Meet Nicole Bélanger, Founder of Fourth Hour and the Girl Gang Missives

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NBelanger[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]his week, since the Girl Gang Missives is on hiatus, we have a very interview for you with the creator of the newsletter herself, Nicole Belanger! Each week, Nicole rounds up all the awesome things women are creating and achieving each week, which she sends out in an email newsletter on Fridays and shares with Feminist Wednesday readers the following Wednesday. She’s also the creator of a few other media projects, all centered around uplifting women. Nicole has an incredible energy – her belief in the transformative power of women’s stories is palpable. This week, we chatted with Nicole about the magic of storytelling, the messy parts of working as a freelance media-maker, and the power of allowing yourself room to shift your dreams and goals.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.

Hi! I'm Nicole. I live in Toronto, Canada and, like a lot of creatives, I wear several hats. For the last couple of years, I was a freelance writer and did some communications consulting, but as of March, I have a full-time job doing community development for a non-profit that promotes digital literacy for women and youth across Canada. It's a lot of fun.

Outside of that, I produce content for my website, Fourth Hour, which is a collection of original content inspired by the ways that women gather together and support each other. The last big piece I launched was an ebook of women's stories on the topic of resilience, and the next project I want to tackle is a podcast.

I occasionally write for sites like Modern Loss and Refinery29, but I've recently realized that it's not my favorite way to write (it's just what I thought "internet writers" did), so I'm giving myself room to experiment, by doing things like taking a comedy writing class, to get a better sense of what my voice as a writer is and what mediums are best to express it.[divider type="white" spacing="10"]

Why is it important for you to tell women's stories and how does feminism inform the work you do?

Short answer: because they are magic. Honestly. Stories can be healing in a way that I can only describe as magical. When we see ourselves reflected in a story, it is an incredibly a powerful reminder that we are not alone. That you're not the only woman under 30 who has been divorced, or who has never had an orgasm, or who secretly can't stand their mother.

Loneliness, isolation and stigma dull our shine and reduce our quality of life – I want to combat that by giving women access to stories and narratives that will make them feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. To do that, we need to collect and share as many narratives about women's lived experiences as humanly possible. To me, that is feminist AF – giving women the power and platform to speak the truth of who they are honestly and openly.

Another (perhaps more uplifiting) special thing about stories is their power to tune us into possibilities within ourselves that we never realized were there. They can be an invitation to imagine new ways of living and being that we didn't think were possible. Dream, Girl is actually one of the best examples of that that I can think of! Imagine how many girls and women are going to watch that film and think "wow, yeah, I could totally do that."[divider type="white" spacing="10"]

What's your favourite part of your work? The most challenging?

Favorite part? That I have an excuse for talking to cool women that I admire. Truly, that's the main reason I started my Conversations With Her project.

[pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]Loneliness, isolation and stigma dull our shine and reduce our quality of life – I want to combat that by giving women access to stories and narratives that will make them feel seen, heard, and acknowledged.[/pullquote]

The most challenging? Monetizing content. Last Spring, I decided to make my first foray into the world of paid content with my ebook, On Resilience, which was the evolution of my Conversations With Her interview series. The project itself took me from May to October and I was able to make it happen financially with the very generous support of my family. I decided from the get-go to treat it like an experiment and I am very glad that I did because, if we're just evaluating the success of the book based on the money it brought in, it was an abject failure. I don't really feel like sharing exact numbers, but let me just say that I couldn't pay a month's rent with it.

I think that, emotionally speaking, the hardest part of that "failure" was that I couldn't isolate what the cause(s) of it was: Did I not do enough to promote it? (that was certainly part of it) Did I not make the sales copy compelling enough? Did I price it too high? Was the book too short? Do people not want to pay for this kind of content? Would it have done better as a printed work?

I wrestled with those questions for months, while also wrestling with a bigger question: was it time to go back to the world of financial stability and full time employment? Around late November I decided that the answer was yes. For the few months that I was job searching and during the early days in my new job, I let Fourth Hour sit on the back burner.

Then, in February on International Women's Day, just as I was about to get on the subway to go home from work, I decided to tweet out that I was going to make the book free for the rest of the evening in celebration of the occasion. It got downloaded dozens of times!

My first reaction was "damn, do people just not think my work is worth paying money for?"

But as the weeks went by, I came around to a different conclusion: maybe this book wasn't meant to be a money-maker...maybe it was meant to be my gift to the world.

So, I wrote this little blurb about the decision on Twitter and made the book available free to download.

Was it the right decision? I won't pretend to know. But it feels right and I'm just going to go with that![divider type="white" spacing="10"]

What advice would you have for other female media-makers?

Try to go as long as you can without putting the pressure on your art to be your sole source of income. I feel like putting that pressure on my writing so early on distorted my voice at a key time when I'm really trying to get to know it. I knew so little about what it meant to me to be a writer that I just started performing what I thought being a writer looked like based on those around me. Going back to full time work took the financial pressure off my art and has allowed me to take a more playful, curious approach to my writing.[divider type="white" spacing="10"]

Any plugs or upcoming projects our readers should know about?

Hoping to get that podcast off the ground sometime in the fall, so if that sounds like your readers' kind of thing, follow me on Twitter (@nskbelanger) for updates and the occasional good joke!