Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content guy, bestselling author

Hi, I'm Blake.

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How to heal racism: Don’t mention someone’s race

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

My dad was born and raised in Northern Idaho. Few, if any, minorities lived there at the time. And yet my Indian-loving grandfather and grandmother taught him not to pay attention to race. Instead, they taught my father to accept each individual on their own merits, like many people did before and since.

My mother and father taught me the same. In fact, I can’t recall a single time when my dad mentioned race when describing someone. Bank robber in the news? He didn’t mention it. Star athlete in the news? He didn’t mention it. Poor family in need? He didn’t mention it.

Outside of home, I experienced a very different, if not disparaging “us against them” interpretation of race while growing up in the deep, formerly segregated south. That is you talk about race and generalize it all of the time. You divide or bond over it even. 

In middle school, for example, one girl who didn’t look like me insisted that minority races cannot be racist or prejudice. That didn’t make sense. Another classmate approached me one day and starting spewing derogatory and racist language, wrongly believing that I shared his toxic views because our skin looked the same. That didn’t make sense either.

Today, I realize we have to talk about difficult things sometimes, racial tension very much included. But I also believe someone’s race is a lousy indicator of their true character. If my own upbringing is any indication, we can either rehash the same juvenile discussions on race to similar effect, or we can take the more mature approach that my father and others do: in most instances where race doesn’t really matter, don’t mention it.

I’m not saying this simple act can cure centuries of racism. But I know first-hand it has the power to heal. You should try it sometime (if you haven’t already). Unless you’re being asked by a cop to identify a suspect, please don’t mention race when describing someone.

How the Liver King built a social media, supplements empire eating raw organ meat

This is a fascinating long-read by Madeleine Aggeler: “The Liver King does own shirts, first of all. Several, he claims. I haven’t personally seen them, because when he greeted me in the cavernous entryway of his Texas mansion, he wasn’t wearing one. Nor did I see any in his closet later, which—though it contains approximately 900 identical pairs of athletic shorts and enough guns and ammunition to arm the military of a smaller nation—did not seem to contain even a single t-shirt. Nonetheless, he assured me that there are a few in there, somewhere. It was a bit like when a sign at a national park tells you there are mountain lions in the woods: You believe it, but you understand that you’re unlikely to cross paths with any.” Continue reading…

Book review: Phoenix In Their Own Words is a little off-putting, but mostly awesome

You can take a band out of France, but you can’t take French out of a band. Any foreigner who has interacted with a lot of French know precisely what I mean by that. It’s one of the many things Americans and British share knowing looks over. (Or conversely how foreigners share knowing looks over me and my fellow Americans.)

And I only mean that in a slightly derogatory way. I love the French and that’s not a backhanded compliment. I love that they invented modern democracy, cooking, and Daft Punk. Everyone outside of Paris are easily the most warm, welcoming, and endearing people on the entire European continent. I know because I backpacked through their rural towns for a week. Heck, I even like Parisians as much as I do New Yorkers, and that’s a lot.

But for many of us, there’s something slightly off-putting about the French and New Yorkers. In this case, after reading Phoenix: In Their Own Words, there’s a foreign arrogance, seriousness, and overly romantic way in which some of the band members tell their story.

The story is this: the band gives an album by album account of their life from their early years, into their successful years, and onto the recent years where they’ve still churned out incredibly catchy indie melodies. Published just before pandemic started and filled with candid photos, I really enjoyed the account, minus the aforementioned, albeit brief, encounters with foreign arrogance.

The vast majority of the book, in fact, is totally endearing. While I wish there was a little more inside music information, I quickly read the entire thing as an avowed fan and lover of both music and French culture. My favorite part is after being dropped by their label since their first three albums failed to achieve mainstream success, the thirty-something members doubled down, paid for their own fourth album, and turned it into their greatest success to date, both commercially and artistically. Later that year while headlining Coachella, Beyonce and Jay-Z were at the side of the stage belting the lyrics of not only their lead singles, but deep cuts from that album.

What an honor. What a story. What a band. ★★★★☆

Published works: You Don’t Have to Be a Patriot to Love Washington, D.C.

My latest for Paste Magazine: “Know what the second biggest industry in D.C. is, after the federal government? It’s actually tourism—over 20 million people visit our nation’s capital each year. And it’s not just patriotic Americans and school buses filling the streets. Washington welcomes visitors from all over the world, which you’ll encounter as you walk the National Mall.

“I first visited D.C. as a junior in high school with a local youth group. Like most self-centered teenagers, I was disinterested by anything that wasn’t music related, a trip to D.C. very much included. But I left with a newfound appreciation for the arts, achievements, and history of America that week. “I will take my kids here someday,” I even uttered.

“That day arrived this year, after my wife and I booked our family for a weeklong visit over spring break, just in time to catch the last few cherry blossoms (while also skipping the swampy summer weather). In short, D.C. is a surprisingly quiet, clean, pedestrian-friendly city with arguably more free things to do than any other city on Earth.” Continue reading…

Behind every great man is a greater woman

This is a photo of my wife Lindsey taken 10 years ago in Twin Falls, Idaho. She has her hands full. At my request, she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a family photo while driving back home. But she’s holding it together, juggling the kids, smiling for the camera.

The next month, she would unknowingly become pregnant with our fifth child. Surprise!

I love this photo. It perfectly captures the chaotic, selfless, and devoted life of not only my own wife, but mothers in general.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wife. I don’t mean that in a vague, feel-good type way. I literally mean I wouldn’t be the full-time writer I am today without my wife. Let me explain. Continue reading…

Book review: Authentic by the founder of Vans is simple and clean business advice

It’s not as iconic, big, or as juicy as Shoe Dog, but Authentic: A Memoir of Vans by Paul Van Doren is a straightforward, if not understated, perspective on business success. Just like the shoes themselves. I enjoyed this quick read and threw it in the growing pile of inspiring American success stories.

