February 26, 2017

"If you’re writing thousands of words a day, then don’t check your phone, don’t clean up your office, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on food, and sleep only when you must."

"Apologize to your significant other that you are so distracted — but between the two of us, it’s really a #sorrynotsorry kind of moment."

From Dan Drezner's "So you want to write a nonfiction book/A few tips for those writers intimidated by the idea of writing something that contains many pages and a spine" at WaPo. It might be very good advice because Drezner has written 6 nonfiction books.

I have more than 6 unwritten nonfiction books, and I'm ever more committed to doing only unwritten books when I read Drezner's point #4: "Ration your social media.... the time suck of these platforms is considerable. Only let yourself go on it for small segments of time, or as a reward for finishing an intermediary goal." I'm a blog supremacist, so I reverse-engineer that advice into do not become distracted by long writing projects. They'll ruin your blog mind.

By the way, I love the illustration at the link, with the caption: "Still life of girl sitting on floor and writing in a notebook. (iStock))" That girl is not writing a nonfiction book. But I identify with her because she looks like she might be jotting down some blogging ideas.


traditionalguy said...

You are much loved by our salon. Thanks for the memories.

Expat(ish) said...

I don't know if that is good advice. It's certainly in the tradition.

Babe Ruth drank beer for breakfast and smoked between innings. Probably his advice for success would be deprecated today.

Isaac Asimov wrote 200+ books (Fiction and STEM) and countless shorter works in his career and served in WWII. And he famously only wrote for four hours a day.

I think there are lots of ways to get to done.


PS - "I don't even work out" - Fesig

Laslo Spatula said...

Derek Vale, Writer of Books He Hasn't Written...

As an author of unwritten books, my mind is constantly roiling with new stories and characters -- it is hard to have enough time to not write all of them down...

My latest is the story of a man who compiles other people's grocery lists accidentally left in the supermarket. He then goes from aisle to aisle, pretending to gather all the items on the list and gaining insight into their anonymous lives. Some are heartbreakingly poor, some are obsessed with cleanliness and lemon scent, some really like chocolate a lot and have bowel issues...

Eventually, the character I didn't name comes across a list that convinces him that the list writer is a man who keeps young women trapped in his home and then kills them with ant poison. And he also has a problem with ants. The twists will leave any reader breathless, if the reader could read my unwritten book...

The unwritten reviews of the books I didn't write are unanimously positive, often giving special attention to the depth of the characters they didn't read...

Sometimes I picture my unwritten books being turned into unmade films: surely there should be an Oscars category for that. Oh, the modest yet moving winning acceptance speeches I can see myself not giving...

The more I look back at my literary career the more I realize I need to begin not writing my autobiography, but that may have to wait: there is so much left for me to not write, I can barely keep up...

I am Laslo.

SayAahh said...

Writing can become an obsession....including commenting.

David Baker said...

Wiki: "Hypergraphia is a behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content. It is a symptom associated with temporal lobe changes in epilepsy, which is the cause of the Geschwind syndrome, a mental disorder." More…

Original Mike said...

Nonfiction? What topic(s)?

I written a few book chapters. It's a big time sink, but it was part of the job. Doing it as a "private citizen"? I don't think I could pull it off.

Sebastian said...

"I have more than 6 unwritten nonfiction books, and I'm ever more committed to doing only unwritten books . . . I'm a blog supremacist, so I reverse-engineer that advice into do not become distracted by long writing projects." Which is good. As an amateur historian, I enjoy biographies based on the thousands of letters some reasonably famous people used to exchange. That isn't done today. Continuous blogs like this may the next best thing for historians a century from now. Unless they bring some fancy new AI-based big-data methods to bear, they will have a difficult job: to read all posts, to put them in the context of the flow of daily events, and to connect them to the shifting, ongoing stream of commentary. I would venture that even a conventional lefty historian today would have trouble capturing your sensibility. Maybe their successors will take off the blinders.

David Begley said...

He doesn't have Althouse's talent. Ignore his advice.

