how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Taffy Brodesser-Akner of the New York Times

Taffy Brodesser-Akner.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner is perhaps best known for her profiles, but last year, she was also briefly known as a “mystery brunette” after a picture of her leaving an interview with Tom Hiddleston — mid-Taylor Swift heartbreak — was published in the tabloids. Now, she’s a features writer for the New York Times and the Times Magazine, where she has written about Ethan Hawke, Jimmy Buffett, Tonya Harding, and of course, Gwyneth Paltrow, who professed to not know what the Cut is. Brodesser-Akner lives in New Jersey with her journalist husband, Claude Brodesser-Akner, and their two kids. Here’s how she gets it done.

On a typical morning:
My husband usually takes the mornings and lets me sleep, but I wake up in the middle of it and just feel bad that I’m not a bigger part of it. So, he has the whole routine set with taking care of our children, getting them out the door, and every day I have to make a crucial decision: Do I get ready while they’re getting ready, do I sit with them and hover over them and then get ready after they leave? And every day it’s a new adventure.

But I always thought that the thing that made life easier is to not have any routines, since it hurts too much to veer from them. Sometimes I wake up and I’m in London; sometimes I wake up and I have a 6 a.m. interview. So my only real morning routine is that I wake up, and I’m supposed to do physical therapy for my knees and I don’t. But every fifth morning I’ll say, “No, I’m going to do it.” Then I’ll also watch part of the television I want to watch — sometimes it’s The Affair, sometimes it’s Sharp Objects.

On life without coffee:
I recently gave up coffee because it was making me fuzzy and it was making my memory bad. My older sister, who is a holistic veterinarian, said, “Give up coffee — it’s making you more tired than you think.” I did, and I feel great, but also I’m miserable, because I have no other vices.

On wellness:
I floss, which I think is often skipped in the wellness discussion, and I brush my teeth. The thing that has changed for me over the last two years, but really the last few months, is my understanding that we are supposed to be oiled and that we are not oiled enough — and I do understand this through Gwyneth. I have dry skin; my skin should have oil on it, my hair should have oil in it, and everything should just be coated in oil, like an Exxon Valdez duck. So now I’m oiled. I put eye cream and a face oil on, then I put a hair oil on, and my children are like, “I can’t kiss you.” And I say, “It’s okay, at least I’ll look beautiful into my old age.”

The face oil I use is the Goop brand. I bought some at the beginning of my story, just to see, and now … well, it’s good stuff. I tried other ones and I don’t like them as much. Also their eye cream. The moisturizer I use is Cetaphil — the cream not the lotion. I also use real Dove deodorant, like the maximum strength, you could barely get it on the black market, the one that will shut down every pore you have. But my real self-care happens when I’m on a work trip. I watch what I want, I get a massage sometimes, I order room service. My work trips are a real correction for the way I neglect myself.

On getting into journalism:
I went to school for screenwriting, and you could not believe it, but there were no screenwriting jobs when I graduated. So I got a job at a little soap opera magazine that was run like a soap opera. They thought I was a terrible writer, but I was poached by another soap opera magazine, and then I got laid off. Then I went to work for MediaBistro because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Back then, it was a start-up — there were four of us. I created these writing classes, which we had in the middle of our office. At night, I’d sit at my computer and listen to the classes. I would always think, I think I can do that. (I married one of our teachers; my husband was a guy I hired to teach.) I moved to L.A. to start our office there, and it wasn’t very successful.

When I was seven months pregnant, the company sold for a lot of money. I got a very tiny amount of it, but I put it away. A year later, I used that money to get a babysitter. So, for three hours a day, three days a week, I just wrote. I was 34 when I started doing this, and I was very cognizant of two things: No. 1, I had to work really fast and hard to get up to speed to where I thought a 34-year-old journalist should be. I would be disappointed if a day went by and I hadn’t completed something. The second thing was, my husband had just been laid off from I can’t remember where, and I didn’t want to work for anyone — it seemed too volatile.

On being a “mystery brunette”:
I was driving my kids home from basketball and I get this all-caps text from Caity Weaver that says, “YOU’RE A MYSTERY BRUNETTE.” I pulled over, called her and said, “What?” She just started reading me the story. We were so excited; I couldn’t believe I was someone who could be photographed with an actor. But I’ll tell you this: Tom Hiddleston called me and he said, “I’m so sorry this is going on. This feels so disrespectful and I hope your husband does not have the wrong impression.” I stopped him and I said, “Tom, this has been the best week of my life. You should try to enjoy this more. I know it was tough with the Taylor stuff, but this is really amazing.”

On interviewing celebrities:
They are real people, but they are so on their guard. If you just sit and listen to them, they will inevitably explain something to you that’s been on their mind about the way they’re perceived. Sometimes, midway, they hear themselves talking and they turn on you. They’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’ve fallen for this.” But it’s always nerve-racking. I dread interviews; I’m never excited. I did a story on synchronized swimming a few years ago, and that’s how I think of it now: You are in the pool and you are working so hard beneath the surface, but you have this crazy smile above the surface that makes it look like you are enjoying yourself.

Her travel necessities:
I always check luggage. It’s so embarrassing. My husband’s like, “You’re going to D.C. for one day and checking luggage?” But I think that’s more associated with my sense that nothing will ever fit or look good. I also have a kit that was given to me by my friend Celeste, from a diaper bag that came with a plastic pouch. In it, I always have Q-tips, the oils (in miniature), toothpaste, floss, a toothbrush, ear plugs, and an eye mask — because of the valley in any hotel room that exists between the shades. Sometimes I bring one of those hair clips and I clip them together, and I feel like I triumphed, but I haven’t because I wake up and the curtain has rejected it. I also bring chargers, and I have two tape recorders: one that usually stays in my office and one that travels with me, just in case somebody calls me with the next Pentagon Papers.

On managing stress:
I do yoga, but only when things get so bad that someone has to say to me, “You should go do yoga because you’re being so nuts.” Or I leave in the middle of what I’m doing and I go to a movie, because the minute I leave to go to the movie, the stress is gone. A few weeks ago, I wanted to go see Three Identical Strangers. I was obsessed with it because I always hoped I had this secret twin out there. As I was leaving, I got a call that someone had broken the embargo on a story. I had to stay home to deal with it, and I was like, “I’m not going to get to see my movie and I’m going to lose it.” Luckily it got resolved, and I could see the next showing of the movie. But when I am crazy stressed, my form of mindfulness practice is to make a list of things I have to do and only do one thing at a time. I also cry and I yell sometimes. And as we all now know, I sometimes have a cigarette. Not very often, but certainly more recently.

My nighttime routine:
I try to remember to remove my makeup, but I hate removing my makeup. Afterward, I look at my face and I’m like, “It’s all gone. I look terrible. Why did I have to remove it?” I put on eye cream and night cream because my husband hates the smell of the face oil, so he is not subjected to it at night. Then I watch TV. I feel like if I can start the day with TV and end the day with TV then I have an excellent life. I take melatonin because I have a very busy head. I used to suffer from insomnia. I had been taking sleeping pills and I thought it was incurable, but someone told me to take melatonin. I took the Trader Joe’s melatonin, and it worked. I couldn’t believe it. I also have to read before I go to sleep. There’s something about the eye movement that helps me go to sleep, so there’s always a book next to my bed that I’m reading after I watch TV.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How I Get It Done: Taffy Brodesser-Akner