The Creative Process (special guest: Neil Strauss)
So just to give a little bit of background, for anybody who does not know the illustrious, the incredible, Neil Strauss. And I say that in all seriousness. When I have questions about writing, when I'm in my pit of despair with writing, this is the guy I call. So you have what, six New York Times bestsellers? Seven?
Insane. Unstoppable. So also wrote for a long time, New York Times.
Yeah. Ten years.
Just a side note. You have a letter on your posted, framed on your wall.
Can you tell people what that is?
Yeah I have this letter... When I was writing to the New York Times one day, and it's a hate mail from Phil Collins. And the last three words of the letter were, or four words, were well, Neil, [bleep] you. And it came from like, and I was really music, if it came from like Trent Reznor, or someone I'd be like, okay, that's just a dark person, but it came from Phil Collins. And it was on like, letterhead from the Peninsula Hotel, it w...
as all handwritten, not a single crossout, and I called the publicist to make sure that it was him, and I said, where was he staying, and she was like, the Peninsula.
So I framed it and put it on my wall.
So there are rare moments of excitement when you're not heads down, writing.
I was trying to be nice here, I wasn't being mean or anything like that, so it was a surprise, by the way.
I write, my quota for writing is two crappy pages a day.
Wait, so it must have, how many pages of the current book, though?
672, after cutting 250.
That doesn't add up.
I know it doesn't.
So I told you, I gotta keep this under control. But, I'll give you a Hannibal Lecter mask. But that was advice I got actually, from a really famous, well not very famous, because they don't use his name, ghostwriter. He's written like 60 books. And the analogy he used was, IBM, when their sales force was the most dominant sales force in the country, they had the lowest quotas. Which seems really counterintuitive, but they weren't intimidated to pick up the phone. And then they ended up exceeding those quotas. So the crappy two pages a day, was his recommendation for my quota, which of course, once you actually start writing, like the hard part for me is just sitting down and starting.
Yep, I get it, I get it.
And then once I'm into it, if it's like 12 pages, great. But if I don't write my two pages, I don't panic and go into the spiral...
It makes sense, because I was reading, it totally makes sense, this is totally counterintuitive, but I was reading something about how to train yourself to floss your teeth every day. And it said, only floss one tooth. And I said, I'm only gonna floss one tooth. Then you go up and you do it and you end up doing all your teeth,
Exactly. And then you can create the habit.
But it's easily winnable. So this is true with any habit. But ugh, I don't want to jump into it.
Okay, let's get, let's get into it.
No, no, no, let's get into it, I have so many, yeah I know, I know, this is so amateur, I'm looking at these, but, Okay. I'll just add. This is a great question. So, I mean, you're getting these big advances, you have these big businesses, you have,
By the way, I get really small advances.
Oh, you know what, this is actually a good point. You ultimately, so we have very different approaches to this. I'll come back to that. Your books end up doing very well.
Alright. And you have those businesses and everything else. Would love to talk about how you got started as a writer, how you cut your teeth. But let's talk about the advance thing for a second.
So, we have completely different approaches.
So most authors wanna get the biggest advance possible. 'Cause they're humans and they're greedy. But they also want the publisher to feel really committed. Like, the more money they spend on the advance, the more obligated they feel to help. Or so the rationale goes. But you have a different approach.
Yeah, my thing is that I want a long term relationship with my publisher or whoever I'm working with. So if I can make them successful, then they're gonna wanna have that relationship with me. So I've always taken very low advances, and how I've, basically how a book contract works, it's not like the record business. You actually see the back end. I did an article once on the Backstreet Boys, who when they sold 25 million albums and didn't make a penny in royalties, and the book, basically once you earn your advance you start making money. What the publisher does, to decide whether you're successful as an author, they look at their spreadsheets. And basically, if your advance is so high that they didn't make any money, that was not a successful book, even if it was a New York Times bestseller. So all our books are really really successful for them because I know, I trust, I mean you write knowing or hoping that it's gonna do well, even if it's your first book. So I just, I'll take very little money at the front and I'll assume that it's gonna do well on the back end, and I'll get that money then. And they'll look at their books and want a relationship with me. I really remember after like my second book, I had four contracts for future books already in line with the publisher. So the rest of my career is just done and set, and I can quit my day job.
So this is, yeah. Totally different approach to this, right? So I go for the big advance when possible. But, this points out there is no one way. Different ways, and a lot of it comes down to your personal psychology. We have a lot in common, but we're pretty different in a lot of ways too. Like I'm just a bull in a china shop, I'm just like, goddamnit, argh! Like, so aggressive, you know? Neil not so much. You're much more methodical and more rational about it.
I'm more methodical? I can't believe anyone's more methodical than you.
About writing, yeah.
So, alright, let's talk about the beginnings. So what were the breakthrough moments for you, as a writer, like how did you get there?
It's weird, I was thinking, I was talking to Robert Greene, who was a friend, and yet his book Mastery is coming out, and we were talking about passion. How you know what your passion is. We both came to the same conclusion which is, two things, one is, whatever you're doing when you're 11 or 12, that school teacher or a parent they make you do is your passion. And literally when I was 11, I wrote a whole book. Sent it to publishers. Nobody, and agents, and no one responded, not a single person. And so I got used to rejection pretty early. But who would not, like, an 11 year old writes a whole book and sends it to you, who would not respond? It's just mean.
What a bunch of dicks. That's so mean!
And I also found my parents sent me, I asked for all my childhood writings, and in second grade, I wrote like, when I grow up I wanna be a writer, and I wanna write a million books. I forgot that I'd ever done this stuff, and I forgot I ever wanted to be a writer in college, and get distracted, and I got into music, and all that stuff you get into in college, and then somehow I just led back there. So people looking for their passion, I think that's the one thing, and the second answer, which goes to the advance discussion is, what would you do if you didn't get paid for it? If your money was set, what would you do for work, if you didn't get paid for it? And I would write some books I don't even make money on, because I spent so much money, as you probably know yourself,
Researching them, and, I bought a second citizenship for one of them.
Yes, oh yes. Emergency.
To another country.
I have an anecdote about Emergency that's pretty funny. Neil, how long have we known each other? Years and years now. Neil will not tell me what his new books are about.
He is so damn paranoid about it. He will not tell me anything about his new books until it's like, almost going to publication. But, I remember you wanted me to, well when you were doing the drafts for Emergency, and I was like, what is this? You wouldn't tell me anything, so I was like, let me take some stabs in the dark, and see if I can make him panic. So I was like, what is it, some five flag stuff?
Yeah, that freaked me out. Because it was all about,
Multiple citizenships and all of a sudden he's like... (laughing)
And it's really obscure.
Yeah, super obscure. And so you would FedEx, I think it was FedEx, printed sections of the book. You would never send me the whole thing, for me to review. Wouldn't send me anything. It was great.
And I have a secret thing I'll do one books. Which is I'll do the draft, and I'll say, I'll draft a little handwritten draft, I'll say 9/11 for the date. And then I'll code, for each day, I'll do 9/12, 9/13, for a different person. And then on page, I'll do that on the cover so I know whose it is. And then on page 11, because you gotta be careful with like, and on that page, I'll put a little mark on that page. So a little code of if it ever leaks out there.
It's like the Da Vinci Code. The Strauss code.
