Here’s How Brian Clark Writes

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7 years ago, Brian Clark glimpsed the future.

With $1,000, no audience, and no connections, he started a simple blog and slowly, steadily built a vast resource for empowering online writers.

Now, he’s the CEO of a multi-million dollar software company built around the credo of helping writers and online publishers grow their brands and businesses — the right way.

By writing and delivering valuable content, Brian has earned a vast audience, and some impressive accolades over the years.

That’s why it’s only fitting that the inaugural issue of The Writer Files takes a snapshot of a prolific blogger, entrepreneur, teacher, and Galaga aficionado.

Let’s flip through the file of Brian Clark, writer …

About the writer …

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Brian Clark, and I use online content to circumvent traditional media for fun and profit.

What is your area of expertise as a writer or online publisher?

Education. Persuasion. Bad Twitter jokes.

Where can we find your writing?

Copyblogger, Further, Your Boulder, and other undisclosed locations.

The writer’s productivity …

How much time per day do you spend reading or doing research?

2-3 hours, minimum.

Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

Figurative self-immolation. Literally.

What’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination?

Let me get back to you on this one.

What time of day is most productive for your writing or content production?

Mornings in general, and specifically just before it truly needs to get done.

Do you generally adhere to a rigid or flexible writing system?

If flexible means somewhat schizophrenic and unreliable, and yet still gets done … yeah, that.

How many hours a day do you spend actually writing (excluding email, social media etc.)?

Depends on the day. Between one hour and six.

Do you write every day?

Sadly, not as much lately. But I’m getting back to it.

Reading like a crazy person taught me how to use words. Writing every day taught me how to use words in my own voice.

Once you get that voice, you can write whenever you deem necessary. I’m a very pragmatic writer, so I write when it needs to be done — others need it every day like oxygen.

The writer’s creativity …

Define creativity.

Seeing the intersection of seemingly unrelated topics and combining them into something new.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

William Gibson. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. J.D. Salinger. Chuck Palahniuk.

Can you share a best-loved quote?

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” ~ William Gibson

Do you prefer a particular type of music (or silence) when you write?

Ambient with no or minimal lyrics. Words get in the way of the words.

How would you personally like to grow creatively as a writer?

In height. No, really … I want to write less pragmatically, just for the sake of it.

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

I don’t get blocked about what to say — I either have something to say or I don’t. I get blocked as to how best to say it, which is the crux of the matter. So, I work at it in my head until I’m close enough to sit down.

Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment (i.e. specific creative inspirations)?

I can read just about anything and come up with inspiration. The connections are everywhere you care to look.

Would you consider yourself someone who likes to “take risks?”

On one hand, my entire life is a risk. On the other, I couldn’t accomplish anything any other way. Trying to work a job I hated would be much riskier … for everyone.

What makes a writer great?

Caring so much you can’t let it go before getting people to understand.

The writer’s workflow …

What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?

A couple of Macs.

What software are you using for writing and general workflow?

Word for Mac, Evernote, Google Docs, scraps of paper, a rapidly diminishing memory.

Do you have any tricks for staying focused?

First and foremost, I … squirrel!

Have you run into any serious challenges or obstacles to getting words onto the page?

I’ve found that my writing output is especially low during REM sleep. Also, whenever the in-laws are over.

How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?

I can keep a whole lot in my head until it’s ready to come out. This is both a blessing and a curse, but it’s always worked for me.

How do you relax at the end of a hard day?

Thankfully, television is excellent now. I used to never watch TV, but now a great televised comedy or drama at the end of the day makes me exceptionally happy.

A few questions just for the fun of it …

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

My greatest teacher has been simply trying things … not to succeed, but to learn. In that context, there is no failure.

What’s your biggest aggravation or pet peeve at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?

Gotta say, I’m pretty happy at the moment. It’s my new thing.

Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.

I’d have to go with [William] Gibson. He’d look down on me for being marketing scum, at least through the appetizers. But then I’d dazzle him with my conversation skills, while revealing an elaborate theory that proves he’s secretly quite fond of Hubertus Bigend.

Do you have a motto, credo or general slogan that you live by?

What’s the worst that could happen?

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

My kids are wonderful people so far. That could change.

If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?

I got into this writing and Internet thing primarily because I want to be able to go anywhere and it wouldn’t matter about work. And I do. It’s rarely a true vacation, but I truly enjoy my work.

