to the forefront of the Austin music scene as a music writer and critic via The Austin Chronicle. Her thoughtful, impactful writing --specifically her article on sexism in music which you can read here-- hits home without ever hitting you over the head. Not only has she written about and interviewed artists such as Mitski and Courtney Barnett, she also works for the reputable label family Secretly Group, which represents musicians ranging from Yoko Ono to Whitney. Her determination and ability to push herself beyond self doubt is a reminder to just keep on keepin' on, or as she says below, "The only way out is through!"
How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as a writer?
I’m trying to just say “fuck it” and not get caught up in it anymore. It has driven me insane for too long! Ultimately you’re only as good as your last piece, someone else will always seem further ahead, and not everyone’s going to like your work. I’ve been paralyzed by fear of rejection and failure in the past, which has hurt my writing output, so now I’m trying to just do good work that I’m happy with and that I would want to read.
When is a time you felt really successful? Or a time you felt like you failed?
My first year in Austin in particular felt like one long, never-ending failure - I was pitching and getting no responses, got rejected from a bunch of jobs (including one as a proofreader at the Chronicle), and felt really creatively stifled and sad. It was the least confident I’ve ever been in myself as a human and an artist; the identity I had cultivated for myself as a “creative” person really shattered during that time. Otherwise, the failing thing feels pretty darn constant - my creative (and personal) life seems to be just a bunch of bumbling, random missteps, both enormous and minuscule, sprinkled with bright spots. I wouldn’t have it any other way. One of those bright spots was the “Spectrum of Sexism” cover feature I wrote for the Chronicle earlier this year - it was my first foray into real-deal journalism, and I was so goddamn nervous about the piece the whole time I was writing it. It was just totally unchartered territory for me as a writer since I have a background in cultural criticism and fiction. I spent a lot of time thinking, “I think I’m gonna fuck up this story,” which was stressful because I cared so deeply about getting it right. I was relieved that it turned out well, but the really gratifying part was seeing people respond to it and talking about it, and realizing, “Oh, yeah, I have a platform here to generate meaningful, thoughtful conversations.” Also, I thought, “Welp, I guess sometimes you can surprise yourself.” There are certainly other pieces I’ve written that I feel proud of, but that one pushed me out of my comfort zone.
What is your daily routine? Your weekend routine?
During the week I get up at around 7am, take my dog for a long walk and listen to music. I also like to get most of my writing, personal or otherwise, done before I walk to the office for the day. Sometimes if I have a lot of freelance work to do I’ll get up at 5am. I love the quiet, dark moments of early morning - it’s when I’m most productive (interestingly, that becomes irrelevant when I try to do an early morning work out). I also like carving out big chunks of time for work on Sunday afternoons, especially when I’m working on a short story. I’m the jerk who hunkers down in a coffee shop for hours and only orders one iced Americano for the whole time - I am sorry to be that way but I think I may be too far along into that habit to change!
How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done?
Deadlines are pretty crucial for me, so being obligated to hit those for print publications never fails to light a fire under my butt. I am not the most disciplined person when it comes to my own fiction and poetry, but I am trying to set weekly writing goals for myself. Lately I’ve been examining my habits more critically and how those align with my big picture goals.
Especially given that it’s usually expensive to create things, how do you afford to be a writer/critic financially? Do you have a day job?
The Austin Chronicle pays their freelancers, which is great! Aside from that, I work a 9-5 at Secretly Group, which is a family of independent record labels made up of Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar, and Dead Oceans. Part of the gig is within tour publicity for artists on our roster, and the other part is social media/digital stuff - with the latter part, I do feel like I get to exercise more creative and critical brain muscles, which is fun. I was a big fan of the labels before I started working there, and seeing how music works from that perspective has been interesting and I think made me a well-informed, savvy music writer. Balancing the day job with freelance writing and my own personal creative pursuits is an ongoing and exhausting challenge, but here we are! Also, before I fell into a 9-5, I worked at Waterloo Records full-time, which has been one of my favorite jobs. I still pick up shifts there occasionally ‘cause I just couldn’t let it go. Highly recommend writers pick a day job full of eccentric coworkers and customers - it was like a never-ending supply of inspiration for my fiction, which literally filled up one of my idea notebooks.
How do you manage the stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there?
I don’t! I am just meandering around, working hard, and hoping for the best while oscillating between feeling wildly anxious and surprisingly elated.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced as a person in creative industry?
The above question - putting myself out there! There are so many pitches on my computer that I haven’t emailed and so many short stories and nonfiction essays that I haven’t submitted… I am my own worst enemy. I feel intimidated by so many of the smart, creative people I know. Obviously comparing yourself to other people is dumb and unhelpful, but I do it often and struggle with considering myself equal or worthy. Imposter syndrome is pretty powerful, and pretty annoying, and I’m trying to kick its ass.
How do you know when it’s time to rest?
Yikes, I am terrible at self-care, so usually one of my wonderful, beautiful friends has to tell me to chill the hell out!
How do you manage the internet/social media?
A good chunk of my job includes looking at social media feeds, but I find the work feeds to be way more productive than my personal one! I’ve actually stumbled upon a lot of inspiration from a thoughtfully-curated timeline - there are so many good essays and critical writings to be found on the Internet, a lot of stimulating visual artwork, etc. I particularly love reading The Creative Independent and the way they format their Twitter. There are also so many kickass communities of women writers on Facebook, which I love. I mostly just try to look at things that spark interest rather than a toxic spiral of self-doubt and dread!
What’s your big dream? Do you have one? How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?
Gotta get that damn novel out there. It’s far-fetched and difficult and whatever, but that’s what I’ve wanted to do forever. I went to a creative arts college and came away with a BFA in Fiction - I’m still holding on to that dream even though that sort of writing has temporarily shifted to be more private. Working toward that is a weird, nonlinear thing. Just a lot of writing and reading and thinking and editing and deleting and re-writing on loop. And entertaining the idea of an MFA in fiction in the back of my head, too. In general, I’d like to get to a place where I’m writing and creative full-time, including more freelance cultural criticism. I’m working on building up my confidence, my interviewing and pitching skills, my portfolio, etc. The path to freelance writing full-time isn’t really that linear, either, I guess, but it feels like there are more steps I can take toward that goal. Rejection is the name of the game as a writer, how do you push through it? The only way out is through!