Tim Ferriss: On The Creative Process And Getting Your Work Noticed

It’s not an easy feat to stay on the New York Times Bestsellers List for four-and-a-half years straight, but Tim Ferriss is used to pushing limits.In 2007, Ferriss transformed the world of book marketing with a grassroots campaign that gave his first book, The 4-Hour Work Week, mass appeal — all while detailing his adventures as a champion kickboxer, world record holder, entrepreneur, and more.

But there was one mountain that Ferriss still hadn’t climbed: how to find his way around a kitchen. The author couldn’t tell his basil from his parsley when he began writing his latest book, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life.  But in typical Ferriss fashion, he traversed the globe interviewing top chefs. In the process he found a new model for efficient learning: pinpointing the best, copying their craft, and skipping all the unnecessary filler lessons that most courses begin with.

Your first book was about escaping the workaholic lifestyle to “find your muse.” Do you think it’s better making a living doing what you love, or to make a living that allows you to spend time doing what you love?

If you wake up on Saturday morning and go surfing to decompress for the week, that is different from having to wake up at six every morning Monday to Friday and take investment bankers out to surf. One is elective and one is mandatory.  Adults and three-years-olds are very similar, in that as soon as we have to do something, we start to resent it.

For instance with me, I don’t like to do a lot of speaking engagements like a lot of authors do. I just find it really boring.  I now only do two types: it’s either top price or free. If you realize that income is intended to ultimately improve your quality of life in some fashion, then it makes it easier to forgo some the fleeting, high-maintenance opportunities.

Adults and three-years-olds are very similar, in that as soon as we have to do something, we start to resent it.

How much real world experience do you need before you kind of go off on your own and create your own lifestyle?

I don’t think you need any real world experience. It’s a question of whether you want to learn the trial and error lessons on someone else’s dime or on your own dime. If you get used to a cushy corporate job and automatic money, it’s pretty tough to say: “I have to sell the car and get a smaller apartment because I’m going off on my own.”

How would you describe your writing process?

I do my best writing between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.. Almost every friend I have who is a consistently productive writer, does their best writing between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. My quota is two crappy pages per day. I keep it really low so I’m not so intimidated that I never get started. I will do the gathering of interviews and research throughout the day. I’ll get all my notes and materials together and then I’ll do the synthesis between 10 p.m. to bed, which is usually 4 or 5 a.m.

I will have a station on Pandora, and I will put a movie on and mute it in the background so I don’t feel like I’m in isolation. Then I jam. It takes me an hour and a half to get my brain into the flow of doing anything writing related. So once I’m in that flow, I will bleed the stone for as long as I can. If things are going well, I’m not going to stop until I nose dive. But if it goes for an hour-and-a-half and it’s like pulling teeth, then it might be time to go to bed.

My quota is two crappy pages per day.

It’s easy to say “don’t read a million blogs, don’t do this don’t do that” but it’s often really difficult to shut off and focus. What have you found that actually works?

Use RescueTime and trial it for a week, and try a low-information diet. Get a really cheap laptop that doesn’t have Internet connectivity and do as much work on that as possible. As odd as it sounds, go back to pen and paper. Because once you’re on the computer and distraction is a click away, you’re just like a rat with a cocaine dispenser. You’re going to get toasted.

You’re known for your grassroots marketing style. Do artists today have a responsibility to market themselves?

It’s 100% their responsibility. If you want to be a tremendous artist, and then expect people to beat a path to your door, you can try that. The fact of the matter is, it’s not going to happen unless you meet someone who makes that happen.

So you can make it accidental or you can grease the wheels of the universe and try to encourage those things to happen. In that case, guess what? You’re marketing. When people think marketing, they think of a cheesy sales guy. Marketing is knowing exactly who your customers are, and trying to get your product, your art to them. If you are creating art for yourself, well great, go live in a cave and do it. But if you’re doing it commercially and you have bills to pay, it’s not selling out to get your work to the people who most appreciate it.

More insights on: Books, Focus, Self-Marketing

Ariston Anderson

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For over 10 years, Ariston has been covering all things culture: art, film, fashion, travel, and music. She is a leading identifier of current trends, a sought-out speaker, and a frequent contributor to numerous blogs focusing on art, entertainment, and luxury. She is an expert in digital strategy and marketing.
load comments (23)
  • Guest

    Very nice, especially love the bit about marketing. I admit, I dislike the self “marketing” on Facebook, which effectively makes my feed a continuous stream of egotistical self-promotion from all the unnoticed superstars in the world. But when you put it in that way- getting your art to the people who appreciate it- that’s understandable. Artists often have a tendency to hate everything advertising, and it’s the rare one who knows how to publicize without “selling out”.

