Here’s How Seth Godin Writes

Image of The Writer Files Logo

When Seth Godin talks, people listen.

We’ve been listening for years to this bestselling author of 17 books with a storied background in publishing, entrepreneurship, and online marketing.

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Godin writes like he talks, with conviction. And that his mission has always — in one form or another — been to dispel your fear of being remarkable.

Remarkable writing requires an evaluation of the Self, and Seth offers his wisdom to all of us about writing every day and letting go of your fear.

The status quo is something he’s fought to demolish, and he wants you to get out there and do the same.

Let’s flip through the file of Seth Godin, writer …

About the writer …

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Seth Godin and I notice things, name them, and sometimes provoke people to make a ruckus. I’ve published 17 books as a solo author, started a few internet companies and I like to teach, sometimes via my blog.

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

I was a book packager for 12 years, did 120 books in total for just about every publisher. For a year, I did a project as a publisher in conjunction with Amazon (see: Domino Project) and I’ve put a lot of free ebooks into the world, too.

My most recent project [The Icarus Deception] started on Kickstarter and ended up via Penguin in bookstores.

The most important thing to know is that my high school English teacher wrote in my yearbook:

“You are the bane of my existence and it’s likely you’ll never amount to anything.”

Where can we find your writing?

The writer’s productivity …

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

16 [hours]. I’m not kidding.

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

Getting through TSA security theater is a common first step.

What’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination?

The deadline focuses the mind, of course. The curse of the traditional writer is that the publisher wants a book no more often than once a year. So procrastination is part of the process.

But blogging? Once a day. Not every minute like Twitter, which provokes mediocre writing because there’s so much of it. But every day? Better write something, better make it good.

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

I have no actual data on this, but I’m guessing the morning, because I’m a morning person. But if I’m tired, which is too often, I’m useless.

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

I’m supposed to have a system?

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

Do you mean typing? I don’t know, fifteen minutes. I can type fast.

Do you write every day?

Do you talk every day?

The writer’s creativity …

Define creativity.

This might not work.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

Brene Brown, Brian Clark, Cory Doctorow, Dan Pink, David Meerman Scott, David Sedaris, Dr. Seuss, Erle Stanley Gardner, Fred Wilson, Jared Diamond, Kevin Kelly, Kurt Andersen, Lewis Hyde, Malcolm Gladwell, Mark Frauenfelder, Mitch Joel, Paul Graham, Pema Chodron, Sonia Simone, Steve Dennis, Susan Piver, Tom Peters, Zig Ziglar. [in alpha order, with apologies to the 45 people I had to leave out]

Can you share a best-loved quote?

I’m really liking this one lately,

The thing about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity. ~ Abraham Lincoln

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

If possible, I’ll listen to an LP of old jazz. Or a Keller Williams concert. But most often, it’s quiet.

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

Well, judging from a lot of what you read online, you’d think that some people have said that they’d like to take fewer risks, be more obvious and be less criticized. And to use more photos of cats. For me, I think it’s the opposite. Especially the cats.

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

This is a fancy term for fear. I avoid it by not getting it. Because I write like I talk and I don’t get talker’s block.

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

I wrote my last book in memory of my mom. There are so many opportunities in our world, and so many things worth fixing — I can’t imagine wasting this moment.

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

What’s a risk? Like most entrepreneurs, I don’t consider what I do risky. Kiteboarding is risky. This is my work and my art, and I’m going to do it for a long time, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll do it again, but better.

What makes a writer great?

It’s in the eye of the reader, no?

The writer’s workflow …

What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?

Macbook Pro, Retina, 15, with external keyboard, roller mouse, angled stand, Aeron chair, coffee mug by Lori Koop and tea (herbal) from Samovar.

And chocolate. Sometimes from Vosge or Sweetriot, always dark, usually over 80%. And Hotel Chocolat, but only when I can get it fresh.

What software are you using for writing and general workflow?

Nisus! And Typepad. I use Google way more than I remembered I did in the old days. I do my illustrations and charts in Keynote, and use that for presentations as well.

Do you have any tricks for staying focused?

Fear of wasting the opportunity.

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

Never once. Often, I get into trouble finding the words in my head, though. I’ll frequently think about something for a year before I feel good about writing it down.

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

Alas, it’s almost entirely a force of will. And email is breaking me.

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

I cook dinner for the family, listen to my arcane stereo and play some bumper pool with my son. But I rarely have a hard day. I have the day I set out to have, and it’s work and I love it.

A few questions just for the fun of it …

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

My dad taught me what it is to be generous and productive and connected. To stand up and own what you make, and to do it for others.

