Storytelling, Staying Present, and Moving Back Home with Writer Mel Ripp

Storytelling, Staying Present, and Moving Back Home with Writer Mel Ripp

We had the pleasure of visiting Mel, a writer and entrepreneur who lives and works in Door County. Mel invited us into her home in Sevastopol, where we met her husband Zack, her cat Hobbs; and got to see her thriving plant collection first hand.

Mel stands outside surrounded by trees. Her arms are up and she seems to be moving

Mel wears the Organic Cotton Juno Cardigan

KEEPER: Can you tell us how your writing career evolved and how you wound up moving back to and settling down in Door County?

MEL: I grew up wanting to write “The Great American Novel” — but I was a weird kid (in the best possible way). I remember loving the feeling and sound of my fingertips clicking the keys on the typewriter I had gotten for Christmas when I was ten, and I once told my Mom — “I’m gonna write a book — and I’m gonna type out each copy on my typewriter.” Needless to say, that was a little too time consuming, but I started writing creatively as a kid — and I’ve been writing creatively for 30+ years — which is a little wild to me.

I'm a Door County native — my last name’s on a street sign on a country road in the Town of Sevastopol — and my professional writing career really began when I moved back home after attending college at UW-Madison and started working for American Folklore Theater (now called Northern Sky). It was at that job that I really learned the art of marketing content and copywriting — and how you could really encourage and entice people to take action with words. That became pretty intoxicating to me — and I started my own little side hustle, helping several Door County companies with their writing and marketing. Peapod (my business) started that way in 2007.

Around the same time, I started writing for the Peninsula Pulse and Door County Living, and I found a completely different outlet for my writing — a journalistic, storytelling style that gave me the opportunity to talk to countless artists, musicians, chefs, and small business owners on the peninsula. I realized that this kind of writing was what really lit me up — and I started looking for any excuse to tell a story with my writing — writing that would also move people to view, listen, indulge, and support others’ creative endeavors.

I worked in the nonprofit and education world both in Door County and later in Chicago and Madison — but there was always the desire to strike out on my own. I had great role models in terms of many small business owners I knew, but I didn’t have a lot of people like me — writers and freelancer marketers — to look to as inspiration at that time. I just didn’t fit the corporate mold, and I wanted to call my own shots and have the freedom to travel and spend time with the people I loved without the rigidity of a 9-5.

While on vacation in New Mexico in 2018 (one of those expansive trips where you know your life will never be the same after the experience), I gave myself a deadline. I said, “By the end of the trip, you’re going to decide if you’re doing Peapod full-time.” The trip came to a close, I flew home, and gave my notice a week later.

Peapod became a full-time endeavor the day after Thanksgiving on 2018. This November, I’ll be celebrating five years of running Peapod full-time.

In 2021, my husband Zack got an opportunity with a wine and liquor distributor to come to Door County for work, and we jumped at the chance to move back. The stars aligned with housing, awesome friends of ours offered their house to stay at while we closed on our house and moved our stuff from Madison, and we’ve been here in Door County now for two years.

I love the fact that I’ve built my business to the point where I can live and work everywhere — and man oh man, I love looking out past my computer to the farm fields every afternoon. 

Mel wears: The Emma Linen Dress Pearl Stardust Earrings and Cottage Socks

KEEPER: Has living in Door County changed your writing/work?

MEL: I don’t think living in Door County has changed my writing and work — but I do think it has changed my approach to work. I’m a lot more grounded and intentional with the kind of clients I take on, and how much time I devote to work. I have that Midwest work ethic—hello, three jobs every summer in Door County in my teens and 20s!—and what I learned in the corporate world and the early years of my business is that it manifested itself in some pretty intense workaholic-ism and burnout. 

Every morning, I step outside, survey my flowers and bird feeders (BIG #BirdNerd over here!), light a good-smelling candle, and honestly—just kind of revel in the fact that I’m back home. This is—and has always been—my happy place. There’s a community like no other here, and I’m so stoked to be a part of it again.

KEEPER: How would you describe your favorite kind of client/project that you dream of writing for?

MEL: About two years ago, a client asked me if I might be interested in ghostwriting content for her — her emails, blogs, and LinkedIn posts. Before that moment, I had only worked with nonprofits or large corporations, and so I jumped at the chance. I found out that I LOVED it. I loved telling the story of this incredibly capable, intelligent, and strong-willed woman through her words — she had the jumble of ideas and thoughts, and I would synthesize and elevate them into content. It wasn’t long before I started offering thought leadership/personal branding/ghostwriting services, and now my work is approximately 60% of this. The goal is for it to be 100% in the near future!

With that said, my favorite kind of clients are women executives and entrepreneurs — I work with a lot of coaches, consultants, fractional C-Suite roles, and more. I love doing this work because so often—and especially with women, I’ve found—we don’t think our stories are important. We don’t think our perspectives are unique. Some of us have been told all of our lives that we should just sit down and wait for someone to notice us. Doing this work is incredibly important — I like to say that I’m my clients’ mirror (Velvet Underground & Nico-style!) to “reflect what they are, in case they don’t know.” Our journeys — both personal and professional — are just as important as where we find ourselves currently — and I love to tell those stories on behalf of my clients who may not have the time or brain space to do it on their own.

