It seems only fitting that bestselling author and journalist Daniel Pink returns to Copyblogger to reveal his secrets for getting words onto the page.
Brian Clark picked the brain of this influential thinker five years ago in a conversation that became Copyblogger’s first author interview. Brian also appeared in Dan’s first book, Free Agent Nation.
Mr. Pink is an exceptional teacher who delivers keen insight for passionate, innovative, and hungry writers and entrepreneurs alike.
From his last “real job” as Chief Speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, to his prolific freelance work challenging outdated beliefs about finding success on the “new frontier” of work, his message always resonates loud and clear.
By working smarter, not harder (i.e. drowning in corporate anonymity), it is far more likely to find authenticity and meaning in your work life.
In his latest book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, he examines effective means by which to truly move your audience with passion and purpose.
Mr. Pink found time to drop by The Writer Files to share a spot-on definition of creativity, admit his own struggles as a writer, and share a helpful writing technique for when things get ugly.
Take it from a guy with multiple New York Times bestsellers translated into dozens of languages, and a renowned TED talk with close to 5 million views.
Let’s flip through the file of Daniel Pink, writer …
About the writer …
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Daniel Pink. I write books — 5 of them so far (and probably more once I forget how painful writing books is).
What’s your area of expertise as a writer?
In one word, work. That’s at the center — why people work, what they do at work, what work means to them, how they can work better and smarter. In more than one word, I write about work, business, technology, psychology, organizations, sociology, economics, design, creativity, and the intersections of those topics.
Where can we find your writing?
The writer’s productivity …
How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research?
It depends. At certain stages of book projects, that’s all I do all day. At other times, it’s usually a couple of hours.
Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?
I look at my email to see if anything urgent needs my attention — which is always a mistake.
What’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination?
Don’t use my pre-game ritual.
What time of day is most productive for your writing?
I do my best work, by far, in the morning.
Do you generally adhere to a rigid or flexible writing system?
When I have a book to write, I’m pretty rigid. I try to clear out the morning (see above), close my email, turn off the phone, seat-belt myself into a chair — and not do anything else until I’ve hit my daily word count.
However, when I’m not working on a book or big article, my “system” is somewhere between half-assed and nonexistent.
How many hours a day do you spend actually writing (excluding email, social media etc.)?
That depends, too. When I’m working on a book or a big article, it’s probably 5 or 6 hours. But other days, it’s way, way less — always to my dismay.
Do you write every day?
Unfortunately, I don’t. I know I should. Look, now you’ve made me feel bad about myself. Happy?
The writer’s creativity …
Giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing.
Who are your favorite authors, online or off?
Wow. There are so many authors I admire. I couldn’t possibly list them all. Ben Fountain. Michael Lewis. Katherine Boo. Etgar Keret. Lorrie Moore. Toni Morrison. Philip Roth. Haruki Murakami. Ryu Murakami. George Pelecanos. Colson Whitehead. Junot Diaz. Carol Dweck. The Heath Brothers. Seth Godin. Jim Collins. Tom Peters. Malcolm Gladwell. Charles Fishman. And lots of others whom I’ll kick myself for forgetting.
Can you share a best-loved quote?
I hate quotations. Tell me what you know. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do you prefer a particular type of music (or silence) when you write?
Silence. I often use earplugs when I write.
How would you personally like to grow creatively as a writer?
At some point, I’d like to try something that’s pure, driving narrative — no analysis, just a ripping good story.
Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?
Writer’s block is bunk. (I’d use a stronger word, but children may be reading.) It’s simply a sad excuse for not confronting the blinking cursor and your own inadequacies.
Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment (i.e. specific creative inspirations)?
To paraphrase Chuck Close, muses are for amateurs — the rest of just show up and get to work.
Would you consider yourself someone who likes to “take risks?”
I’m answering your questions, aren’t I?
What makes a writer great?
Hmmm. I wish I knew. When you find out, can you let me know?
The writer’s workflow …
What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?
I’ve got an iMac and a MacBook Pro. I alternate between them.
What software are you using for writing and general workflow?
I’m not ashamed of it: I use Word. Always have. So there.
Do you have any tricks for staying focused?
I’ll admit to having resorted to the Pomodoro technique [using a timer to block writing intervals] when things have gotten really ugly.
Have you run into any serious challenges or obstacles to getting words onto the page?
Every single day. For me, getting words onto the page is never easy. Never.
How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?
Dropbox is my co-pilot. I also use lots of paper files, beautifully labeled with my labeler. And I’ve given up whiteboards for “big-ass stickies” — jumbo, poster-sized Post-It notes.
How do you relax at the end of a hard day?
Between April and October, I’ll kick back and listen to the Washington Nationals baseball game on the radio. Also, wine.
A few questions just for the fun of it …
Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?
What’s your biggest aggravation or pet peeve at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?
Answering email has become the bane of my existence. It’s endless.
Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.
My dream dinner is Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. I’d record the whole conversation and turn it into an awesome book.
Do you have a motto, credo or general slogan that you live by?
Not really. I try to live by a broad set of principles rather than a single credo.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
That I’ve resisted conformity more often than I’ve succumbed to it.
If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?
I’d visit every major league baseball stadium, accompanied by my 10-year-old son.
What would you like to do more of in the coming year?
Read more books and less email.
Can you offer any advice to writers and content producers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”
Don’t worry about what other people think. And work harder. You might not believe it right now, but persistence almost always trumps talent.
Please tell Copyblogger readers where they can connect with you online.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
My latest book [To Sell is Human] is a great value!
And finally, the writer’s desk …
One glance at a writer’s work space is a window onto a threshold where words are wrought that can change the world.
Being extraordinary? That’s up to you.
From composing wise missives about the art of persuasion, to simply sipping wine and listening to a baseball game, thank you for giving us a glance Mr. Pink.
It’s truly inspiring.
Thanks for taking a spin through The Writer Files …
Stay tuned for more Q&As from the exceptional writers we admire.
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Now set your timers and get back to work!