Unknown said...

David Baker- I have suffered from intense hypergraphia. Not that anything I wrote during the 2 years when I suffered from those episodes. Though, those episodes were, in a sense, quite pleasant, given that I was being treated for a very serious cancerous brain tumor, and the tumor caused me to have what the doctor's called, "Complex, Partial, Non-typical seizures". By comparison, the hypergraphia was almost pleasurable!!!!

tcrosse said...

My unwritten books have given me many fulfilling hours at my air keyboard.

mockturtle said...

When I had to write something I used the 'grunge' approach. Always in the morning, still in my bathrobe, no makeup--I didn't even brush my teeth--but sat at the table with numerous cups of coffee until I finished the job. Once I was on a roll I didn't dare stop or the momentum would be lost. Writing was always an ordeal.

mockturtle said...

Laslo, you never fail to amaze and impress.

bagoh20 said...

Is it likely that writing is losing it's value out of simple supply and demand. We have centuries of the stuff now which was once in relatively short supply. It is being produced by so many so fast now that it's being diluted. There is still great stuff produced, but the ease of writing now means everyone is doing it, and everyone is not talented. I have ideas, I have experience and knowledge, but I know I have no talent for writing. I'm completely amazed by a well written story, and will leave it to others. My talent is something else, and I'll find it someday.

John said...

I write a lot. I am committed to write 2500 words a month for publication. Some months I write additional articles. I've written 3 books, Packaging Machinery Handbook (@300 pages), Secrets of Buying Packaging Machinery and Achieving Lean Changeover (@200 pages each). I have about 20,000 words written, about half, for a book on Effective Troubleshooting.

My current project is a video project for Clemson on liquid filling. Turns out that I have to write a script about 35,000 words.

It does not take me all that long to write. I write most of my books in McDonalds. I'll go there, buy a coffee and write till my battery dies. I can usually write about 1,000 words per hour.

I have found three things are absolutely essential to me.

1) For the regular publications I sometimes spend more time trying to come up with an idea to write about than I do actually writing. That is the hardest part. I write down every idea I have, no matter how silly it may seem. I keep a master file of all the ideas in Evernote.

2) Get words down on paper. I said I can write 1,000 words per hour and I can. Sometimes more. I didn't say good words. I just sort of puke onto my keyboard. If I try to think about each sentence as I type it, I can write perhaps 10 words per hour. Once written, I let it set a day or two and then print it out triple spaced. I go through with a red pen and basically rewrite it. Then type the corrections in, usually making more changes as I go along. That is usually fairly close to a final draft.

3) Have an externally imposed deadline. I've been writing against deadlines for almost 20 years now. Never had a problem with meeting them. If I don't have one, even if I have set myself an internal deadline, I pretty much never meet it. I really, really, really, need to finish my troubleshooting book. It's been half done for 4 years now. Since it is based on a course I teach, it should not be hard to finish but other stuff keeps getting in the way.

Any other writers here? Share your tricks and techniques?

John Henry

John said...

BTW: All my books, the ones I mentioned, a couple of PowerPoint collections, and a collection of my packaging journalism are available via Ann's Amazon Portal.

None of my books have anything at all positive to say about gay marriage or transgenders. I hope nobody here lets that out. I am terrified that the movement will decide to protest them.

John Henry

David Begley said...

I would buy John Henry's books if I needed info on those topics.

Michael K said...

I've written two non-fiction books. The hardest work is editing and going back looking for typos and errors.

You can go over the manuscript 20 times and still miss things. One negative review of my first book is negative only (apparently) because I misspelled Paul Ehrlich's name. I omitted the first H. My excuse is that it was written in Word and maybe autocorrect did it. At one point I had a fan who used to email me every time he found another typo. I think it was up to about 30 before he finally tired of the exercise.

The second book is in Kindle version only and my wife keeps after me to do a dead tree version but I have never gotten around to it. People still buy both of them although I have not gotten rich on royalties.

