How Nathaniel Philbrick Writes

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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.

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Skip Monday Blues with Sort-Your-Life-Out Sundays

Watch by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Watch by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

When asked in an interview about how he structures his work week, Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter and Square) said: “Sunday is [for] reflections, feedback, strategy and getting ready for the rest of the week.”

Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend,” observed that weekends, especially Sundays, are crucial when it comes to getting clear and prepared for the coming week. She’s dubbed the process of recalibrating yourself on the sabbath as “Sort-Your-Life-Out-Sunday.”

[On Sunday,] do something you love Monday to Friday. When the conditions of your job are right, you can start the week excited about it. You like the work for its own sake and hence, it isn’t a cause of anxiety.

But another, perhaps more practical, idea is to schedule something fun for Sunday nights. Get together for a game night with friends. Have people over for dinner. Find an adult soccer league that plays on Sunday nights. Go to religious services. Volunteer with your family somewhere. In nice weather when it stays light late, go for a long bike ride or walk. The key is to figure out something you’d really enjoy doing, then plan it ahead of time.

Think of it as performing a more comprehensive and personal version David Allen’s infamous weekly review. Sort your life out on Sunday, and you’ll hit Monday ready to go!

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Giveaway! Win an Advance Copy of 99U’s New Book: “Make Your Mark”

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Due out in less than a month, Make Your Mark is the third installment in the 99U book series—and the first to tackle the subject of leading a creative business.

These days an MFA is as likely to be leading a business as an MBA. More designers, artists, journalists, and creatives of all kinds are stepping up to the plate and anointing themselves entrepreneurs. The thing is: Creatives don’t work like everyone else. We’re restless and innovative and neurotic and full of ideas and energy. And we want to make stuff. But how does that “maker mentality” sync up with leading a business?

That’s what Make Your Mark is all about. We made a business book for creatives by creatives. It collects 21 essays and interviews from leading creative minds at businesses big and small, like Warby Parker, Google X, Facebook, DODOcase, Sugru, Contently, and many more.

How to Enter the Giveaway:

Make Your Mark is not just about how to run any old business. It’s about how to run a creative business with purpose, meaning, and IMPACT. So, for our giveaway, we’re asking you to take the “Maker’s Pledge” to dedicate your business to making something that matters.

Just tweet out the Maker’s Pledge below (make sure to follow us), and we’ll give a free copy of Make Your Mark to the first 50 tweets.

“I, _____, take the Maker’s Pledge to solve real problems and make something that matters. www.99u.com/book #makeyourmark”

Enter the giveaway –>

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Make Your Mark will be available on Nov 18th. Pre-order the book now.

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How Must-Do Thinking Can Hold Us Back

Designed by Silly Lili for the Noun Project

Designed by Silly Lili for the Noun Project

We can’t always do what we want. But for our businesses, we should build, start, and create things that we’re truly passionate about. We tend to be more successful when we’re working on projects that electrify us.

When it comes to growing our businesses, we may want to step back into the shoes of our young selves when we approach our work, suggests John Petersen, CEO of Firehawk Creative. In an article for We Work magazine, he writes:

 Kids do what they want to do. If you force them to do something, they put in as little effort as possible to get to a time when they can do what they want.

He also reminds us that:

 Kids aren’t trying to come up with some scheme where they never have to work again. They just want to do their thing.

Yes, we need to pay our bills. Yes, there’s always laundry to take care of. And yes, responsibilities only seem to grow as we get older. But building something in hopes that you’ll be Zuckerberg-rich will more than likely leave you anxious and frustrated. Instead, focus on building the best, most authentic business you can.

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Yves Behar: Trade Briefs for Relationships

Briefly from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

Yves Behar, CEO of Fuseproject, doesn’t believe in design briefs. In the film Briefly, he explains that far more can be learned through client relationships:

I don’t believe in briefs; I believe in relationships. The difference between a brief and a relationship is a brief can be anonymous. And I’ve tended over the last fifteen to twenty years to really work with people who give you a really deep sense of where it is they want to go, what it is that they are dreaming about. And that, in turn, has informed us on the projects more than any brief has ever done so.

Initial discussions should provide not only the vision for the project, but the aspirations of the company. Instead of anonymously sending out briefs, make it a collaborative thing: the brief will naturally evolve out of these client conversations. With continued dialogue, you build the trust you need to really question ideas and find innovation. Use the brief as a creative tool to open up dialogue with your clients, negotiate easier, and get to the heart of the problem.

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The Zero Notification Challenge

Bell by Sebastian Langer from The Noun Project

Bell by Sebastian Langer from The Noun Project

Ping!…Email.
Ping!…Tweet.
Ping!…iMessage.

Do notifications impact your workflow?

Co-founder and CEO of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne, undertook an experiment in which he disabled all notifications on his phone. Not only did he regain his focus, he was also able to convert his workflow from reactionary to proactive:

It is now completely up to me when I choose to check my email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I have no excuse that a notification came in. If I check it too frequently and find myself procrastinating, it is only my fault: I went out of my way to go and look.

Focus isn’t a magic ability. It’s simply a function of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating. 99U challenges you to turn off all notifications for a week, and let us know how it goes below.

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Are You Inspired or a Copycat?

User designed by Wilson Joseph from the Noun Project

User designed by Wilson Joseph from the Noun Project

It’s important to be aware of inspiration that simply influences us versus inspiration that turns us into a copycat. Knowing the difference can help turn us into the type of creative worker we strive to be. As Evernote designer Joshua Taylor explains in this interview over at the InVision blog:

Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there’s a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else’s stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people’s work has a huge impact on who you are…We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.

The right inspiration, at the right time (and in the right amount), can be just what we need to improve our own ideas and creative work. It’s when we catch ourselves looking for inspiration as a way to solve the task at hand or complete the work we’re doing that we know we’ve stumbled into possible copycat territory.

Instead, we must strive to constantly surround ourselves with a lot of varied and high caliber work.

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