What would you like to do more of in the coming year?

I’d like my editorial team to make me irrelevant instead of making me answer 30 questions on a Tuesday night.

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?”

Just one word. Plastics.

Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.

Umm, seriously? We’re already here.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Things are about to get seriously great for online writers and content creators. I guarantee it.

And finally, the writer’s desk …

Nothing says more about a writer than the space they use to create.

No writer’s desk is the same.

This is where the magic happens, and where Brian literally sets himself on fire, figuratively. And plays Galaga.

Image of Brian Clark's desk

Thanks for tuning in to The Writer Files …

Stay tuned for another revealing Q&A from one of my favorite working writers … “coming soon.”

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 get back to work!

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Reader Comments (49)

  1. says

    It’s great to see how so much can happen (actually change) for the better within the space of 7 years for those who truly work at it. I think it would be nice for X files to add the questions like (To motivate those who’d like to be like the great personalities interviewed)…

    “How many times did you think of throwing in the towel?”

    “Did people around you think you were going to succeed?”

    “Did you believe it was ever going to get this big?”

    • Robyn Smith says

      Excellent suggestions, Chimezirim! As one fairly new to the business world, I was amazed to learn through the book “Start Something that Matters” by the founder of TOM’S Shoes, that even the “experts” have bad days. (They always look and sound so good in those interviews! 😉 Since then, I have heard many others talk about the “importance” of making mistakes – and learning from them to rise again. I agree with your suggestions as useful and encouraging information to glean. Thanks and God bless you in your endeavors – mistakes and all! :-)

  2. says

    So nice to see Brian so loose, candid, sarcastic, and curt. I found myself chuckling even when you dodged the question, which was much of the time. The non-answers were as informative as the real ones. Also, very cool to see the writing habitat. Thank you for letting us in.


    • says

      So nice to see Brian so loose, candid, sarcastic, and curt.

      In other words, you guys get to see him the way we do all the time. :) Hats off to Kelton for the idea for the series & for making it happen, I think this will be a good one.

      • says

        What a refreshing way to see Brian and I agree with you Sonia, well done Kelton for shedding some light on Brian!

        My favourite serious answer from Brian was how much time he spent reading/researching per day. My favourite comical answer was the response to the question of what he would like to do more of this coming year. Hahaha

        Great stuff and looking forward to the rest!

    • says

      I’d like to know too. That little sound-proofing box for the microphone is pretty cool. Is that custom-made? I need to a link to buy one NOW! Thanks.

      • says

        Oh, you mean what is it? The mic is a Blue Yetti. There’s another Yetti inside the box (where it’s supposed to be), but it malfunctioned so I just pulled out my old one.

        The box is called a Porta-Booth Pro, available from Amazon. It’s actually a professional-grade mobile sound box — you can pack it up and take it to record in hotels, or any location that you need to improve the acoustics.

  3. says

    I enjoyed his irreverent style – yet still passionate and his answers inspiring, even encouraging. I really like to work things out in my head as well before commiting to writing and am sometimes criticzed for that. And the sarcasm and sense of humor fantastic!

  4. says

    Great interview, but who is this Brian Clark anyway? Doesn’t matter. I like him. Especially since he is a fan of Dostoevsky. 😉

    Would be great to see a line up of future interviews.

        • says

          Dostoevsky is really first. Crime and Punishment is my favorite novel of all time, and who doesn’t read Notes from Underground when they need cheering up? 😉

          Philip K. Dick is obviously great. What I like about Gibson is his writing style and obsessive detailing — something I’ve always struggled with. Reading Gibson initially convinced me I couldn’t write, until I figured out I didn’t have to write like him.

  5. says

    Tech related: Great you deliver now this blog texts responsive ‘blowing up’ the font size! No need anymore to toggle around in my FF for zoom in. I am not on old guy with bad eyes but this is more pleasant to read in big letters on my 24 screen. It’s not always an IPad :-)
    Another great improvement from my favorite innovative team. Thank you.

  6. says

    How can an interview like this hold such power? Loved the answers – and the avoidance of answers – and seeing his office. Brian has helped me a lot.