And the reason, by the way, I don't talk about, is because ideas are, you know, they're memes, and ideas are memetic.
I totally get it.
And I only talk to one person, and psychologically, they did studies, and people forget the sources of their own information. So you can read something in the New York Times, or the National Enquirer.
I don't actually disagree with that. I think I'm a little less stringent, but...
No, no, 'cause you told people what your book was, like, almost like, two weeks after your 4-Hour Body came out.
So, I know we're bouncing around a little bit, but this is all very related. So part of the reason I announce books early, is I will use my audience to help determine what I should do. So I see what they guess, I'm gonna focus on.
And this is another thing we differ on, so I wanna hear what you do, and I'll tell you what I do.
So, the first, so how do you decide what to write? I never thought I was gonna be a writer, ever. So I didn't have the 11, 12 year old thing. But I always, I had a number of teachers really heavily influence me, and so I thought, well maybe someday I'll be a teacher. Like, early on. I was like, maybe I'll like that.
What were you doing at 11 or 12? Were you like, doing like, little experiments?
Comic book penciller. I thought I was gonna be a comic book penciller. And I was actually an illustrator for two years. Not many people know this. I paid for my expenses and stuff in the first few years of college by being the head graphics editor of The Princeton Tigers. I did all the illustration. I also did some illustrations for Princeton University Books. And then bouncing. What a shitty job. But, nobody liked, nobody likes bouncing. But the point being, I wanted to, I thought I might come back and teach, and just ended up, this accidental career of writing ended up being the tool for that. But I do not ask my readers what they want, and then write that book. But I will cherry pick little bits and pieces. But I think ultimately, Steve Jobs said this, Henry Ford said it. People don't really know what they want. You know what I mean?
Yep, I do.
So it's like, what do want? I want a faster horse. Not a Model T.
Yeah, a lot of people will do that. They'll survey their audience and ask what they want, or think of what'll be big, or what'll be popular, and the thing is, I talk with rock bands about this a lot, because I interview a lot of rock bands. I said, all your audience knows is what you've done before. They don't know what you're gonna do next. So all they want is what you've done before, and if you keep doing what you've done before, they're gonna get bored.
And you're gonna get bored, too.
And you're gonna get bored, too. And so to me it's like, how I choose what I'm gonna write about is I stay one, I really always try to stay one step ahead.
But it's not even trying, like I write about what I care about the most in that particular moment in my life. And because it's gonna have that passion, I mean, I talk to, I've seen people, I was talking to a writer today. And he has over a million Twitter followers. And a very big platform. And he wrote a book that did not do very well. Because I think he wrote what was a clever book everyone would like, versus writing something he really, really cared about, that was important to him, and literally, I think you can make anything interesting. If you really care about it enough. Like if you care about that pillow, and the story of the pillow. Where it was made and how it was made, and who made it, and what their story is, and you can dive into anything if you care about it, and make it interesting.
Jon McFee, just as a side note, he's a great example of this. Michael Lewis also another example. But Michael Lewis chooses big macro topics where like, oh, of course that's interesting. John McFee, Pulitzer Prize winner, I've mentioned him before. He's written a book on oranges. He wrote at least a short story, maybe a book, on Plymouth Rock. Wrote one on basketball, Bill Bradley, Sense of Where You Are, great book. And, like... An orange. He wrote one on hand carved canoes. And you read it and you're like my god. Wooden canoes, the most amazing thing, I've ever heard in my life.
And for me by the way, that's the key, to me, the key of writing, this is it, which is, if you guys want to write, or anyone who wants to write is, my first thing is I assume no one cares. Whatever I'm writing about, assume no one cares about what I'm writing about, nobody cares about me. Nobody cares about what I have to say. Nobody cares about the things I care about. And if you just go from the premise that nobody cares, and how can I make them care from the first sentence. From the first paragraph. At the end of that chapter, how I'm gonna make them turn to the next chapter. To me, my main goal is to keep it interesting for the people, and assume no one's interested.
Yeah. So you've sort of arrived at these different approaches to writing. What was the first, to your mind, the first writing piece that you did that kind of put you on the map? Where not like, I've arrived, but you're like, okay, I actually, I actually could make this work. Or I could actually really be good at this. Or, wow, I just got recognition for this piece. Were there any sort of defining moments in your career, as a writer?
Yeah. I think, I mean I don't know, yeah. The things that I remember, like I remember like I was, by the way, the best way to get involved, to get started in anything, is to be willing to work for free. Internships, to me, are the path to anything, and I mean, I really think being, there's definitely a lot of people who are entitled. Basically, I have so much to say. But anyway, if you wanna live in your passion, whatever your passion is, you have to be willing to not make money at it. You wanna do what you love? You have a choice. You can choose money, or you can choose what you love. Joseph Campbell has a great quote that I always use. I don't know if you guys know this, the,
Joseph Campbell, so, The Hero With a Thousand Faces?
Yeah, the great kind of professor of mythology. But he said, the insecure, have you guys heard this? The insecure way is the secure way? You guys have heard that quote? And what I means basically is, you know, my parents, and I'm sure most people's parents say get a good job, try and make some money, make a good living. 'Cause they think that's secure if you go and make money. But if you do a job and you make money, you lose that job, then you lose the money and you have nothing.
Right, right, right.
What he says is if you choose your passion, it actually doesn't matter whether you make money or lose money because you're always gonna have your passion and be happy, so it doesn't actually matter.
That's your safety net.
Right. But the challenge of that is, it might be eight years, or four years, before you're actually making a living at it. Versus something else.
Yeah, this is a common thread. I mean if you look at the concept of sort of apprenticeship. And like, working for free. Not being the lowest point on the totem pole, but actually the way you differentiate yourself so you can work with the most talented people. Because the most talented people are gonna know, on some level, that they have a lot to teach. So they're not gonna feel compelled, at least, this has been my impression of a lot of people, to like, overpay somebody who has no experience.
They won't. And by the way, people looking for mentorships, I found there are two qualities that maybe got those for me, looking back on it. Which is one is, be willing to work really hard and do anything. B is to be non threatening to that person. You know a lot of people come in and they wanna be that person or take their job or feel entitled to it. And C is to show the potential to learn. 'Cause everybody wants to, you know, even like, we first met, you actually sent me your book proposal for The Four Hour Work Week, is how we met.
Yeah, way back in the day.
That was our first contact. Cold e-mail. And I sent him the proposal, I guess it was like Lifestyle Hustling at the time.
Yeah, Lifestyle Hustling is what it was called.
Horrible title! The worst! Oh my god, and I mocked up a cover and the back cover, and it was pretty funny. But the point being, I sent it, and you actually responded. He responded. And it was something like, yeah, great idea, keep going. Or something, it was super short. Super short and I was like, oh my god, Neil Strauss responded! Like oh, we're gonna be pen pals! And then I responded, nothing. (laughing) Radio silence, radio silence. Until we reconnected years later, at a dinner in Los Angeles. We ended up sitting at the same table and I was like, you may not remember this, but it really meant a lot to me. And in any case. So being coachable, though.
It's being coachable and trainable and showing the potential to do better. But you were asking that first piece. So anyway I was interning at The Village Voice and spent maybe nine months opening mail and all that other stuff, and fact checking and copy editing. I was just in Chicago at a Public Enemy, Sonic Youth concert. And there was a riot there. And I just happened to be there. And so that was my thing. I just was in the right place at the right time, and I got that first break, and I wrote that piece, and then I remember afterward, like, the different New York papers used my coverage for that thing, and so that was my first.
