Florence Williams is a journalist, author, and podcast host. She is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and a freelance writer for the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, The New York Review of Books, Slate, Mother Jones, and numerous other publications. Williams is also the writer and host of two Gracie-Award-winning Audible Original series, Breasts Unbound and The Three-Day Effect, as well as Outside Magazine’s Double-X Factor podcast.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s. We were pretty much feral urban kids, and it made me street tough, independent, scrappy. I talked myself out of getting mugged, failed to talk myself out of getting beaten up, learned to pilfer mints from the lobby of the Waldorf. These are all good lessons for a journalist. You need some gumption, thick skin, a taste for adventure.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That I should ask for what I want and need, and that I should respect and honor my emotionality. We are animals, after all, yet we pretend we are not.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Write what you know.” How boring is that? The whole point is to learn new stuff and keep growing, and find out what you don’t know.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I just wrote a whole book about that. Stay tuned for Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, out in 2022.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Believing in myself, and believing that it’s okay for a woman to have ambitions, because a shocking number of men and women don’t believe this.
What is your morning routine?
I usually but not always been able to wake up when feeling like it (really! Anywhere from 5:30 to 7:30 am). I meditate for 10-20 minutes, make tea and breakfast, go for a longish walk, and then get cracking on work until early afternoon.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Walking in nature at least once a day, usually after meals to keep my blood sugar regulated. I have a wide-ranging definition of nature.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Deadlines. Deadlines. Deadlines.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky when I was a senior in high school and feeling a bit prematurely jaded. It rocked my world and gave me faith that people are basically good. Later, when I decided I wanted to become a science writer, I was really influenced by Michael Pollan’s Second Nature, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
My own from The Nature Fix: Go outside, Go often, Bring friends or not, Breathe.