I am so excited to be here with Gretchen Rubin today. Gretchen is the best-selling author of many books including the number one New York Times best seller, The Happiness Project. She’s also written Happier at Home, The Four Tendencies, Better Than Before, and her latest book, Outer Order, Inner Calm. Her books have sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide in more than thirty languages. Gretchen hosts the podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin,” which she cohosts with her sister Elizabeth Craft. She hosts video courses, has spoken at two hundred plus events, including TEDx conferences, and has appeared on the TODAY Show, Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and many other TV shows. A former lawyer and supreme court justice clerk to Sandra Day O’Connor, she currently lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.

Welcome, Gretchen. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Gretchen Rubin: I’m so happy to be talking to you.

Zibby: You’ve achieved so much at this point. Your pile of books is sitting here next to us. You have a podcast, the books. You’ve spoken everywhere. You’ve done all these things. You started as a supreme court justice clerk. What took you from there to this new realm of self-improvement and wanting to help everyone else with all the things that you’ve learned on your own?

Gretchen: As you said, I started out my career in law, and for all the wrong reasons, all the classic mistakes. It’s a great education. I’m good at research and writing. I can change my mind later. It’s good preparation for other things. I was clerking on the supreme court. I think part of me always wanted to be a writer because I did everything that a person would do to prepare to be a writer. I majored in English. I always wrote tons of papers instead of taking exams, all that kind of thing. I wrote a novel for credit in law school. That should’ve been a clue. At that time, weirdly enough, I didn’t see a place for myself in the writing world. I knew I didn’t want to be a novelist or a playwright or a poet. I knew I didn’t want to be an academic writer. I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist of any kind. I had always read fiction. I didn’t really read nonfiction. I didn’t think of the ways that I could write nonfiction. I just didn’t see a place for myself in the writing world.

Then when I was clerking, I had this epiphany where I was on my lunch break and walking around. I thought, “What am I interested in that everyone else in the world is interested in?” just as a rhetorical question for my own amusement. I thought, “Power, money, fame, sex.” I became obsessed with power, money, fame, sex. I started doing all this research and taking notes, which is something I do all the time. This was growing and growing and growing. Finally I thought, “This is the kind of thing somebody would do to write a book.” Then I thought, “I could write that book.” I had the idea that maybe I would try to switch to writing. I got a book from the bookstore called something like How to Write and Sell Your Nonfiction Book Proposal and just followed the directions. That was my first book, Power Money Fame Sex. You met my first editor, Greer Hendricks, who’s now famous as a novelist of Anonymous Girl and the…

Zibby: The Wife Between Us.

Gretchen: The Wife Between Us. That’s fun. Then I wrote a biography of Winston Churchill and a biography of JFK and this weird art book called Profane Waste, which is why owners destroy their own possessions, which is something that obsessed me in law school. Then I started writing the books about happiness and habits. From the outside, they looked very different. On the inside, they all feel very related to me. They’re all about human nature. That’s really my subject. I’m always looking at a different aspect of human nature. To me, they all feel “of a kind,” even though from the outside, I see that my writing breaks in half or half it is after Happiness. The other part was also about all those things as well.

Zibby: I loved The Happiness Project. I remember reading it when it came out. I was a frenzied mom in New York City. I could see myself in your shoes.

Gretchen: We live in the same neighborhood. You’re like, “I know that crosstown bus. I’ve been stuck on that crosstown bus.”

Zibby: It’s so true. You dug into this topic so deeply. Let’s just take the first book. After you wrote it, did it really help? Do you feel like, “I felt so much happier. All these tips have really paid off?”

Gretchen: Yes. The distinction I would make is I still have the same nature. If I’m lying in bed at night and I’m trying to fall asleep, I come back to the same place. My experience of my life truly is so much happier. I have so much more fun. I have so much more adventures. I have more friends. I have more excitement. I make better decisions about how to use my time and my energy and my money. I have less things that make me feel guilty or anxious or angry or annoyed. I have a very short temper. I lot of what I do is aimed at being able to stay calm. Yes. Studying it really helped me understand the consequences of the kind of decisions that I was making, sometimes mindfully and sometimes unconsciously.

A good example is, should go to my college reunion? It’s kind of a pain. I don’t who else is going. It’s expensive. I’m going to have to make a hotel reservation. Is it going to be fun? Was it that fun last time? Now I’m like, “Hey, look. All the research shows, and ancient philosophers agree, relationships are a key to happiness.” Anything that broadens or deepens relationships is going to make you happier. I should definitely go to my college reunion. I get it that some people hate college reunions, fine. For me, I kind of like reunions. Weigh that in. Is this the kind of thing that’s likely to make you happier? Yeah. I’ll reconnect with old friends and old memories. I’ll probably have a great time.