And it came out with The Village Voice.
It came out of The Village Voice. That was back when like, a weekly could still break news. (laughing)
Dailies can't even break news any more.
God, yeah. Well, like, be first or be accurate.
How has your approach to writing changed over the years? In terms of tackling, let's just say a book project. 'Cause I think a lot of people are interested in that. What is the order of things, and how has it evolved over time?
Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts on that, and on the way down here, I wrote down, I tried to backward engineer, and I hate talking about it, 'cause, I think if anyone does anything artistic or creative, there's some part that you don't wanna analyze, or think about.
Yeah, sure, sure. The best practices that can be analyzed.
I'd say the best advice I have for writing, and I think you know this yourself. Does anyone here wanna write books? Who's here?
One. Yeah, cool. Everyone else wants to do apps now. No. (laughing) So, uh... Yeah, I'd say the best advice for anyone who wants write a book, is literally, the best way to write a book is to have a looming, impending deadline with hard, real world consequences for missing it.
Stakes, remember stakes, guys?
No, did you talk about stakes?
Yeah, you need stakes.
Like, steaks for...
I talked with that with diet and stuff.
A paleo diet, or s-t-a-k-e-s?
Oh yeah, stakes.
It's all about stakes.
Stakes like vampire stakes. But for consequences.
And I think that,
And I know you always talk,
That's something that a media guy said to me recently, like, you gotta, when you say stakes, and you have a book called The Four Hour Chef, they're gonna think you're talking about steaks!
I was like, argh!
But I think if you can't do it, you manufacture it. You talk about stake.com, and thinks like that, but I really know that literally, Tim will be calling, and I'll be calling Tim, saying, [Bleep] I gotta get this in, I got like three months. I can't do, but if literally, if we didn't have those deadlines, you wouldn't have written three books in this amount of time.
It would never happen. Yeah, it would never happen.
So you have to, so I'll do that if a friend of mine wants to write a book, and they want me to proofread it or take a look at it, I'll say I'll take a look at it, but what date are you gonna get it done by? Because I'm gonna hold you it, and they'll say, January. I said if it's not one by the end of March, I'm not gonna read your book at all, no matter what. So I'll give consequences and deadlines to my friends. So a good way to write is to really, if you don't have a publisher or a deal or something like that, find some real consequences that's externally imposed.
And I would also just say for people who are like, ah, I'm not a writer. I still don't really consider myself a good writer. This guy's a good writer. I don't consider myself a good writer. But, the process of writing is the fastest way in my experience, to improve your thinking.
'Cause writing is thinking on paper. And it's pretty tough to improve your thinking in real time. So, you put it on paper, though, I remember, when I did my first writing assignment for Jon McFee's class, and he handed our writing assignments back. And he said to everyone he was like, look. You guys are all good writers. I don't want you guys to panic. And we're like, what? We got it back, and there was more red ink than black ink that we'd put down, which is like, what is this? And he was so methodical at cutting out fillers. Colorful nonsense that didn't add anything.
That's the other secret, is having a good editor. I think it's hard with the blog world, and you're writing your own blog. You don't have an editor. So you're doing a lot of writing. But to me I learned by having, you know you learned by having editors. And again if you're not writing somewhere where there's an editor, you can have friends read your stuff. Doing that feedback and internalizing that,
It's super important. What happened is that my grades in every other class improved in lockstep as how my writing got tighter. Which was really cool. So even if you don't plan on being a writer, it's really good training for just becoming a better thinker.
Yeah, I literally, I don't know what my conclusion is of a book, or what my perspective or my thought on it is, actually, until I sit down to write it, and have to organize those ideas.
I don't write my introduction, or the conclusion, until, towards the end of a book.
Yeah. I don't do my introduction because I feel like it'll lock me in stone.
And you and I both do something similar, where, I don't assume that I have a lot of great ideas that I can expound upon and make interesting. So when people ask me like, well who are your role models? And they have their guesses on who they might be, And I always bring up George Plimpton. Like one of the first sort of experiential journalists who, Parish Review, and he'd would go like, be an amateur boxer, and fight Sonny Liston, and then write about it. Or go be a quarterback for an NFL team, get his ass kicked, and then write about it. And I think the riot is a good example of that. Go out and find or do interesting things, to provide yourself context for writing.
And I would also say take notes on your life. 'Cause you never know, everything you're doing, everything you're experiencing is material for a book. If I didn't take notes every day on the things that were happening, and that were interesting and all my thoughts and feelings about it, because every day you're growing, every day you're transforming, every day you're changing. What you think today, how you feel about things, may not be the same as you think next week and you wanna capture it in that moment.
There's so many cases where like, now I'm just like, god! Why didn't I take notes on this? Or why didn't I videotape that? You know, whatever. But speaking of taking notes, what's your process? So I mean, how do you capture notes?
Yeah. I mean, so, yeah. I think of a book like this. So the first process is, I'll just take notes. And with notes I'm not writing, I'm just vomiting out everything I remember, every thought I had, every feeling I had. Every word someone said. If I can actually record things sometimes, with permission, I'll record it. If it's an interview, or sometimes if I know I'm doing a book, I'll say I'm just gonna record this for posterity. So I'll try and do that. I'll get someone to transcribe it. Actually I have a medical transcriber transcribe stuff so she gets every single detail.
US-based or somewhere else?
Yeah. Very cool.
I'm keeping it in, keeping the economy healthy. (laughing) So the first days, and I'll tell you, this is what I kind of realized today and this how I do drafts, is, so, I've got all my notes. First draft is for me. The first time, everyone [Bleep] himself with a book, trying to write a great book right away. I think everybody's first draft, not the first draft turned in, but the first draft you do, I would venture that I would think anyone who's a good writer, their first draft sucks. You know, you're just trying to get everything down, and the point of the first draft, because people get precious about it. They wanna actually write a book. And they want each page to be a publishable page. If you do that, you're never gonna get past the first chapter.
So, I say the first secret is, you can do everything for you, and you get everything that you wanted to get in the book, in that book. So that when you're done with the first draft, you basically have a giant stack of pages,
This is a lecture that he's given me many times. By the way.
And you need it. You need to hear it.
So you have a giant stack of pages, and the good thing about those pages is everything you wanna say is in there. You know? And now you just now that now you gotta start shaping, crafting that. It's everything you wanna say. Maybe it's not said right. Maybe there's too much there. Maybe there's stuff that is not gonna end up there, but everything's in that ball now, it's not in your head any more, swimming around in notes.
This is super super important, because one of the big stresses for me, keeping in mind, when I graduated from college, I had to write a senior thesis. And it just about killed me. One of the reasons I took a year away from school is because it was too insurmountable a task for me. I was just overwhelmed, and I was like, I can't finish this thing. Senior thesis. And so I graduated, I was like, I'm never gonna write anything longer than an e-mail, ever again.
Didn't quite work out, clearly. But I still have all that insecurity and fear associated with big writing. And one of the sources of the stress was that I wanted to get like, each page perfect before I moved on to the next. And so I would constantly have all of these different sources of stuff, as opposed to like, alright, make the first draft for you, you can put notes in the margins, you can have TK. Which I'll come back to.
