Jilly: What I Learned About Writing From My Hairdresser


The fabulous Mr Joel Goncalves

The fabulous Mr Joel Goncalves

Antibiotics and comfort reading did the trick. By Tuesday I wasn’t sick any more, but I was still feeling sorry for myself, so I went for another guaranteed pick-me-up that should be available on prescription – a great haircut.

Hairdressers and romance writers have a lot in common. Good ones build up a devoted (predominantly female) following, bring a great deal of pleasure to a great many people, and do it by deploying hard-earned creative and technical skills that go largely unacknowledged outside their own community.

A lifetime ago I took a job that included responsibility for the business side of some well-known salons. I was amazed at what I discovered. A successful hairstylist/client relationship is mind-bogglingly strong. Many last a lifetime, and I mean that literally. A friend of mine gave her stylist a plate to celebrate ‘their’ 25th anniversary. Clients will follow their favorite stylist across a country or even a continent, and it’s not at all unusual for a hairdresser to be an honoured guest at a client’s wedding or birthday bash, their child’s christening, or some other significant life event. So far I’ve only had to follow my stylist, the wonderful Joel Goncalves, across town from one London salon to another, but if he ventured further afield I’m pretty sure I’d be hot on his trail.

Last week at the RT Booklovers’ convention in New Orleans, historical romance author Courtney Milan gave a presentation called Building A Sticky Digital Readership, talking about specific ways that an author can build a digital readership that ‘sticks’ to them, book by book (wish I could have been there, but I’m hoping perhaps the same talk might be on the program at RWA National in San Antonio). It must have been on my mind as I unwound in the salon chair and let Joel work his magic, because I started to wonder just what makes his clientele so ‘sticky’, and what I could learn from it.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • We’re well matched. Not only is his styling technically excellent, but it’s my kind of thing. I’m the right client for the kind of creative work he likes to do.
  • He knows what’s in fashion, but he doesn’t chase trends. I know I won’t finish up with something I didn’t sign up for, just because it’s hot at the moment.
  • He’s innovative. The changes are subtle, but he always offers something new every time I see him.
  • He genuinely wants feedback and is always looking for ways to improve his work.
  • He does work that’s as good if not better when you revisit it the next day, and the next week.
  • He doesn’t rush. He’d rather get it right than squeeze another client in and make more money.
  • Until it’s done to his satisfaction, you’re going nowhere.
  • He systematically fills the creative well. He deliberately chooses to do a mixture of session work (photo shoots etc) and salon clients to keep himself inspired. It works! Check out some of his beautiful photo shoot hair here.

I think that boils down to a very simple message: be true to yourself and do the very best work you can. Rinse and repeat. Or step by step: follow your Girls, don’t chase the market, keep it fresh, be open to criticism, don’t send something out until it’s ready, and make sure you keep refilling the creative well. Sound right?

Are you a longstanding client of a hairdresser, or a beautician, or a restaurant? Why do you think they’re ‘sticky’, and are there lessons we could learn from them?

Oh – and for any Londoners reading this, you can find the fabulous Joel at Daniel Galvin on George Street.

18 thoughts on “Jilly: What I Learned About Writing From My Hairdresser

  1. Ah yes! I remember that plate well – hand painted I recall. I followed him until I couldn’t afford him anymore. Thankfully I have a replacement, but it’s taken me a decade to find him. Great read Jilly and so very true!

    • It was a very special plate – the hand-painted ‘then’ and ‘now’ portraits were hilarious – and a successful 25-year relationship of any kind is definitely cause for celebration 🙂

  2. (-: Do you think it’s true that we all think we have difficult hair? I haven’t met many women who think their hair is great without the help of a good stylist — and usually these are women who have gorgeous, waist-length hair that hasn’t seen the blade of a pair of scissors in years.

    A bad stylist may let you leave the salon looking very nice, but three days later, you’ve got cowlicks and that funny tuft of hair that needs an extra trim (if you dare). And sometimes, a good stylist will have you leaving the salon looking a little weird, but after you’ve processed the hairstyle (ie: washed it at home), it works beautifully. I have to say, I’ve read books from bad stylists and those uncomfortable stylists, as well.

    A good hairdresser is a treasure, and a good writer? Another treasure. Well worth following.

  3. I wonder if being “sticky” (or should it be “likely to stick”?) is a personality trait. ‘Cause I don’t think I have it. No matter how fabulous the service provider/restaurant/store/whatever is, if a new one comes along I will definitely try it to see if the new one is better. Even if a new whatever doesn’t come along, I’m likely to tire of the old one- it’s good that I live in a city with a never-ending supply of new restaurants, stores, etc.

    The only things I can think of that improve with repeated exposure are friends.

    • What about authors, Jennifer? Do you tend to tire of those and move on, no matter how fabulous they are, or do they count as friends?

      I’m flighty and experimental until I find something that really feels right. Then I lock on and it takes a lot to dislodge me. The only exception is travel. I’ve been to some incredible places but I also have a long bucket list and I’d always choose somewhere new over somewhere I’ve already visited.

