Thing I've been doing every morning


I watched this video today and I liked it. Every morning this week I've woken up at 5:30 a.m. to write. Mostly because I miss writing and I don't get to do it during the day, but also because I want to exercise that part of my brain again. After five months of not writing every day at work, I feel myself getting rusty—words don't flow as easily, sentence construction is starting to feel stilted.

In my first year at Dartmouth, my SAT Verbal score placed me out of freshman writing and directly into a writing seminar—where I proceeded to bomb in the most spectacular manner. My professor gave me a D and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should never attempt a writing course again. So I didn't. I think I took one history of English class as part of my Linguistics major requirements, but other than that I steered clear of the English department, and any kind of writing, because I thought I couldn't do it.

Now, as a full-fledged grown-up, I've been a professional writer for more than a decade—I've written for major outlets and nearly every editorial platform I can name (magazines, newspapers, books, web, social)—I know myself better than to still believe what one man told me more than 20 years ago.

Tl;dr Make Better Stuff

I went to get a pedicure today—the Marine Spa Pedicure at Rehoboth Spa Lounge is my favorite, ask for Maya or Katie—and while I was sitting in the massage chair (massage chair!) I found myself deep in a Yahoo-Tumblr-Marissa-Meyer longread, probably 2,000 words in. At that point I got distracted by a noise or something, looked up, picked up my Starbucks iced tea, and was looking around the nail salon when it occurred to me (yes, I have a short attention span) that even though I'd read thousands of words of a good deep-dive feature, I had no idea what site I was reading it on, had no idea who the byline belonged to, and had no idea how I got there.

This surprised me because, well, I work in digital media, specifically content, and everywhere I've worked over the last six-ish years, we've all spent a whole lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to bring readers to sites through side doors (the vast majority of readers of any site I've worked at don't come through the homepage—they come from search, social media, newsletters, etc.). Usually I pay attention to what I'm reading—I'm fairly selective about what sites I click on, I like to scan lists and stories, and I'm always looking for new writers, so I almost always pay attention to bylines. But that one conscious moment in the salon where I realized I was reading something just because it was good and the universe and muscle memory had colluded to bring me to that page without a second thought—it kind of threw me for a loop.

What does this mean to me in my day job besides continuing to do what most digital publishers are all already doing: putting as many clever/touching/informative/teasing/best practice social posts and links out there as possible, optimize the heck out of newsletters, and hope readers at large share compelling content on their own social platforms, of their own volition (the most powerful endorsement)? I guess the most reductionist takeaway from this is that to get new eyeballs on your site and to keep people on your site for more than six seconds, you have to make better stuff: write better stories, produce better videos, create better editorial. (I know that seems like a master-of-the-obvious statement and super-unprofound, but if we look around the internet, it seems that "making better stuff" is something lots of publishers aren't really prioritizing these days.)

Aaaaand this post is pretty much 100 percent tl;dr.

Epilogue: I backtracked. This is the Tumblr-Yahoo-Marissa Meyer story I was reading. It lives on Mashable and the byline is Seth Flegerman. I got to it via the Digg daily newsletter, which is the email newsletter I open most. Second is the Medium email newsletter.

How I write

I don't really remember writing my first book. I remember everything before the writing and everything immediately after the writing, but trying to remember the writing process itself, I draw a complete blank.

Here's what I do remember: I procrastinated finishing my proposal for weeks and weeks (six, to be exact) before my ever-patient agent, Mel Flashman at Trident Media Group, called me one Friday and asked, "What are you doing on Sunday?" Nothing, I replied. So she summoned me to the bar at Eleven Madison Park where, over the course of the afternoon and many, many, many cocktails, she asked me questions and I answered them as she took notes on a yellow legal pad. In the evening, as we exited the bar, she ripped off the dozen or so pages she'd jotted down, handed them to me and said, "Type this up."

After the book was sold and contracts were signed, I had about five months to turn in a manuscript to my editor, the amazing Kathryn Huck, who was the executive editor at HarperCollins at the time. I was still working full-time at the New York Post and am a procrastinator by nature, so didn't start writing until about a month out from the due date. The night before my manuscript was due, I really only had about 72 pages down. But that was when my computer (a blue Toshiba PC) bit the dust, died, fried itself, never turned on again. I was up all night totally freaking out, and at 10 a.m. the next morning was at the Apple store in SoHo buying a new laptop. I emailed my agent, who emailed my editor, who gave me a five week extension, which pinned my final manuscript deadline on the last day of September 2005's New York Fashion Week.

Now, during fashion week at the New York Post that season, I was not only covering shows all day and writing show reviews in the afternoons and evenings, I was also writing a daily fashion gossip column—I can't remember what it was called in its first iteration that season, but in later years it was renamed "The Hi-Lo" for no good reason except my surname is Lo and my editor thought the title was amusing. So that meant that after a full day at shows and filing reviews to deadline, I would go out to events and parties, gather items, file for first, second, and third deadlines (the Post was printed in three editions at the time, with closing times of 8:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m, and 1:30 a.m., respectively). By the time I got home after attending my last party of the night (sober because I was meant to be writing a book) and phoning in my last items, I was beat—but would stay up until three or four in the morning writing, to finish my manuscript in time.

No wonder I don't remember the writing process.

Somehow it all worked out. I handed my manuscript in on the last day of fashion week around 3 p.m. and immediately went home and passed out for 15 hours. My book was published on May 6, 2006 and that morning I did my first live TV segment ever when I was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America.

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the times in my life when I've been most productive, longform writing-wise. There are really only two time periods I can think of: the first, when I was writing my first master's thesis and spent ten hours each day for months on end reading and writing in the Bodleian Library; the second, when I procrastinated my book twice and basically wound up writing it between midnight and 3 a.m. during fashion week. I guess the takeaway here is that, for me, it's not the circumstances and environment that matters when it comes to being productive—it's a looming deadline that, if missed, would result in scary consequences.

I tried daily vlogging

Last week I tried daily vlogging. I lasted two days. I think that people who have office jobs can't really daily vlog? Or, I mean, I can daily vlog, but man those vlogs are boring. Cases in point:


And's here's one that's even more boring:


Need to figure out how to do better. Please stay tuned.
"Observe Everything. Always think for yourself. Never let other people make important decisions for you." — from Bad News by Edward St. Aubyn