Oh, TK's my favorite.
Yeah yeah, I'll come back to TK. And then once you have that in one working document, now you don't have all these different sources of stress. You have one thing to work on. So TK is, took, I didn't even know what that stood for, until like, a year ago, I was like, what the hell does this mean? So what people in publishing will do is if they're writing, and they need to find out like, the age of someone, or a date, or whatever, they'll just put TK. Or like, quote, TK. So they don't interrupt their flow. And then they can go back and they can fill in the blanks. So TK stands for To Come. But, that's TC, so why TK? TK because TK really doesn't appear in the English language. So if you wanna do a search through your document, you can jump.
Oh, I didn't know why, I just assumed it was a weird way to say to come.
No, it's so you can search, and you can find all the things you need to fill in, without having to search through the document. So when I'm writing and I really just wanna get it out, if I start to stumble over a word, like you know, sitting with Tim, in that TK shirt, 'cause I'd describe that collar and that neck, I'm not sure. I don't know. I'm not that good a writer. So I write, in his TK shirt. And on the TK couch. And I just wanna get it through. And then later, I can fill in whatever that is, 'cause it'll help me just spit out everything that's in my mind. I wanna talk about the second, so, so the first draft is for you, the second draft is for the reader. And so, once I've got everything in there, I'll go through now, and then I'll think about, what's that reading experience like? And write it for the reader to read. And that's the point where you kill your babies. When there was that thing that you did, and you researched that for a week, and this was so important, you thought this was going to be the heart of the book, and then you read it and you're like, you know, it's not that interesting. You know I've spent all that time writing it, and all that time researching it.
Those are the worst!
That gives you the most headache. So the second draft is for the reader. And really, at that point, you're taking out anything, basically, a book, when you're done, should be such that you can't remove a word, or a paragraph, or a chapter, and the book still be okay and intact. It should be such that you either remove a paragraph, that has actually ruined. Everything there has to be essential. I really think there's this, in the book I'm writing now, there's this chapter, I love it, I wrote it. So important, so well-written. Literally I could remove it and the book's the same, so it's gone. So, and this is what a lot of people don't do, the third draft. And by the way, when we're talking it drafts, it probably may be multiple drafts, but I think the third incarnation, let's say. So the first incarnation for you, second for the reader, third is for the hater.
So what I do is when I'm all done with my books,
I like that, I like that.
I've done it for my reader, my dear reader. The third time I think, what are the critics gonna say? What's somebody who's just looking to this to pick holes apart in it? I'll try to hater-proof the book. Almost, like, what I love about Eminem, is that you can't really criticize him 'cause he's always put all your criticisms in the songs.
Yeah yeah yeah. Well it's like the end of... Help me out here. God. Six mile?
Eight mile. Yeah, when he takes all the insults from the guy he's battling, and puts it into his own?
And so he's like, ah!
Yeah. That's a really good point.
So I'll do that, I'll just think, okay, that person's gonna pick that apart. Okay I gotta answer that argument within the book, I have to answer that within the book, so literally, when The Ruse came out, good or bad, it's already all there. So that's that third read. And then you really feel like you have something airtight.
That's awesome. How are we doing on time guys?
Alright, Tim, the internet is absolutely loving having you here, Neil.
Oh, good. The internet is a person now? (laughing)
Mr. Internet has questions for you.
The internet, we wrote these on the internet. But we have, so we have a number of questions, but we're gonna start in our studio audience, with Amanda.
And you represent the internet. What do you represent?
I also represent the internet.
It's a co-internet
The duality, yin yang of the internet.
They're manning the webs. Okay.
Well, when you sit down to write, do you do it at like the same time, and in the same place?
Great question. I think one of things I wanted to get to, I'm glad you asked that, is time management. And I'm, when Tim said I'm, you know, I'm very methodical about time management because it's so hard to do. So the first thing, I'll give you a couple important life changing tips for anyone trying to do something creative on the computer. So number one thing is, no e-mail in the morning. Number one thing is, there's a program called Freedom, that I downloaded, and it says, and I love the word Freedom. Because that's really what it is. It says how many minutes of freedom do you want? You say whatever it is, 90 minutes, and then you cannot access the internet for 90 minutes. There's no unlock code, people are gasping, you're all gonna use it. There's no unlock code. So the first thing I do is phone, I give to someone else, or put it in a drawer somewhere, it's best if I give it to someone else. Internet goes off, and I commit to a certain amount of time. I really have my day structured. How I currently do it, I'm changing it a little bit, but what I currently do is, Mondays, I do, every meeting I have, I do on a Monday.
I do exactly the same thing, just coincidentally.
No, it's funny.
Monday is my like, nonsense minutiae day, where I just take care of all that extraneous stuff that's hitting the shield.
It's so funny. Every meeting, every interview, everything, it's just, books on a Monday. Mondays are crazy, they are maybe 12 hours of this stuff, but then Tuesday to Friday I just write. And so I turn that stuff off. I try to automate anything that causes anxiety, for example, lunch is a pain. Like, what do I want for lunch today, do I menu, do I order out, do I make food? So I literally have it, do you do this too or something?
No, I remember, we did this like, very bromantic retreat to write in Malibu, do you remember this? So we were both writing, and just like the degree of stress that having to go out and have a meal caused you, it was like pure hilarity to me.
It was also because I was being a guinea pig for The Four Hour Body, so I was eating,
No, he was also, he also being forced to eat like, 80 grams of glutamine a day, and he was just kind of grumpy because I was making him to the leg presses to failure and stuff.
The training and that was nothing compared to the eating to failure.
Alright, long long story, but yeah. Continue. Yeah, you automate meals.
So basically anything that I, also, you have a certain amount of reserves of decision making power a day. After a certain amount, what is it, you can't make more decisions. You just get fatigue. A lot of people spend a lot of that power on lunch. So what I do is I've just chosen the five places where I like to eat the most, and I just get those meals delivered like clockwork. Each of those days I just don't think about it, the food just comes. So really automate those things.
Sorry, one more anecdote, I have to tell people. So, eating to failure. So trying to get Neil to gain weight. And he told me this story about Neil bites. And how like, he got these little tiny bites and his parents were like, ugh, stop taking Neil bites! And so we'd be sitting there, at like a restaurant. Having our like, I remember this one time we were having these like, cocoladas, or coconuts with like, umbrellas. And I'm like, rice. Eat rice. And so I'm like feeding him the rice, and everyone's like, what's going on here?
It was very romantic. Yeah, I'm a slow eater.
Yeah I'm a disgusting walrus, so yeah.
So my thing is that it's, compartmentalize it. Like if you're gonna check your e-mail, check it from 4:00 to 5:00. Someone wrote a book which I never read, but it's called Never Check Your E-mail in the Morning. You don't, I don't know if you knew it or not, but just know the title, and it's really great. It's great advice. The thing is, with time, it's to become proactive about time instead of reactive, because I know so many people, you can't do anything because you get a message on Facebook, and then you're getting an e-mail, and then you're just reacting to that, 'cause it feels like you're getting something done. At the end of the day, you got nothing done. So my thing is, I'm really, and everyone knows I'm proactive about that. To the degree that um... By the way, I have Facebook and Twitter blocked on my computer. What I did is I downloaded Intego Content Barrier, I think, is it content barrier, whatever it is. There's Net Nanny,
RescueTime can be used.