Rating: ★★★☆☆. These were some of my favorite passages:

  • Hard work, honesty, and caring for people are what yield success. The beauty lies in simplicity, so don’t overcomplicate things.
  • My belief is that you can always teach people how to do things. What you cannot teach people is how to understand other people.
  • My experiment proved that we did indeed have a serious quality control problem: the people in charge of quality control had no idea what they were looking at.
  • When I started interviewing people for jobs with us, the first thing I would do after someone handed me his or her résumé was toss it in the trash. They would be horrified, of course, and get nervous, but when I proceeded to ask questions and have them tell me about themselves in their own words, they relaxed. How else could I find out who they really were?
  • We can all recognize that we need one another. I said it at the outset of this book, and I’ll say it again: no one gets anywhere alone.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is absolutely haunting

I recently finished When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I was utterly moved by this powerful account of Kalanithi’s own life as a neurosurgeon, the most demanding physician in the world, and his own premature death in his mid thirties after contracting terminal cancer.

Not only was Kalanithi a paragon brain surgeon, though, he is an absolute poet on the meaning of life, the humanity of doctors, and making the most out of a terrible situation.

Rating: ★★★★★. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

New and improved: The 4 Burners Theory explained with more nuance

I’m a big believer in the four burners theory, which I first endorsed in Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting.

Here’s how I explained the idea in chapter 7: “Of all the research I’ve reviewed over the last decade, The Four Burners Theory is the leading cause of dying with regret. The theory argues that an individual’s life can be divided into four quadrants, or “burners,” of a conventional stove: family, friends, health, and work. “In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners,” the theory states. “And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

But since publishing the book, I’ve slightly updated the more traditional definition of the four burners. I do this by merging friends and family into a single “social” category, which many people already do, while adding “hobbies,” which is a huge area that humans devote time to. In that way, the updated burners cover all of your bases.

The same gas limits still apply, of course. If you want to be iconic at the expense of others, pick just one and jack up the heat (think: Steve Jobs). If you want to be great, pick only two burners and run ’em hot. If you want to be good, pick three burners and cook moderately. If you want to be well-rounded and multi-dimensional, slow burn all four.

The choice is yours. 🔥

Will power doesn’t work. To change habits, control your environment with specific goals

Courtesy Shutterstock

My wife and I were recently talking to our kids about changing habits.

I learned long ago that will power doesn’t work. Never has, never will (i.e. if talk is cheap, thoughts are even cheaper). To change our behavior, we must change our environment with specific goals that reinforce one another.

For example, if you want to lose weight, you need to consume a lot more water and eat less processed foods and desserts every day. Exercise alone doesn’t work. Stacking good habits does, however.

In January, I set a goal to stop swearing. Not because I think it’s immoral or not hilariously funny at times. But I suspected that profanity had a direct effect on my anger, an issue I still struggle with.

I was right.

After setting a specific goal to never cuss this year in any verbal or written communication, my anger is at an all time low. Not since I took an anger management class seven years ago have I felt this encouraged.

I still stumble, of course. So far this year, I stupidly threw two S-grenades at my wife while bickering with her. And I dropped an F-bomb on Alexa after she failed to understand a verbal command for the umpteenth time. How embarrassing is that.

Still, there’s no way I’m going back to swearing, at least until I get a full and complete handle on my anger, which I’m getting closer to.

I’m grateful humans can change habits with the help of specific, daily goals. But we have to set specific ones and we must pair them with other good habits to build momentum and make a difference.

If this woman can forgive her concentration camp guard, I can forgive anyone

Corrie Ten Boom’s classic and powerful account of forgiveness is just as relevant as ever:

“Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently (as my former captor outstretched his hand). ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”

Why are humans gullible? Thinking Fast and Slow helps avoid mistakes in life

thinkingfastandslowWhy are suckers born every minute? How can we explain “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is“? Why are humans encouraged to “think twice” before doing things? And why do we judge “books” by their covers?

The answers to those questions and many more can be found in Daniel Kahneman’s eye-opening book, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a fascinating, enlightening, and scientifically accessible read.

After decades of research, Kahneman discovered that the brain makes decisions in two ways. The first is system 1 thinking—the fast, almost involuntary, and largely gut-based decision-making required to operate. It quickly processes tasks like “eat this, pick up that, move out of the way,” and even, “stay alive.” System 1 makes hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions each day and is the “hero of the book,” says Kahneman. System 1 gets things done.

System 2, on the other hand, is slow to engage, deliberate, and lazy. It deals with doubt, uncertainty, statistics, and heavy cognitive loads like writing, performing surgery, solving advanced math—anything that requires intense focus, really. System 2 is not emotional. It’s the part of your brain that questions the source, asks for hard numbers to back up claims, and is innately critical. It deems things guilty until proven innocent.  Continue reading…

Published works: Loyalty in Lisbon with Travel’s Largest Points Program

My latest travel column for Paste Magazine: As global travel restrictions all but disappear, the world’s largest hotelier expects pent up demand to finally pop. “An overwhelming number of people are going to travel this year,” one Marriott representative told me. “In fact, 77% of Americans plan to take at least one trip, domestic or international.” That’s a lot of people—hundreds of millions even. Because math.

