Here’s How Daniel Pink Writes

Image of The Writer Files Logo

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From his last “real job” as Chief Speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, to his prolific freelance work challenging outdated beliefs about finding success on the “new frontier” of work, his message always resonates loud and clear.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?

Your local bookstore or public library — and on www.danpink.com.

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 …

Define 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?

My mistakes.  

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.

www.danpink.com
 
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.

Image of Dan Pink's Desk

Thanks for taking a spin through The Writer Files …

Stay tuned for more Q&As from the exceptional writers we admire.

If you’re already subscribed to Copyblogger via email or RSS, the next installment will be delivered to you just like the rest of our daily content.

If not, go ahead and subscribe right now so you don’t miss a thing.

Now set your timers and get back to work!

About the author

Kelton Reid


Kelton Reid is Director of Multimedia Production for Copyblogger Media, and an independent screenwriter and novelist. Get more from Kelton on Twitter and .

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Comments

  1. I don’t know who in the hell you are, but I like you. We’re basically soulmates, if I can go that far. Except you answered Copyblogger’s question list, and mine is still in the spam pile. Guys, I’m NOT answering that list, and will you please stop bugging me about it?

    I’ve written 26, wait, 27 books at this point. Some are short – say 60 pages. Most are 100+. A couple are 300+. I also write best in the morning, but not too early or I’m a bit braindead. I stopped drinking at night and I found I can work another 2-3 hours. I’m 46 and now is the time to write my ass numb, not kick back at night with a nice Chianti and someone’s liver with fava beans.

    My favorite author is Thomas Harris – try to get that interview! Tom Clancy was good for the first couple. Who’s that nutty guy that used to work with Arrington? The drunk guy? I like how he writes. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness still cannot be beat.

    Keep the question / answer sessions coming, they’re easier reading than the rest of it.

    Cheers, MF

  2. It’s a huge relief to see that prolific writers face the same kinds of things I face on a daily basis when writing my stories.
    Terrific insight and this article really helps me see I’m not doing anything wrong. And there’s no shame to using Pomodoro! I use it all the time. :)
    More than any article you guys have run, this one shows me I’m doing okay and am on the right path in regards to my writing. Thanks for posting this.

    • Pomodoro’s a lifesaver, imo. :)

      • Yes, Promodoro works best but I guess for a writer, the secret is to utilize those untouched portions of the brain. As one works for long hours, even if he takes 5-10 minutes brakes in between, productivity decreases because the brain actually carves out for a relief point.

        What you could do is, every time you feel utterly frustrated, instead of stressing yourself further, take a 20 minute nap. It works best for me and some others I recommended it to. But, don’t get away like that…before you take that quick frustration relief nap, note down somewhere, exactly what you’ll do right after you get up and you’ll find some really good inspiration flowing..

      • You’re darn right it is, Sonia! :) Good to see I’m in solid company on that one. lol

  3. Dan Pink reminds us that writing is hard. I love his quote… “Work harder. You might not believe it right now, but persistence almost always trumps talent.” So true. I know so many great authors who have never shipped.

    • Right on, John. Right on.
      I told this same thing to a fellow writer just last week. She’s a writing professor, outstanding grammar and structure. She submitted a story to a big award thing (I’ll keep the name of it out of here.) She didn’t even make it past the first round. She was so down about it. I told her whole mantra about that stuff is “screw em.” Just keep pushing, crafting, working harder at your art/business. You can only let yourself get down for a few minutes. Acknowledge it and move on, become better from it. It’s like Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank, all it takes is pressure and time. Substitute pressure for hard and smart work. Then success will be yours.

  4. Kelton’s questions and Mr. Pink’s answers form a wonderful reminder of the power–and joys–of the well-written word. Thanks to both of you!

  5. This was a nice piece of synchronicity since I watched Dan Pink’s TED talk just last night. It was refreshing to hear from someone who takes the mystery out of writing. It’s hard work and you just keep plugging away – no muses, no writer’s block. I use the Pomodoro technique, but didn’t know what it was called. Dang, I thought I made it up! :) I use it for doing everything, not just writing, as I work better in bursts.