Hobbs through the window

KEEPER: Tell us about your creative/work space.

MEL: Well, right now it’s a bit under construction—but I usually work on our all-season porch in our 100+ year old farmhouse in Sevastopol—the sunlight and the changing of the seasons is so life-giving. There’s no less than 20 plants in my office—some people learned how to bake bread during the pandemic, I learned how to finally take care of plants!—and plenty of original art, both from Door County artists and beyond. Filling my work and personal spaces with art is a really important piece of my life—my husband and I are avid collectors, and try to purchase 1-2 pieces a year. 

My other necessities — my AirPods, a great-smelling candle (I’ve literally thought about having a IG account dedicated to my candle reviews), plenty of Pilot V7 Precise black ball point pens and yellow legal pads, a sparkling water of some sort, coffee (of course), and I buy myself a bouquet of fresh flowers every week. I started doing this during the pandemic and it brought me so much joy that I’ve kept it going.

KEEPER: Are you a writer who has a routine you stick to? A favorite writing spot? Time of day? Playlist?

MEL: I’m a firm believer that creativity and writing—whether you’re getting paid for it or not!—can’t be rushed, and it’s tough to do on demand. I find that I’m the most productive during the mornings—and every once in awhile, I like to work at night (no one’s emailing me then!). I try to turn my email off during the day and only respond once or twice a day. My favorite writing spot is outside on my tiny deck.

My writing playlist changes from week to week. There are times where I need music without words, so I have plenty of jazz and International playlists to get me through that. When I’m doing work ON the business—paying or sending invoices, creating systems and processes, and that kind of stuff, my favorites are Big Thief, Steely Dan (HUGE Steely Dan fan over here!), Sylvan Esso, Japanese Breakfast, Waxahatchee, HAIM, Liz Phair, and St. Vincent. I’m also a late-to-the-game Swiftie—I saw both Taylor Swift and Beyonce in concert this summer, and I can’t stop listening to either one.

KEEPER: Do you have any sustainable practices to keep you creative?

MEL: Travel, and doing my favorite things in and out of Door County. I take several trips to Chicago a year, thanks to my best friend who lives there, and I was able to get away to LA, the Dominican Republic, and soon, Morocco this year. Travel is a critical part of filling up my creativity cup — I love meeting new people, seeing things from a local perspective, and supporting the small businesses in these places. I’m usually always the one taking photos of the strangest things, seeking out the mural art and sculpture gardens in cities, and eating all the food I can’t usually find on the peninsula. :)

KEEPER: Any favorite spots to hang out/feel inspired on the peninsula?

MEL: Oh, my gosh — so many. I’ve been going to The Farm since I was a little kid, and I go there every summer to hold the kitties and milk the goats. I love Sara and John at OneEightyPetals, and I especially love their pick-your-own flower field. I love going to Rusty Dusty Vintage & Records and having Adam and Jackie do a “Dealer’s Choice” and pick me out a record I’ve never heard of. I love going to Vintique and The Simple Solution and finding new vintage treasures. 
Clark Lake, which hugs the back of both Cave Point and Whitefish Dunes, is another spot. Peninsula State Park is a constant favorite — it’s like a best friend that is always so happy to see me. :) 

KEEPER: Any advice for fellow creatives/entrepreneurs?

MEL: Don’t be afraid of sharing your story, and what you’ve learned over the course of your career. We often think of our lives and careers as this series of big, sweeping moments—but in reality, it’s the tiny little moments that shape you the most. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old—when I wrote a story about a laughing hyena that lost its laugh and all of my classmates loved my story when I read it out loud. A tiny moment, but one that solidified what I wanted to do early on.

I often tell my ghostwriting clients that the most compelling part of our stories isn’t what we know, but how we learned it. So don’t shy away from sharing those parts of yourself. Because someone might do the same thing you do, but they don’t do it in the same way—and they certainly don’t share the same perspective. The world needs to hear what you have to say. Someone needs your advice and insights—I promise you that.

Mel standing by a window and looking at the camera.

Mel wearing the Emma Linen Dress with Pearl Stardust Earrings

KEEPER: Any big projects or happenings you're excited about in the coming year?

MEL: I’m heading to Morocco in a few weeks with a group of a dozen other women entrepreneurs. This trip pulls out all the stops—I get to experience a hot air balloon ride (something that’s been on my list for a LONG time!), ride a camel in the desert, experience the medina—I’m BEYOND excited. In terms of work, I just booked a huge rebrand with a graphic design collaborator of mine — we’re revamping the visual identity and brand messaging for an agency in LA. And frankly, I’m just so excited to continue to work with my thought leadership and ghostwriting clients. These women are doing incredible things and have so many stories — I can’t wait to keep telling them. I might potentially be ghostwriting a book for one of them, and I’m honored that she trusts me to do that. 

KEEPER: Do you have a favorite quote or words you love?
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