In an effort to ease travelers back into the swing of things, Marriott is making a big push to promote their free Bonvoy rewards program, where guests can earn points anytime they stay at one of the company’s 7600 hotels across 30 total brands, which have made it the world’s largest hotel company by a wide margin over the last five years. To sweeten the deal, guests can earn points on Uber rides, car rentals, or while booking tours.

This month, my wife and I decided to use this program to book our first intercontinental trip since the world closed. Our only criteria: we wanted to travel to Europe, to someplace we’d never been, and we wanted it to be welcoming to foreigners, i.e. with few (if any) restrictions. After some Googling, we decided on Lisbon, Portugal, which has been trending for the last decade as a sunkissed, warm, and scenic city with a lot of history. Continue reading…

How to save $20,000 on unnecessary things

Not long ago, my buddy told me how much his parents spent on a monthly storage unit to house things they no longer used.

“That’s over $20,000 total!” I blurted out after crunching the numbers for the many years they’d leased the unit.

“Wow—you’re right,” he admitted after considering the math.

I respect free will, but I was saddened by the amount of waste. And I secretly hoped something could be done.

The next month, my friend and his wife did something wonderful.

They condensed the storage unit into a few bins they felt his parents might someday use, then threw out the rest. They stored the remaining bins in their own garage and canceled the lease.

Upon hearing the news, my friend’s parents were quiet, he told me. But after learning of all that had been done, they felt loved, helped, and supported.

What a happy ending.

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My wife and I finally finished Kill Bill—It. Is. A. Fantastic. Movie.

I’ve enjoyed or loved 90% of every movie Quentin Tarantino has ever made. My wife and I started Kill Bill several years ago, but I think we were tired or something so turned it off and never came back to it.

This spring we did, and the second film might be one of my favorite Tarantino movies of all time. It’s amazing the lengths a woman will go and this movie creatively demonstrates that. I was in awe of the shots and creative mix of color, black and white, and animated sequences.

Love it. ★★★★★

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More than a feeling: 3 reasons to write gratitude letters

Many years ago, I started a habit of writing regular gratitude letters to people who helped me, changed my perspective, or did something nice for me or my family. I even started writing letters to mentors from my past, authors of books that I admired, directors of movies I liked, musicians whose music I enjoyed.

To this day, I continue to write gratitude letters for the following reasons:

  1. Gratitude letters force us to feel grateful. That’s important because gratitude is the the number one way to increase our happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life. It’s science, no joke.
  2. Gratitude letters spread joy. When people feel good about themselves, they are nicer to others and feel better about themselves. So if you want to make the world a better place for yourself and others, gratitude letters are an easy way to spread joy and increase kindness.
  3. Gratitude letters force you to write in different ways. I’ve written books, long-form articles, business reports, blogs, video scripts, and everything in between. But to this day, gratitude letters are some of the most challenging things for me to write, simply because they demand genuine thoughts and feelings. This makes me a better writer I believe.

Don’t know where to start? Consider this approach: “Close your eyes and think of someone who did something important for you that changed your life in a good direction but who you never properly thanked. It could be that you’re really grateful to a teacher who inspired your love of acting and who persuaded you to try for drama school when everyone else was dead set against it. Maybe you’d like to thank your boss or a colleague for helping you with a particularly tricky project at work. Or perhaps you choose to write a friend who helped you through a tough time… Describe specifically what they did and what influence it had on you. Let them know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did.”

Although I’d say a large portion of my gratitude letters go unanswered, that’s not why I write them. But it’s a sweet experience when I do get an answer. One famous writer wrote me eight months later saying he kept my email at the top of his inbox to remind himself that he was a good writer. Another director from Los Angeles wrote back and invited me to lunch the next time I was in town. The college professor that inspired me to become a writer replied saying he had no idea and that my email was a good reminder to him that we never know how our efforts touch the lives of others.

Moral of the story: people are amazing and writing gratitude letters is good for everyone.

How deleting your defaults can free 20 hours a week

Courtesy Adobe Stock

Twelve years ago I canceled every phone alert that didn’t come from my wife, every social media account, and many unimportant diversions. I wrote a best-selling book about the life-changing experience and received reader mail from all over the world sharing similar stories of sublime focus, better relationships, and greater fulfillment.

Better yet, I didn’t have to move to the mountains, quit my favorite hobbies, or commit social suicide to accomplish this. I didn’t even have to sacrifice my professional growth or even abandon my smartphone (the most empowering technology in my lifetime).

But I did have to change my default phone, screen, and technology settings to avoid fear of missing out (FOMO) syndrome, a first-world problem that phones made mainstream. To do this, I silenced all my phone notifications and alerts (both visual and audible) unless they come from my wife and kids. Apps (and by extension my phone) are not allowed to interrupt my life under any circumstance. I reach for it when I need to use it. Never the other way around.

The only exception to this is phone calls, which is how true emergencies are still communicated. Thanks to a spam filter, I get very few phones calls. Turns out, most of life’s “emergencies” are easily handled by text or email, which I likely won’t see until I’m done with the current task at hand, which might take me a few hours, but I’ll still get it done in a reasonable amount of time.

But I digress. People who are way smarter than me, including many Silicon Valley executives such as Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, take a similar approach to gutting their phone notifications. They do this because it’s the greatest life-hack of the 21st century. They do this because it helps them to reclaim up to 20 hours week, in my estimation, and up to 40 depending on how obsessed you are with doomscrolling, screen binging, and addictive gaming.

Let that sink in for a moment. THERE VERY PEOPLE THAT INVENTED THESE THINGS DON’T USE THEM AS DESIGNED.

