What Chef’s Table Taught Me About Writing


There is some damn good TV out there.  Between Stranger Things, Atlanta, Chef’s Table, The Great British Bake Off and Stranger Things with Pugs I’ve been pretty booked.


Atlanta has me staring off into the middle distance and kind of crying. Stranger Things means I’m buying like 30 strands of Christmas lights this year and the Great British Bake Off is… I mean, it’s just a delight.

But, it’s Chef’s Table that’s got me scribbling down quotes and thinking about art.

Comparing and jealousy and patience and what am I doing and is this right? and trust and vulnerability hangovers and confidence and belief and hope and fear and terror and loneliness and resenting that I love writing way more than it loves me.


And this poisonous venom feels so right as it infects:  Look what they have.  Be like them maybe?  Maybe you’ve missed the wave?  What if you’re not Judy Hopps, but one of the other siblings who’s just a carrot farmer?

Along with just the sheer beauty of the show and watching these life spans of people’s creative genius (never a straight path.  ever.) There’s something so… calming and familiar and inspiring about it.  It’s the good stuff.

But, when even that doesn’t do it, sometimes I need a quote.  To be the hand over the cliff when I’m spiraling.  These quotes helped me, maybe they’ll help you:

“I always believed growing up that I was supposed to pay my dues in order to get anywhere in life. I’d have to work hard at it.  And I thought okay, I’m going to have to work really hard to make something happen – to learn something – but someday when all is said and done and I feel ready enough, I’m going to do my own thing and just be free.” 

—Niki Nakayama of n/naka


“As a creative person you’re always influenced by the experiences you have and if one of them is that you’re constantly relating to other similar restaurants, that’s, you know, going to affect what you do. 

If you look at the whole restaurant world and you look at certain bigger cities, there is a feeling to many of the restaurants that tie them together. 

At Fäviken we don’t have to relate to anything that we don’t want because it’s just us here. Just this little universe.

It’s kind of limitless, you know?”

—Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken

Let us all ease up on ourselves.  Learn.  Work hard.  Stay in our own lanes. And when all is said and done, BE FREE to make the kind of LIMITLESS art we can be proud of.


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When Women Shush Women


It’s a familiar scene.  A Facebook comment thread has gone off the rails and you’re locked in a debate with someone you only seem to know online. You kind of knew them in real life, at least in the beginning, which you’re now seriously questioning.

Such was the case with me this last week.  My sister posted something on Facebook and the comments, as they have done in this political cycle, devolved into that unlovely blend of entitled misinformation and smugness that conveys the message that they, unlike you, are one of The Good Guys.

And my sister and I have had it.  This year has broken us or freed us, or a little of bit of both. So, instead of being the Backyard BBQ/Jackie O versions of ourselves, we cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.


We were immediately smacked down – not because of what we said – but because of the tone in which we said it.  I was a ‘thug.’  I wasn’t being ‘diplomatic or caring.’  My sister needed to work #together and ‘travel the high road’ with ‘intelligent and calm discussion.’

Keep in mind, the women who said these things had contributed nothing of substance on the subject at hand. No solutions, no opinions. Their sole (and self-appointed) job on that Facebook thread (in their eyes) was to judge and monitor the tone and manners of other women, while placing themselves above the fray. Which was where someone of their high moral character belonged, not down in the muddy arena with the rest of us war dogs.

It’s a fun thing we do to each other.

Three years ago, I wrote an article for Hello Giggles called, The Science of Mean-Girling, in which  I tried to unpack this dynamic. Yet, in the years since I’m no clearer on why certain women are fighting so hard to shush, minimize and shame their sisters into silence.  What I do know, is that it’s nothing new.


Depicting a ‘mouthy’ woman as unladylike, shrill, unattractive, a bad mother and wife (if they’re lucky to be married at all) and inelegant is a tale as old as time. But, what fascinates me is how effective and potent the barbs continue to be.


Because, their punches landed.

Tossing and turning, eyes popping open at 4AM – ever since my little Facebook scuffle, I’ve been plagued with doubts.  Rewriting my comments.  Editing.  Massaging.  Softening.  Until this morning. Pacing around my  dark and quiet house I mumbled, “I should’ve just not said anything.”

I should’ve just not said anything.

That’s what happens, right?  It’s another fun thing we women do. Minimize our own voices – or that of other women –  until we disappear all together.

Because how many times has someone said the following to us:

“It’s not worth it.”  “I don’t want to make it weird.”  “They probably didn’t mean it.”  “It’s no big deal.”  “I’m just being melodramatic.”  “I’m overreacting.”  “Calm down.”  “Relax.” “You’re being hysterical.” “You’re so emotional.”

