writing

Wise Words from Junot Diaz

The best book I read this year, and probably ever, was Junot Diaz‘s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. (Yes, yes, I know it came out a few years ago—I go through phases of devouring books, then not reading any for months!) From page one, I was floored by Diaz’s use of language. His voice is incredibly unique and authentic, and he puts words together in rhythmic ways that I’d never heard before, let alone could conceive of doing. As a writer, I can’t even be envious of him. To me, Diaz exists on some other level, one that I—and, quite honestly, most other writers—could never even strive to achieve. (It was no surprise to me that he was just awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant.)

Diaz’s new book, This Is How You Lose Her, came out in September and it’s at the top of my reading list. Accordingly, he’s been in the press a lot, recently. But of all the things I’ve read about him, one quote has stuck in my mind. It’s from a Real Simple piece in which famous authors were asked to impart the valuable life lessons they learned from other works of literature. Diaz’s answer was:

I grew up dirt-poor in the Dominican Republic, and when my family moved to the United States (I was six), my new home felt very hostile and cold. As a kid who wanted protection, I read Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It’s about a group of rabbits who are forced from their home and encounter another warren of well-fed rabbits. The displaced animals realize that their fat kinsmen are safe because a farmer has turned their burrow into an outdoor refrigerator. At just eight years old, I realized that security is sometimes too high a price to pay for your freedom. Kindling bravery is a daily challenge: not hiding away in safety, not settling for whatever is just good enough.

Those are such wise words to remember at any time. But right now, when I’m in the middle of a time of change, they ring especially true.

What quotes have motivated or inspired you, recently? I’d love to hear!

(Photo via Jezebel)

Spy Gadgets That Can Improve Your Vacation

As one of my old bosses would say, here’s a bit of shameless self-promotion: I recently wrote a BudgetTravel.com piece about spy gadgets that are surprisingly useful on vacations. (It’s tied to the a new Bond movie that’s coming out–who doesn’t want to travel like him?) Below are my favorite products from the story, but check them all out here.

chloe hoodie

Clothing that conceals your valuables in numerous hidden pockets. (The slideshow displays a photo of one of the men’s options, but I personally like the Chloe hoodie above.)

Hammacher Schlemmer camera

A tiny camera for capturing surrepititious shots.

peeble watches

Watches that sync with your smartphone and alert your to emails, calls, texts and more.

(Also, another recent story I wrote for TravelandLeisure.com about America’s most popular zoos–check it out, especially if you love animal photos!)

Writing and Eating

chopstick pencils

Last week,В NY MagВ ran a fun piece highlighting the best answers they received to a series of questions they asked various showrunners (i.e. TV industry people who oversee the creative visions of shows). Questions ranged from “Pick a character from your show; which reality show would (s)he be most suited for?” to “What was the biggest creative misstep you ever saw made by a show you love?” (My favorite answer to the latter was from Lena Dunham, creator of Girls: “Obviously, Felicity cutting her hair–I get it now, but it was rough at the time.”)

But the answers that made me laugh outloud were to the question: “The hardest thing to pull off on a TV show is…”В They all revolved around eating!

From Carter Bays, of How I Met Your Mother:

Writing and producing it without constantly eating.

From David Caspe, of Happy Endings:

Everything. And staying thin (the room is full of really great snacks).

From Graham Yost, of Justified:

Convincing your wife that it’s actually a job and not just some fun thing you get to do each day where they provide lunch and a snack room.

As someone who makes a living with words, I can definitely relate. It’s hard not to nosh all day while you’re working! Everything about writing makes me want to eat:В When I’ve completed a paragraph that’s given me trouble, I need to refrain from rewarding myself with a piece of chocolate.В When I’m stumped on a lede or transition, I have to stop myself from reaching for a snack. When I’m procrastinating from starting an assignment, it’s hard not to extend my food break just a few more minutes. And I’m not going to get into all the free snacks that are floating around at work.

If I had no self control, I really would eat my way through every day. But I’ve found that just as much as writing makes me want to eat, it eventually has the opposite effect. Every writer knows how draining the process is–and how hours can fly by when you’re bent over a desk. When I’ve completed an assignment or finished my work for the day, I want nothing more than to stretch and move. And by then, ballet class or a good run feels way more refreshing than yet another brownie.

Fellow writers, do you feel the same? Are you always stopping yourself from snacking as you work?

(Photo via Pinterest)

3 Tips for Would-Be Writers

At a panel discussion at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, an audience member asked three established writers what advice they had for aspiring scribes. Their answers were so simple and so true:

“Read a lot. Read a lot.” – Magic HoursВ author Tom Bissell

“Write a lot.” – I Must Not Think Bad ThoughtsВ author Mark Dery

“Don’t expect to make any money.” –В Is That a Fish In Your Ear?В author David Bellos

I couldn’t agree more (especially with the last one).

My own advice? Believe in your writing and have confidence in your work–because if you don’t, no one else will.

And let’s not forget Hemingway’s very wise words on the subject.

What would be your advice?

(Image via Pinterest via Bippity Boppity Boo)

My First (Work) Computer

The other day, a co-worker introduced me to the awesome Tumblr, My First Computer, where readers submit photos of themselves with (surprise!) their first computers. In typical Tumblr fashion, most snapshots feature people in their ’80s glory alongside clunky computers of the time:

You get the idea. After scrolling through the posts, I was tempted to send in a photo of me with an ancient computer. But it’s not from 1985. It’s from 2005:

atex

From 2004 to 2006, I worked at the Boston Herald (which was a great gig). At the time, they were just starting to move the newsroom off an ancient computer system–called Atex–and onto PCs. The shift was gradual and done by seniority–so as a lowly editorial assistant, I was not at the top of the list to receive one. And I never did. For the two and a half years I worked there, I used that crazy-looking, 1970s-era computer in the photo above. It had no mouse (all on-screen actions were done via a series of commands), no internet (and therefore no e-mail), no color (just green characters on a black screen) and no audio or video capabilities.

I’m still amazed at everything I was able to accomplish on that machine. At the time, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, podcasts and digital music were in their infancy–and I covered all that (and hundreds of other stories) on a computer straight out of All the President’s Men.

I was thrilled to get a normal computer at my next job. But I still have fond memories of Atex. In fact, there are some days when I sit at my PC and wish I could tab over a row of text and capitalize or lower case each letter with the click of a button–like I could on Atex.

(In case you were wondering, I’m wearing a shirt made of duct tape in that photo. My co-worker was covering Duck Brand’s duct tape prom outfit photo contest and I decided to prove that yes, you really can make clothing out of duct tape.)

Hemingway’s Words of Wisdom

The other day, I came across these awesome printsВ via Sho & Tell.В I loved all of them, but the one above stood out to me.

I’m not badass like Hemingway. I don’t sit in my cube typing and swirling a cocktail. (Though there are days when I wish that were the truth!) But as someone who makes a living with words, I appreciate the sentiment.

Every writer knows that your best work comes out when you’re uninhibited and honest and not censoring yourself. In fact, years ago, another writer friend and I used to joke that the best way to write was to pretend you’re drunk and don’t care–and then go back and clean it up later.

It also helps if you truly care about your subject…but if you don’t then maybe that’s a case for taking Heminway’s advice and having a drink or two before getting down to business.

Image via Obvious State