Don’t believe me? The burden of proof is on you. The only thing I’m “selling” is more free time for yourself, which I’m convinced everyone of us can use to live a more meaningful life. Living heads down is no way to live. I’m convinced the world would be a better place if more people lived heads-up instead. That’s why I do this.

As the northern hemisphere reblooms this spring, I challenge you to swallow your ego, turn off your phone alerts unless they come from your closest loved ones, and see what you can do with all the distraction-free time I’m promising. Granted, I won the “high energy” lottery at birth. But it’s not the only superpower I use to seize the day.

I just stay off screens more than most people.

Gutsy writing: Never use a long word where a short one will do

Welcome to “Gutsy Writing” by Blake Snow—improve your writing in 5 minutes or less.

Several years ago, I was asked by a software director at one of the world’s largest technology companies to write a series of articles. He originally wanted me to explain the work his team was doing in a language that everyone understood. But as we talked further, he was having reservations about my breezy, informal writing style.

“Our audience doesn’t want to be talked down to,” he said, misinterpreting the point of clear writing, everyday speech, and simple words. “They take their work seriously, so the writing must use complex language and terminology.”

This was pure ego. Like some people, he needed big, technical words to feel good about the important work he was doing. And he was willing to sacrifice clarity, better readability, and greater reach to feel good about his highly technical job.

It was obvious I wasn’t a good fit, so I wished him luck in finding someone else. But my meetings with him underscored a cardinal rule that every novelist, journalist, and nonfiction writer adheres to:

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

If you can saying something with one syllable that can be said with two or more syllables, always use the shorter word. Your writing and readership will be better for it.

Need help writing this year? I know a really good guy. Thanks for reading. 

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Book review: Catch Me If You Can is a fun, albeit too good to be true, read

Dreamworks Pictures

After first seeing the movie decades ago, I read Catch Me If You Can this month. It was a heck of a story and page-turner for sure. But I had an inkling while reading that it’s just too good, in this case outlandish, to be true.

In that way it seems as though author Frank Abagnale conned as many listeners and readers as the reported check and identify fraud he alleges to have committed, according to Wikipedia. Multiple reports state he didn’t come close to cashing $2.5 million in bad checks, that his exploits as a fake pilot, doctor, lawyer, and professor are grossly exaggerated (if not patently false), and that he never evaded police like he claims or worked for the FBI after being caught. “The man is not an imposter, he is a liar,” said one US Attorney General.

For that, I award it ★★★☆☆. These were my favorite passages:

  • It’s not how good a check looks but how good the person behind the check looks that influences tellers and cashiers.
  • “You’ll learn, Frank, that when you’re up there’re hundreds of people who’ll claim you as a friend. When you’re down, you’re lucky if one of them will buy you a cup of coffee. If I had it to do over again, I’d select my friends more carefully.”
  • “It’s not what a man has but what a man is that’s important… As long as a man knows what he is and who he is, he’ll do all right.”

How to be magnanimous

“When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”—C.S. Lewis

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Musician problems: Imagine if you could hear an artist’s misplaced brushstroke?

After church recently, one of my neighbors approached me and said, “We heard your band while walking by your house the other night.” This phrase always makes me anxious for two reasons:

  1. I hope my neighbors don’t mind the loud noise coming from my garage
  2. I wonder if they heard a good performance or a bad one

The tricky part about playing live music is your mistakes are glaringly, embarrassingly, and publicly obvious. If anyone in the band plays or sings a rogue note, it clashes hard with the other voices and sounds terrible.

This especially happens when rehearsing new songs, which my band often does. So I never really know what passerbys are hearing.

“We liked it,” my neighbor reassured me.

Phew.

It would be so much easier if musicians could make silent mistakes like a misplaced brushstroke. I don’t believe musicians have it harder than other artists, but the former sure do seem more exposed sometimes.

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“Change isn’t hard, but staying the same is much easier.”

Over the last two months, I’ve conducted a dozen interviews for my upcoming book on optimism and pessimism. I’m incredibly excited about the things I’m learning from psychologists, therapists, entrepreneurs, and near-death survivors. (Spoiler alert: People are amazing!)

That said, I’ve also wrestled with how much people can individually change. My heart and past experience recognize that change is possible. But it might be more incremental or slower than many of us hope for, which can be discouraging at the outset.

Nevertheless, one of my interviews produced a nuanced quote to drive this point home: “Change isn’t hard, but staying the same is much easier.” As Newton put it in his first law of motion (or inertia): “If a body is at rest or moving in a straight line, it will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line unless it is acted upon by a force.”

So it is with change. It’s easer to stay at rest or in the same direction we’re heading. But we can also be the force for change. And this applies to logging off and fixing any offline imbalances as much as anything.

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Book review: I Am Legend is a short but gripping ★★★★☆ read

I finished Richard Matheson’s engrossing 100 page I Am Legend recently. Published in the 1950s and made into several film adaptations, the book is about the last man living after a vampires take over the world.

Like many classic books, the plot just limped to its ending. For that I deduct one full star, but the other four are gripping. These were my favorite passages:

  • There was no sound but that of his shoes and the now senseless singing of birds. Once I thought they sang because everything was right with the world, Robert Neville thought. I know now I was wrong. They sing because they’re feeble-minded.
  • He put the drink down on the table. I don’t need it, he thought. My emotions don’t need feeding any more. I don’t need liquor for forgetting or for escaping. I don’t have to escape from anything. Not now.
  • All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing.
  • He suddenly realized that he had become an ill-tempered and inveterate bachelor again. He no longer thought about his wife, his child, his past life. The present was enough. And he was afraid of the possible demand that he make sacrifices and accept responsibility again.

