how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Janet Mock, Writer and Activist

Writer and activist Janet Mock. Photo-Illustration: Stevie Remsberg

Janet Mock has never been busier. Not only is the writer, speaker, activist, and advocate currently hosting the “Never Before” podcast and touring college campuses constantly across the country, she releases her new book Surpassing Certainty today. “This is the book that I really wanted to write, which was largely the years of my life when I wanted all the things that young people want, which is a great job, go to college, go to grad school, find a partner, find really great friends, but I did it under the guise of also being a trans woman of color who wasn’t open publicly about being trans,” she says. Here, she tells The Cut how she gets it all done.

On finding her voice as an activist and advocate:

I studied journalism. My first job was at I was an editor there for a bit over five years, and my last year there, I decided to tell my story and step forward, tell my teenage girlhood story of being a young trans girl, transitioning through middle school and high school. That really lead me from going from being the person that asked the question, to being the person that had to answer a lot of questions, not only about myself, but also, I found myself answering questions, reluctantly, as kind of a face in a poster-child of sorts for what successful trans-womanhood can look like. And so I took on that duty—you know, it’s problematic to be a representative of a whole community, but I realized that I had been given so many great blessings in my own life, and I was lucky in certain instances because of certain privileges and having access to education, and that I needed to pay it forward. The way in which it blends, the thing that tethers for me as a writer, or a TV host, or a journalist and all that is that it’s about storytelling. And so for me, on one layer of it, I’m telling a story of self, I center myself as a protagonist, and then I use my own personal story to then contextualize outward, to show that though this experience looked like this for me, there are thousands of others that it looks like this way and that way.

On her mornings:

I wake up at 6 a.m. Big glass of water first, coffee with a little bit of milk in it, sit down at my kitchen island, which has been turned into my office space of sorts, even though we have an office in our home—I think it’s much better because it’s bright. I sit down and I journal, it’s this thing called “Morning Pages,” which are three longhand pages. I sit at my desk, and write whatever is on the top of my head, I get all the trash out of my head. It’s not great writing, it’s just like a purge, like there it is, I’m over it, it’s done, it’s contained. Then I returned emails till around 8 o’clock. I see about 30 emails a day, but then Lauren, my assistant also her own e-mails, which I have no idea what her world looks like. Lauren keeps my life on track. When there’s something that’s urgent, she needs an answer now, we just text. Then I run out to the gym for a session with my trainer, PJ. He does a lot of core work. We use a lot of pushups, squats, ropes, and jump rope. We barely use any machines, machines are usually used for when we do shoulder, back, and legs, so it just depends on what he targets. I see him about three to four times a week. Then I return, I shower, wash my hair. My hair and makeup team show up because I’ve been doing a bunch of appearances, and so I have hair and makeup from 9:30 to 11. I am in a car at 11.

On a day in the life:

I had to do two different phone interviews for different projects that I’m promoting. One was my podcast, and one was for my upcoming book Surpassing Certainty. I got downtown to the first media appearance that I was doing, which was a meet and greet, doing a Facebook live with editors at Bustle. I did a photo shoot, as well. We wrapped up around two o’clock. Then I went further downtown and I spoke to editors at Essence for their podcast “Yes Girl”, which for me, was a homecoming, because I used to be a former Time Inc-er. I saw one of the delivery guys that I used to see every single day, and he was like “I see you everywhere!”. It was like this great moment because I remember sitting in a cubicle as a 22-year old, and listening to his stories, or him laughing, or him dropping off certain packages to me, and it was so great to have this full-circle moment, where it’s like now I’m coming back, not as the girl sitting in the cubicle, but as someone who’s being interviewed by a former colleague. We wrapped there at 4:30, and I went to my publicist’s office, and I sat and I caught up on emails. I had to polish off an excerpt that I was writing, and I had to write to Lauren to check on some schedule stuff. My producers for my podcast came and I had to record spots for two of my sponsors for my next episode, which is coming out with representative Maxine Waters. I also had dinner there—I had salad that was ordered in. I changed my clothes, and I did some touch-ups on my own makeup, fluffed my hair, and then by 6:45 I was in a car going to the TLDEF, which is the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, because I was hosting their annual freedom award. I gave opening remarks, introduced all the people who were award recipients, took pictures, and signed books for everyone. I got out of there at about nine o’clock.