Zibby: Did you go? Did you have fun?

Gretchen: Oh, yeah. I started out in one class but graduated in another class. I go to both of those reunions. Here’s an important tip. They will let you go to any reunion as long as you pay. You can go to any reunion you want. It doesn’t have to be your year. And I go to my law school reunion and my husband’s law school reunion because I’m friends with so many people in his class. Yale Law School’s so small. We knew a lot of the same people. Then I go to my high school reunion. I go to reunions all the time. I do like them. I get that some people don’t like them. The point is just should you go out of the way to go to that wedding? Should you make the trip to see your friend’s new baby? Should you make the effort to go to the funeral? Should you show up to that after-work cocktail party? On balance, if you’re trying to decide, relationships tend to make people happier. In the end, that’s probably going to be a good choice.

Zibby: I love this because I can be very indecisive about things like that.

Gretchen: It’s hard sometimes to decide.

Zibby: I’m asking people, “What do you think? I don’t know.” Then I usually second-guess my decision. I book the whole trip. Then I’m like, “I don’t know what’s coming up.”

Gretchen: I know. Here’s another good question. Choose the bigger life.

Zibby: I was just going to bring that up from your new book about how you were debating getting a dog. You were like, “Choose the bigger life.” I loved that. Always expand.

Gretchen: You’re right though. You can be indecisive. The pros and the cons sometimes weigh. They just balance. You’re like, “I don’t know. It’s going to be massively inconvenient. Will it be worth it? I don’t know.” Choose the bigger life sometimes. It helps with decision-making, I find.

Zibby: Even, “Will I be glad afterwards that I went?” not the, “Will is be worth the schlep?”

Gretchen: Yes. Wait, what’s that called? There’s actually a psychological term for that.

Zibby: Hindsight bias? Something like that.

Gretchen: There is hindsight bias.

Zibby: I’m pulling my psychology…

Gretchen: There’s rosy prospection, which this is not. I forget.

Zibby: There’s something to it.

Gretchen: There’s a word for that.

Zibby: Happier at Home, your next book. What tips can you give from that book in general for stressed, busy parents like the way you found yourself a while ago?

Gretchen: The main point is that I think for most people, home is at the heart of happiness. It really is worth thinking about how could you make your home more pleasant, more comfortable? If you live with a family, how do you have tenderness and affection? It’s very easy, especially when you have little kids to feel like you spend all your time yelling and reminding and juggling the calendar. It feels sort of soul crushing, but it has to be done perfectly. It’s like a paralegal. It’s not that it’s hard, but you cannot leave that four-year-old on the street corner. It has to be done perfectly, so it’s hard.

A couple things I learned from that book that really made a difference that also didn’t take much time, energy, or money — almost everything I talk about is something that you could do just by yourself with no one else’s cooperation because the sad fact is you can’t give people homework. You can’t get them to do it. In my case, my family, I said, “What if we all tried to make a habit of giving each other really warm hellos and goodbyes?” I feel like we’re not acknowledging each other. We’re staying absorbed in whatever we’re doing. It’s kind of a lonely feeling when you come home and nobody seems to really care, or when you’re leaving and no one seems to really notice. Everybody really, I have to say, got on board with that. Now, you get a proper hello, a kiss. Whoever’s home comes to you. Now that we have a dog, that’s the bar. I should be at least as happy to see my husband as my dog is happy to see my husband. That’s something you can do where it does create an atmosphere of tenderness which I think is very nice.

The thing that I love from that book that I’m still obsessed with is the sense of smell. That is a pleasure that we don’t have to plan it. It doesn’t cost anything. There’s no calories. You can’t bookmark it for later. You have to enjoy it right now. It’s such a source of pleasure if you dial into it. I actually took a perfume class at Pratt Institute. I wanted to have my appreciation for scent heightened. If you ignore it, it just goes away. If you pay attention to it, it can really become much more of your conscious experience. It can be so wonderful. A friend gave me some hyacinths. That maybe my very favorite smell in the whole world, is the smell of hyacinth flowers.

Zibby: This other author I had on, Beth Ricanati, wrote a book called Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs. It inspired me to start making challah on Fridays. The smell…forget how the bread tastes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Our home on Fridays — I haven’t done it yet. It’s a Friday. It’s amazing.

