How Nathaniel Philbrick Writes

nathaniel

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Nathaniel Philbrick details to The Paris Review his writing process. Philbrick writes historical non-fiction, so he often has to dive head first into topics and develop a mastery while maintaining a sense of wonder. As a result he has a pretty regimented process to assure things come out right. Some choice gems:

On taking notes:

Moleskine. It’s almost a reading journal. Day by day. Early on I’m getting a sense of the book. I find that when I’m new to a topic, that’s when I’m catching the best details. It’s all new to me; it’s what the reader will respond to. Because, you can so easily over-know a topic, and you lose the magic. It becomes interesting to you, but you’ve lost the connection to the reader. You’re too far down the rabbit hole. So for me, it’s having a record of those initial reactions to the material is really important. It’s the roadmap I go back to. You forgot how interesting the material was when you first learned it, after you’ve learned a lot about a topic.

On getting feedback:

So, after I finish a draft, I hit print. I used to do a lot more revising on the page. I used to print at the end of every day, and then the next morning revise. I’ve since gotten to the point where I just do the revising on the screen. I print out the whole chapter, edit it, spend a day looking it over, then reprint it, and take upstairs and read it aloud to my wife after dinner.

[Paris Review:] Out loud?

That is the most critical point. She has a notepad where she’s writing comments. It’s so funny—you can look at things on the screen, and it looks great. Then you read it, and you go, oh my God. The rhythm of the prose is something I’m really trying to work on. So when I’m reading it aloud, I’ll hear the prose and go, that sucks. Like for all of us, I’m always searching for a word. It’s a lot of the sounds I’m going for—not that I’m creating anything anyone notices.

On the importance of the preface:

What I should mention is that, what applied to Away Off Shore and all my books since, is that, for me, it’s the preface that matters. That’s where I develop the voice; that’s where figure out what I’m going to say. Well into the Moleskine approach, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to begin with. What scene will introduce what I’m trying to do. That’s really hard for me. I’ll have forty drafts of how I’m going to start the book. Forty different ways in. How about trying this way, how about that? And that’s really the hard part. I’m deconstructing myself, second guessing myself. Where am I coming from? What is this about? What’s the voice? The tone? My manila folder for the preface is always really fat.

Read the entire interview (a must for any writer) here.

load comments (1)

Comments

When Is Something “Good Enough” to Ship?

Envelope by Ana María Lora Macias from The Noun Project

Envelope by Ana María Lora Macias from The Noun Project

No one really cares that you’re an overachiever. As creative professionals, we’re seldom satisfied with our output because it’s seldom perfect. But more often than not, good enough is perfect. Head of Creative & Design at HubSpot, Keith Frankel, shared a simple guide to recognizing when a deliverable can be considered “good enough.”

  1. It successfully solves the problem, addresses the need, or conveys the message intended.
  2. It is clearly and distinctly on brand.
  3. The quality of work is consistent with or above the level of previous work.
  4. It has been thoroughly yet objectively scrutinized by other qualified individuals.
  5. The final decision of preference had been left in the hands of the creator.

According to Ayelet Gneezy, Associate Professor at the University of California in San Diego’s Rady School of Management, “You really, really want to keep a promise, and anything beyond that is marginal, if anything…Don’t kill yourself trying to over deliver.”

[via] 

load comments (0)

James Victore’s Tricks and Treats for Getting Motivated

If you’re struggling to feel motivated, using tricks or treats may be all you need to get the momentum going again. Illustrator James Victore swears by the unique approach to getting unstuck:

The first step of getting motivated: identify the type of motivation problem you’re having. Are you not motivated by the work itself (such as it doesn’t excite you) or are you lacking internal motivation (like a lack of energy because you didn’t sleep well last night)?

Once you know the type of motivation problem you’re having, you can motivate yourself with tricks like forcing yourself to work for one hour by using a stop watch, or promising a co-worker or peer that you’ll get something done in the next 30 minutes. Anything that can “trick” you into getting started on the work.

