10 Things Writers Don’t Need…Necessarily


I think I speak for a lot of writers when I say that office supplies and high-tech toys are cool. I love going to Office Depot, Office Max, or any stationery store, for that matter, and just inhaling the smell of all things office-related. I once had to go shopping at an Office Depot after being hired at a nonprofit, and I was told to pretty much get what I thought I need, as my position was new and therefore had nothing to its name other than a title. I went bananas, piling pens, pencils, legal pads (yellow!), notebooks, staples, and all manner of supplies before my supervisor gently took my hand and restrained me from making what would have undoubtedly become yet another regrettable purchase.

When my novels sell a gajillion copies, and I become rich and famous, I will probably do that again — go berserk at an office supply shop, that is — but in the meantime, in light of my meager income, I’ll satisfy myself with browsing through random office supply catalogs. Even a quick perusal elicits sighs of ecstasy, but in the midst of my swoons of happiness, I recognize that there are just some things that writers don’t really need and could do very well without.

  • AlphaSmart. If you don’t have a laptop but are instead tethered to your desktop PC, this may be a good option for you if you don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a notebook. Still, if you have a notebook — and most writers I know do — the AlphaSmart really is just another excuse to play with a new toy and distract oneself from actual writing. Sure, it’s cute and portable and doesn’t have to “boot up,” thereby saving oneself valuable seconds of time. But it doesn’t offer Internet access or a full monitor, so freelance writers who need the research capabilities of Google and Wikipedia will be SOL if this is all they have while on the road. For an extra couple hundred, you can get a decent Linux laptop online or at your nearest Wal-Mart and get word processing and Internet browsing, all in one computer.
  • Blackberry. I soooo want one of these. I saw the Pearl at my local Best Buy the other day for less than US$100 and almost snatched one. But if I really, really think about it, I’ll admit that this unwieldy gadget has little use to me except satisfy this neurotic need I have to check my email every five seconds. That’s the last thing I should be doing, especially if my month is dry and I need to hustle and get a dozen queries out the door. I already resent the fact that some people get upset when I don’t answer my regular cell phone, as if that little trill is some kind of dog whistle that I have to heed. Imagine what a Blackberry would do to my sanity. No thanks.
  • A Virtual Assistant. I’ll admit, I want one of these soooo badly. I looked into hiring a local VA a few months ago when I was blessedly swamped with work, but reason prevailed when the woman quoted her per-hour fee: $40. That’s just for transcribing, mind you, not balancing my books or even answering my phone. Very busy, six-figure freelancers can and should hire a VA to handle their routine paperwork, scheduling, even research and, yes, answering their phone. But since the majority of freelancers still have to hustle to make three figures a month, we really shouldn’t be sharing that money with anyone when we can do it perfectly well ourselves. If you must, hire your son or wife at below minimum wage (if at all) to help you out. Otherwise, stick it out and do your own work for the time being until you make enough so that a $20/hr secretary seems like a bargain when you compare how much you make.
  • Fancy bookcases with glass shelves and interior lighting. I dream about having my own expansive, wood-paneled library with floor-to-ceiling custom bookcases and one of those sliding ladders that can traverse the length of the room. I even dream about those cool bookcases from IKEA with the frosted glass doors and, yes, interior lighting. But for now I happily settle for the cheaper, plain-but-sturdy particle board BILLY bookcases from IKEA. With the optional top shelf, it almost looks as if I have floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and they stand up better to the weight of my many, many books than just about any comparable bookcase at Office Depot or Office Max. All you really need is something strong to carry what is likely a massive and still-growing book collection, so until you make that six-figure income, stick with the basics that will do the job for a fraction of the price of those fancy-schmancy “wood” bookcases.
  • Fancy desks/workstations. I once had a cherry wood L-shaped desk, complete with a full hutch that took up nearly an entire wall, at a previous job. It was brand new when I took the position, and they hadn’t exactly measured the office dimensions before ordering the giant. It filled the entire space and dwarfed me behind it. Still, I loved it. So much room, so much shine! It cost over $1,000, but hey, I didn’t have to pay for it. Now that I do, though, I’m content with my IKEA desktop and a 6′-folding table I bought separately at Office Depot to create a makeshift L-shaped workstation for myself. It’s not exactly Wall Street, but frankly, it’s not just functional but comfortable as well. Total cost? About $200.

There’s plenty more non-essential goodies I would love to have but know that I don’t really need, and I’m sure you do as well. What office supplies/equipment/gear do you lust after, even knowing that your life won’t necessarily be any better off with it?

Help a Reporter Out


No, I’m not talking about me. (Although I appreciate any offers of help. Especially those involving the ingestion of lots of rich, dark chocolate, or even the disposal of lots of rich, green money.)

Peter Shankman is a high-energy PR guy based in NYC whose pet project, Help a Reporter Out (HARO), has become the go-to place for journalists looking for sources and experts/ordinary people wanting to become sources. Are you doing an article for Cosmopolitan about the most popular sex toys in use among, uhm, fundamentalist Christian couples? (What? I’m just flying by the seat of my pants here. Cut me some slack.) Post a request on HARO, and he’ll get you in touch with tons of potential interviewees out there.