Gretchen: It’s such a cozy, lovely feeling. That’s great. That’s exactly right.

Zibby: Now, I have even more data. Your latest book, Outer Order, Inner Calm, gives a whole new set of tips which I completely relate to about how to keep things in order. You said there are different types of people, and it doesn’t always make people feel as calm to have an uncluttered space. After I read your book, I took everything off this bulletin board in front of me. It started off blank. Now, I had holiday cards. I know it’s March.

Gretchen: I’m so happy to hear that. My fantasy for this book — it’s written in this very playful, quick way; you can speed through this book — my fantasy is that if you just read half of it, you would throw it over your shoulder and go running to a medicine cabinet or something. The idea that you were like, “I’ve got to clean up my bulletin board,” that’s exactly right. After I recorded the audiobook, my director emailed me a picture of her office before and after. After I left, she cleaned out her whole office. I was like, “Is she even really paying attention to what I’m saying? Is she just listening to see if I’m mispronouncing words?” which I was, turns out. Good. I’m so excited. Your bulletin board looks gorgeous. It’s a beautiful deep blue with just a few things. Excellent.

Zibby: I really appreciated, also, the part when you said, “Are you in the season of stuff?” I have two little kids. I think we’re officially out of the stroller now for good. It’s been in the basement for a while. There’s still much little hats and gloves and just so much stuff. You said, “Parents of young children have to deal with a lot of stuff. That stuff often creates clutter. If you’re irritated by all this clutter, remember it will pass. Although at one time keeping a stroller in the hallway drove me crazy, now I think back with intense nostalgia, ‘Ah. Remember those days when we had a baby and a stroller?’”

Gretchen: I know. It is true.

Zibby: How do you get through it in the moment if you’re one of these people like me, and I think like you, who functions better when things are around them are in order when you have so many external factors weighing in on you?

Gretchen: That is hard. I think that is hard. We had a giant plastic slide in the middle of our — oh, my gosh. It was an irritant. It was out of place. One thing is — I don’t know if you feel this way — often the things that are precious to our children are precious to us. Anything that we associate with our children is precious. That can make it hard for people to let go of things. Maybe you have fifty stuffed animals that are all over the apartment, but your child only really plays with three. Yet you’re like, “But what about this one? We got this at that birthday party. She was so excited to get this one. She gave this one a funny name.” Each one is precious.

What I found is I got to get rid of things pretty quickly. The longer I have them, the more sentiment attaches. It’s more deep into their early childhood. It has that layer. Eliminate as fast as you can. My two daughters are very far apart in age. They’re six years apart. We had a lot of stuff for a long time because we were just waiting for one to get big enough to play with the Fisher-Price farmhouse or whatever. Then we did a massive thing. I’m like, “I got to get rid of this stuff now or it’s going to be really, really hard to get rid of it later.” Let’s really pick the best things, the things that we were going to keep forever because they’re that good and that precious, and give all the things away. The season of stuff is stay on top of it. Don’t let it accumulate. Don’t do something like, “Oh, I’ll just put it in a box and put it in the attic or take it to my summer house.” Then it becomes this gigantic festering pile of stuff. People who are like, “I can’t decide what of my child’s to keep, so I’ll just put it all in boxes and figure it out later,” You’re never going to feel like figuring it out. Figure it out now. Only keep the things that you want to keep.

Zibby: I needed that. I did a purge of stuffed animals a while ago. My son loves taking pictures. I had him take picture of all of them. We made it into one of those iPhoto Apple books. I had him write little descriptions. “This is ‘blah blah blah.’ I got him at ‘blah blah blah.’” I just got rid of all the stuffed animals except for a couple. Now, we at least have a record of them.

Gretchen: That’s all you need.

Zibby: Of course, now a hundred more popped up. They come from everywhere. I don’t know where all the stuffed animals come from. At least that batch was…

Gretchen: That’s a great idea, taking a picture of it. A lot of times there’s some adorable sweater or something. All you want is the memory that’s associated with it. A picture is just as good as the thing itself and probably better because if it’s put away, you’re not going to get a whole bunch of clothes out, but you could be on a Saturday afternoon, “Let’s look at this book that we made together.” It would be really fun. He could keep it forever. By the time he goes to college, the fifty stuffed animals, something will have happened to them at some point. It’s actually a safer way to safeguard the memories.

Zibby: I have six years between my older kids and my two little kids. I was saving all the stuff. After two years I was like, “Literally, four years from now I’m not going to remember where I put those boots.” I can’t keep these. By that time, I will buy twenty-dollar boots from Amazon. I am not going to have the mental energy of trying to track down the boots.