  • Janine

    “Because once you’re on the computer and distraction is a click away, you’re just like a rat with a cocaine dispenser. You’re going to get toasted.”

    This is so true. Thank you for the interview. Looking forward to checking out the book. Hoping it’s even better than the last.

  • Ton
  • Scott Free


  • Barefoot Essence

    Thanks for the cocaine (distraction)…back to blogging now…… On a (slightly more) serious note though. Good points, I agree if I break writing up into just a few hours a day it is not at all daunting. My best writing comes out at 9-10pm after a glass (or two) of wine and some dark chocolate.

  • Perry Hua

    How to write in large amounts:

    Drink a cup of coffee
    Take a 20 minute nap
    Let the caffeine kick in and wake you up
    Start writing.

  • Philipp Rudler

    The first questions was exactly the one I had in my mind for Ferris since I read his book. Mrs. Anderson – thank you!

  • Kenneth Vogt

    People don’t feel marketed to when they are the right market, they feel grateful for the opportunity. If you are encountering resistance, they aren’t unappreciative, you are talking to the wrong people. The whole world is not your market. When we treat it that way, it gets annoyed with us and we deserve that reaction.

  • Kenneth Vogt

    Have you noticed how the good advice to not get caught up in reading blogs all day is mostly found in blogs? Aarrgghh! The fact is we need at least some input. Engaging with the world is a two way street. It’s not even good enough to have parallel monologs, you have to actually engage in dialog.

  • Kenneth Vogt

    Come on, my best anything comes out with wine and chocolate. ;-) I think what it really comes down to is creating a zone. Some people like to rise early, some folks use a special space, some folks like quiet or solitude, others like the bustle of a coffee shop or a shared workspace. You have to know yourself enough, face yourself to create what it takes.

  • Chris

    Good post! I really like it.


  • Ellen Girardeau Kempler

    Notebooks and extra pens–never leave home without them. Stash ’em everywhere–bedside table, favorite reading chair. Learn to love your scribbles. Write in flow: Just 20 minutes with a notebook and a good prompt can get your mind going. Walk every morning. Work standing up. Move every 20 minutes. Unplug and play. Feed your brain: podcasts, books, art, theater, music.Unplug and play. Feed your soul: Travel. Volunteer. Putter. Explore nature.

  • Luge

    Brilliant workflow approach. Love it. Thanks for the share!

  • Chris

    Great questions Ariston, great interview thanks. Big fan of Tim, and I’ll be getting this book.

  • Stanley Garland

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  • Caleb Kinchlow

    When I need to think of new content , I like to leave the office and go for a walk.

  • David Goldstein

    Refreshing answers to some great questions!

    “It takes me an hour and a half to get my brain into the flow of doing anything writing related” He reminds us that creativity doesn’t flow instantly like hot water! and we must give it time and space.

    Ferriss makes it look easy and certainly makes his creative process work for him.

  • Guest

    Great article, I cannot get enough of Tim at the moment, 4HR Chef is a fantastic read. Really got to know the man better in this interview
    http://bit.ly/UHO9nn from http://www.londonreal.tv

  • Andrea Domenichini

    Great article, I cannot get enough of Tim at the moment, 4HR Chef is a fantastic read. Really got to know the man better in this interview

  • Bok

    My god thank you sir

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    I love the two-crappy-pages-per-day quota. I’m like Tim: if the bar is too high, I won’t even try.

  • http://www.jaysonfeltner.com/ Jayson Feltner

    I’ve wasn’t able to find my stride as a writer until I implemented the Synthesis process Tim detailed. I’ve found a common thread in successful writers writing at odd hours and forcing a small quota.

  • Sital Chouhan

    Inspiration is clearly defined in this post. Well getting the work noticed is not only the case that has to be shown up. Rather the other related terms as well if shown up and gets noticed makes a positive impact on the work aspects.

    Our organization focus on the time particularly to be noticed with which the need to manage the overall tasks. The hours tracking software is the one such tool which has contributed a huge impact on the work to be noticed.

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