Published works: My recent Lonely Planet stories on Utah, Tucson, and National Parks

Tucson’s Valley Overlook Trail courtesy Blake Snow

Thanks for reading.

5 reasons sad stories are good for you

Courtesy Amazon Studios

My wife and I recently watched Manchester by the Sea. It’s a beautifully-acted but heart-wrenching story about a Boston man (played by Casey Affleck) that is left utterly devastated and largely alone after a careless act and some horrifying bad luck. In fact, it’s one of the saddest movies I’ve seen in years.

Although I appreciated the film, I forgot the importance of tragedy while exiting the theater. “For someone who is living in a comedy, is there any value in being reminded that life sucks sometimes?” I asked myself. “Is there any harm in solely watching movies with happy endings?”

With the help of the internet, this is what I learned:  Continue reading…

Book review: East of Eden isn’t a novel—it’s long-form poetry on emotional humans

I read my first Steinbeck novel recently, starting with his magnum opus, East of Eden. Spoiler alert: the celebrated author deserves all the hype he received over the last century. This book is a masterpiece of biblical proportions.

At first I didn’t think it was perfect, though. I didn’t love how one of the main characters quickly exists the book towards the end with an unsatisfying resolution, until my more astute reading wife explained to me that said character was already likable and therefore disposable without having to change like the other main character.

That realization changed my mind. This book is perfect. It is long-form poetry that made me laugh, broke my heart, filled me with rage, let me celebrate, and taught me over two dozen proverbs.

Five stars out of five—I loved it. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Gutsy Writing: 4 ways to reach more readers this year

Welcome to “Gutsy Writing” by Blake Snow—improve your writing in 5 minutes or less.

Not everyone can become a great writer, but a great writer can come from anywhere. The latter happens in one of two ways: they are naturally gifted like my wife, or they have to learn the hard way like I did.

For those like me, here are four certainties I’ve learned after 16 years of writing for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies:

  1. Say what you mean. Never mask or muck up your message with buzz words, cliches, or technical gibberish in an effort to sound smart or more convincing. Readers value clarity over all else. So instead of adopting garbage speak like “transformation,” say “change” instead.
  2. Mean what you say. Be sincere in your writing. ​If you don’t believe what you’re saying, why should the reader? Secondly, use adjectives and superlatives sparingly. This builds credibility. And if you’re writing for a business (or ultimately trying to sell something), don’t hide the fact. Own it. Readers respect that.
  3. Compose conversations. Make your writing breezy. Use contractions 99% of the time. Keep your sentences short. Read them aloud to ensure you’re not gasping for air. Write like you would talk to a friend. Give it to them straight with informal language they cannot call your bluff on.
  4. Use spicy words. These little devils delight readers, give them pause, and force them to feel your sentences instead of skimming them. If you’re nervous or embarrassed to use a certain word, that’s probably the spice for you. Some of my favorites include bodacious, skedaddle, gusto, deafening, splendid, ballsy, terrific.

Be brave. You got this! 💪

Need help writing this year? If so, I know a really good guy. Thanks for reading. 

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Bummer. Old music is killing new music because the former is more lucrative

The Atlantic reports: “Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. The problem isn’t a lack of good new music. It’s an institutional failure to discover and nurture it… The moguls have lost their faith in the redemptive and life-changing power of new music.” Continue reading…

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How to have a good day

It’s not rocket science. To get the most of your day, we must do the following:

  1. Live by a daily prioritized calendar.
  2. Surround yourself with positive people by shunning toxic ones and resolving tensions directly.
  3. Break large tasks into smaller chunks (i.e. write chapters not books).
  4. Do work you can be proud of while limiting distractions (i.e. email, social media, doomscrolling, mindless diversions)
  5. Celebrate successes and overcome challenges with positive thinking.

Those are the most fulfilling habits I’ve adopted over the years, many of which are featured in Caroline Webb’s helpful How to Have a Good Day.

Although Webb spent too much time rehashing Kahneman’s groundbreaking Thinking Fast and Slow, I appreciated her earnestness in helping others.

Her formatting was also a little blocky, but the message rings true: “Studies have found we can reap immediate intellectual and emotional dividend from investing in exercise and sleep, or even from taking a moment to breathe deeply, smile broadly, and stand a little taller.”

TL;DR: Attitude is everything.

10 things I fervently believe

I was recently asked what I know for sure. I didn’t have time to answer everything in detail, but upon further reflection, this is what I would have told them.

  1. We live on the most beautiful planet in the universe. There are over 400 million planets in our galaxy alone and an estimated 21 million more galaxies in the observable universe (i.e. the only part of space that we can see with telescopes and far reaching satellites). So far, we’ve only observed all brown, red, or blue planets with no water or diversity on them. We are literally living on a home that is 1 in several gazillion. The math doesn’t even make sense—it’s that rare, meaning there is a God or we won the greatest evolutionary lottery in the known universe. Either way it’s profoundly beautiful.
  2. Possessing a human body is a beautiful experience. I love the animal kingdom, but other species don’t hold a candle to the awesome existence of being a human. If you are reading this, again you won the universal lottery for most amazing species in the known universe. It. Is. Wonderful.
  3. Humans are inherently good. They can be trusted, they really do try, the sometimes change, and they will amaze you if you let them. Don’t let the lemons or fear mongers tell you otherwise. We would have not have gotten as far as we have as a species if that weren’t the case.
  4. The world is in good hands. On a similar note, people who say that youth cannot be trusted have no idea what they’re talking about because they only talk or listen to older people, especially loudmouth ones on TV. Having worked closely with youth for many years, they are even better than we are, just like we are largely better, more educated, more disciplined, and more empathetic than generations that came before us. Statistics bear this out, in fact. So don’t be old by saying the world is going to hell. It’s not, and younger generations will figure out the future just like we did, even if we don’t understand the new rules they play by. Continue reading…

After making a mistake yesterday, this sign instantly cheered me up

I made a boo-boo at work yesterday. The client I was working with was very understanding, forgiving, and even accepted some of the blame. But I felt pretty rotten about the oversight.

