Interview with Polina Pompliano: “The creative process is more of a practice than a moment of inspiration.

Polina Pompliano is the founder, creator and writer at The Profile, a new media company that delivers captivating longform profiles of successful people and companies every week.

Her profiles are renowned for their depth, detail, and insight, and she has written profiles of some of the biggest names in business, entertainment, tech, sports, and more, including Sara Blakely, Elon Musk, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Dolly Parton, and Kris Jenner.

Prior to founding The Profile, Polina spent five years at Fortune, where she wrote and edited Term Sheet, the publication’s highly-regarded dealmaking newsletter. During her time there, she had the opportunity to interview some of the most influential figures in the industry, including Melinda Gates, Steve Case, Chamath Palihapitiya, and Alexis Ohanian. She holds a degree from the University of Georgia and began her journalism career at CNN and USA Today.

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Hi Polina, welcome to Famous Writing Routines! It’s great to have you here with us today. As the founder of The Profile, a media organization that studies successful people and companies. What was the motivation behind starting this company?

I wanted to create something that would do two things: 1) act as a conversation starter with family and friends and 2) improve the content that I was consuming on a daily basis. I started The Profile in February 2017, and it started as a simple newsletter.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would become a media business that I could work on full-time. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that every big thing starts small. In my opinion, the things born out of genuine passion can go on to be much more successful than the ones born out of a business plan. 

You spent five years at Fortune and wrote over 1,300 articles. Can you share a memorable experience while writing for Fortune?

There are so many unbelievable experiences I had there, but the one that stands out the most was when I interviewed Melinda Gates. It was an interesting look at her investment strategy and how she makes decisions. It was fascinating to better understand how one of the most powerful women on the planet chooses to spend her time and deploy her capital. 

As a ruthless protector of your readers’ time, you read an insane amount of longform articles and even worked on The Profile during vacation and in coffee shops with no Wi-Fi. How do you balance your work and personal life?

To me, writing is what gives me joy and makes me feel most like myself. I kept writing before and after having the baby because I have never done it out of obligation. It’s always been out of fulfillment. So there’s no “balance,” but rather, a shifting of priorities. Luckily, The Profile is my livelihood, my priority, and my joy.

Your priority is to make sure that The Profile does not disappoint readers who expect excellence from your work. Can you tell us more about the curation process for the articles included in The Profile?

Over the years, I’ve learned to sharpen my taste, so I curate what’s interesting to me, and thereby will probably be interesting to my readers. I check websites that often publish great longform content — Fortune, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, GQ, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, ESPN, Vogue, and more — and then I narrow them down to 5 or 6 interesting longform profiles per week.

What do you think sets The Profile apart from other media organizations that focus on successful people and companies?

I think I dive deep into one specific niche — longform profiles of successful people and companies. As far as I know, there aren’t other media organizations that solely focus on that. So when people subscribe to The Profile, they know what to expect.

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Can you walk us through your creative process? What does a typical writing day look like for you? 

For me, the creative process is more of a practice than a moment of inspiration. When I sit down at my desk, I know that I’m about to go on an adventure with my writing. When I start, I never know where I’ll end up, and that’s what’s thrilling for me. So for me, it involves sitting down at roughly the same time every day, reading a lot, and then jotting down seeds of ideas that turn into essays or profiles.

If you could have a conversation with an author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

It would be my grandfather. Few people know that my grandfather (my dad’s dad) was an architect, but he also wrote poetry in his free time. Though he was never a published author, I took a selection of his poems and self-published them for my family to have. He passed away in 2002, but I would love nothing more than the opportunity to be able to ask him about how he managed to use both sides of his brain — the creative and the logical — to produce such amazing work.

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite reads?

I’m currently reading The Creative Act by Rick Rubin and Anna by Amy Odell. My favorite books are memoirs. They include Educated by Tara Westover, The Choice by Edith Eva Eger, and The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton.

What does your current writing workspace look like?

Right now, there’s a water bottle, a computer, a printer, a bunch of pens, a notebook, books in between two bookends, a manuscript of my book Hidden Genius, and a framed photo of my daughter. As I mentioned earlier, I can write anywhere, but what I really enjoy is writing late at night when there’s silence and I feel like I’m alone with my thoughts. 

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