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

After 25 years, the MacOS is getting sloppy around the edges when it should be going the other way. Flying wears me out. The TSA is a joke.

And most of all, the biggest thing, big enough that it’s not a pet, or even a peeve, is the media’s efforts to distract us from opportunities and urgencies by inflaming every small conflict into an epic game show.

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

Well, if I have dinner with a dead author, he wouldn’t be very much fun, would he?

Most authors aren’t particularly good dinner companions, because they’re working so hard on the internal war of art that they don’t invest much effort in conversation. Michael Crichton, for example, was nearly impossible to talk to. Isaac Asimov, on the other hand, was a total hoot, and I loved hanging out with him.

With those disclaimers, and without bending over backward in search of the clever answer, I think I’d go with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

Hey, I’m in the motto business, with a sideline in credos. I think that having philosophical boundaries is a good idea.

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

Opening doors for people who will open doors for people.

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

Right here, right now. This is my choice.

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

Find beginner’s mind more often.

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?”

Keep your overhead low, ship often, be generous, be patient. It’s going to be fine.

Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.
I don’t want you to connect with me online. I want you to connect with other people online, to make a ruckus, to raise the bar, to join a community, found a community and lead a community! You don’t need me, pick yourself.

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

You’re on the right track. Persist. Make better art.

And finally, the writer’s desk …

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

The revolution begins here.

In true Renaissance fashion Mr. Godin, in his perch above the Hudson River, proves to be an original, Rubik’s cube, exotic chocolate, Shepard Fairey print, and all.

Image of Seth Godin's desk

Thanks for tuning in to The Writer Files …

Stay tuned for upcoming Q&As from the working 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 get back to your desk and write!

Print Friendly

What do you want to learn?

Click to get a free course and resources about:

Reader Comments (114)

  1. says

    Classic Godin. This interview is full of sage life advice for writers, entrepreneurs, just out of college wanna be’s, starving artists, seasoned business professionals and….well…. everyone. As always, Seth pulls no punches and speaks his mind to create discomfort for the reader. Happily, twinges of guilty recognition quickly turn to jazzed motivation and feeling happy to have read this post. Thanks for taking the time to interview and send

    • Bill Henson says

      Thanks for your comment. I was having trouble expressing what I liked so much about Seth’s interview,,, you nailed it.

    • says

      This series is designed to mine that sage advice, and I’m so glad it’s finding the audience that it deserves. Thank you for tuning in, and be on the look out for more great Q&As.

  2. says

    Nice! This is nice! Thanks for sharing. Seth is inspiring and always out in front. I believe years from now, people will realize how far ahead of the game he was, and how fortunate we were to experience him while in the midst of his art.

  3. says

    It’s always good to get a little behind the scenes Seth Godin. I love the wide variety of authors in his answer. That’s hugely important in establishing your voice, no matter what you write!

  4. says

    Seth is a fascinating person and writer, and I appreciate this interview. He is always concise, and I try to model that in my writing.

    I enjoyed his response to the writer’s block question “This is a fancy term for fear. I avoid it by not getting it.” I have been writing quite a bit about block on my website, especially what is going on in the brain when block happens. Seth’s response really captures the problem in a nutshell. Writer’s block comes when you obsess over how you will be perceived by others, and it manifests itself in the fear of putting words and the page that will not be perfect.

    Fear of imperfection stifles writing, and as Seth says, you avoid it by not getting it. But I think he means not allowing fear to control his actions rather than not getting blocked. He aims at the source of the problem rather than the effect.



    • says

      Agreed. His distillation of writer’s block is right on. In a recent interview he talked about how it didn’t truly exist before the ’40s.
      He broke it down like this: A) If you can teach you can talk. B)If you can talk you can write. C) Good blogging is a form of teaching.
      Thanks for your insights.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing this interview. It really shows the lighter side of Seth and offers some sage advice for aspiring writers and entrepreneurs. I love how calm and collected he seems to be. I think the fear is the main issue with most of us that set out to do things on our own.

  6. says

    Reading Seth Godin’s blog posts everyday is like a shot of helium for me and for my own writing. His world-class courage and vulnerability continually shatter barriers with ideas and words alone. That is true, enduring power.

  7. says

    Despite being a big seth fan I think he’s getting late mid-life crisis.
    I loved his marketing books like all marketers are liars or purple cow where there was actually content.
    After tribes he became too woo-woo and lacking depth. He should actually stick to his own advice in his book DIP and focussing in being the best in the world in something, which for him is marketing, not motivational material. In this field there are 1000’s of people better than him..