Now, I’m not a perfectionist because done is better than perfect. But I couldn’t shake my disappointment of letting them down. So much so that I continued to worry about my mistake into the night.

Then I awoke to the above new sign on display in our kitchen today, which was ironically crafted by my eight year old daughter. It immediately cheered me up. Partly because I learned some things from my mistake and instituted two immediate changes that will make me a better writer. But also because the sign reminded me that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes.

Showing up really is half the battle. As my friend David says, “You gotta play some sour notes in order to make your sound sweeter.” I’m grateful of those simple truths that make moving on, closure, and even improvement possible.

Thanks, Jane.

What do 50 year-olds know that 20 year-olds often don’t?

creative commons

creative commons

Craig Weiler has the answer:

You have one set of teeth, one set of knees, one set of lungs and one back. If you don’t take care of them, you can’t re-boot. You can get knee replacement surgery and you can get your teeth capped and wear dentures, or get new lungs, but it’s not the same as your originals. The back is much more tricky and if you damage it enough you’re never coming back from it.

You have one set of hands and feet. They are irreplaceable as is your brain. So if you damage them you’re never coming back from it.

Your body, in other words, is a one-off. You will never have another one as long as you live. If you start taking good care of it and you’re mindful in your 20’s, you’ll be far healthier and happier in your 50’s and beyond.”

Still worth it: America’s most scenic train ride slowly turned sour

My latest for Paste: “The California Zephyr is known for being the most beautiful train ride in all of North America. Operated by Amtrak with daily service between Chicago and Oakland, the Zephyr crosses 2,400 miles and takes 52 hours to complete. Having enjoyed rail travel on other continents, this fabled route through my own backyard has been on my bucket list for years.” Continue reading…

How to write a song with two catchy tips (after devoting time to the craft)

After hearing my new record, a local musician reached out and asked how I wrote two albums worth of songs in 18 months. The short answer is I dedicate most of my free time to music now.

I recently cut my daily news intake by 95%, halved the number of books I read each year, and since logging off, I don’t do social media, work nights or weekends, or watch TV beyond the occasional sportsball game. This saves me an additional 20-40 hours a week. That’s the math.

The long answer comes in two parts: Continue reading…

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Is it possible for an unsigned writer to make radio-quality music in his free time?

I get it. I have no business asking you to listen to my songs. I’m no full-time musician.

But if you listen to Less Bad (2022), my second full-length album, I’m confident you’ll hear a handful of catchy melodies that could arguably air on popular radio.

Only one way to find out.

Stream or download on:

If you like that one, I hope you’ll also listen to Mr. Mustache (2020), my debut record.

Stream or download on:

Want even more? Check out Other People’s Songs (2020), where I cover Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, U2, When In Rome, and Charlie Pride.

Stream or download on:

Thanks for listening and sharing your favorites with the music fans in your life.

How to make better decisions: Focus on important, non-urgent tasks

Eisenhower_Matrix

Where should you spend most of your time? For maximum enjoyment, biggest impact, and lifelong fulfillment, the magic happens in the urgent/not important quadrant of President Eisenhower’s popular Decision Matrix.

Take nurturing a child or business, for example. Both are critical but rarely demand your immediate attention. In other words, quality time is never urgent. Fostering future sales is easy to put off, especially when current income is steady.

Obviously Eisenhower’s matrix isn’t the end-all, be-all of decision making. But I believe the most successful people in life—both personally and professionally—are the ones that ignore non-critical/non-urgent distractions the most. They don’t check or even react to their “inbox” as much as others, opting instead to focus on forward-thinking but non-urgent tasks.

And they delegate or otherwise prioritize urgent but unimportant tasks better than most.

The rerun first published to blakesnow.com in 2016

NEW RECORD: Less Bad now available for stream and download

DESCRIPTION: When a friend recently asked Blake Snow if he was quitting his day job to become a full-time musician, he answered, “No.” But that doesn’t mean Less Bad, his second full-length album, is something to be taken lightly. “As you can hopefully hear, I take this record very seriously, without it going to my head,” Snow says. Written, recorded, and produced at “halfway through his second act,” Less Bad celebrates self-confidence, gritty immigrants, overcoming hardship, and winning the universal lottery. The album also deals with themes of social loss, crippling baggage, self-doubt, and indifference. “It’s my yin and yang record,” Snow explains. “More fun than my first album, but also more intimate.” Standout songs include Back In The Race, Ricky’s Song, Killing My Drive, and Snow’s personal favorite, Sorta Social. (Taken from blakesnow.com)

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Mentor month: I’m moved by how generous people are with free expertise

I interviewed nearly two dozen experts this month (friends and strangers alike) for advice on my upcoming articles, new book, new nonprofit, and even new record. I cannot tell you how much I learned, and how many unseen rocks I was able to overturn with these empowering discussions.

Most of the people I spoke to donated an hour or more of their time. Several expressed a desire to talk further in the coming weeks. All of these people are busy building things and chasing their own dreams, so it’s surreal to have them be so generous with their limited time.

As an explanatory writer, I’ve always asked a lot of questions of people who are smarter than me. But in the last couple of years, I’ve made it a point to ask even more people for their advise and mentorship on the mountains I’m trying to climb.

