If Sex and the City was staged in 2019, Iman Hariri-Kia would be an unproblematic version of Carrie Bradshaw. The New York City-based writer and storyteller covers sex, love, and the range of emotions in between for some of the biggest publications on the Internet.
If you’ve ever scrolled through Elite Daily, Bustle, Teen Vogue or Man Repeller, you’ve most likely read her work. Iman’s think pieces are a seamless blend of fresh-faced honesty and idiosyncratic and quirky wit. Whether it be an article on how the perception of success changes with age or on the intricacies of online dating, Iman’s writing is always compelling and thought-provoking.
Iman started big. Her first op-ed was published in the Huffington Post when was only 14 years old (yes, you read that correctly!). However, making it in the media world hasn’t always been a smooth ride according to her. Read on to find out more about Iman, her career path, and her favourite writers of the moment.
Tell us about your background.
I always knew I wanted to write in some capacity. As an adolescent, I leaned heavily on lyric, poetry, prose, fiction; whatever I could get my hands on. The protagonists of YA novels were my closest confidants and I would have given Gwen Stefani my liver if she had asked. I think that’s a common experience for second-generation Americans: Reaching for language to ground you in your surroundings when you feel displaced.
I was born and raised in New York City, in an Iranian-American household. My mother is an architect and an artist, so my parents encouraged every creative proclivity I had. I was incredibly privileged in that regard.
Even in my youth, I felt heavily swayed by the diaspora and used writing to manifest a sense of belonging.
I started writing music at the age of eight — albeit, not very well. But I continued to write until I had close to 300 songs in my repertoire. I also began freelancing when I was in high school — my first op-ed was published in the Huffington Post when I was 14 years old. It was about growing up in a post-9/11 New York and experiencing Islamaphobia firsthand.
I studied Creative Writing and Music Composition at Georgetown University, fully intending to pursue songwriting upon graduating. At this point, I had been lucky enough to tour nationally, was writing every day, and recording acoustic singles. TL; DR, It was my entire life. But I was shocked to discover that doing it full-time — tutoring English during the day, performing a single song to an empty bar at 1:00 a.m. each night — made me remarkably unhappy. I craved structure, routine. So, when the opening at Teen Vogue was brought to my attention, I took it as a sign. But walking away from my career as an alternative folk musician was incredibly hard. I felt so disappointed in myself, as if I was giving up on, walking away from my dream. It took me close to two years to pick up my guitar again.
My first job in the industry was as an executive assistant at Teen Vogue. It was a dream job in every sense of the word — I had collected the magazine growing up, and had even written my honours thesis on the nine stages of female puberty! But it was also the most challenging role I will ever take on. When the magazine folded, I went on to freelance for a bit — I stayed on as a digital contributor for TV and wrote for several other outlets. Then I went to Bustle, where I worked as a Lifestyle writer, reporting to the Sex & Relationships Editor. I grew passionate about the vertical, which led to a somewhat organic pivot to my current role, Associate Sex & Dating Editor at Elite Daily. I now cover everything ranging from sex, dating, relationships, and singledom, to sexuality, gender identity, sexual health, and consent.
Oh, and I’m also a columnist for Man Repeller, one of my all-time favourite publications in the world! As a New Yorker, getting to work directly with so many of my literary idols never ceases to feel surreal. I am so incredibly grateful for every opportunity I’ve been afforded.
How do you approach the writing process? Do you have a set routine or does it vary?
Now that I work as an editor, my day-to-day requires much less writing.
But I still write because I need to, in order to work out the kinks and contractions that build up in my brain!
So, I pen personal essays for Elite Daily about bi-weekly — sometimes more, sometimes less. And I write for Man Repeller each month, depending on what my schedule can allow. When I’m not writing for a publication, I’m crafting lyrics or working on a very exciting personal project that I can’t spill the beans about yet. Basically, I’m always writing. That, or playing my guitar.
Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
Experiencing writers’ block when working on larger, long-term projects is a part of the process. And I’ve been struggling with lyrical writers’ block for several years now. I (attempt to) overcome it by allowing myself to walk away, and not being punitive, which is a difficult feat for an Aries like me. But I find returning to your work with fresh eyes can really help.
For me, writing has to feel organic. In some ways, it requires very little thought. It spills out, on to the page, if that makes sense.
And don’t be too hard on yourself; It doesn’t have to sound perfect. That’s what the editing process is for!
