Vicky Oliver is an award-winning author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics. Under her pen name, Diana Forbes, she published her debut novel, Mistress Suffragette, in 2017. Vicky is also an Opinion Columnist at CEOWORLD magazine.
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 in Manhattan as an only child. My parents both worked and I was left alone a lot as a kid. The negative aspect of that was that I felt deeply alone. The positive aspect is, well, first, I learned how to be alone. And second, I discovered the joy of writing. To me, writing is therapy, philosophy, escape, and joy. I started keeping a diary when I was six, started writing poetry when I was seven, started a newspaper at one school and was a reporter on another newspaper at another school, and was a feature reporter in college. My whole life has been a journey to discover which writing forms suit me best, and a day does not pass without me doing some writing.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had realized earlier that the speed of technology mandates that we all evolve into continual learners.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Follow your bliss.” While it’s important to feel fulfilled with your chosen career, it’s also important to put food on the table, care for your loved ones, and give yourself the self-care you need. This requires earning some money. There should be room in one’s life to both earn a living and do something that you enjoy.
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?
There have been several times in my life when I felt overextended, time-wise. I tend to overcommit. Then, I feel stressed out trying to meet all those commitments. This happened to me when I was a junior in college. I learned that sometimes you have to say “No.” Later, I learned to say “No” guiltlessly. This goes to self-care.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I keep a daily To-Do list with everything on it, and I organize it by blocks of time. I allot time to complete the tasks and order the tasks chronologically. When I have not finished an item, I carry it forward. When I finish an item, I happily cross it off my list. With all of today’s mobile and computerized calendars, I feel like a Neanderthal discussing the importance of a daily To-Do list, but it’s still the best organizing principle out there—for me.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 7 a.m., jump in a bath at 7:30 a.m., get dressed, eat a light breakfast (yogurt and iced-tea) at 8 a.m., do the Mini crossword puzzle in the New York Times at 8:15 a.m., then walk to my office, pick up a Zone bar or two for lunch with green iced-tea. Then I turn on my computer at 9 a.m. or as close to it as I can manage. It’s really a good day when that computer turns on at exactly 9 a.m.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I believe that good writing hygiene leads to publication. I write from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. I may write quite a bit more than that, but I definitely aim for that. Sometimes an early dentist appointment may interfere, but if so, I commit to getting the four hours of writing in as early each day as I can. After the four hours, I return emails, set my calendar, and attend to everything else. I also take a slew of writing classes. Since graduating from college, I have taken over 100 continuing education writing classes in New York City (no exaggeration). I have taken: article-writing, essay-writing, nonfiction writing, fiction writing, screenplay writing, novel writing, and even poetry. I am currently in an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) program in Creative Writing at the New
School with an anticipated graduation date of 2022.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Between my daily To-Do List, my drive to write for at least four hours a day, and the writing classes I take, there is no time for slacking off. The classes provide tons of deadlines and help me build community as well.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
In terms of business books, What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles, made me realize that the dream job is the one you create for yourself. I also learned a lot from reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink. More recently, I greatly enjoyed Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which made me use my brain to solve the puzzles he puts forth in such an engaging manner.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Yes, and thank you for this great question. “Half of life is just showing up.” Hunter Thompson, a journalist, is credited with this quote, and there is so much truth in it. What does it mean? It means, if you’re the one who gets to work early each day and shows up not just for the glory assignments but for the drudgery, then you’re the one who will be promoted. It means there is a benefit to just being there when needed. It means there is a silver lining to being the reliable one, the one that can be counted on in a crunch.