Net Nanny. Can be used to block specific sites.
And I had someone else put in their password for those sites. So I don't even know the password, so I couldn't connect to Twitter or Facebook if I tried. So, finding those things that are those, putting walls between you and them, or limiting them in certain ways. There's one other thing I was gonna say was, oh, which is, friends can be a pain in the ass if you're trying to be creative. And if you have more than seven friends and everyone wants to see you one day a week, what do you do? So another thing I want to say, is that I do a Wednesday night dinner party. So if my friends want to see me, I'm like, great, Wednesday. IF someone wants a meeting who I'm not sure about, Wednesday night. So Wednesday night, we all go to a restaurant, and basically, whoever I want to see or catch up on, I'll see them there and then maybe afterward, I'll break off with my closer friends. But that way, I can see everyone, people who I wanna meet with, but I don't really wanna take the time for a lunch or a meeting one on one. I just bring them there. If I like them, I talk to them a bunch. If I don't, I put them far away.
So I do the same thing, actually, but I do it on Fridays.
So I'll do kind of like a Friday happy hour thing.
So that, because dinners can be three, four hours, right?
So I'll do like a happy hour drinks thing with like five to 10 people or whatever. And I'll be like, oh, we're gonna introduce, I'll introduce all you guys, it'll be awesome, but I mean, the practical implication of that is that you're taking these people you do wanna meet with, but, you don't have time, if you want to get anything done. So, you're batching it together.
Yeah. The real thing is to be non reactive, be in control of your time, and compartmentalize where they can belong. And the other important thing, by the way, for writing, is just doing something physical and healthy every day. Like, even that hour, hour and a half you do it, is gonna gain you that much time in clear headed thinking.
How many pages do you write a day?
That's a good question.
This guy's a machine.
So, I do, here's, I do 10 pages a day writing. And then when I'm proofreading, the first proofread will be 20 pages a day to proofread. The next page will be 40 pages a day to proofread. So it kind of goes like that. I think what people don't factor in, the art of writing is in the proofreading afterward, not in writing it. To me what makes the book good, is those parts afterward. Think of it like a shirt, like a really wrinkled shirt. You just keep going over it with the iron until all the wrinkles are gone. And that's the first incarnation, is an ugly, wrinkled shirt, and it's that ironing process that makes it great. And there's another thing I'll do. And I'm just spitting out steps, I know we don't have a lot of time, and I want to get a lot of stuff in. Then people can ask questions, and Mr. Internet can ask what he wants. He or she. He and she. So... Oh yeah. What were we talking about?
You're ironing wrinkles on a shirt. Writing, wrinkles, proofreading, oh yeah. Another thing, here's the thing I'll do that I don't know anyone else who does this, but this is the key piece of writing book for me,
I'm gonna say I do it just to annoy you.
You probably do. People figure out things by themselves. Like you find out, that you figure out these strategies for yourself, and someone could have just told you them three years ago. When I'm all done with the book, And I pick up a friend like this, I'll call a friend, or have a friend come over, and I'll read them my entire book. From front to back. Maybe not all in one sitting. I read them that whole book to make sure it's interesting. And they don't even need to respond. I know when I'm losing them, I know when they're bored, I'll just mark that passage and I'll be like, I'll go over it. Another thing is, so I'll literally read the whole thing out loud. If I'm losing someone for some part of it, and I just know it, I'll just mark it, you can just tell. You don't even need their feedback. Another thing I do is I'll make, I'll send key copies of the book with my secret numbering system, to say, 15 people, they don't need to be writers, they don't need to be authors, they don't need to be anything. And I'll get their feedback. And some of their feedback I'll recognize is good, and then I'll make it. But sometimes five people make the same point, and then, even if you don't agree, you gotta really consider it, because they're probably right.
And, actually, just on feedback, too, real fast. I'll add just a few thoughts. Because we have a pretty similar process. And with this last book, I was basically taking the three years that I took to do The Four Hour Body and compressing it into six months. I do not recommend it. Couldn't be prouder of the book, I think it's arguably the best of my three books, but... I needed a lot of proofreaders. And as proofreaders, I want people who are either better writers than I am, Or better thinkers than I am. And I found actually, law students, and lawyers, to be really good. So they'll give you brutal feedback. The other rule I had was that if one person hated something, I wouldn't necessarily take it out. But if anyone loved something, it stayed in. So like, I need a consensus to remove something, but, I only need one person to really love something to keep it in. And, the other thing I would say is that just for a practical standpoint, a tool based standpoint, I use, and this is not because I'm associated with a few of these companies, but I use Evernote to do all my research gathering, so pulling things offline, taking photographs of labels, taking photographs of business cards, people, whatever. All of that gathering is done in Evernote. So it's in one place. And then I do my drafting in a program called Scrivener, which I have no association with. Used by a lot of playwrights and screenwriters.
I use it for screenplays.
Yeah, yeah. It's really good because then I don't have, first of all, Word, hate it. It always crashes. So instead of having like, 100 Word documents, I have one Scrivener file where I have all of my chapters in this like, table of contents, and my research. So I can actually look at my notes, in one, at the bottom of the screen, while I'm writing at the top. Which saves me tens and possibly hundreds of hours at the end of the day. Then I use Dropbox for sharing really big files with my teams like in New York, San Francisco, wherever, we have people all over the planet working on this thing. A lot of photos and videos. If they send me something for feedback, like, illustration. Photograph, layout. I'll use Screenflow to record a video. It's so much faster than trying to type out an e-mail, or do anything else. I'll use Screenflow to point out everything, and then I'll upload that to Dropbox, and share it with them. Instead of using e-mail, because here's the problem, right? You don't wanna check e-mail, but then everyone on the publishing team, and all the publicists wanna communicate with you via e-mail. What do you do? I use Basecamp. So I use Basecamp so that, even if they're using e-mail to reply to everything, all I have to do is log into Basecamp to see what's most important.
By the way, and another thing with communication, it's on a tiered system. So I have one e-mail that is super secret, only people I need to contact have it. My publishers, my parents, my girlfriend, only about 20 people have it. 21, Tim has it. 'Cause if anyone knows not to overuse it, it's Tim. And then my phone, too. And I have another e-mail that's just a wider one that kind of everyone has and I'll check that one once every couple of days. And then same with my phone. I have a number that literally almost nobody has. And then I have another kind of general number that I'll just check when I'm home. So I think, especially these days, you really gotta limit the channels through which people can communicate with you.
And I also do my editing, I do my first note taking via hand. Drafting via Scrivener. And for every draft, I print it out, and I actually go through it by hand. I just find I'm better. I'm faster. And I can like, connect the dots, without having to scroll and whatnot. I just find it a lot easier.
And you outline...
I don't outline.
You do not outline. And you do outline, but you don't do the first and the last.
I do outline, but it's for me at least, I actually view my job, I'm kind of a... I take a cheat approach, in a sense. I spec out all of the crazy things that I wanna try. And that's my first outline. And then I do it, and you just don't know where it's gonna lead. You have no idea. And that's part of the fun. Because ultimately, my opinion is, if the book is not at least fun to research, it's not gonna be fun to read. Like if you hate every step of the process, and you're like, but, the market says, it should be really popular and the timing's right, people are gonna hate it.