Gretchen: You won’t remember in time. In the book, I talk about the “someday, someone” rationale, which is “Someday, someone will want those boots.” But will they think of it in the right time and in the right place? This literally happened to me last night. I just wrote this book about outer order. You think my house would be outer order to the extreme, which it is not. I was up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep. I thought, “I’m going to go clean out our utility closet.” In it, there were six giant plastic bags that I guess we got when we bought a car seat or something, some huge plastic bag, which I had clearly kept thinking, “These could really come in handy.” They take up a lot of room because they’re these giant plastic bags. I was like, “Should I get rid of them? They could really come in handy,” except for the fact that I have not used them and did not even know that they were here for maybe a decade. I can get rid of these things. This “Someday, someone will want to use this giant plastic bag,” maybe not. If you’ve had it for a long time and never used it, then you know that someday someone isn’t using it because you’re not using it at all.

Zibby: The other tip that I use that you put in your book — I had the unfortunate experience of having to go through a friend of mine’s possessions who had passed away at a young age. Now, I have this eye to my stuff. If I’m going to make somebody clean out this stuff when I die, do I want them to have to go through this? Is this worth keeping? It makes it easier to toss. When I read that in your book, I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I do.”

Gretchen: The fact is somebody’s going have to deal with it at some point.

Zibby: It won’t be me, but still.

Gretchen: Stuff jammed under the bed or weird closets that nobody ever goes into — once you’re a grown-up and people start losing their parents, it’s a huge issue for some people. Their parents have an attic, a basement, a two-car garage, three bedrooms. They’re in the suburbs. The amount of stuff that can accumulate, then it’s so much to deal with at a time when you’re really in shock and grief. I’m really lucky. Both my parents and my in-laws both really — I think some people do this. It’s kind of a maturation thing where they get to the stage where they really want to get rid of a lot of stuff. Both of them have households — everything is used. Maybe they have china, but we actually use this at Christmas. There’s no mystery collections of things. I feel really lucky because there’s nothing to sort through. We’d have to decide what to do with it, but it’s not like, “What is this? What’s the significance of this thing?”

Zibby: Your other tip — and I’ll stop throwing all these tips back, but they’re so useful — not having too many of one thing.

Gretchen: Stockpiling.

Zibby: I can never find a hair thing. I’m going to buy three Goody packages of those things. Then I’ll never lose them. Now somehow, they all disappear. When I have the one left, I don’t lose it.

Gretchen: Isn’t that weird?

Zibby: I don’t know how that happens. I take such good care of it. I don’t lose the one. When I have too many, forget it.

Gretchen: AirPods, don’t get a backup pair because you’ll never be able to find any.

Zibby: Sunglasses.

Gretchen: One pair of sunglasses. It’s funny how that is. There’s a lot of things that are counter-intuitive. You think, “It would be easier to keep track of three,” but it’s actually harder to keep track of three.

Zibby: That’s crazy. The book had amazing tips. Some validated things I did. Some new ones too, especially coming up with new language for things, trying to make things sound better, like, “Ugh. I have a zillion emails to get through.” Rephrase it and say —

Gretchen: — “It’s engagement time. I’m getting engaged.” It’s like somebody who said, “Would you rather play piano or practice piano?” I would rather play piano. That sounds much more fun.

Zibby: It’s all in the phrasing.

Gretchen: I’m surprised by how often the reframing really does affect the way people view something. It’s crazy.

Zibby: I feel like that’s the mission, almost, of all your books. You’re reframing life in a way that makes it the best version it could possibly be, either by analyzing it or coming up with tips or methods. You’re categorizing things.

Gretchen: I do have a categorizing mind. I love to label things. People are like, “I don’t like to have everything in a box.” I like to have everything in a box. Are you an abundance lover? Are you a simplicity lover? Are you an over buyer or an under buyer? Are you a morning person or a night person? I love that kind of thing.

Zibby: Sometimes when things in the world are out of control — which they are. I don’t mean today. I mean in general, life is out of our control. The things you can control, things in your home and things in your environment, your bulletin board, we can do that. That’s what I feel like you empower all your readers to do.