Now, how many times have we said those things to ourselves.

That’s what worried me.

But, then I thought of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Man in the Arena speech.


(I’ve made a few small changes. It helps if you imagine Lady Mormount from Game of Thrones saying it.)

Woman in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I am in the arena.  Hear me roar.  I AM IN THE ARENA.

And I have no time for people who aren’t.

Join me in the arena, won’t you?




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The Dangers of Flowery Advice


My youngest niece is in the process of choosing a college.  She visited one of the campuses this past weekend hoping for some lightning bolt moment where she would know it was the right one.  In one of the panels she went to for her chosen major, a prospective student asked how each of the panelists knew that particular college was for them.

“I just knew.”

And my niece was just… left cold and wondering what was wrong with her that this was not her experience.


This got me thinking about the subtle dangers of this kind of flowery advice.  Follow your dreams!  You’ll just know when he/she is the one!  Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’re still among the stars!

Two things:

1)  Life is complicated.


What if you don’t “just know?”  What if you want someone who’s been through it to be authentic and sit down with you and tell the truth of things.  Why didn’t someone on that panel say, “You know what?  I didn’t know for sure.  I was scared and this place felt the most right, but I also gave myself permission to change my mind.  Mostly I was just scared.”  Flowery advice takes the messy humanity out of things.  It doesn’t offer itself up for a follow up question, you know?

You: Oh, you just knew?  Like how?

Them:  I just knew.  

You: Right. But, how?  Like… what did that feel like?  

Them:  I just knew.

You: Right. But…

Them:  I just knew. 

Why is it that we’re compelled to rewrite our own history so we have all the answers?  What is it about us that wants to smooth over our past and make our entire life look like a shampoo commercial?  What are we getting out of making someone who’s struggling feel like they’re alone in it?  Who benefits from this?

This kind of advice feels like a shallow placeholder for a never gonna happen future conversation.

And yes, I get that that panelist may have just “known.”  That absolutely happens for some.    But what I also know is that — and God, I hate how true this is – the really juicy connections are made in moments of vulnerability.  Why is the appearance of effortless, wafting ease tantamount to authenticity and actual kinship?

You’re not alone.  I feel lost, too. Shit can be messy, right?  It was hard for me, too.  It’s going to be okay.

2) Sometimes advice is kind of boring


A writer friend of mine got an email from a newbie writer.  The newbie was struggling.  Her debut novel was a smash, the second one not so much.  She was writing my friend asking for advice.  So my friend – a writer whose work ethic is enviable and has finally (and so deservedly) landed her on top – said that the only power any of us have is to sit back down in the chair and write another book.  Do the work.  This is what my friend did during the trials and tribulations of her own career.  The newbie writer was luke warm at the prospect. Months later my writer friend read a blog by this newbie saying she was going to wait for the muse to strike!  She was going to follow her bliss!  No mention of actual work.

I’m all for a great pep talk.  Sometimes it’s just about listening to someone talk about how hard shit is.  No advice.  Just a friendly ear.  My worry is that there are those who rely on flowery advice so much so that one’s role can lean towards enabling from time to time.


And of course I’m not advocating for some kind of black and white Giver-esque world where everyone finger-wags at each other to get back to work.  A beautiful meme prominently featuring delicious words of inspiration has hit me right when I needed it. I love a good quote.  I love a moody lyric.  I’ve even been known to spout luxurious poetry more than my friends and family probably would have liked. I’m also not proposing we walk around as open wounds spouting our grief and misery for anyone and everyone.  Pretty sure people who do that are just as into appearances as the ones begging us to look for the rainbow after the hurricane or whatever.

That’s not what this is about.

Whatever the advice you decide to give someone, please let it be rooted in the truth of things.  How it was, not how you wished it would have been.


And PS?  If you do decide to tell the truth of things and admit that things were hard?  There will 100% be some sighing douche who is all, “Oh?  It was super easy for me.”



But, in that moment there is a person in the audience who doesn’t feel so alone because of your bravery to speak the truth.  And that? Is far more valuable than acting like one’s entire life could be soundtracked to Enya.

(not that there’s anything wrong with that)

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The 5 Secrets to Publishing Success No One Tells You About


We all know the greatest hits of writing advice.  I’ve waxed rhapsodic about them myself:  Be the best version of you you can be! Put your butt in the chair!  Say yes and figure it out later!

Those are all good, solid likable pieces of advice.


Now let’s talk about the grit and grime you encounter in The Fire Swamp.



