Web writer's inspiration

Podcasted: Tyler Cowen’s Conversation with Adam Tooze

The entire conversation will expand your mind, but I wanted to capture Adam’s suggestions for being a productive writer:

COWEN: You’ve written an enormous amount. Just this last week you had a major piece come out in the Guardian, one in London Review of Books. Your books are very long. What is your most unusual writing habit?

TOOZE: I’m not sure it’s unusual, but I think it’s the writing habit that many people have who do write a lot. I write every day, basically. I haven’t always found writing easy at all. I’ve been to a lot of therapy of various types to stabilize myself emotionally and psychologically. I still do. It’s very important for me in handling the stresses that arise in writing.

And one of the things I realized in the course of that is that, actually, rather than thinking it was something terrifying that I had to steel myself to do, the best way to think about it was as something I do every day, so it’s like exercise. If I have the chance, I like to exercise. It’s a puzzling activity. I just treat it almost as a game, rearranging the words, trying to fix things.

I’ll say to all of my grad students, you can do that for 10 minutes every single day, regardless of what else is going on in your life. You can always find that 10-minute slot. So that is the thing that I make sure I do. And that means even big projects slowly move along because then, when you get the big slice of time, the three or four hours at the weekend or something, it’s actually top of stack. You know where to go because you’ve been puzzling away at it and chewing on it every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.

COWEN: I give the exact same answer, by the way.

Not ground breaking advice by any means. But it applies well, specifically to editing.

10 minutes of edits a day and eventually you’ll have a finished piece.

Also, Adam’s suggestion for the best way to travel through Germany:

I would say travel. Get on the train. Unless you’re a car nut, and you want to experience the freedom of driving a Porsche at 200 miles an hour, which you can do if you do it at 2:00 am. The roads are clean enough, and they’re smooth enough.

But other than that, ride the train. Sit in an ICE going at, absolutely no kidding, 200 miles an hour, powered by solar power, and watch your coffee not even vibrate. It’s absolutely stunning. They have to put speedometers into the trains to make people aware of how fast they’re going.

Enjoyable. Watch in its entirety here:

writer's inspiration

A Friday Morning Gift: Tim Ferris interviews Tyler Cowen

An incredible way to start Friday. Tim and Tyler cover:

Do have a listen:


Stretch past complacency

A few years ago, economist Tyler Cowen published a complacency quiz to help individuals measure their level of complacency. The quiz has since been removed, but Tyler’s suggested complacency remedies are still posted.

He divided the remedies into three areas: Social Dynamism, Intellectual Dynamism and Physical Dynamism.

I’ve listed the suggestions I was most compelled to pursue. Read Tyler’s complete list here.

*Bonus: I created a few of my own remedies (see bottom). One for each of the three areas.

Can you invent a few?

Social Dynamism:

  • Go to lunch with someone in your office from a different department.
  • Explore a music genre you are not familiar with until you find three songs you really like.
  • Have a civil conversation with someone you typically disagree with on social or political issues. Take the time to figure out what drives them and where their ideas come from.

Intellectual Dynamism

  • Write an article defending the opposite political view of what you believe. Try to be as convincing as possible!
  • Identify the quirkiest thing about yourself and double down on that trait. Find similarly eccentric people in person or online.
  • Imagine your dream job. Look for it. Apply for it even if you think you aren’t qualified. What’s the worst that could happen?

Physical Dynamism

  • Leave your phone at home once a week.
  • Start a savings account so you can one day buy or rent the home of your dreams. Or at least have enough money to couch-surf all over the world.
  • Try to get to a location 20 or more min away (as the car drives) without your GPS.


Social Dynamism – Attend a regularly scheduled religious service (e.g. Sunday morning, Saturday night) and sit in the first three rows of the sermon or lecture.

Intellectual Dynamism – Write a short story. 1,000 word minimum. Submit it to a literary journal or any another publication seeking short stories.

Physical Dynamism – Sign up to play at least one season of a recreational level sport. If you grew up playing team sports, pick an individual sport. If you grew up playing individual sports choose a team sport.

Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Camille Paglia on Writing

Toor: How did you learn to write?

Paglia: Like a medieval monk, I laboriously copied out passages that I admired from books and articles — I filled notebooks like that in college. And I made word lists to study later. Old-style bound dictionaries contained intricate etymologies that proved crucial to my mastery of English, one of the world’s richest languages.

From: Rachel Toor’s interview with Paglia in The Chronicle of Higher Education

And from her Conversations with Tyler interview:

I feel that the basis of my work is not only the care I take with writing, with my quality controls, my prose, but also my observation. It’s 24/7. I’m always observing. I don’t sit in a university. I never go to conferences. That is a terrible mistake. A conference is like overlaying the same insular ideology on top of it. I am always listening to conversations at the shopping mall.

COWEN: My last question before they get to ask you, but I know there are many people in this audience, or at least some, who are considering some kind of life or career in the world of ideas. If you were to offer them a piece of advice based on your years struggling with the infrastructure, and the number of chairs, and whatever else, what would that be?