In my experience.
And the thing about writing and interruptions is I read that if someone interrupts you in work, anything you're doing, it takes 20 minutes to get back to where you were. And especially there's that flow process when you're writing. And I think it's really important to not interrupt getting into the flow because it might take three hours of staring at the computer just doing nothing, typing whatever. And then you hit that flow, and that's when you do good writing. Sometimes you're just putting words down, other times you're really writing. And you're connected there, and you just don't know when or where it's gonna happen, you gotta just create that space. If you get interrupted when you're in flow, you're screwed.
That's why I do all my interruptible stuff during the day. Interviews, research, online, blah blah blah blah. And I do my synthesis, my writing, starting at like 10:00 PM. When people are less likely to interrupt me. It's like, a lot of writers I know get their writing done, from 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM. And what I mean by that is they either start late, stay up really late, which is what I do, go to bed at like 5:00 AM. Not the most social thing in the world. Or they'll wake up really early. Like 5:00 AM, then write from 5:00 to 8:00. And, I have to do that, because I trust my behavior more when everyone else is sleeping, then my self-control when everyone's awake.
So speaking of interrupting...
Yeah, that was one question. You get two writers talking about writing and you're not gonna...
So we've got only three or four minutes left. So we'll take a quick question.
We'll do a speed round of fast answers.
Quick question from the internet, 'cause we are the voice of the internet.
We will edit ourselves later.
And I think Corey has a question here in the back. So let's go ahead and go, Selinart is saying, when you're writing, do you visualize one type of person or type of person, as your reader?
I guess the quick answer is... Yeah. I mean the first time again, it's for me, I don't visualize the reader at all, 'cause it's gonna [Bleep] you. And the second thing is, that reader is somebody who is a bored person, not interested. Usually, sometimes I'll picture my parents. (laughing)
So I, actually, totally opposite approach. I do write for very specific people.
So I'll write the book, like, I'm good friends with let's say, Kevin Rose. Or I'll think of Neil. Or like, Ryan Holiday, say. And like, I will ask myself, would this pass muster for these people? And, I try to write the book that I would want to read, also. Is this filling a gap, where I would want to buy this book? If so, I just assume there are gonna be people who have some similarities to me, maybe it's age, maybe it's living in San Francisco, whatever, who will also buy the book.
That's true. I'll write the book for me, that's really true. So right on. I'll write the book that I wanna read. Or I will, or the book I need. Yeah. Right.
Corey did you have a question?
So, one of the things I really love about both of you guys is that when you're going after a new task or a new skill, and this applies to writing and beyond. You fully immerse yourself in the research material. Neil in The Game, you started researching Brando and A Streetcar Named Desire, and Mickey Rourke, and that movie from the 80's, I forget what it's called,
Everything, right? Books, everything. And you as well with your research material, for the chefs, I'm sure you studied a lot of chefs and beyond. How do you filter out good material from bad material to study because right now, more than ever, we live in a time where there's just so much information. How do you select as Tim says, the 20% of material that'll give you the 80% of results for your writing or for skill acquisition?
It's so true. There's a form of procrastination called perfect preparing. And you spend so much time preparing and gathering data, it becomes a form of procrastination after a while. So again, the simple answer is probably exactly what Tim said. And by the way, so the gentleman talking, Corey, showed me earlier a book he had. Of the things he wanted to do in his life, and one was meet Tim Ferriss, which he did. The other was have a drink with Neil Strauss, and I'm not gonna be around tonight. But I had them grab a beer here. So we can have that drink together. (applause)
That is awesome. That's great. Alright. That is fantastic.
And you have a drink with both of us. All you need is Megan Fox here, and you've done your whole book. (laughing)
Oh, this is great.
So, yeah. I think you got, one of the keys is knowing when you're done and when you've got enough. And also only going to the best stuff.
And for me, the 80/20 analysis, is done...
Alright, man, cheers.
So I only choose things that I am interested in doing. And then, so at least if it doesn't make it into the book, it was something fun. Something worth doing. Like I went down this huge rabbit hole with like, DNA testing, and how do I hide my identity, and like, I did a bunch of DNA tests as Brad Pitt and did all this crazy stuff. Talked to like, genetic weapons engineers, nuts, right? And it was one of those things where it was like, oh, it's so awesome how you get preloaded credit cards at Safeway, so no one knows, blah blah blah blah blah. And at the end it was like, not useful for the reader.
The cool thing is you got a blog, though. And by the way, this is how you rationalize things you're gonna cut. You're like, I got a blog. Or you're like, I always say I'll put it in the paperback, and then I never put in the paperback, or the digital book.
Yeah, exactly. And then once you have all those experiences, that's when you cut it down. But you have to go out and have them before you know it's actually interesting. But that's the benefit of, I think, our approach, insomuch as we immerse ourselves. We're learning a lot and having fun, even if the book never succeeds.
And we're getting it first hand, and I think that's the key is, I mean I'll read the third hand stuff, or the second hand stuff, on my way to meet the first hand person on the plane or something. But to me I'm always getting it first hand. If I'm doing a book on a subject, I'm gonna ask everybody about it. I think this is true for anything you want in life. They talk about the power of intent. But more than that, there's the power of putting it out there. And so anything I'm working on, I'll literally, even though no one knows what I'm writing about, all my conversations are about that. I'm asking everybody. I'm out there, surfing, I'm talking to a guy,
Which makes me crazy, 'cause I'm like, just tell me what your book is about!
I'll even give people like, I'll lead people the wrong way. I'll purposely do misinformation and steer them the wrong direction.
Okay. Just so he doesn't seem like the only one who's paranoid. So when I did, I think it was the first announcement for The Four Hour Body. I used a different title. I called it like, the guide to becoming superhuman.
Right. And then I put a bunch of fake stuff in there, as red herrings, because I knew people would be like, squatting on URLs, and doing all the other things. So I didn't want people to grab all of the domains, and Twitter handles, and everything, which they did, but they had the wrong title. But I did wanna get feedback from... So this is important. Not only do I put it out there, because I want feedback for my audience. I put it out there so that if people are in my audience are like the best in the world at that, that they then reach out to me. Which is how I connect it to Alinea in Chicago.
Is, Nick Kokonas is one of the co-founders, amazing, amazing guy. Reached out after I made the announcement about Four Hour chef, and he's like hey, if you ever wanna come check on Alinea, come check it out.
Great, that's awesome. One of the best restaurants ever.
Oh yeah. So having people actually reach out to me, but not giving them the nitty gritty details, so they can screw you up.
Or rip you off, especially with the Kindle now, someone could put a Kindle book out three days later,
Which is what they actually tried to do. It was, argh, makes me crazy. You have to learn to deal with people squatting on stuff.
Another thing about writing, by the way, don't think about publicity, marketing, title, 'til you're all done. That's another way or form of distraction, is like, how am I gonna market this, what's my publicity plan gonna be, just write the freaking book first.
Marketing's a very
Notice I said freaking,
by the way,
in the back people?
So we got an extra give minutes or so, we're gonna move the language segment to right after lunch.
There was a language segment next, how appropriate. (laughing)
Etiquette and language.
You can stay for it, Neil. We have another few questions from the internet.
Let's finish it off.
And another cheers there.
See you later.
Frank, Neil, Frank Pierce says, how do you stop a writing session, and when you stop, how do you get out of your ultra concentrated state of mind?