On how she winds down:

Phone ringer goes off at 8 o’clock. That doesn’t mean I don’t go and check it, but my ringer is off and I have it turned over. I usually put it somewhere like the kitchen, so then I have to really make an effort to get up off the couch. I’m a true pop culture junkie, and spend most of my down time watching television. I’m watching right now Jackie: A Tale of Two Sisters on Netflix. I watch a lot of trashy reality TV. The Real Housewives, I’m into The Bachelorette right now, like really into it. It’s the first time I’ve ever watched the show, not a single episode before. I’m very invested in Rachel’s journey. I really want her to choose the guy with the matching gap in his teeth as her. I think his name is Pete, but I can’t remember. I really want her to choose him. That’s two hours of television time. I watch the Kardashians. I love the insanity of their rich and fabulous reality. It’s usually something where I can just like check out a little bit, and just watch other people live their lives. That’s what it kind of provides for me. It’s like I don’t really have to think deeply about social issues or feminism, it’s just like I can watch my problematic phase do what they need to do on television. I can’t read in the evenings because it keeps me up. Reading for me is usually reserved for the weekends, when I hunker down with The New York Times or a good book. Right now, I have A Life’s Work by Dr. Willie Parker, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and my editor Rakesh Satyal’s book No One Can Pronounce My Name stacked up and ready to read. I’m in bed at around 10:30, 11 o’clock, meaning laying in bed with Netflix on.

On staying stress-free:

I keep a really detailed to-do list on a yellow legal pad that sticks with me and keeps me on task and focused. I’m also pretty balanced when it comes to workload. I’m clear with myself that there are busy intense days and I must use the days when I am not so busy to just veg out and recharge. It also helps to have a husband who does the grocery shopping and cooks nearly every night and has the emotional sensitivity to know when I’m hangry or need a glass of wine.

On communication:

I’ll call my husband usually after a personal training session, which is like a 5-minute walk. We’ll have a little check in while he’s at work, but he’s the only person that I consistently talk to on the phone. Other than that, I Face Time with my mom, my brother, my nephew and niece—I do that usually at least three times a week. I might Face Time with my mom maybe every other day.

On her travel essentials:

I travel for the production of my podcast “Never Before” and for speaking events across college campuses. I cannot leave home without my TravelPro carryon, my Bose headsets, my Ralph Lauren camel knit sweater, my Chanel sneakers, and Mario Bedescu Rose Water facial spray. A huge bottle of Fiji Water is a must, too!

On what she would change about her work life:

If there was a way that I could put two full weekdays on my calendar where at least half of the day, whether that’s in the morning or in the afternoon, that I was able to not have any obligations during that time; not have any connections to electronics, no phone, no e-mail, that would be a dream for me. I think that I’m trying to design my life in a way that I’m able to do that, and we’re working towards that. Finding out how to carve out more intentional space, so that I can just sit and think, and then maybe sit and think and write if I want to. But I don’t want it to be a pressured space, where I’m like “I need to sit here and produce now. I have five hours today.” I just want that space, because I know that the creative process requires me to sit and not have any obligations, and to see what comes up in that space. That’s something that I am implementing and trying to change.

On what makes her happiest about her job:

It would be bearing witness to other people’s stories and testimony, and then also giving testimony and a story of my own. I’ve really thrived in that exchange of conversation, not just the storytelling process, but the story-sharing process, that’s really fulfilled me. I feel like I am my best in work, and I’m just lucky that I can do that on different formats, not just through the written words, but also through podcasts, television projects. It’s incredibly fulfilling.

On what is the hardest part of her job:

The worst thing is sometimes having to sit there and come up with work. Though I am my best at it, the sitting down to a blank screen or a blank legal pad, it’s an incredibly challenging one. Language is a place of struggle, I enjoy the struggle, but it is quite a tearing-out-your-hair experience.

How Writer Janet Mock Gets It Done