While a handful of people respectfully decline, I’d say over 90% willingly speak to me, which is a powerful witness of humanity’s collaborative spirit. “It never hurts to ask” has blessed my life and work more times than I can count.

I’m thrilled and honored to be on team human.

“Your book changed my life:” How Log Off grants an extra 20-40 hours every week

My third book coming this year

As a full-time writer, few things in life are better than receiving fan mail. Earlier this month, I received an uplifting email from a woman named Emily from Illinois. With her permission, this is what she wrote:

“I wanted to start this year by thanking you for sharing the offline balance movement through your book Log Off. I read it a few weeks ago and realized, to my horror, that I was spending an average of seven hours a day on my smartphone. Some of that was at work for professional communication — I’m 27 and work in a ‘young’ office where everyone prefers to text — but most of it was social media scrolling, wading into the cesspool that is Facebook comment sections, and feeling falsely connected to people I hadn’t had an actual conversation with in years.

“I fully deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts a week later and can’t believe how much my life and mental health have improved. It’s only been two weeks without social media and I have already noticed that I have far more energy for creative projects and feel much less anxious throughout my day. Your book totally changed my life, and I am sharing it with all of my Instagram-addicted friends. Thank you again for spreading this message.”

Emily’s experience closely mirrors mine over the last 12 years since first abandoning social media, deleting my phone alerts, and logging off for large sections of my workdays, nights, weekends, and vacations. In short, the added energy and free time gained to relax and create is astounding.

In my case, I estimate that limiting my phone use to only 1-2 hours per weekday (and less on weekends) saves me nearly 20 hours a week. Not watching TV saves me an additional 20 hours. So between those two screens alone, I get a full-time job worth of bonus time every week!

Obviously a large portion of those gains are spent on domestic duties and rejuvenating downtime. But an equally large portion is spent on creating things. Nurturing passion projects. Building side hustles. Some of my most recent finish lines include shipping my second full-length record (hitting stores Jan 31), conducting dozens of interviews for my third book (pictured), and getting my nonprofit off the ground to help more people like Emily change their life and reclaim lost time.

Granted, I was born with energetic DNA, and there are a lot of people who create and do a lot bigger things than I. But I wouldn’t have been able to achieve some of these minor accomplishments had I used the default and more popular smartphone, social media, and screen settings. That’s the real power of logging off. It buys us the most precious, finite, and fleeting resource that all of wish we had more of: time. And with even fewer digital distractions in life, we can do and be and relate to an even greater number of things, people, and relationships.

A close friend recently joked,  “Stop doing impressive things, Blake. You’re making the rest of us look bad.” I’m honestly not trying to, but I am trying to demonstrate what’s possible after logging off.

I’m not the only one. The dentist from Bogota, Columbia that read my book says so. The tech worker from Sweden who read my book says so. Most recently Emily from Illinois says so.

What would you do with a part- or full-time job of extra time each week?

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The meaning of life: 13 things I learned from the world’s greatest thinkers

I don’t always study philosophy, but when I do, I make it count.

Case in point: A friend and I were recently discussing the human condition over email. Exhilarating stuff, I know. I’ll skip to the best part.

Basically, we decided that humans struggle to internalize both complex and simple realizations. Complex ones because they’re harder to grasp, and simple takeaways because we’re usually too distracted by temptations, desires, and pleasures to see them through, even if we believe in them (or so argues Aristotle; more on him later).

At this point, I asked my buddy, “So if humans struggle to comprehend both complex and simple ideas, what in the HELL are we good at?”

His reply, “Entertainment. And nothing else.” Full stop. The gravity and strategic double periods of his remark made me do this:

MGM Studios

MGM Studios

At which point I enrolled in a 36-course undergraduate class from Smith College. Not exactly. But I did download the audible version of the classThe Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Greatest Thinkers, from Amazon!

Having already graduated (go, fight, win!), I did this solely for my own enlightenment. Little did I know how much impact professor Jay Garfield’s masterful curriculum would have on my worldview, existential outlook, and shared beliefs with others.

Here’s what I learned:  Continue reading…

Published Works: When Traveling This Year, Don’t Over Prepare. Just Go.

My latest for Paste Magazine: “Humans are so scared of dying, they’ll often go to excessive, if not extreme, measures to avoid that dreadful fate. In cases where death isn’t the biggest concern, the secondary worry is going hungry, being cold, getting stuck outdoors, or some combination of the three.

“I recently came across an old but still relevant rejoinder by comedian Jack Boot that perfectly sums up our often overstated fears: ‘Hey guy with hydration pack, two hiking sticks, and North Face vest; my 5 year-old walked the same trail in Crocs carrying a naked Barbie. Relax.’

“The great outdoors—and by close association, travel—can definitely be intimidating. But it is possible to actually over prepare, overthink, and over plan our adventures sometimes. Like this adorable man so comically demonstrates, sometimes our excessive gear, packing, and planning plays into our obsessive compulsive disorders instead of curing them.”

Continue reading…

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HEAR the world premier of Less Bad, my new record, before it hits stores on Jan. 31!