The first book has been on Amazon for 13 years and still sells about 20 or 30 copies a month. I gave up doing hard cover versions a few years ago and Amazon's POD version is absolutely no work at all.

I wrote the first one for medical students who had no history of medicine that was directed at students or medical professionals that was recent. Students are no longer taught the history of medicine in medical school, which is a shame.

If I thought I could write dialogue, I might try fiction.

Original Mike said...

"1) For the regular publications I sometimes spend more time trying to come up with an idea to write about than I do actually writing. That is the hardest part."

I marvel at people who can do this.

"3) Have an externally imposed deadline. I've been writing against deadlines for almost 20 years now. Never had a problem with meeting them. If I don't have one, even if I have set myself an internal deadline, I pretty much never meet it."

One thing I learned is that book chapter deadlines are never real, because there's always an author (or authors) who don't meet it. Every book project I was ever on was way late, sometimes by years, and it disadvantaged people who got our work in on time because the material was dated by the time the book was published.

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

My biggest writing projects were grants, which have set-in-stone deadlines. Those things went through multiple, multiple re-writes all the way up to the all-nighters at the end. Every single word was scrutinized because there were brutually short page limits. And it was complicated by the fact that pieces had to wind their way through separate paths of the university administration and all meet up at the end. I knew the schedules, including lunch breaks, of every administrator along the way. There was nothing more satisfying than my trip to the bar after dumping the box off at the very last minute.

I am loving retirement.

Yellow Kitty said...

Laslo, you're crazy. And keeping me in stitches today. (Know that in the background is playing the "Heaven" CD by the Gaithers, which has me analyzing how I spend my time and the correlation between the seemingly disjointedness of it.)

Portlandmermaid said...

Why only nonfiction? His advice is useful for fiction writers, too.

Bill Peschel said...

"Why only nonfiction? His advice is useful for fiction writers, too. "

Not the one about selling your book from a proposal. You can do that for nonfiction -- I did that to sell "Writers Gone Wild." -- but not for fiction. Got a $20K advance for it too.

Then on the month of publication, Borders went under and returned a ton of books.

Otherwise, you're right. This is great advice, and I've read a ton of it.

buwaya said...

Laslo will not write the Great American Novel one day, or what suits this decadent iteration of America. Mark Twain of sorts, but Tom and Hucks antics will not bear examination. So, unwritten, and just as well. Still, brilliant for all that.

I've been working on two books for fifteen years now, going very slowly. One a translation of a contemporary Spanish account of the 1876 conquest of Jolo and the campaign in Mindanao. One is a a fantasy (or magic-realist) novel of the Philippine war, 1941-45. The Japanese demons meet their Filipino equivalents, Kami versus Diwata, Oni versus Kapre. Two animist mythologies clash, and the Church doesnt like it. All are demons, so there are exorcisms amid the bombs and bombardments, death marches and the antics of the Kempeitai. The secret war of demons explains events that are otherwise unexplainable.
My actual paid employment is a distraction from writing duties, so maybe post-retirement.

John said...


I bought your Warstories book and loved it.

I would buy your history of disease in a heartbeat. I suspect that I would find it even more interesting than the Warstories book because of the subject matter.

Alas. Not available on Kindle. If I bought a paper version I would never read it. Why not on Kindle? It is already formatted etc, it should not take more than an hour or two to prepare it for kindle.

I had not noticed that Warstories was not on paper. Again, why not? Createspace makes it dirt simple to upload the PDF file.

For those aspiring authors not familiar with Createspace.com, check it out.

I was interested in it originally because it prints on demand, holds no inventory and has instant turnaround. Pretty much what I preach in my day job. I figured the way to find out how it works was to publish something.

I had been writing for a magazine for 10 years and had a bunch of articles and columns. I got permission to collect them, designed a cover, wrote an intro, dropped everything into a CreateSpace template and uploaded it. That took me 2-3 hours once I dug up all the original files.