    • says

      I guess you’re not as ‘big’ a fan as you think, Guilherme.
      That’s Seth’s choice, and what he is writing now is so deep that some people won’t get it. (this might not work.) He’s focusing in on what he thinks is the core of all problems.

      I really doubt there are 1000’s better, because there’s only one Seth.

      • says

        Being a fan doesn’t imply that I always agree with him or that I won’t call him out.
        Again, he is going against his own advice. What he writes about is 100 % his choice, but it doesn’t deserve my attention.

    • says

      One important thing I learned from Seth is that you shouldn’t spend energy reading 1-star reviews.

      I like how Betsy Lerner put it in her book The Forest for the Trees
      “…Give up the vain hope that people will like your work. People like vanilla ice cream. Hope that they love your work or hate it. That they find it exquisite or revolting…. The minute you capitulate to changing even a single adjective to please someone else, or choose one adjective over another to protect a person’s feelings, you pull the plug on your own respirator.”

  8. says

    The reason why Seth Godin is so good is because of his dedication.
    You would think he would be taking it easy after all he has accomplished at this point.
    But no.
    He works 16 hours a day.
    And he’s a professional.
    How many hours are amateurs like us putting in?

  9. says

    Great interview. Captured Seth in all his multi-faceted glory. Sharp, tight penetrating no B.S. interview. I particularly liked the comment referring to writer’s block “I write the way I talk and I’ve never had talker’s block.”

  10. John says

    Really??? I often hear stories like this (see below) but I have a real hard time believing that an English teacher would really write this unless it was truly, fun loving sarcasm:

    “The most important thing to know is that my high school English teacher wrote in my yearbook:
    ‘You are the bane of my existence and it’s likely you’ll never amount to anything.'” – Seth

  11. says

    Inspiring questions and answers, Kelton! So many great ideas from Seth, my heart and future caught this one: “There are so many opportunities in our world, and so many things worth fixing — I can’t imagine wasting this moment.”

    How about personally answering your list of questions in your next interview for The Writer Files? I want to know how you would answer your questions too. Thank you.

    • says

      Thanks Mary! These are questions that I thought most writers would have a fun time pondering and answering. Maybe I’ll get a chance to drop in a few at some point;)

  12. says

    Damn, that Seth is annoying. Because the guy’s usually right (and when he seems off-base, he’s charming.) Seth has built a temple of stellar work, open to all denominations, with the Fountain of Motivation out front, and the Kick Your Ass and Get Something Done boot when you finish leave the temple’s back door. Thanks Seth.

    The motto business, still thriving after all these years…

    • says

      And just to finish what I meant, there’s an unnecessary “finish” in my leaving-the-Temple-of-Seth-sentence. On my good days, I’m an actual editor…

      Kelton, no need to edit this: Thanks again!

  13. says

    “Right here, right now. This is my choice.” To me, this is the essence of success. I don’t have any questions for Seth Godin, but I admit to loving his answers, and I’m so happy he works as hard as he does. Thank you!

  14. says

    Hey Kelton,

    YOU DID AGAIN! I’ve been waiting for this for a few years now:
    To know what makes my favorite author, Seth Godin … Seth Godin (a look behind the scenes).

    Have to say this article is just as great as your article on “Zen and the Art of Content Marketing”.
    I watch “Juri Dreams of Sushi” once a month for inspiration.

    Thanks again Kelton…

  15. says

    Devastated to hear Michael Crichton was a hard to get a word out of! Just finished Next, a book to savour for all the thoughts it gives you about the world we live in.

    I like the fact I’m not the only person suffering email overwhelm. I may give up email.

  16. says

    This is brilliant, and it’s obvious to me that Seth is living and working with a purpose. His philosophy from this interview reminds me of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art,” which I read recently.

    “Living the dream” is for people who find their purpose and work in a way to further that purpose. Beyond that, it seems like all of the people out there “living the dream” are good at cutting through all the B.S. and doing the work.


  17. says

    Thanks for this thought provoking look into the mind of Seth Godin.

    I can’t believe a high school English teacher would write, “You are the bane of my existence and it’s likely you’ll never amount to anything” in a student’s yearbook. Then again, it reminded me of the high school guidance counselor who told my sister that she was too stupid to become a nurse. My sister’s a medical assistant and is applying to nursing schools.

    “How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research? 16 [hours]. I’m not kidding.”

    You need to dedicate time to your craft. I think a lot of people are under the impression that success happens over night. They don’t realize (or see) how much a person has studied or worked for their success.

    Thanks for this great post!

  18. says

    That’s an awesome read, it has made my day :) the best thing which attracted is solved rubic puzzle..