      • Yes, I lose interest in authors, too. I need too many books not to read the authors I have been enthusiastic about in the past, and to re-read stories I enjoy, but I get a lot less excited about them. Suz Brockmann is fantastic, and I searched out, purchased, and read and re-read every one of her books a few years ago. But I’ve moved on. I ordered a signed copy of her latest, Do or Die, in February. It’s still sitting on my TBR pile, untouched. I’ll get to it someday. Same thing with Jayne Ann Krentz. Love her stuff, bought every book she’s written in the last 15 years (the earlier stuff is not to my taste), read some of them five or six times. But she came out with Otherwise Engaged, I dunno, a few weeks ago, and I haven’t even ordered it yet. Maybe eventually. Maybe not.

        We seem to be the flip side of one another in this regard, since I travel a lot, but love to go back to places I’ve been before. There was always something there I didn’t get to, or that I wanted to do differently. But since I travel where my husband is headed for work, I almost never have any choice in the matter.

        • I do think people do grow out of writers and hairdressers. But, when the relationship works, it’s great!

          My husband has been going to the same barber since college. The guy is old, and frankly doesn’t cut hair very well anymore. But my husband has really good hair that seems to look OK even with a little raggedy stuff going on — and he only goes once every three to six months. The hair always looks just fine within four weeks.

          I have encouraged my husband to try a different barber . . . but not too hard. (-: If he sticks with a barber like that, there’s a good possibility he won’t be looking for a trophy wife anytime soon. Loyalty is also admirable.

      • For starters, she does a great haircut at a very reasonable price. And then she’s a dynamo. She always has something big going on. She’s either off to an NYC Vidal Sassoon clinic, or she’s taking a master cooking class in Hawaii, or she’s throwing a huge party for a weird holiday. She has a great sense of humor. She has a great laugh. And she doesn’t take clients who put chemicals in their hair. So it’s sort of like going to an eco-rock-star-Gordon-Ramsey-singalong.

        • Wow, Kay! Now I want to go to Door County, Wisconsin – except Polly would take one look at my blonde highlights and show me the door.

  4. I generally cut my own hair, so I’m not the best person to ask about “sticky” when it comes to stylists.

    For books though, I stick with authors when I know I can count on them to deliver what I’m expecting. If I’ve liked what they’ve written in the past, I’m likely to keep reading, unless they change what they’re delivering – either in genre or in quality.

  5. So funny that you mention hairdressers. With my curly (and mind-of-its-own) hair, finding one who can tame it and get it to look half-decent is a huge challenge. My hairdresser, Robin, has been my hairdresser since I moved to PHX 5 years ago. She is about two weeks younger than me, she has curly hair, and we’ve talked each other through children, divorces, new jobs, writing (ha!), and lots of other things. She’s met a wonderful man and is moving to San Diego, about 6 hours from me, but is coming back every 5-6 weeks to cut my hair and a few other clients. She’s even house-sit for me!

    While she cuts my hair, I consider her more of a friend…albeit one I don’t see but every 5-6 weeks, but when I do, we just pick up right where we left off. I have no idea what it is that I like about her (aside from the fact that she’s a WHIZ at color and I love what she does with my hair). She’s a bit snarky, lots of fun, and just easy to get along with.

    I was thinking about Jennifer’s reply above about finding something/someone new and trying it. For me, I like building relationships with people, be it my dentist, doctor, hairdresser — hell, even our yard guys, so finding someone I like and sticking to them is important to me; part of it is a trust thing, part of it is because they do good work, but I also just like checking in with them and saying, “Hello…how are the kids?”

    • I’m definitely Team Justine, not Team Jennifer, on this question. I like to have solid, lasting relationships with everyone in my world – Joel of course, but also my dentist, car mechanic, dry cleaner, everyone. It makes life easier but more importantly it turns the most mundane task into a pleasure.

      • Well, geez, it’s not like I ditch the people! I’m still best buddies with my last housekeeper. In fact, she comes when I need an extra that I can’t get with my regular service. Plus, I stop by her place whenever I walk by and we chat about her kids and neighborhood stuff. I’m back to the yard guys I’ve used on and off for the last twelve years. I know all their kids and have spent hours sitting on the patio chatting with them. They just laugh at me when I switch it up for a season. I’m friends with all the guys I’ve hired in those seasons, too. I’m friendly with and happily recognized and greeted by all the waitresses at the restaurants I frequent, even the ones I now visit only every two months instead of three times a week. I still bring my last personal trainer a big box of chocolate every Christmas and flowers on her birthday, and she runs to hug me every time we see one another.

        I think I have solid, long lasting relationships with the people in my world. I just have a lot of them. 🙂

        • Wow, Jennifer, I’m thinking your world would make a great fly-on-the-wall reality TV show. It sounds nice. Tiring, but in a good way 🙂

Let Us Know What You Think

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s