Sometimes I get e-mails from a few of you random people who find my blog (this is literally my favorite thing and I’m sure it makes me pretty insufferable for like an hour after receiving one of these) Sometimes these e-mails are people asking me to put a sponsored link or ad or something in one of my posts (I admit, I love these much less than others, although the grammar is often awful and at least mildly entertaining) but other times these e-mails contain really good questions — lots of train route questions, as I think I’ve made it clear by now that I work for a European train company.
And then this week I got a question I’ve never been asked before: what is the best advice you’ve ever received about writing?
This is the greatest question anyone could ever possibly ask me, because now I get to quote all of these ridiculously talented people I love, and much of their advice seems to apply to life in general rather than just writing, so actually maybe this will interest you even if you don’t give a crap about writing:
First off, Martha Gellhorn or Anne Lamott or Joan Didion could say absolutely anything and I would believe it forever. I was browsing Twitter when the news broke that Nora Ephron had died, and as soon as I saw it I immediately just started sobbing at my computer. These are four of the ladies whose writing I most admire, and I would recommend reading anything they’ve ever written to get some good advice about writing (and careers, relationships, art, friends, traveling, men, everything). Also — listen to Nora Ephron’s books of essays on tape if you can. She reads many if not all of them herself, and it’s like listening to a very animated, hilarious friend give you advice.
I also recently discovered Neil Gaiman (probably the last person on earth to discover Neil Gaiman). Neil gave a commencement speech about art and writing that astounded me on pretty much every level, and apparently it astounded so many other people that you can now watch it as a TED talk or even pick it up as its own book. One of my favorite parts of this speech is his advice for freelancing, and I’ve repeated this advice to several people over the past couple years, whether they’ve asked me for it or not:
Neil says that in order to be successful in an artistic career, you need to do three things: be on time, be like-able, and be good — but he goes on to add that you can still be successful if you choose any two of those three things. People will tolerate your unpleasantness if you’re good and on time; people will excuse your tardiness if you’re really good and they like you; and people won’t mind if you aren’t the best provided they really like you and you’re always on time. In my personal experience — either freelancing myself or hearing stories from my freelancing friends — this is exactly true.
I also really love the books Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. Full of so many inspiring quotes and such brilliant advice for following a career in art, writing, or any other field that people will tell you you’re crazy for pursuing. Here’s a synopsis of the advice he gives in Steal:
Also, he has a list of inspiring quotes on his website that will fix any bad day.
Another woman whose writing and humor I really admire is someone I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person: Jane Borden, a comedian and author of I Totally Meant To Do That. She was one of the other writers present on that trip to Israel I took a couple years ago, and I read her book of essays almost in one sitting. In her book, she said something about patterns that really stuck with me — she said something to the effect that she thinks she is a successful writer because she’s good at noticing patterns in life, and that’s essentially what writing is: noticing patterns and writing them down. I agree with this whole-heartedly. I am obsessed with noticing patterns and writing them down, and I think that, eventually, if you notice enough of them and write enough of them down, you’re eventually going to get some sort of story out of it.
And finally: the best advice I have ever personally received about writing came from my high school journalism class. We were told that if we were ever experiencing writer’s block, we should pretend like our article wasn’t an article but instead a letter to a friend. When you’re writing a letter to a friend, your tone relaxes, you have an exact audience in mind, and you sound most like yourself. The pressure is off. It’s easier to get the words out, and once you’ve got them all there on the page, you can begin to edit.
I think this is one reason why blogs are so popular — blog posts are essentially letters written to everyone on the Internet, aren’t they? — and of course it makes me think of diaries, the original blog posts, which are essentially just letters to yourself. For the past 12 years, this is the advice I always come back to when I’m stuck — write it like it’s a letter.
This entire blog is essentially just a giant love letter to the things that inspire me most: traveling, writing, reading, awesome women, art, fashion, business, hard work, taking risks, big cities — and of course to the people who take the time to actually read my ramblings about these things and send me e-mails with words & notes that are kind beyond belief.
*This photo was taken at Albertine Books, a French-English bookstore on 5th Avenue.