    I have read Seth Godin’s book purple cow and permission marketing and I am big fan of him. His articles are very inspirational as usual.

  19. says

    The kick in the pants was, of course, the destruction of “writer’s block.” I love the concept that perfection for one person isn’t the same for another, and to stop worrying about it.

    The Seth Godin I know is more from the marketer side. Someone above mentioned he should stick with that, and I wonder at that idea. Growth is the most important aspect to being alive. We are more than one dimensional, we have more that just “the one pony show” to share. You have to admire anyone who moves beyond into the realm of new and continues to move forward.

    Grew up in the Hudson Valley area (more upstate)… would love that office!

  20. says

    At Maui Writers Conference, author Elmore Leonard was asked why his books were so popular.
    He thought about it for a moment and said, “I try to leave out the parts people skip.”
    Thanks to Seth and Copyblogger for this PITHY interview and for modelling that not only is it possible to say a lot in a little; it’s preferrable.

    Sam Horn, author of POP!

  21. says

    Very interesting conversation/article with plenty of humor, wit, and wisdom.
    However, I must admit that I found some of his responses too short and lacking. Nevertheless, an enjoyable piece.

    • says

      The Q&A is modelled after the Proust Questionnaire. One word answers aren’t frowned upon, in fact, sometimes they reveal more about the subject:)

      • says

        Ah, makes sense! Again – a very enjoyable article. Only, I would have really enjoyed to see him wrestle a little more with defining creativity and give some more thoughts on what makes a writer great.
        However, as you said Kelton, his answers do reveal more about the subject when you think about it.

  22. says

    That is incredible focus. 16 hours in a day spent on anything is amazing. Although Seth said that procrastination comes with the territory, getting the job done does not seem to be a problem for him. It’s great that he does what he is passionate about. I have to admit, this is really inspiring.

    • says

      I have loved receiving your articles. They have put a huge world into perspective for me. This man is a delight. This whole interview contained nuggets of golden quotable material. and I am REALLY glad I opened this mail…! Thanks for a wonderful perspective and an insight into the intricacies of a wonderful mind…

  23. says

    Great interview, Seth. Love your humor and your wit. A couple questions:

    You claim to write only 15 minutes a day. Does the include editing?

    And if you research 16 hours a day, cook dinner (which could take about 2 hours, plus eating), that only leaves six hours of sleep. You can live off that?

    Let me know what you think.

  24. says

    These are interesting, I’ve read the last two, Brian Clark and Seth Godin; but why do these guys come off so smug. If they don’t really want to waste their time being interviewed about something others are honestly interested in, why do it?

    • says

      It’s not smugness, it’s just our particular senses of humor. Sometimes things don’t translate well in text, because you’re “hearing” the words from your particular perspective without other cues to the contrary.

      Take a look at some of the other comments. Many people correctly identify those certain responses as wit, and they enjoy them. Different strokes …

      • says

        I can appreciate that, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them and will continue to read about this “mysterious” process which simply involves sitting your ass in a chair until it, or you, collapses. Most artists cannot or care not to speak about creating their art; one, because it’s so impossible to define; and two, because they’d rather be doing it than talking about doing it…

        • says

          Yep. You’ll notice the truly “impossible” questions are the ones Seth didn’t answer seriously, and rightly so. I had the same reaction to many as well, and I hope perhaps that translates as “Ah, that’s for me to figure out for myself.”

    • says

      The questionnaire actually encourages writers to “shoot from the hip”. There is no wrong way to tackle the Q&A. We prefer unfiltered responses.

  25. says

    What a liberating answer to the question Define Creativity: “This might not work.” Seth Godin kills writer’s block in four syllables. Thanks, Kelton, for doing the Proustian thing justice, and the writer files series is a great idea.

  26. says

    …one artist will never be able to fully define their art for another artist…it comes from a place that is so elusive and fragile and wonderful that it is like trying to explain ‘falling in love’…one immerses one’s SELF in to it and then goes on…it only becomes capable of being voiced in human terms when the one who swallows, absorbs, and shares it is confirmed…for the moment.

  27. says

    Thank you Copyblogger team for sharing the file of Seth Godin, writer. You’re genuine, honest, and appreciated (from someone who’s still working at it). My favorite: “Keep your overhead low, ship often, be generous, be patient. It’s going to be fine.”

  28. says

    Long time follower of Seth and he inspires me to share each and every day.

    His definition of creativity….This might not work.. is so true….But being an artist means it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work.

  29. says

    Loved this interview, however, I loved this answer most – “Find beginner’s mind more often.” I think as we get more and more involved in a subject or career we can become jaded and too expert for our own good. It’s good to involve yourself with projects that make you feel renewed and like a, dare I say, noob again. It keeps you from getting a big head and helps you remember that there’s always something new to learn.