Gretchen: You work on a book for so long, you don’t know the moment in which your book is going to come out. This is a time where people seem particularly interested in clutter clearing, which is fortunate for me. Several people have said, “Why do you think that is?” I think it’s for exactly the reason that you said. People feel like everything’s changing very fast. They feel very overwhelmed by information and news and things being uncertain and feeling like there’s a lot of noise. I can’t control the world. I can’t control the future. I can control my bulletin board. I can make that make me feel calmer. Outer order does contribute to inner calm. People are doing it as a way to get more self-mastery. They feel better in their environment. Sometimes people think that kind of thing is selfish or self-centered.

In fact, what research shows, and I think it’s obvious from everyday life, is that when people feel happier, more energized, more focused, then they’re actually more willing to engage in the world and in the problems of other people. It’s not like being happy and calm makes you want to drink margaritas on the beach. It makes you want to go register people to vote. People who are less happy and more stressed tend to get isolated and defensive. They’re just dealing with their own problems. The idea that it’s a waste of your time to clean out your coat closet, I get it. It sounds trivial. I totally get that. Yet there is a connection where if somebody feels like their household is really what they want it to be and very calm, that would actually allow them to turn outward into the world more effectively.

Zibby: That’s an interesting way to think of people being of service to others.

Gretchen: So many people quote to me that line about, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” The reason that people say that all the time is it really does work as a metaphor. People get it. If you’re trying too hard to help other people, everybody can suffer for that instead of “First me. Then you. We can both be fine.”

Zibby: I have to say, your website is the best website I’ve gone to. It’s so well organized. It can sort by topic of your blog, by topic of your podcast. You have quizzes. You have pamphlets. There’s nothing you couldn’t get out of this website. I spent all this time on it. I have to make a website like this. Are you the architect behind the sections? Maybe this goes to your need for categorization.

Gretchen: Thank you so much. Oh, my gosh. I have spent a lot of time on that. When I started my blog such a long time ago, maybe fourteen years ago, I can’t even remember now, I started it, I did it myself. I literally built it on — it wasn’t even WordPress. What was the other one I used? I wasn’t even on WordPress at that point. It was a long time ago. I built it myself. I updated it. Then at a certain point I’m like, “I need somebody to help me design it.” I feel really fortunate in that I started small and then evolved to a bigger and bigger stage. One thing about all the social media stuff is sometimes when you’re coming in new and you see what people have built, you’re like “Oh, my gosh. I have to do that?”

It seems so overwhelming. How could I do this and this and this and have all this going? The fact is for something like my website, it’s really gone through eight major redesigns, but each time building with so much content and so much stuff already built in. It is horrible every time. It’s like renovating your kitchen. What’s the latest thing? What are we trying to accomplish here? What’s different from what it was in the past? What do people coming in from the outside expect? It’s really, really, really hard to do. Because I’m always building on something’s that’s already been mostly done, it’s a lot easier than it would be if I had decided staring tomorrow, I should just build all these resources.

Zibby: It’s also great how you link within each thing. You’ll have a blog post, and you’ll reference a quote from one of your podcasts. It’s so great. The whole thing is enmeshed. It’s this web of Gretchen Rubin content in every way. It’s amazing.

Gretchen: That’s so great. That’s so nice to hear. I think it’s my legal training. One thing as a lawyer that they teach you is you have to have a citation for everything. I’m constantly feeling like I need to be like, “That’s where I said that. That’s where that is. You can look up this term here.” That’s funny. That’s so nice to hear.

Zibby: I appreciate that. It’s inspiring.

Gretchen: No one’s commented on the site in a long time. I’m glad that you appreciate it. I’ll have to tell the people who designed it. A lot of thought went into it.

Zibby: On your site it shows that you’re selling two things that I wanted to ask you about. One is The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal for Mothers. The other is the 21 Day Project: Stop Yelling at My Kids. Tell me what those are.

Gretchen: One of the things I found on The Happiness Project is that a lot of people have a desire to keep a journal. There’s a very strong impulse in a lot of people to keep a journal. I know that feeling. I have the thing that many people have, which is by week two of January you’ve stopped keeping your journal. You love going out and buying and starting it, and then you don’t keep it. The idea of the one-sentence journal is that you can just write one sentence. One sentence, turns out, is enough to scratch that itch. Also, one sentence brings back a lot. It’s like looking at one photograph can bring back a whole host of memories. If you write a sentence, it works even more.

The One-Sentence Journal for Mothers is because — I created a general one-sentence journal that a lot of people were saying, “I’m using this in my family life. I’m writing down a funny thing my kid says. I’m writing down a highlight of the day. I’m keeping it for a child thinking I’m going to give this to him when he goes to college.” It somehow was related to their identity as a mother, so we thought we’ll create one that’s just for mothers. It’s so fun. When I go on book tour, a lot of times people will bring me and show me them. You can see the different ink on different days and how sometimes their handwriting is changing. That’s really fun. That’s the One-Sentence Journal for Mothers. It’s kind of a keepsake thing.