Oh, how do you stop a writing session. Really?
That's a quality problem. I will, if I'm in a writing session, it's going, I won't stop it. Even people know who I have plans with, if I'm in it, I might not be there. That's another big secret. Never commit to plans. Say I've got another engagement, pal, I'll try my hardest to be there. That way if you don't show up, they expect you not to show. If you show up you're a hero. Versus being pissed. But anyways, so, the answer is I won't stop if I'm going.
I have the same exact policy. So it takes me, and from what I've seen in Silicon Valley with really good programmers. Or just programmers in general. It takes them like a good hour, just to get to the point where they're moving. And if you build up a bunch of momentum, and who knows, you're just sleep deprived enough or just drunk enough or whatever, where it's actually working, I don't stop. I will go until I faceplant. If I start at 10:00 and it's like 4:00 in the morning, or 5:00, sun's coming up, and it's still going, I'm like, man. This might not come back for me. Might not come back for another three days. I'm just gonna go.
And another key, by the way, is if you're gonna exercise, or do something physical, do it in the middle of the writing or sometimes right afterward, because you wanna keep your head. And you've gotta keep your head in what you're doing. Your best ideas are gonna come to you, actually when you're not writing. When you're in the shower. When you're driving. When you're jogging. And then always write it down. As soon as you have that idea, you have to write it down.
I always travel with like,
Otherwise it's gone.
A Moleskine notebook, always, always, always.
I used to actually carry a little notebook, and a necklace around my neck, and a pen there, and I would just grab it and write it down.
You will not remember. If you're like, falling asleep, and you're like, oh, I should do this tomorrow morning, like that great headline or that great subchapter, you're not gonna remember.
I'll sleep with a notepad and a pen near my bed. If I do it, I'll just, if I wake up, I'll just write it down.
Couple of resources for writing, I'd love to get your thoughts. Couple of books that really helped me. On Writing Well. Was really helpful to me, way back in the day. Bird by Bird, I talk about it all the time, but just for the psychological... Self loathing and all that stuff. Self doubt, whatever. Which journalists, I feel like, trained journalists suffer less from. But I could be wrong about that.
Only when you're doing journalism, because someone else is gonna be loathing after they read that. Versus the ones that's about you.
That's true, that's true.
Yeah, no, I think, when I was in journalism, you'd never think that, because really, you're on a deadline,
No, it's like noon to 5:00 PM. And you're like, okay, well. Yeah, I don't have time for self loathing.
But you're doing a book, you totally doubt. Because the book, man, you really pour your heart into it, it's a whole freaking year. And no one may read it.
Well it's like, when you made your jump from sort of writing about other people, to writing about yourself, I mean that was, I would imagine, psychologically, that changes a lot.
Yeah, and I really imagine, I just, yeah.
Yeah. It's tough. It's super tough. Okay, cool, any other questions?
And another thing, there's a key that... We're not even answering the questions, we're just answering questions nobody's asked. By the way, my resources, what I do when I'm reading, is I just try to read great writing. I mean, right now I'm reading Nabokov or something like that. I'm writing non, you know what I mean? I just try to read the best writing I can because I feel like, and I would do that, before I wrote for Rolling Stone, I got my first Rolling Stone assignment. I went and before I sat down to write, I read like, five Rolling Stone features, just to brainwash myself and try and get in that mode.
So I actually do the same thing. If there was a long time where I tried to write, I had writers I thought were incredible. And I would try to emulate them, but their style was too far from mine. Right? So again, Jon McFee. Coming into the country, just, makes me want to cry. His stuff is so good. I'm like, I could never write like that. Brigade De Cuisine, about cooking. Oh my god, amazing short story. In any case. I cannot be him. But stylistically my voice is actually pretty close to like a Kurt Vonnegut. So I started reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. I started reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. I was like, okay, let me write this, if I'm blocked. Forget about Tim Ferriss, forget about the reader. I'm just gonna write two pages as if I were Kurt Vonnegut. How would he write this?
And then it's just a psychological trick, to get you into putting words down.
But it's funny, if I find an author I love, like a fiction writer, I'll trace it backward. Like if you take Bukowski, then you read John Fantay, then you read like Knut Hamsen, Hunger. Or something they all like, they're just 100, some are 40 years apart, some are 100 years apart, just actually imitating. You can tell they found each other's book and did exactly what you did. Alright.
Great. Okay, we have a question from Sea Trout, who wonders, do you have an opinion on building a book through gaining credibility via blog, versus writing first, and then using blog and e-books as spinoffs?
I'll let you answer that one first. I mean I have my thoughts, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts.
Okay so the question was, do you wanna either get credibility versus a blog, and then write and get...
Blog to book or book to blog?
Right. Yeah, that's a great summary.
Got it. Okay. I think we might be opposite here.
Gotta get this away from me.
Yes, I know, I keep wanting to pour more.
Way too early for this.
The end of this Tim'll be like, slurring his words.
And another thing! (laughing)
So, I think my simple answer for that is that's a good example of like, putting the horse before the cart. So I wouldn't even start thinking about how I'm promoting or doing that. I would just start writing my book. So my thought, if a blog is gonna discipline you to get your book written and have those deadlines, then I'd go blog to book, but for now, I wouldn't think about marketing, promotion, literally, you can do it on both ends. For me, I like to keep my books a big secret or a big surprise, and I like when my book comes out, for it to feel like an event. And also to maybe break a story. I want my books actually to break a, you know, tell a story that hasn't been told before, and break that. So I would like to keep that surprise going. But I think some people can use those blogs, not for early promotion, but to motivate themselves to get writing done on a deadline, and get that feedback. The last thing I'll say on that is, it's funny. Here's the thing about publishing, for people who wanna get published. This is kind of depressing. All they really care about now in publishing and a book deal is what is the size of your platform? Like literally, if you have enough Twitter followers,
For non fiction.
And Facebook followers. If you can just prove, if you can prove, and this is kind of what you did in your proposal in a way, for a book as, if you can prove that you can sell 10,000 copies of a book, that's it.
Yeah, you'll sell it.
If you can prove to a publisher that you will sell 10,000 copies, you will probably get a book deal.
And just on book selling real fast. I guess we haven't really talked too much about this. But if you get an A-list agent, you'll sell your book. So step one, from my perspective, is getting an agent. Not because I can't sell books on my own. I don't wanna deal with all the battles that you will always have with any publisher over certain aspects of the end product. I don't want to deal with it. So like, Steve, my agent, is awesome, went to Harvard Divinity School, raised Mennonite, plays in a jazz band, really cool guy. Also knows the business because he ran the P and L for a bunch of arms of Harper College.
Which is profit and loss.