  30. says

    I appreciate all that Seth Godin is doing to inspire, motivate and encourage others to go out and make a ruckus with our writing. Great interview.

  31. says

    Awesome interview!
    I really enjoyed it for so many details. Fifteen minutes vs. 16 hours is really impressiv and I really liked his writer’s desk. Thank you for this interview with Seth Godin!

  32. says

    I enjoyed the interview. Seth speaks in practical terms that seems to be the way he lives. I believe people cling too much to the success of other-though it’s inspiring-instead of being the master of themselves.
    Taking a step to where you want to go is part of getting your projects completed. Action is the Key.

  33. says

    Yeah, Seth. I read every Blogpost, every day. Its Gold. Always full of ideas and inspiration.

    Best LOL Quote: Do you write every day? —>Do you talk every day? Writersblogcure in one Sentence…Respect!

  34. says

    I absolutely love his take on writer’s block or his lack thereof. It’s about fear. I think he might be right about that. In any event, it’s an interesting way to approach it. Don’t let the fear get in the way and just write. I need to take this to heart.

  35. says

    I want to know when Seth and Brian are going to team up on something in the future! I can remember reading something on here that Brian started copyblogger he wanted to be like Seth Godin (but than again don’t we all).

    Great interview, how many more of these do we get!?!?

  36. says

    Great interview – thanks for sharing!

    I am perpetually in awe of Seth Godin and the amount that he’s able to create. Such an inspiration, and such great words of wisdom for other writers to learn from :)

  37. says

    This is, hands down, the best Seth interview I’ve read. Thank you! And Seth, I owe you an article to proofread (an interview you graciously accepted that intimidated me so much, I still haven’t written it up). Your Writer’s Block definition will certainly help with that.

  38. says

    —“Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.” —
    Seth: ” You don’t need me, pick yourself.”

    Just wondering if that might be the risk we worry about the most?
    Have you every seen sparrows fledge? Sometimes Mom gives them a boost —out the door.
    Looking forward to this series.

  39. says

    Excellent! I absolutely love how Seth Godin “thinks outside the box” and doesn’t worry about following the status quo. I believe by him not being afraid to be his own self and purposely question how society says we should think, he has truly made everything he touches a success. Cheers to Godin and cheers to Kelton Reid for a great interview!

  40. says

    Thank you very much. I enjoyed reading Seth Godin. Everytime, I expect him to surprise me, and I always get what I expect from him.

    Jef Menguin

  41. says

    If you need a synopsis of the entire article here it is:

    “Do you write every day?
    Do you talk every day?”

    Thank you Kelton and Thank you Seth.


  42. says

    I’m still laughing. I used to be dismayed by the fact that many people don’t seem to like reading. Seth’s pairing of reading with talking made me realize that I shouldn’t be so upset. Lots of people don’t like listening either.

  43. says

    I love the advice about writing like you talk. My editor wants to “curb my enthusiasm” sometimes but I fight it. It’s me gosh darn it! And I’ve been into Deepak Chopra’s and Arianna Huffington’s offices today (via LinkedIn show & tell) and enjoyed checking out everyone’s work space. Great article.

  44. says

    I love Seth Godin – he’s been a long-time inspiration. But, that desk picture at the end is really bothering me. I have an urge to clear it up……. :)

    Cool interview.

  45. says

    Forgot to mention. HIs word pair, “pick yourself,” I turned into a piece for our blog within a few hours. It goes up tomorrow.

  46. says

    That’s a really wonderful interview.
    This is the first time I am reading Seth Godin’s interview. “Do you talk daily?” That was the best answer in the whole interview, probably because I talk daily but when it comes to writing I am not able to meet the deadline.
    Its time to work on it 😀

  47. says

    Seth is such an inspiring writer from his attitude to his perseverance. I envy his writing style, it’s so conversational and pithy. I’m still working on the “write like you talk” but his advice has helped out tremendously over the years. Thank for the wonderful interview.

  48. says

    These are amazing insights, thank you, Kelton, for doing it for us! I really liked the list of writers he likes – a long one – and I will definitely review it to find some stuff for my work. What kind of interview was it – an audio one or something like an exchange of e-mails?

  49. says

    Great article on Seth Godin. He’s become my hero. Someone I aspire to be like soon. I like his perspective on life and how he is able to convey that in his writing. I like people; especially writers, who can make a difference in a community like he has with books that are totally against the current. Plan on reading his books after I finish the current one I’m reading.

Comments are open for seven days. This article's comments are now closed.