For you, what makes a great story?
I love personal, anecdotal storytelling. I’m a huge fan of the personal essay — sentences that stay with you, haunting the front lobe of your brain as you’re trying to fall asleep. The descriptive lines, the details that people tattoo all over their bodies. Stories that challenge the way you think, that live off the page because they lead to some form of larger meditation. Nothing moves me more than reading a piece and immediately thinking, “Damn. I wish I wrote that,” then immediately sending it to everyone I know.
A lot of the articles you write for Man Repeller are based on conversations you have with other, often older, women. What are some of the most valuable take-aways you’ve gotten from these conversations that have stuck with you?
I love writing the “Ask An Octogenarian” column. It’s reminded me of the value in listening, in being a scribe. I often feel we have grown accustomed to offering our opinions without any consideration, until we’re all screaming on top of each other into the void, solely creating nothing but white noise. There’s something so comforting about sitting back and listening to these women share their stories, without any sort of didactic message or condescending “When I was your age” rhetoric.
It has also reaffirmed that everyone has a story to tell — all you have to do is ask.
Are there any writers that you’re loving at the moment?
God, so many. If you want to be a writer, I can’t encourage this enough: Get your eyeballs on as much in your genre as humanly possible. I do love the work of Haley Nahman, my editor at Man Repeller, so stupidly much. She strings words together like notes in an aria — she says precisely what you didn’t realize you’ve always been thinking. I’m also currently loving Shannon Keating, Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz, Hunter Harris, so many more… Also, I finally read Normal People by Sally Rooney (I’m the last one, I know) and wow. Just wow. Damn. I wish I wrote that.
What’s the worst advice you have ever received?
Lower your expectations. I refuse to. I’m ambitious and have big goals for myself. I want to do something impactful, that enacts real change, that moves the world’s inertia to some degree. I refuse to apologize for that or aim lower.
It can grow tiresome, but my id is always asking me: If you’re not going to be great, why be at all?
Any top tips you’d like to share with other writers starting out?
Write every day — even 100 words can make a difference. Follow the editors and writers at your favourite publications on Twitter and Instagram and read everything they publish. Pay attention to when they post call-outs and pitch! Send smart, concise, news-pegged pieces. Pitch stories that only you can write. Pitch so many times that you get 100 “no’s” (or lack of responses), until you finally get a yes. Build your portfolio. Apply to fellowships and soak up as much information as you’re exposed to. Take advantage of every opportunity you’re privileged enough to earn and make sure to actively listen to what every person you meet has to say. And above all else, believe in yourself. Believe that you’re good enough, that you’re talented enough, that you’ve got what it takes. Don’t let self-doubt sow seeds in your cortex. Be your own champion. Make friends with other writers and creatives.
Build each other up constantly, whether that means peer-editing each other’s work or listening as one of you cries on the phone.
What’s something that’s always on your desk, besides your laptop and phone?
Sound blockers! They help me concentrate. Putting them on is like entering my own little universe. It’s sublime.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I manage a team of four staff writers, so my day always starts by writing their headlines and assigning them stories, which I then edit and publish throughout the day. I’ll also meet with my two amazing team members to touch-base, brainstorm, and ideate larger-scale content. After work, I usually take a yoga class to clear my head, then have a late, European-style dinner with a friend. At the very end of my night, I’ll sit at my little dining room table in my tiny studio, with a candle lit and a glass of Merlot poured, and write before bed. If I have the time, I’ll read or watch an episode of TV, then turn the lights off. I don’t get much sleep — I have a hyperactive brain and at times I struggle to shut it off.
What’s next for you?
I hope to write in some capacity for the rest of my life. Storytelling has the power to sway human emotion, which can then impact real, actionable change — more so than any fact or statistic. I believe that with every fiber of my being. There’s nothing more fulfilling to me than giving back through the written word. I love talking and connecting with readers and knowing I’ve made some kind of impact. The readers are what motivate me most because I was, and still am, one of them. Their curiosity drives me.
2020 is going to be a big year for me. I have a larger project looming, and I’ve been relearning my relationship to music, which has been a process. But every Sunday, I host an “Open Mic” series on Instagram Stories, and it’s been a fantastic way to hold myself accountable. Besides that, you can continue to read my work on Elite Daily and Man Repeller and follow along with my inner musings on Instagram. And if you ever want to talk, know that I’m actually a real person. I’m here to lend an ear.