You can also participate by signing up and offering to be a source. All you have to do is submit your name and email address, and a couple of times a day you’ll get a list of HARO requests from reporters and freelance writers all over the country. You don’t have to be an expert in anything esoteric (although they welcome that, too); you can just be Joe Schmoe wanting to — say it with me, folks — Help a Reporter Out. This morning’s list, for example, a request from a reporter doing an article for Bloomberg for anyone looking to buy a used or new Toyota Prius, and another one asking respondents what they would love to see in their game room for the 2008 holiday season.

So that’s your good deed for the day. I don’t know Peter personally, but check out his Web site/blog/Facebook/Twitter account sometime. Seriously, the man doesn’t sleep. Or at least he doesn’t appear to. He’s a very strange but seemingly friendly man. And that’s good enough for me. 🙂

Oh, and don’t forget about my cool giveaway of Robert W. Bly’s Getting Started as a Freelance Writer Expanded and Revised Edition! The deadline is Tuesday, July 22nd, so make sure you post your comment to enter the contest!

Fixed Feed problems


I finally got a handle on why my feeds haven’t been working. So very sorry for the mishap. In my defense, this blog’s only been up for, uhm, two years. I’m just sayin’.

Anyhoo, all should be well now. If anyone else still has a problem, I’d very much appreciate a heads-up, either via email or in the comments section, so that I can tweak it again. Muchas!

How to Beat Stress Without Really Trying


These are what I should do when I’m stressed:

  • Meditate, even for just 5 minutes. Even better, meditate daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, preferably for at least 15 minutes each time.
  • Take deep, cleansing breaths. Practice Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing cycle, which takes 2-3 minutes, tops.
  • Exercise. Running never fails to put me in a much better, more energized and hopeful mood, one that can often last all day.
  • Eat healthy, regular meals with 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 colorful veggies.
  • Snack on fruit and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Get at least 9 hours of sleep (minimum my body requires).
  • Take a 30-minute Epsom salt bath. Add a few drops of lavender oil for extra relaxation.
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude: be thankful for all the blessings in my life, including having the best husband in the world, a roof over my head, a full pantry, and a relatively healthy body.
  • Write my thoughts in a journal, practicing meditative, free thinking.
  • Read a thoughtful/spiritual book like The Tao of Pooh.
  • Drink lots of water, at least 8 glasses a day, preferably sparkling mineral water.
  • Drink soothing herbal teas like lavender and/or chamomile.

Alas, these are what I actually do when I’m stressed:

  • Engage in such intense thoughts about the situation/problem in question that I end up breathing like a boxer in the 12th-round of a match, i.e., very, very shallow breaths.
  • Lie on the couch and watch movies. Some of my favorites: The Devil Wears Prada, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
  • Lie on the couch and watch TV. Some of my favorites: Friends, Three’s Company (if I can find it), Reba, King of Queens, The Nanny. Basically, any TV show on Lifetime, the so-called cat lady network.
  • Lie on the couch and read fluff magazines like InStyle, Lucky and MarieClaire, each of which will end up making me feel bad about myself and how fat and ugly I am. (Stress increases dramatically at that point.)
  • Lie on the couch.
  • Eat bags of M&M’s (regular), Cheetos and/or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, preferably the Big Cup.
  • Spend half the night tossing in bed, then eventually get up and do any of the above elsewhere in the house.
  • Complain to best husband in the world about the sad state of my life. Cue whining.
  • Read more fluff magazines, maybe Harper’s Bazaar or the European editions of InStyle and MarieClaire, at the chain bookstore.
  • Eat more bags of M&M’s.



Not too long before B. and I started dating seriously, I was dating another guy who was both a millionaire and a really nice man. (Not always synonymous with each other.) One of our last conversations involved a very sleepy night, jet lag and the desire to reach out to someone when the entire world (or at least, my little corner of it) was asleep.

I’d only been back home after a four-month backpacking trip through 4 continents for about a week or so, and I could not get to sleep. I knew that he often stayed up late, so I chanced it and called him up at his hotel. (His home base was North Carolina but stayed for long periods in Dallas, where he owned a very successful business.) Sometime during that midnight conversation, we ended up chatting at length about the difference between the words accurate and precise. Seriously. Must’ve spent at least 15-20 minutes on it. Parsed the nuances of meaning of each word, weighing them against the other word, using them in different sentences, arguing their appropriateness in a particular sentence, that sort of thing.

Yeah, I’m such a Word Nerd.

And he loved it. I guess that’s why we got along so well.

As for B., well, one of the things I love love love about him is his happy willingness to spend entire afternoons at Barnes & Noble or Borders, sitting in the cafe and leafing through piles of magazines (that we don’t buy) while sipping our coffees and munching on sweet treats (which we do). Any guy who would share that time with me is my hero.