Why Brands Are Turning to Editorial & Storytelling Writers Like Cedar Pasori
Interview by FRED BERGER
Good writers know how to maximize their toolkits to tell stories and make words feel alive. Any topic is approachable because a good writer is fearless. And no one embodies this more than writer, editor, consultant, and WNW Member Cedar Pasori. Cedar’s work mainly explores art and design, although she isn't easily boxed into any one specific theme. She seamlessly weaves between editorial and brand writing, having recently finished an editorial stint at Nike. As Cedar puts it, “It helps to have writers who come from true editorial, storytelling backgrounds.” In our interview below, Cedar discusses her creative breakthrough, the finer points of her writing process, what she’s reading and listening to for inspiration, and whether she's conscious of her role in keeping the written word alive.
When did you first start to feel like “a writer”?
I’ve always felt that writing and communicating are my strengths. There were times when I was more focused on visual communication, especially photography during college, even though I was already writing for publications. I also had my own music blog then, which was a great way to experiment without rules. Once I had written a few stories at Complex that I was really proud of, then I felt comfortable identifying myself as “a writer.”
What were some of the challenges and breakthroughs that came with establishing your writing career?
Early on, my challenges were ones that seem to affect all writers, including getting paid fairly. In college, I did a lot of social media copywriting, which was sometimes challenging, because it was so new then. I’ve been writing for publications and brands in the .com era, so additional challenges include the shrinking of the editor class and shifting resources to video. At times, there was also pressure to have my stories “perform” traffic-wise.
Over the last year, I’ve made changes to really put writing at the center of my work. When I was previously employed full-time as a writer, it usually also involved being an editor, photo editor, and producer, too. The breakthrough has been going freelance again and not limiting myself strictly to editorial or brand copywriting. I know some people see this as a conflict, but I keep things separate and ethical and enjoy the variety.
How does your Art History degree inform your writing?
Art History forces you to be a critical thinker, to understand the world visually, and to always challenge objective interpretation. It taught me new ways of looking at time and history. I didn’t take up the degree so I could work in the art world. I just fell in love with art and knew I’d figure out the specifics of my career later on. Once I started to write about art and design for various publications, aspects of what I learned through the degree started to inform my writing more directly.
What were some books that were seminal to your development as a writer?
This is difficult. I’d start by saying Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Jean Baudrillard’s America, and Barbara Kruger’s Remote Control.
I read that earlier this year you went to Marfa. What was that like? Is it a good place for sparking ideas and creativity?
I had high expectations for Marfa, and it delivered in terms of history, beauty, and isolation. It’s an incredible place to learn about the life and art of Donald Judd, through tours of his property and the Chinati Foundation. I’m thankful to the Judd Foundation for welcoming me into some of the private spaces there.
Marfa is also an incredible place to appreciate the vastness of the southwestern U.S. I loved the sunrises, sunsets, and star-gazing — perhaps all good for sparking creativity and punctuating the day. I kept thinking about the Warhol quote, “I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want.” After going to Marfa, it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment.
What’s your favorite part of doing interviews?
I love to interview people, which is why I’ve really enjoyed contributing to Interview magazine over the last three years, speaking of Warhol! I enjoy unearthing new information that has some kind of educational or inspirational value and getting to the heart of why people do what they do. I like to have respectful dialogue about process and growth, no matter who the subject is.
Are you conscious of your role on a larger scale of keeping the written word alive?
I feel quite insignificant when it comes to keeping the written world alive! I hope I’m making a small difference, even by doing an interview like this. I think it will get harder to devalue words as time goes on. The other day, a friend of mine, who is a Biomechanics Researcher, tried to reassure me that artificial intelligence won’t replace writing as fast as other jobs, so there’s that.
One of my favorite quotes is by the Bauhaus artist and designer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Even though he was emphasizing photography at the time, he said, “The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” This is a guy who made his art students study biology! I hope that, in the future, everyone values written and visual communication equally.
How do you think your writing about art and culture informs copywriting, helping brands resonate with “the youth”?
Usually, the brands I write for are trying to reach people of all ages. My cultural awareness may be more valuable in keeping track of how other brands are communicating.
I do my best to keep up with shifts and advances in digital media, and most brands have already been replicating the blog or magazine format for a while now. This continues to pose interesting internal and external challenges, but also has massive potential, which I learned more about while doing editorial in-house at Nike. Brands want to communicate to consumers, including “the youth,” more clearly than ever. To do so, it helps to have writers who come from true editorial, storytelling backgrounds.
A lot of your assignments require you to travel. What are some must-haves when you’re on the road?
My list is not sexy, but all of these are essentials. I always bring an eye mask, AirPods, hand sanitizer, face wipes, an inflatable lumbar pillow, a recorder, Advil PM, a pocket-sized Muji notebook and pens, an Anker battery charger, a crossbody bag of some sort, roll-on perfume, comfortable Nikes, my Muji carry-on suitcase, and lots of water. If it’s vacation, I’ll bring print to read. If it’s a work trip, I read off my iPhone. I’m very serious and calculated about all traveling!
Have you considered experimenting with any other mediums?
I have so many ideas that I’d love to execute in book, film, or visual art form. Honestly, I’d love to direct music videos.
Read any good books as of late?
These don’t feel like the most “literary” responses, but they are the latest: MoMA’s Items: Is Fashion Modern by Paola Antonelli, Michelle Baker, and Luke Fisher, since I didn’t get a chance to see the exhibition, and The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish. I can’t bring myself to read Fire & Fury.
What are you listening to now?
Like anyone else, I’m very into podcasts. I love How I Built This, Maekan, In Other Words, Failing Upwards, The BoF Podcast, Design Matters, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, and Song Exploder.
Musically, if I’m working, I can only listen to instrumental music like Kronos Quartet, Kamasi Washington, or Jlin. Lately, when I’m not working, I’ve been listening to Rex Orange County, Ravyn Lenae, Octavian, Steve Lacy, Choker, and Burna Boy. I used to have a radio show at Red Bull Studios, Presents Radio, that I think about reviving sometimes!
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing for a few clients. I’m balancing that with some freelance stories about artists and exhibitions, as well as helping two friends with to-be-announced, Portland-based wellness projects. I also started an online design magazine called Sculpturalist, which I’m really excited to build in my spare time.