Everyday Icons: The Writer

Find out what why writer Alexandra Franzen is this week's Everyday Icon.
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Find out what why writer Alexandra Franzen is this week's Everyday Icon.
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Image Credit: Leslie Plesser

We first fell for the witty Alexandra Franzen on Twitter, where she all but telepathically good-vibed the pants off us. Filled to the brim with wisdom and optimism (two of our favorite attributes), Alexandra travels the country filling creatively-starved souls with her words and smarts. And today, we're lucky enough to get a glimpse into the inner-workings of her mastermind. Find out what makes Alexandra tick (and what she does to get out of a funk!) in our exclusive interview below:

OK, so you're a writer, but you also help others learn to weave beautiful words themselves (and do it very, very well). Tell us how you created this career for yourself? What has your creative path looked like thus far, with all of its twists and turns?

It all began ... with a raging sugar addiction. Allow me to explain: When I was a wee tot, my parents trundled me over to the local coffee shop. They asked me what I wanted to drink — and, being responsible, health-conscious adults, they were hoping I’d say “wheatgrass!” or “rice milk!” or “chilled water with a slice of lemon, please!” But despite the fact that I was too young to read, I’d learned how to recognize two very important words: “hot” and “chocolate.” So, I told my parents, “I want hot chocolate.” They smiled and said, “Oh sorry, sweetie, they don’t have that here.” But I pointed to the sign and said, quite calmly, “Yes, they do.” My parents were stunned. (I had untangled their web of deception!) I got my frothy treat. And in that moment, I learned a valuable lesson:

When you use the right words with the right people at the right time, you (usually) get what you want.

I’ve been fascinated by the power of language ever since. And from English tutoring to student journalism to technical writing to public broadcasting to copywriting to blogging to book creation, words have always been my work.

How did I create my current career? By writing. A lot. And by sharing what I know, as I go.

You have an endlessly joyful, giving spirit that translates so beautifully, even through the computer. What's your secret? (We know there's no secret, but tell us something interesting anyway!)

I believe there are a billion + one ways to be generous. You can share knowledge freely, instead of hoarding it. You can send a hand-written note, instead of a text message. You can make eye contact, instead of checking out. You can make a life-changing introduction for a friend, instead of letting them “connect the dots” on their own. I realized — many years ago — that when I behave generously, I feel rich. And I like to feel rich. So I choose to be generous.

As a creator of content but also a consumer of media, how do you feel we can be good stewards of information consumption? Do you place boundaries in this area in your own life?

I want a t-shirt that says, “I am a good steward of information consumption!” Boundaries? Yes. I actually read very, very few blogs. I don’t have a Facebook account, which is a “lifestyle choice” that seems to fall somewhere between “rebellious” and “downright kinky,” these days. I hop onto Twitter when I have something to say (not just when I’m “bored.”) I use carefully-crafted auto-responders to deflect unnecessary email. I’m currently experimenting with tools like Inbox Pause. I create a lot of virtual walls to protect my time + energy. And then I demolish them. And then construct new ones.

It’s an ongoing game, with flexible rules. But I’m human. I fall down “Internet rabbit holes” from time to time, and find myself streaming YouTube videos about dogs painted to look like pandas, or pandas painted to look like members of the band KISS, and members of the band KISS without their makeup, and, and, and ... oh dear. What day is it?

You juggle quite a few responsibilities daily, booking consulting sessions and hosting writing workshops - how do you stay organized and top of everything? And how do you separate personal Alexandra from professional Alexandra? Are they one and the same?

Personal Alexandra and Professional Alexandra are very much the same. (Although Professional Alexandra occasionally speaks in a slightly lower tone of voice, because she read somewhere that it sounds more “authoritative.”) I stay organized by limiting myself to one BIG point-of-focus, every day. When I work with a client, they are my ONLY creative responsibility for the whole day. When I teach a workshop, that is ALL I’m doing, that weekend. When I’m working on my blog, that’s the ONLY window that’s open in my browser. (Mostly.)

I’ve often told myself that if my life ever gets so complicated that I need a fancy electronic calendar (or a full-time assistant) just to manage my schedule, I’m doing something terribly wrong.

You're in a funk that you can't seem to shake. What do you do?

I sleep and sleep and sleep. I drink lots of water. I watch hysterical and / or deeply depressing TV shows. I do all of the things on this list. Then I call my mom. Then I cry. Then I obsessively clean my apartment. Then I order fresh flowers. Then I write a stack of ‘thank you’ notes. And then, blinking with trepidation, I re-enter the world, walk around the block and try to smile at strangers.

The very next day, I feel kinda great.

You share the most ground-breakingly (not a word?) creative ideas, thoughts and inspirational advice on your blog, and then you share some more. And share and share. It's what I love most about you. How has this practice shaped your life philosophy? And gosh, how did you get SO WISE?

I grew up watching ‘80s cartoons like The Care Bears, who frequently bellowed “sharing is caring!” while beaming rainbows of love from their bellies. Perhaps this shaped my worldview, more than I realized? Honestly, I can’t stop myself from teaching + sharing. At this point, it’s practically a physical compulsion. My brain is constantly scanning situations, conversations and client sessions for “teachable moments” that I can explore on my blog, or share with workshop students. It’s sick, I tell you. SICK.

Kidding, of course. It’s the best.

Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?

I believe that being a “good person” is incredibly simple:

Leave everything — apartments, national parks, people’s hearts — in better condition than you found them. That’s it. If you do that, you will (almost certainly) be happy, successful, well-loved, respected and deeply fulfilled. You will also never be bored. Because there’s always more to be done.

What is your favorite post you've ever published?

This one!

What is your personal motto or mantra?

It can always be easier.

What are five everyday items you can't bear to live without?

My laptop, soy lattes, Bullboxer boots, dry shampoo and salted-caramel-anything.

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Oh, Alexandra. You see why we love her, yes? For more of her wit+wisdom, stop by her corner of the Internet at Alexandra Franzen. Or pre-order her latest book, 50 Ways to Say You're Awesome.

p.s. Have an Everyday Icon that inspires you? Send us a note via Twitter and tell us all about her!