They have 10 New York Times bestsellers between them — here’s what Neil Strauss and Tim Ferris want you to know about writing.
1. Build The Habit
Commit to writing at least two crappy pages a day. It’s attainable, so you’re more likely to sit down and write. As Stephen Pressfield says: “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writer’s don’t: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”
2. Write For You
People don’t know what they want, so write about what you care about most. You can make anything interesting if you care enough.
3. No One Cares
No one cares about you, what you care about, what you’re writing about, or what you have to say. So always be thinking, “How can I make them care?”
4. Read Strategically
Read great writing before you write to get yourself in the zone. If you’re struggling, copy the style of a great writer or pretend to be them to help trick yourself into writing well.
5. Make It Interesting
If it’s not interesting to research, it won’t be interesting to read. Seek out and do interesting things to provide yourself with something intriguing to write about.
6. Always Have a Deadline
If you don’t have a third party — like a publisher — to set you a deadline, create one yourself. Make sure that your deadline is attainable, challenging and has real-world consequences.
7. Write It Down
As soon as you have an idea, write it down so you don’t forget it. Keep a notepad (or notes on your device) and write notes about your life also. Everything you do, think and feel is a potential piece. Capture it when it happens — next week you and your thinking will have changed.
8. Use ‘TK’
‘TK’ stands for ‘To Come’. Mark your writing with ‘TK’ wherever you need to come back to fill something in — like a quote, fact or reference. This will prevent interruptions to your writing flow. It’s ‘TK’ because these letters aren’t found next to each other in the English language — which makes them easy to search.
9. Limit Distractions
Use apps like Freedom or RescueTime. Turn your phone off and give it to a friend or put it in a drawer. Try writing early in the morning or late at night when no-one’s around. Turn the internet off — you should already have your notes. If you don’t, use ‘TK’ and come back to it later.
10. Write First, Market Later
Neil: “Don’t think about publicity, marketing, title, until you’re all done.” These are another form of procrastination. Focus on the writing.
11. Use The Right Tools
12. Capitalize On Flow
Never stop a writing session if you’re in the flow. It can take a while to get going, so maintain your heightened state as long as possible. Neil even tries not to commit to engagements in advance, so he doesn’t let people down if he needs to keep writing.
13. The First Draft is For You
The first draft is always bad — don’t be precious about it. Get everything out of your head and onto the screen.
14. The Second Draft is For The Reader
Now that you have everything you want to say on the page, start crafting and shaping it. What is the reading experience like?
15. The Third Draft is For The Hater
Address any potential complaints in your piece. What will the haters say? How can you prevent their criticisms?
16. It’s All About Re-writing
Neil: “The art of writing is in the proof-reading afterward, not in writing it.” Your first draft is like a wrinkled shirt that you need to iron over repeatedly until the wrinkles are out.
17. Read Everything You Write Out Loud
When you read your piece out loud to someone, you’ll be able to tell when you’re losing their interest. Even reading it out loud to yourself, you’ll be able to gain a new level of objectivity.
18. Cut Everything Unessential
Even if you spend a lot of time writing something amazing — if it’s not essential to the piece, cut it. You shouldn’t be able to take away anything once the piece is finished.
19. Use Feedback
Tim: “I need a consensus to remove something, but I only need one person to really love something to keep it in.” If four or five people give you the same negative feedback, consider it even if you don’t agree — they’re probably right.
20. Cultivate Time to Think
You’re best ideas will come to you when you’re not writing — in the shower, when exercising, or before you sleep. Try exercising before or after a writing session to allow yourself the time and space to come up with new ideas.
21. Blog to Grow an Audience
Blog to get into the flow of regular writing, get feedback, and improve your craft. If you grow an audience and can prove to a publisher that you can sell 10,000 copies of a book, you‘ll get a book deal.
22. Don’t Cut Corners
Tim: “Not all content goes from super short-form to long-form well.” Don’t try to make a book out of a blog. “Books are a different beast altogether.”
23. Focus on The Story
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, focus on the story. Tim: “If you learn to tell a story, you will be able to write books, sell more things, create more businesses, and have a mating advantage!” Neil: “The brain learns through metaphors” and stories, not bullet points.