Yeah, sorry. So, if they're like, well, we'd love to, but we can't do this, he's like, really? Like, I know where you print your books, of course it costs that much. So, that's just a point on agents real fast, and publishersmarketplace.com is where you find a lot of information on that. So blog to book, book to blog. I did book to blog, quite frankly, because I didn't know what the hell a blog was. And I thought because the publisher was gonna be doing, wanted to control all these various pieces, the only thing left for me to play with was online, so I was like, guess I should figure out what a blog is. And it started that way. I think that blog to book, not from a promotional standpoint, but from a writing standpoint, makes a lot of sense. Because if you cannot write a blog post a week, that's 500 to 750 words, there's no way in hell that you should write a book. No way. And so to just test the waters to find, do you actually enjoy writing? On any level? I think the blog is a useful tool. Wordpress, just to give an unsolicited piece of advice. There are plenty of blog platforms. As far as out of the box, SEO friendly, widely adopted, easily supported, Wordpress, I think, is the way to go. And full disclosure, I'm an advisor to automatic wordpress.com folks,
Basically anything tech Tim says, he's an advisor, has a piece of it. (laughing)
But I use Word, that only happened in the last few months. I've been using Wordpress forever. And the blog, a couple of examples that you can look at. Right now, this moment, the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, top of the charts. It is top of the charts. And that came out of a blog. It's a good example. Bakerella, also, so bakerella.com. Like, cake pops? Who popularized that? Boom, huge cultural gestalt, or, zeitgeist, I think is the proper word. All my German. Is another example. Blog to book. But there are more crappy books that come out of blogs than good books. There are a handful of good ones. Because not all content goes from super short form to long form well. Cooking does. Photographs, recipes. That's the same as in a cookbook. You're just doing one recipe at a time as opposed to an entire book. That works. But you take a bunch of like, mediocre blog posts and try to put it into a 300-page book? It very frequently does not turn out very well. And I think that many people who are good at writing 500, 750 word pieces, and that's a skill, are not, they don't have the proper hardwiring, or the interest, to write something that is, 150, 200 pages.
To organize 150,000 words.
It's a different beast. Know what I mean? It's a different beast altogether. Cool.
I have a question.
[Female Announcer] Fantastic.
So we'll close on this question, this is my question, which is, obviously, we're looking at tech and where things are going in the future. To me, where I've been wanting books to go for years, but I feel stuck by it. So I'm gonna ask you this question to end it. Which is, I always dreamed the future of me writing books, is me and there's a designer/programmer. And I'm creating an awesome book where you turn the page and maybe that sound. 'Cause in a book you're trying to draw people into a world. If you can create something where you turn the page and you can feel that sound. Maybe, whatever. If you're writing fiction, maybe the leaves just drop over that page as you're reading it. And you hear the sound of the blowing, you feel that. To bring people further, 'cause, it's that escapism, you wanna bring people into that world. Now the thing is, you can do that now with iBooks and things, moving toward that. But with a Kindle, you're stuck with kind of e-ink. And you can't really, and most digital books are on Kindle. And again, I think 50% of the market is still, I think, print books. So, what do you think, is it worth sitting there to sort of design an immersive digital book experience, and will it ever get there?
So, I'll answer the first. I guess I think it'll get there. This is, it's gonna be a bloodbath in the next few years.
'Cause all of these businesses that were previously separate, Apple, Google, Amazon, they're just, they're all trying to do the same thing. So Amazon has Kindle Fire HD. Gonna compete against the iPad. But they're cutting back the margins because they want to actually sell the content, as opposed to the hardware. I mean, not speaking for Amazon, but that's just the popular perception. And for me at least, so part of what was fun for me with The Four Hour Chef, it's the first time I've ever had full color. Thousands of photos, illustrations, Calvin and Hobbes cartoon one page, supermodel in full color on the other, like, awesome, great! Something for everybody! And, I had so much fun creating something that was physically beautiful. I want to take it another step. I want to have that like, world class designer, who's not juggling 20 projects. Like a world class designer. And a world class interaction, design programmer. Just be like, oh, let's think of something that's never been done.
Right, and as the author now, you'll have that team. That's my dream.
I think that there's a very good chance you're gonna have like, these big publishers, and it's just going to splinter into these like, publisher creators. Who have these independent teams. But pragmatically speaking, a lot of people don't have the interest or perhaps the ability to run a business. So I think there will be many different shops that offer those types of services, which they exist already, a lot of them are being bought by places like Random House, or Amazon, or what have you. I think publishing's never been more exciting, man.
But the Kindle dominates the market, so you really can't do that enough.
Well it dominates the market, but, my feeling is, when people look at let's say, we're getting a little off track, but I'll take it just like another minute or two.
I think our audience is interested in where things are going in the future, especially for writing. If you're writing, you're probably not getting looked at for five years online anyway.
But for instance, it's like, I love certain bookstores. Like there's a bookstore called Omnivore Books. In San Francisco, it's all cookbooks. They will survive for a long long time. 'Cause they have expertise, relationships with authors, that nobody else has. So it's like, I don't have anything against independent bookstores. So a lot of people see like, Amazon, they're like, oh, Tim Ferriss wants to like, you know, throw Kindles like ninja stars at all the independent booksellers and kill them! It's like, no, I don't have any, it's not that. It is a market driven business. If the customers find something more convenient, they're going to choose that. If they find it less expensive, they're going to choose it. And so there's this sort of, tsunami of demand that's driving things towards digital. But I think it'll take many different formats. And I don't know where that will go. But, I think at the end of the day, more things stay the same than change.
Yeah, agree. I was talking to a musician today, and 50% of his sales are still CDs.
Yeah, and also I admit at the end of the day, it's like, you need to be, at least in writing, to me, you need to be able to tell a story. Whether it's non fiction or fiction, you need to be able to tell a story. You can look at let's say, the Stanford D. School, has some really interesting free online material for story arcs, things like that. Joseph Campbell. Who was brought in, by the way, I think he was brought in by George Lucas himself to help craft the story arc of of the first three Star Wars. If you learn to tell a story, you'll be able to write books. Sell more things. Create more businesses. Have a mating advantage. You need to be able to captivate attention.
And the truth is this. Here I'll tell you a last quick thing, and then we'll go. The internet is getting mad at me. (laughing)
[Female Announcer] The internet loves you. We just gotta go to break. Go for it, go for it.
So last thing is, that people, a lot of people write how-to books, and it's interesting, I did The Game, which was really a story, then Rules of the Game, which is the how-to part of it. The Game, I find not only sold better, but taught people more. And that the brain, through storytelling, the brain learns through metaphor and through storytelling. Bullet list of ten things to do, do we want that, because we're really in that quick information time now. Does not teach us. It's stories and metaphors that teach us.
A great, just one example of that. One of my friends, great writer. A. J. Jacobs. Writes for Esquire, does a lot of these crazy experiments, also a hysterical guy. I actually, first time I talked to him, he was writing a book called The Year of Living Biblically. Which taught me more about religion than any other like, serious book, I'd ever read. But, the how to outsource your life portion, this like 10 page thing in The Four Hour Work Week, was from him. He wrote it, in Esquire. And at the time, he tells this story in one of his later books, he's like, if I had known I would have asked for money. He's like, some guy, blah blah blah, something, he's like yeah, whatever, fine, use it. But A. J. Jacobs also is a good example of how to each a lot without seeming like you're teaching a lot. In a way. Cool.
So yeah, I think my last message today, because we've been talking a lot about writing, do, you get one shot at life. And you just, you have to do what you love and what you care about and what you're passionate about. And we all know plenty of rich people who are miserable. So it's like, just friggin', you know, ask yourself that question now, if there's anything you can get out of this. Is what would I be doing if I didn't get paid for it? And go do that.
[Female Announcer] Love it.
If you're good enough at it, you'll eventually get paid for it.
Love it. That is a fabulous place to end, Neil, thank you so much.