Hey friends—I’m live streaming my new album on YouTube next Saturday before it hits stores the following Monday. I’m trying to get 1,000 music fans to attend. Will you please join us for the 51 minute listening party, live chat, and good vibrations? Thanks for your support! 🙏🕺🤘 https://youtu.be/R-kfrzaVFJs

Recent travel stories I’ve published for CNN, NatGeo, USA Today, LA Times, and more

For the last eight years, I’ve written and published hundreds of travel articles for CNN, National Geographic, USA Today, LA Times, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Orbitz, Frommers, Paste Magazine, and Travel Weekly. For my most recent articles, click here. For some of my recent favorites, see below:

Best of 2021

  1. Get out there: My new monthly travel column
  2. America’s greatest hut hike is among the world’s best
  3. A slice of vintage Vallarta in Las Palmas by The Sea
  4. 10 reasons this might be America’s greatest lake
  5. Wasting away at Magaritaville’s first all-inclusive
  6. 9 travel myths you shouldn’t believe
  7. Is this the best beach in mainland America?
  8. Best of the Big Easy | 12 museums to visit before you die
  9. 5 ways this trendy reservoir rivals Lake Powell
  10. America’s coolest caves | 5 “southern” cities that never get old
  11. Berlin’s abandoned spy station is the most dystopian thing ever
  12. 8 epic bucket list items in the Mountain West
  13. Utah: Best roadtrips | national parks | things to do | time to visit

Continue reading…

My second album, Less Bad, arrives Jan. 31 on all major music stores


After six months of work, my second full-length album, Less Bad, drops January 31 on all major music stores!

All 14 songs were written, arranged, recorded, sung, and produced by me. The album was mixed and mastered by Adam Miele, my talented brother-in-law whose music has been featured in a SuperBowl commercial. In addition to his sonic mastery, Adam co-produced and played ginormous drums and additional keyboards on songs 3, 8, and 12. Track 9 features studio musician Matt Giella on trumpet. Song 11 was co-written by my good friend Derick Pulham, who also provided backing vocals and additional guitars. You can listen to the lead single and video here.

With their help, this record sounds bigger than it otherwise would. If you like the album, I hope you’ll check out my first record, Mr. Mustache, now streaming on all major stores.

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“I’m average, but average people make it!”

My wife and I at the summit of Olympus (courtesy Steven Smith)

I firmly believe that all humans are remarkable and average at the same time. As my father used to say, “We are all statistically average in most things, above average in a few things, and below average in many things.” Even Da Vinci, Einstein, and Mozart were average to mediocre in many areas of their lives.

The vast majority of us, however, are neither geniuses nor special. We must accept that, on the whole, we are average. That shouldn’t keep us from dreaming big and trying to be remarkable in a handful of special ways. But acceptance of our averageness can be a powerful motivator in the proper context.

Recently I summited Mount Olympus, an eight mile roundtrip hike that climbs (then drops) 1000 feet every mile. While approaching the difficult push to the top, my brother-in-law Steven blurted out, “I’m average—but average people make it!”

We all laughed out loud and immediately appreciated what he was reinforcing. That is, life is hard sometimes, but the average life overcomes hardship—at least on average.

It’s reassuring to know that over tens of thousands of years (and millions if you consider our ancestors), average humans have survived incredibly difficult things, over and over again. Pandemics. Floods. Pestilence. Earthquakes. Racism. Wars. Famine. Poverty.

We survive despite our averageness. And that makes us remarkable. 💪

This story first published to blakesnow.com in 2020

Don’t stop believing: Discount the U.S. economy at your own risk

My adorable daughter photographed by my devoted wife Lindsey

I love this fact-based, feel-good article by Ben Carlson: “Since 2008, we’ve experienced flash crashes, government shutdowns, natural disasters, trade wars, a contested presidential election, a pandemic, and the fastest bear market in history. Yet the Dow rose from 11,497 to more than 36,000 and counting. Maybe our best days are behind us. Maybe it will be impossible to see the same amount of growth going forward. It’s certainly possible. I choose to believe that most people will continue to wake up in the morning looking to improve their lot in life. People have been betting against the U.S. economy for decades. They’ve never been rewarded for it. Progress is in our DNA. Good luck betting against it.”

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Attention first, old people, regulatory vetos: Why America is running out of ideas

Courtesy Shutterstock

This is an excellent essay by Derek Thompson: “I want more new companies and entrepreneurs, which means I want more immigrants. I want more megaprojects in infrastructure and more moon-shot bets in energy and transportation. I want new ways of funding scientific research. I want non-grifters to find ways to innovate in higher education to bend the cost curve of college inflation. I want more prizes for audacious breakthroughs in cancer and Alzheimer’s and longevity research. As strange as this might sound, I want the federal government to get into the experimentation game too and found new agencies that identify and solve the problems that will be created by this riot of newness, as the CDC and DARPA once did. And, finally, I’d like Hollywood to rediscover a passion for cinematic blockbusters that don’t have numbers in the title.”

What would a world without internet be like?

Not long ago, browsing the Internet, I happened to stumble on a list titled, “The Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time, According to the Internet.” Like most lists of its kind, it was subjective and far from definitive, but still, it represented an interesting challenge. As someone who reads for pleasure as much as for job security, I decided to finish as many of the titles as I could handle.

After completing over a dozen (and taking in many of the film adaptations) the following occurred to me: Not one of these acclaimed futuristic stories—at least none of the many I was exposed to—took place in a world with any version of the Internet. All instances of published media, daily communication, romance—all offline.

In part, this has to do with the constraints of narrative writing, explains the technology writer Clive Thompson. “A lot of science fiction was primarily focused on moving people and things around in exciting ways,” he says. “These forward-thinkers were using flashy visuals to hook their readers, while understandably overlooking non-sexy things such as inaudible conversations.”

And inaudible conversations are the bread and butter of the world wide web. As Jon Stewart once put it, the Internet today “is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”

But my experience led me to an interesting thought experiment: How might we live without the world’s largest note exchange? Or, in other words, what would the world be like today if the Internet ceased to exist? Continue reading…