Alternatively, the treats approach is just that — a literal treat. If you make progress on (or finish) the work, reward yourself with something you’ve been wanting for a long time.

[via]

load comments (1)

Maximize Your Post-Conference Experience

Brainbox  designed by Simon Child for the Noun Project

Brainbox designed by Simon Child for the Noun Project

We’ve all been there. Attended an exhilarating conference, met fascinating people and left charged… Only to get back home, feeling overwhelmed, pulled quickly back into our day-to-day, to the point that we don’t follow-up or follow-through to maximize our conference experience.

On Linkedin Pulse, Nedko Nedkov offers strategies for acting on the learning that takes place at conferences. He suggests:

Before you leave the conference there’s two things you need to do. One, is schedule a 30 minutes meeting with your team for the very first day when you arrive back in the office. The second is schedule a one hour slot for yourself either on the very first day or the very next day when you get back.

During the team meeting, Nedkov suggests a conference debrief of what was learned and what’s to come, including any assignments. During your personal one-on-one, he suggests that you go through any conference notes and start identifying to-dos and what’s next.

The intentionality of sharing and considering what you learned and turning that knowledge into action can possibly make the difference between harnessing that electric energy that we feel after an awesome conference and feeling guilty that we did nothing.

[via]

load comments (2)

Avoid Failure with a Premortem

devils

Positive Feedback by Antonieta Gomez from The Noun Project

Projects fail all the time. Rather than wait for an ugly postmortem that often follows, why not try to help avert real failures before they happen by playing devil’s advocate.

In an interview with The McKinsey Quarterly, psychologist Gary Klein advocates for the use of what he calls a “premortem” in the planning phase, a concept he first introduced on HBR:

Before a project starts, we should say, “We’re looking in a crystal ball, and this project has failed; it’s a fiasco. Now, everybody, take two minutes and write down all the reasons why you think the project failed.”

By making it safe for resistors to voice their concerns during the planning phase, you can improve your project’s chance for success.

[via] 

Relevant: 5 Evidence-Based Ways to Optimize Your Teamwork

load comments (0)

The 4 Layers of Energy

thunder

Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project conducted what he calls The Energy Audit with 160 bank executives and discovered a series of startling things which further supported his theory that we’re all experiencing an under-recognized personal energy crisis:

Energy, after all, is the capacity to do work. In the face of relentlessly rising demand, fuelled by digital technology and the expectation of instant 24/7 responsiveness, employees around the world are increasingly burning down their energy reserves and depleting their capacity.

Tony urges us to think of our energy as divided into four layers:

Your physical energy – how healthy are you?
Your emotional energy – how happy are you?
Your mental energy – how well can you focus on something?
Your spiritual energy – why are you doing all of this? What is your purpose?

Building up all four of these elements for a greater capacity of physical energy will build the base for getting better at whatever it is you want to improve.

[via]

 

load comments (0)

Avoid Group-Think, Where Great Ideas Go to Die

alone

Alone designed by Anton Håkanson from the Noun Project

Trying to nail down a great idea in a large group of intelligent individuals can be unwise. For every reason to go forward with an idea, someone will think of a reason not to. By overanalyzing the concept, any progress gets paralyzed. 

In advertising communicator George Lois’ book Damn Good Advice, he tells creatives to avoid collaboration with large teams until after you have your big idea:

The accepted system for the creation of innovative thinking in a democratic environment is to work cooperatively in a team like ambience. Don’t believe it… The greatest innovative thinker of our age remains Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, a modern-day Henry Ford. Jobs was not a consensus builder but a dictator who listened to his own intuitions, blessed with an astonishing aesthetic sense.

Lois says to trust your gut. Collaborate with a maximum of three people so decisions can be finalized. Once you have a solid idea, then use teamwork to bring the idea to life.

[via]

Relevant: The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results

load comments (3)