I uploaded it on a Saturday, by Monday they had approved it. Approval of formatting and so on. They could care less about the content. They suggested I order a paper proof copy which I did and I had that in Thursday's mail. Friday I approved it and was listed on Amazon and some other places.

Cost? $0.00.

I then uploaded the book to Kindle where it is available as a Kindle book.

When my publisher tried to renegotiate my Handbook, I was ready. They figured I was over a barrel. I told them stick to the original contract or no deal (PLEASE throw me in the briar patch!). They stuck, I hired an editor, beat it into shape and published it on Createspace and Kindle.

Ann, you've probably written a bunch of articles over your career. Why not collect them into a book?

If anyone wants more info on how to do this, contact me by email. johnfajardohenry@gmail.com

John Henry

mockturtle said...

Michael K muses: If I thought I could write dialogue, I might try fiction.

Medical fiction has always been very popular. Dialogue is hard. Dostoevsky is the best writer of dialogue I know of. Once you realize you don't have to attribute every line of dialogue it becomes easier.

John said...

Another comment on Createspace that might be useful to some:

I do a lot of workshops. I pass out the slide deck and some other stuff as handouts. I used to get photocopies made and spiral bound at OfficeMax.

A few years ago I formatted them for Createspace and published them. One is for sale, the other not.

1) I get quick delivery, to my client, without having to leave my keyboard. I just order author copies from CreateSpace

2) Author copies cost me $3-4 each plus shipping. No min or max. Office Max charges me $10-12 per copy. Since the cost is baked into my workshop price, that is $6-8 per book in my pocket.

3) Attendees get a very nice looking book that I figure will stay on their bookshelf with my logo displayed on the spine.

4) They get a book that sells for $49.95 on Amazon. Why this instead of $9.95? Because I don't plan on selling many books at either price. People feel good about getting a $10 book for free. They feel even better about getting a $50 book for free.

5) Corollary to 4, they pay more attention to a $50 book than a $10 book and more to either than a photocopy collection.

John Henry

Expat(ish) said...

Michael -

I also have your Warstories book and am enjoying it.

I want to write a book about Value Selling but am suffering from a strong case of "who cares." :-)


Opinh Bombay said...

"...writing is antisocial. It's solitary as masturbation.
Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is
likely to turn and bite right to the bone...and not even know
that he's doing it. As writer's wives and husbands often learn
to their horror.
And - attend me carefully, Gwen! - there is no way that
writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In
a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer,
the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with
an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private,
and where food can be poked in at him with a stick. Because if
you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or
become violent. Or he may not hear you at all...and if you shake
him, he bites."

Robert A. Heinlein
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

John said...

Blogger Expat(ish) said...

I want to write a book about Value Selling but am suffering from a strong case of "who cares." :-)

Selling what? I once spoke with someone about co-writing a book on selling machinery. I have a quarter century selling capital goods. I've learned something along the way.

That project fell by the way but I might still be interested.

Drop me a note if you'd like to discuss.

John Henry

Michael K said...

"Why not on Kindle? It is already formatted etc, it should not take more than an hour or two to prepare it for kindle. "

It is in PDF and transitioning back to Word (Kindle) is not easy as the PDF file is formatted for printing with margin marks, etc.

The original Word file is two laptops ago. I started to go back to Word but have bogged down.

The War Stories book needs more editing, as at least one Amazon reviewer commented. I self published the history book with some help in design for printing.

The history book has two indexes which was a lot of work and not much use on Kindle as the pagination changes with font size.

At one point, I was going to write another book for lawyers on how to use expert witnesses. I have spent years coaching lawyers on that and my ex-wife did a lot of expert witness work on bank failures and real estate scams. My oldest son is a trial lawyer. We were going to make it a family project but it never happened. Somebody should do it as plaintiff lawyers are often hopeless.

John said...


PDF to DOC is simple. I'll even do the conversion for you for free just for the chance to read the book.

John Henry

John said...

Meant to add:

Don't worry about the indexes. As you note, they are kind of useless in a Kindle book. All indexes are is a primitive form of CTRL-F anyway.

John Henry