After the book is written and polished, read it aloud to a friend

Writing advice from Neil Strauss:

This is the key piece of writing a book for me. When I’m all done with a book, I’ll call a friend or have a friend come over, and I’ll read them the entire book from front to back. And they don’t even need to respond — I know when I’m losing them. When they’re bored, I’ll just mark that passage and come back to it.

Another thing is I’ll literally read the whole thing out loud. If I’m losing someone for some part of it, I can just tell. I don’t even need their feedback.

Become proactive about time instead of reactive

Writing advice from Neil Strauss:

Neil is super serious about this. These are his life-changing tips about productivity.

  • No email in the morning. He uses an app called Freedom to block his email and inbound messages in the morning. He gives his phone to someone or puts it in a drawer.
  • He schedules all of his meetings and tasks on Monday. Tuesday through Friday he just writes.
  • So that he doesn’t have to spend mental cycles thinking about lunch, he has automated his lunch deliveries.
  • Friends can be a pain in the ass if you’re trying to write. If you have 7 friends, and they all want to see you once a week, what do you do? Here’s what Neil does: Wednesday night dinner parties. You want to see me? Great. Wednesday night.

The process of writing is the fastest way to improve your thinking

Tim Ferriss on writing:

The process of writing is the fastest way to improve your thinking. Writing is thinking on paper. It’s pretty tough to improve your thinking in real time. So even if you don’t plan on being a writer, it’s really good training for just being a better thinker.

The best way to write a book is to have a looming deadline

Writing advice from Neil Strauss:

The best way to write a book is to have a looming deadline with hard real-world consequences. That’s the only way you get stuff done. If you don’t have a publisher or a deal to impose those consequences, find some way to make them real.

Use tk

Writing advice from Neil Strauss:

Tk stands for “to come”, and it’s what you should use when you’re working on a first draft where your goal is to get all the ideas out, and you come to a point where you don’t have the exact word or quote or detail you need. Write tk, and come back to it later. Why tk and not tc? The explanation Tim Ferriss gives is that tk is a string that rarely appears in the English language, which makes it easy for you to search your document for tk later on and find all the things you need to fill in.

The first draft is for me

Writing advice from Neil Strauss:

It’s very common, says Strauss, for a novice writer to want to produce publishable pages on the first pass. If you do that, you’ll never get past the first chapter. Your first draft is just for you. The purpose is to get it all out of your head. You’ll write too much, and you won’t say it well, but at least everything you want to say will be out there, on pages in front of you, and not swimming around in your head.

The second draft is for your reader. Go through it again and think about what that reading experience will be like. Remove anything that’s not interesting and necessary.

The third draft is for the hater. Go through it and anticipate those criticisms, and make it hater-proof.

Assume no one cares

Writing advice from Neil Strauss:

Assume no one cares about you, about what you’re writing about, about what you have to say, about what you care about. If you go from the premise that nobody cares, it’ll be clear that your question is “how do I make them care?”

The job of the first sentence is to get the reader to care enough to read the second. The job of the first paragraph is to get them to read the second. The job of one chapter is to get them to read the next.

Ricky Gervais on the Good Life

From the Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris, episode #163, starting at about 1:53:50. Lightly edited for readability.


Everything I’ve done has been slightly existential. And it’s because I think this life is amazing and so finite, and you can’t have it again, so all you can do every day is: am I making the most of today. And by making the most of today I mean, did I laze around thinking of funny things to say, then open a bottle of wine at six o’clock and watch telly with Jane and the cat. That’s me. I’m like Homer. Living life to the fullest.


Sam Harris: What if anything do you wish you’d have done differently in your 20s, 30s or 40s.

Ricky Gervais: Oh loads of things. But they’re probably not — I think I got the big things right. Well maybe — I wish I’d have tried harder. And probably failed.

I remember when The Office won the first couple of BAFTAs. I was sitting at home, and I said to Jane — and we’d been poor, you know poor all my life, college, and then I’d bummed around — and then after the first couple of BAFTAs for The Office I said to Jane, why didn’t I do this before? And she said, because you wouldn’t have been good at it. And I wouldn’t have. You have to have a life to write about it. You have to come to terms with your own inadequacies. You have to get fat. You know what I mean? You have to get things off your chest. And so I’d have probably done it all the same again just by trial and error.

But if I could go back I’d have gone to the dentist more. I’d have probably worked out more. I’d say I’d have drunk less but I’m still drinking now so that’s bullshit. Haha.

Yeah I dunno.

SH: If you’d drunk less you wouldn’t be so good at it now.

RG: Yeah I wouldn’t be this fat.

SH: Ten years from now what do you think you’ll regret doing too much of or too little of at this point in your life?

RG: I suppose all the same things.

SH: Is there something that you know is out of balance and you just haven’t corrected it now and you’ll look back and say why didn’t I fix that thing.

RG: Again I think I’m doing what I like every day. I don’t think I can improve it.

I don’t mean I can’t improve me. I wish I’d have learned piano when I was 25 and I just thought it’s too late now. Think how good you’d be! I wish I’d learned languages, I thought oh I don’t need them everyone speaks English. So all those little things, usually it’s like I wish I’d have tried harder cause I was one of those guys that was sort of born smart and I almost reveled in not having to work hard to get this… there was an odd pride. Now I don’t agree with that, I love working hard for something cause I think that I can only call it success cause I struggled and tried. You can’t say winning the lottery is a success. It’s lucky. Bu you can’t say I’m a success. So it’s all to do with that I think.

Everything I’ve done has been slightly existential. And it’s because I think this life is amazing and so finite, and you can’t have it again, so all you can do every day is: am I making the most of today. And by making the most of today I mean, did I laze around thinking of funny things to say, then open a bottle of wine at six o’clock and watch telly with Jane and the cat. That’s me. I’m like Homer. Living life to the fullest.

I just tried to cut out the middle man. From the age of 14, 15, I saw people scrabbling around trying to do this do that. And I just said: I wanna be happy every day. I want to laugh, and do what I want, eat and drink, and see everyone I like, and just do what I want every day. And if you die, you’ve filled your whole life. Do you know what I mean?

I’ll tell a story that sums me up. When we were about 8, 9, 10 in school there was a big thing in the early 70’s where we got oil off the North Sea, and so laborers on 50 quid a week were suddenly going to these oil rigs, and getting 1000 pounds a day. And it was a big news story. And I remember the teacher saying look at this, people are getting a thousand pounds a day, do you know what a thousand pounds is, we say yeah a thousand pounds right. And they said what would you do if you earned a thousand pounds a day? And people were saying oh I’d work and after years and years I’d buy a house, and the teacher came to me and I’m 9 remember, and she said Ricky what would you do if you earned a thousand pounds a day? And I said I’d work one day a week.

SH: Give me the child and I’ll give you the man.

RG: Exactly.

The greatest positioning statement of all time

I haven’t been able to verify this, but it’s written on the tubes that Al Ries, co-author of the seminal marketing book ‘Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind’ and originator of the concept of positioning, says that the best positioning statement of all time comes from BMW:

The ultimate driving machine