If you’re looking for any kind of certainty in publishing or the arts (or life)  in general you are going to be chronically disappointed.  As writers we must learn to embrace – not unlike Lennie in Of Mice and Men – UNCERTAINTY AND IMPOTENCE.  This isn’t about us writing another book or finding another corner of our creativity to mine, this is about sales and numbers and the sometimes glacial time it takes for things to happen and unfold.  Trusting the timing of our lives is the hardest thing in the world.  And of course when we look back we can see very plainly that it was the right path, but the discomfort we must sit in as we learn these lessons can be utterly unbearable at times.  What I’ve come to learn is that the discomfort is part of the ride.


COUNTER MOVE:  Get ready for the Vulnerability Hangovers after we venture out of our comfort zones.  Those lovely hours where we second guess everything we said and feel utterly exposed and impossibly awkward.  I weather these by communicating to loved ones and safe writer friends.  I busy myself with another project.  Even just acknowledging that I’m having a Vulnerability Hangover and that my catastrophic thinking is not real helps me crawl through it.



No one owes me a life as a writer.  And no one certainly owes me a life as a working writer or even a successful one for that matter. Believing I am good at something isn’t enough. And I know this is basic shit, but I feel like it’s something I need to revisit from time to time.  If I want this, I am going to have to work and hustle to get it – beyond what is convenient, timely or even “fair.”   Whether it’s a pressing deadline or living frugally, each of our inconveniences is different.  And after all is said and done I still might not make it to whatever finish line I envisioned in my head.  And yes, there is a fine line between being inconvenienced, being annoying and being taken advantage of …


COUNTER MOVE:  When I’m going out of my way for something, it’s always a good time to assess why I allowed the inconvenience:  I didn’t want to say no, it’s the bottom rung of the right ladder, did I undervalue my time.  And for me, these factors can only be measured when they’re in play, so the only way to learn is in practice.  However shitty the inconvenience was, it was for a reason.  If I can learn the lesson, it was worth it.



This isn’t about hiding our lights under bushels or not being happy for our successes.  No, the humility I’m talking about is the one that focuses more on ego as it relates to writing.  If I put my ego above the writing, it does not go well for me.  If I put writing above my ego, things tend to flow better.  If this whole thing is an apprenticeship, then I have to be open to the fact that lessons are everywhere – even in something that – to some – might look  “beneath me.”

COUNTER MOVE:  Switching it up and trying something new can shake things up a bit in a very good way.  Also, it’s nice to be reminded at what being a beginner feels like again – in that nails on a blackboard kind of way.  Seeing writing from an entirely new perspective.  Say yes and figure it out later and then be ready to BE BAD AT IT.  Get uncomfortable.



I tend to get a bit Galaxy Quest in my Never Give Up, Never Surrender-ness.  My Mom always tells me, “Don’t quit 5 minutes before the miracle happens.”  And then the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt added “You can do anything for ten seconds”  to my Nose to the Grindstone Book of Affirmations.  I was talking to a writer friend about this piece of advice and she likened our lot to those inflatable clown punching bags that just KEEEEP COMINGGGGG BACKKKKK.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 5.16.33 PM

And I think we all get that this is a hard road and takes an insane level of tenacity.  The part I have to keep learning is to remember not to take anything personally while somehow extracting whatever lesson I can from the process.  It’s a surgical separation, to be sure.

COUNTER MOVE:  Rejections are part of this business.  I’d like to say I’ve gotten used to them, but they always sting.  In a business of overnight successes (that take 17 years) it’s hard not to hang all of our hopes and dreams on any one project.  The best thing I’ve ever done is to have several projects going at one time. And different projects – books, scripts, blogs, storytelling shows, collaborations, fun projects with friends and GASP creative hobbies that are just for fun.



When we are good at a thing, it is very hard not to do that thing the way in which we are good at it.  What we don’t see happening is that the thing we are doing is now becoming stale.  Ruts.  Being in the groove.  Churning it out.  This is what happens when we don’t dig deeper  – which is the best worst advice ever.  There is another way to look at things.  A way that is the road less traveled.  A way where I don’t know all the answers.  A way that challenges me and makes me feel kind of dumb.  Go. That. Way. Sometimes.

COUNTER MOVE: Oh, is it going to feel clunky, but at the same time?  It’s going to be kind of invigorating.  Widen your net.  Go outside of your usual haunts.  Shake things up.  Read other genres.  Watch new shows/movies.  Talk and geek out with other kinds of artists.  Explore your own creativity.  Let yourself evolve.  Shed the old skin.

photo 2


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