PAGLIA: Get a job. Have a job. Again, that’s the real job. Every time you have frustrations with the real job, you say, “This is good.” This is good, because this is reality. This is reality as everybody lives it. This thing of withdrawing from the world to be a writer, I think, is a terrible mistake.

Number one thing is constantly observing. My whole life, I’m constantly jotting things down. Constantly. Just jot, jot, jot, jot. I’ll have an idea. I’m cooking, and I have an idea, “Whoa, whoa.” I have a lot of pieces of paper with tomato sauce on them or whatever. I transfer these to cards or I transfer them to notes.

I’m just constantly open. Everything’s on all the time. I never say, “This is important. This is not important.” That’s why I got into popular culture at a time when popular culture was — .

In fact, there’s absolutely no doubt that at Yale Graduate School, I lost huge credibility with the professors because of my endorsement of not only film but Hollywood. When Hollywood was considered crass entertainment and so on. Now, the media studies came in very strongly after that, although highly theoretical. Not the way I teach media studies.

I also believe in following your own instincts and intuition, like there’s something meaningful here. You don’t know what it is, but you just keep it on the back burner. That’s basically how I work is this, the constant observation. Also, I try to tell my students, they never get the message really, but what I try to say to them is nothing is boring. Nothing is boring. If you’re bored, you’re boring.

Watch the full interview below:

Check out the transcript as well.


Blogs Still Exist. Have a Read.

Blogs are still breathing.

The ones listed below have been live for at least 5 or more years. They all post on a near daily basis.

Suggestion: add them to your RSS feed if you still have one. Or don’t.

Marginal Revolution

Author(s): Alex Tabarrok, Tyler Cowen,

Challenges my default beliefs on public policy and economics. Introduces me to disciplines I’d never seek out on my own. The posts are primarily business and economics focused, but Marginal Revolution also acts as a helpful resource for writers.

Austin Kleon

Author: Austin Kleon

Austin blogs on art and writing and parenting. Then he dashes in some posts on music and dabs on a bit of life encouragement. Then he bakes it all together into a tasty content strudel.

His blog doubles as a timeline of his book writing process. You can correlate past posts to passages in his published books. It’s like he’s writing a book for you, in real time, right before your eyes.

Snakes and Ladders

Author: Alan Jacobs

My favorite non football football blog. Alan is the Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Baylor University and the most intelligent modern writer on Christianity I know. Occasionally he’ll post about football. And when he does, his observations on the game are heartfelt and true.


Author: Jason Kottke

A hypnotizing blog.

Jason posts a variety of cool shit. ALL THE TIME. But don’t fear, is organized and well tagged, making searching through it’s archives a rabbit hole of pleasure.

The quick links section is updated constantly and aren’t highlighted in blue or underlined. They look like standard, un-linked paragraphs. A subtle and appealing design touch.

writer's inspiration

Write like a Plumber. Tyler Cowen’s interview with Ross Douthat

Conversations with Tyler is my must listen podcast.

Tyler’s interviews have introduced me to disciplines I’d never consider exploring.

He speaks with urban planners, novelists, economists, tennis players, journalists, doctors – an incredible array of minds.

The final part of his interviews is called the Production Function. It’s where he asks his subject – What’s your productivity secret?

I found journalist Ross Douthat’s response helpful:

But there is a sense in which writing a column is — it’s like you’re a plumber. The toilet has to be fixed, so you fix the toilet. The column has to be written, so you write the column…

On approaching journalism with a tradesman’s mindset:

But journalism is a trade, right? I mean there is obviously an intellectual component. And we wouldn’t have been able to sit here and have this conversation with me babbling at you if I didn’t have intellectual pretensions. But the work of journalism — this is less true in the age of the internet — but it is linked to a very physical thing that comes out every week, or every month, or every day, and it comes out and it has to be filled.

And when there’s space to be filled, you write the column:

There is a place on the New York Times, on the printed New York Times, that would be blank or have an ad stuck on it if I didn’t write my column. And so you write the column. You write the column. And it’s useful for journalists to think about it this way — it’s useful for anyone inclined to over-romanticize or over-admire journalists to think about it this way.

On not sitting around waiting to become the next George R.R. Martin:

Certainly I like to imagine that — or at least something that sold as well as George R. R. Martin. But it also might be the case that if I had spent my life sitting around with my unfinished novels, I never would have produced anything interesting. And so it’s better to be a tradesman, and that’s at least part of how I think about my job.

Listen to the interview in its entirety here

Or read the transcript here


Writer’s Inspiration

“When I took this decision, I imagined, “OK, what’s the worst possible scenario? What can the worst happen to me?” In that time, my books were not like they are now. They were handmade, photocopied books, just a bunch of A4-size papers stapled together, and I would sell them around in bars and hostels.

I decided, OK, it cannot get worse than that. If the worst possible scenario is I would be an old hippie going around Southeast Asia, sharing inspiration with his younger travelers and making a living out of it, welcome. I can go for that. It will look nice in my biography. After that, I never again had fears of the future, retirement.”

Juan Pablo Villarino


An excerpt from Tyler Cowen‘s interview with travel writer Juan Pablo Villarino.

Read the transcript or listen here.