    • Work better in bursts, that’s exactly how I do things myself. I just don’t have a system yet about how to come back and finish those things I started which need finishing. That’s probably what you guys are calling the Pomodoro technique. I’m checking that out.

      I like this guy, Dan Pink. He’s down to earth and awfully smart. I like it when he dismisses fancy rituals or muses. Just, get down and work.

  6. Lovely interview. This is a good way of reminding bloggers that there are many ways to produce unique content. There are many bloggers on the scene, therefore, stepping up your game and staying ahead of the competition is paramount.

  7. Best words of the day, “muses are for amateurs — the rest of just show up and get to work.” At some point, in order to really launch, I had to learn that I had to break away from actually spending too much of my time and energy learning from others, admiring others’ work, networking extensively in hopes of setting inspirational coffee dates and lunch meetings. All of that is important, but even networking and learning from mentors has its place and can be used as a crutch if YOU or I never actually get to work and take the risk of putting our uniqueness out there for all to see. Awesome reminder!

  8. I’ve read your books and now I know why. Great interview. I have at least three taken quotes on an index card to prop on my desk.

  9. Oh I am just so happy to read this. So agree with the email thing…on the other hand I wouldn’t be reading this. And I’ve been greatly encouraged now to go use the pomodoro method, shut down all else but my Word and get to more writing. I believe…help me in my unbelief. (Oh and after I’m done writing, I might clear off my desk…all that clean open space looks inviting!)

  10. Another great interview, Kelton.

  11. I really enjoyed this interview Kelton. When I find my writing mojo waning these are nice to come back to for a reality check.

  12. nice interview, I do my best in writing at night

  13. Love those windows! I too enjoy a view of the outside world while I write.

  14. TWO GREAT QUOTES: 1. 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.
    2. 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.
    I get so tired of “artistic types” who seem to make this sort of highfalutin talk suggest that they are a special breed… unlike the rest of us lowly humans. Perhaps “inspiration” is something different than just slogging along, but I love the Scripture quote of Abraham’s servant on a hunt for a wife for Isaac: Genesis 24:27 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.

  15. my fav line:

    “I’ve resisted conformity more often than I’ve succumbed to it.”

    This is an increasingly more difficult goal to obtain in this world of engineered group think.

  16. I love the creativity meaning given – “Giving the world something it didn’t know is was missing.” Great interview. Will buy your book, Mr Pink, “To Sell is Human”. Thank you!

  17. Great interview. Notice, even a “creative” writer has a method and structure to get things done.

  18. I love this interview, Dan seems pretty witty!

    I also work far better in the morning, and I need complete silence. I’ve tried listening to music whilst writing but it’s impossible, I focus too much on the music. I’m going to buy the ‘To Sell Is Human’ book as well, thanks!

  19. I thought A Whole New Mind was an amazing read. He’s really a talented writer. I also enjoyed his Ted talk, if you ever have the opportunity to see Dan Pink speak you definitely should take it.

    Great post.
    Ash

  20. Great interview. Daniel comes across as very humble and realistic. It is good to get an insight from such an experienced and respected writer.

  21. Absolutely loving “The Writer Files”! Dan Pink’s pre-game ritual was awesome. Seems like a down-to-earth guy. Seeing the work spaces of these writers is great. Great post!

    Jonas

  22. Thank you so much for this great post. Very nice to get a glimpse of the every day (working) life of some one you admire.

    I think, Daniel Pink is a great author. I’ve read ‘Drive’ some time ago and it really helped me understand, what motivates myself and other people around me. I feel, facilitating autonomy, mastery, and purpose are at the utmost importance to companies (large or small) who want to make it into the 21st century.

    Looking forward to reading Pink’s new book ‘To sell is human’, which I just bought a couple of days ago.

  23. I love the Writer Files. Wish it was weekly.

  24. I like the “writer’s desk” that looks though the window to nature for inspirations

  25. Awakening refreshed and energized after that, Dan Pink. Thanks for being real. I get your desire to write a fast, action thriller ‘narrative’ with zero analysis. What you imagine is what you get. Persistence and I’ll work harder!