The 21 Day Project — I do love twenty-one days. I’m always like, “What’s your happiness stumbling block? What’s dragging you down?” A lot of people say, “I spend too much time yelling at my kids. I want to be more patient. I want to build systems so that we don’t have to have all this screaming and shouting. I don’t want to feel so drained that I have no wherewithal, that I can keep my sense of humor. This is a project where you can sign up for it. Every day for twenty-one days, it’s one tip of something to think about. It’s all things that you can do without a lot of time, energy, or money. Most people feel like they don’t have enough time, energy, or money.

It’s very practical ideas to help you manage yourself more, whether that’s something like getting more sleep yourself — I had a friend who’s got a very, very big a job as a journalist. She works really long hours. She was saying one of the most important times of her day was the morning with her sons. She often didn’t see them very much at night. On the weekends, she would always be with them. During the day, the morning was actually her most intense time with her sons. She said they spent all the time yelling and complaining. She realized what she needed to do was get up a half an hour earlier. She could have her coffee, get dressed in a leisurely way, let herself wake up. She realized she was scrambling. They were scrambling. When she was up a half an hour, by the time they got up, then she was ready to help and chat. That one little thing that wasn’t very hard for her to do — for some people that would be really hard to get up a half an hour earlier. For her, that wasn’t the problem. She said it completely transformed her relationship with her children. They had such a more peaceful engagement on the day-to-day basis. It wasn’t like something that would haunt them for their whole lives. It was just a pain. It was a bad way to start the day with your mom yelling at you, or yelling at your kids.

Zibby: This book, How to be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell’Antonia —

Gretchen: — I know KJ.

Zibby: Oh, you do? There was some similar suggestion in it.

Gretchen: She’s got a farm too. Oh, my gosh. She’s got a lot going on. That’s parent Olympics. She’s very much like, “Keep it to a place where you can stay calm.”

Zibby: This would be a good Mother’s Day gift, this One-Sentence for Moms. I’m going to stock up on those for my mom friends. What is coming next for you? You have this book coming out. You’re going on tour soon.

Gretchen: I’m going on tour, which I love. Some writers don’t like to go on tour. I love getting to meet people. I have a podcast with my sister called “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” We have four live events coming up, which is very exciting. We’ve done two before, but this is like a tour. We have a tour manager. We’re feeling extremely official. That’s fun. I did a pledge show for WETA. I just recorded that. That’ll be fun. That’s coming out in June. That was a whole new thing to do. That was exciting.

Zibby: Awesome. What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

Gretchen: My advice is to know what you want to say. This seems like a very obvious thing. Often people want to write, but they don’t know exactly what they’re going to say. Then it’s very, very hard to write. Whenever you feel stuck, if you just go for a walk and then, “What am I trying to communicate?” and even write down what you’re trying to communicate, that makes it much, much easier. Whenever I’m having trouble writing it’s usually because I don’t really know what I want to say and I’m trying to fake my way through it. Another thing, this is for aspiring writers, right?

Zibby: Yeah. If you have something else…

Gretchen: This is one thing I’ve noticed. I would be curious if you’ve run into this too. More often than I would expect — this isn’t for fiction writers; this is a nonfiction writer because I’m a nonfiction writer — I’ll meet somebody who I don’t really know. I’m starting to talk to them. They’re like, “I’m going to write a book about x, y, z.” I read a lot. I will often be like, “Is it like this book? What about that book? How is it related?” They’re like, “Oh, I don’t know about that book.”

If you are writing a book in nonfiction, you should acquaint yourself with the other books that are related to your book and either read them or have a view of them or know them. If someone is speaking to you about your own subject and you have not read the obvious books about it — you don’t have to read something from the fourteenth century. If a book came out three years ago on your subject and you haven’t read it, it makes you seem unprepared and not curious. What you want from somebody who’s written a book is somebody who loves their subject so much that they can’t get enough of it. If you can’t be bothered to read a book that was a best seller three years ago, I question how sincere your interest is in your subject and therefore how deep your thoughts, your perception, your analysis is going to be. Read and think about what you want to say.

Zibby: Excellent. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I really appreciate it.

Gretchen: Thank you. It’s so much fun to talk to you.

Zibby: You too.




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