Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

7/07/2011

LA Living: Alissa Walker

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

If there is anyone who most influenced the way I view Los Angeles, it would have to be Alissa Walker.

Alissa (aka Gelatobaby) is a writer, blogger and all-around great person based in Los Angeles. Her blip first came on my radar even before I moved to this sunny city. I was reading Fast Company online and found myself smiling at her article: Why Can't the World's Best Architects Build Better Web Sites? After a while, I started looking forward to her posts and found myself subscribing to her blog, which is probably the best possible primer for how to live in LA.

Alissa showing off her Peeps. This girl injects fun in everything she does. It makes you want to go on any adventure she's planning. Photo courtesy of Alissa.

Alissa's obvious love for Los Angeles was infectious. Through her conversational writing style, colorful photography and her fun-loving spirit, LA became a place of endless adventure and possibility.

On a warm afternoon in Hollywood, I spent a few minutes with Alissa at GOOD HQ talking shop (in this case, freelance writing) and, of course, Los Angeles. Here are her nuggets of wisdom:




Since you've already given great advice for writers starting out, I wanted to ask you a few more questions more directed more for writers after they've started. Much of freelance writing is about little triumphs that keep them going. Could you tell me about your memorable little triumphs?

Well, the first real triumph I had was a story in Step Inside Design about BlueQ, I pitched a story about how this awesome guy managed to work with all this awesome designers and got a feature story. That was my first big story.

A few weeks later, I was in a little pitching seminar by an awesome teacher whose name is David Hochman of UPOD. I mentioned that my brother’s name was Luke Sky Walker, which was true and the last Star Wars was coming out in a coming months, so my friend Jeff Miller, who writes for Thrillist, recommended that I pitch a story about my brother being Luke Sky Walker to his contact at the LA Times. I ended up sending the pitch and got my story in the LA Times about my brother Luke Sky Walker, which came out the weekend the movie came out.

I knew I was a writer when I walked through the airport that day (I was flying home to St. Louis for my friend’s wedding) and saw people reading my story. That's when I thought, “Okay! I can do this!”

How did you end up writing for all these awesome publications like Fast Company, Dwell and GOOD?
I think having a blogging job--working for someone else in a blogging job where you’re writing every day--putting yourself out there every day is really good just to get the attention of editors. I had a pretty high-profile blogging job at UnBeige, so a lot of people thought of me first for stories.

I didn’t do a ton of pitching, people started reaching out to me. I was just lucky. I really think that that was a special moment in time. UnBeige was a very cool design blog that had a built-in audience, traffic and people cared about it. That was a very lucky and amazing thing for me to fall into.

Alissa being interviewed on Debbie Millman's Design Matters. Photo courtesy of Alissa.

You seem to be around many great events and stories around town. How do you keep up with all of it?
I only try to write stories that actually, genuinely interest me. I feel like I do my research by being interested in things all the time.

You've written some really great stories. Where do you get your ideas?
Just by walking around. My best ideas now are just from stuff that happens around, people I meet at parties. I’m trying to be really local right now, so that's the best way to find stories. It’s also learning how to notice things. Asking yourself, "Why is that like that?" And then you find out.

Photo montage of Alissa's walking adventures. Photo courtesy of Alissa.

You've gone through your share of story disasters like mistakes or bad comments. How do you get past it?
You just have to just not worry about what people think and you have to be confident. If you make a mistake, then you make a mistake. You have to be just like “Whatever. People make mistakes all the time.” New York Times is full of mistakes. (That makes me feel better, when you get to the bottom of a story and you see that there's a correction.)

I think you have to just really be confident about what you think, especially when people comment about pieces. You just can’t worry about it.

Freelancers have to deal with a lot of rejection. How do you cope with it?
I feel like you should be rejected about half the time. If you’re not getting rejected about half the time, then you’re probably not putting enough out there. So you should actually do more. Rejection actually motivates me to try harder.

Not only are you an editor, writer and blogger, you also set up some very cool events with Design East of La Brea. Do your worlds every get mixed up?
Yes, they do, but I think that’s the next level of journalism really. The next really awesome thing about journalism is that you should be able to take your audiences to these experiential type of events where they can see it for themselves, they can eat at the restaurants. Journalists make great tour guides and curators of these interesting experiences because you know all about it.

Making it happen at a GOOD LA event.

You're busy covering stories or arranging events all around the city, but you don't have a car. How do you do it?
I plan everything out. I don’t leave the house without knowing where I’m going. You can use the Metro Trip planner online and Nextrip. Google maps online also works okay.

What do people think when they find out that you have no car and take public transportation everywhere?
People are like, “You’re a freelancer. You ride the bus. It doesn’t matter.” But no, I have to go to different places and be there on time and not freak out. I feel like that’s an even cooler way to show that not having a car works and it is possible.

People are think you're wasting an hour in a bus. Wasting an hour is driving. If you’re in a bus, you can read, you can prepare for an interview if you’re going to interview somebody... I’ve even written while on the bus.

You obviously have a deep love for Los Angeles. What three things do you think every Angeleno should know?
That you don’t have to drive. It’s totally possible and Los Angeles is even a better place if you don’t.

You should know a great place to go hiking. You should have a secret spot where you can get away if you need to. There’s so many great places to hike even within the city.

You should know the local small restaurants in your neighborhood. You should go to every small place that’s near to your house and just try it because those places are probably the best places to eat by far. You should always explore the dingiest, smallest places in your neighborhood.

Last question, what things do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I feel like the world I started in then is so different now.

I don’t think anything I did in journalism school prepared me for the commenting and the social media world where people are talking about you. I wish I had from the beginning been able to be a bit cooler with people talking badly about me, or commenting on things and telling me I was wrong. I wish I had known that it’s okay and it doesn’t matter.

The other thing that I had wished I had known then is that you can never take an assignment for the money. If you don’t like the story, you don’t like the topic and you’re just in it for the money, you will hate every single moment of it. You will just hate yourself, so it’s not worth it.

Find more of Alissa at gelatobaby.com

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