  7. says

    I learned two things from this article:
    1. Brian’s dead-on when he says that some writers do not always need to write. By “write” I personally mean sitting down to one 500+ word-piece a day; so many of us think we need to do this, and when we don’t we feel like failures. But I’ve found that if I have “days off” of writing, I still communicate via social media, email, comments (like now), and then on the days I need to produce a longer piece, it’s easier to focus.
    2. Brian’s a lot punnier than I could ever be.

  8. says

    This is a great interview and it seems really open and honest. It’s great to see so many good questions…I am still working through the answer part and the bad twitter jokes!

    But I am lost on the plastics, but maybe it’s just me and I am a bit slow on these type of things!

    Great interview,


    • says

      Great and inspiring interview! It’s vivid you like what you do, Brian. But does it happen to you that you have no inspiration for writing at all? What do you usually do for coping with this (probably listen to some particular music or spend time with your kids, or read books, etc.)? And what is the most important for a writer to be in a good professional form?

  9. says

    A writer that wants to grow in height. Never thought I’d see the day!

    Love the humility that comes across – shame you didn’t get Clark to take his glasses off.


    Great interview.


  10. says

    Gotta love it when a writer gets real. Thanks for sharing such a great interview and a fun story. Each of us with a passion hopes for unparalleled success, no matter how we define it.

  11. says

    This was a really great read. I found it through Ramsay (from BlogTyrant) and I’m pretty glad I did. I really liked: “Reading like a crazy person taught me how to use words. Writing every day taught me how to use words in my own voice.”

    Oh, and also the definition of creativity was bang on.

    Have to say though, probably should throw Bryce Courtenay into the mix as an all time favourite. That’s a writer that creates a world where reading teaches you how to use words in your own voice! 😉

    Thanks for posting a great interview!

  12. says

    Thanks for giving us this writer’s insight to Brian Clark. I thought, maybe, just maybe, he was a character on Copyblogger. And… I now have the Eminem song, “The Real Slim Shady ” in my head, except the lyric is changed to “Will the real Brian Clark please stand up? Please stand up?” :)

    It’s amazing how unique a writer’s office is. I couldn’t have a Pacman or Ms. Pacman arcade game in my office because I would spend too much time trying to beat my high score. It’s bad enough Xbox and Playstation 3 are in the house. Then again, I do like to workout to Just Dance 4.

  13. says

    I used to work at a place that had Galaga in their game room.

    On lunch breaks, I would routinely destroy a fellow coworker at Galaga. I mean, like, totally humiliate the guy.

    He is now on the Copyblogger Media editorial team. I won’t mention his name. But here’s a fun little puzzle if you really want to know who it is. (Naimed Thrownraf)

  14. Robyn Smith says

    Very relate-able writer! I especially appreciated the answers to the “focus” question and the one about goals in the coming year. Thanks for some good laughs and good advice!

  15. says

    I always enjoy reading the easy and fun stuff that take you away from the twitter quotes that people pull out of a lost book of quotes from twenty years ago. I really enjoyed this one.

  16. Inbar Haft says

    If you like listening to wordless, ambient music while writing, I recommend Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”.
    As for tips on how to stay organized, have you tried It rocks.

  17. says

    There is a Ms. PacMan in my office, too! Of course, by “office” I mean “living room”. Now, if I could just be more like Brian in a few other, more important ways…

  18. says

    Favorite quote: “Reading Gibson initially convinced me I couldn’t write, until I figured out I didn’t have to write like him.”

    Coming at the series like I do some books… from Seth to Brian. Great getting the inside scoop on who does what, how, when and why. Seth writing everyday. Brian writing (it sounds like) when the urge strikes.

    I’m more of a Brian-type when it comes to writing, with the desire to lean more in the direction of Seth. My problem is the field I’ve been in for so very long (helping the totally new, and loving it, with the full intention of “doing a Seth” in 2013). Then I throw Jon Morrow into the mix and end up scraping my brains off the ceiling.

    So without a doubt, I’m still hunting for that fine line…

    Also noting the dates, Kelton, so Outlook pops. I do get Copyblogger via email, but I get a TON of email.

    Oh, and Brian don’t be alarmed, but I believe I’ll be stalking you now and into the future. So if you DO have plans to hide, start making them! :)

  19. Prabha says

    You really inspired me a lot Brian..

    I’m going to stick with your advice to make my dream happen..

    You’re awesome!

    Thanks Brian, Kelton.

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