(Photo: Sybren A. Stüvel)
Neil Strauss has written six New York Times bestsellers and is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine. From the standpoint of most aspiring writers, he’s reached the pinnacle of success.
That’s why I first sent him an e-mail in 2005.
I attached a draft book proposal and asked for his feedback, hat in hand. To my astonishment, he responded with words of encouragement, and that book proposal later became The 4-Hour Workweek.
We’ve since become good friends and — who would have imagined? — have even taken retreats together while on deadline. Our latest jam sessions took place in a beach cabin in Malibu. I was finishing The 4-Hour Body and Neil was wrapping up his latest opus, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness.
Evenings were spent force-feeding Neil protein (that’s when he gained 10 pounds), drinking Cocoladas, and trading war stories from publishing and writing.
Neil wrote one chapter in his new book about the trials and torture of editing. I almost died laughing (crying inside) when I read a draft, and I made him promise I could put it on this blog…
The bigger picture: Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead shares the insights and outtakes from Neil’s most amusing celebrity encounters, and it shows how to achieve rapport with the super-rich and super-famous. How do you make a connection with them and get them to open up? If you’re Neil, you shoot guns with Ludacris, get kidnapped by Courtney Love, go to church with Tom Cruise, make Lady Gaga cry, and go shopping for Pampers with Snoop Dogg.
I call the following chapter “So, You Want to Be a Writer?” because it covers one of the often-comical frustrations of writing professionally: copy editing. Though a critical part of the process, it is arguably the most maddening.
These are real examples.
Enter Neil Strauss
In a preview of weekend concerts for the New York Times, I wrote about a double bill by the groups the Friggs and Jackass. When I picked up the paper the next day, the preview just mentioned “two bands” and, although the description remained intact, the actual names of the groups were nowhere to be found in the story. Evidently, a copyeditor found their monikers obscene and simply removed them. It was just one example of the many challenges of writing about rock, hip-hop, and popular culture for the New York Times..
On another occasion, I wrote about a shady corner deli where “neighbors used to hear the sound of crack addicts having sex in exchange for free drugs.” When I looked at the paper the next day, the sentence had been changed to read in its entirety, “Neighbors used to hear the sound of crack addicts.”
Here are a few more examples of how decency standards are enforced at the paper of record.
Editing an article that quotes the Courtney Love lyric, “I’m eating you / I’m overfed” . . .
COPYEDITOR: We have to remove that quote.
What’s wrong with it?
COPYEDITOR: It’s about oral sex.
The whole article hinges on that lyric.
COPYEDITOR: If you want, I can run it past the news desk and see what they say.
Ten minutes later . . .
COPYEDITOR: The news desk says it’s about oral sex.
Editing a concert review in which singer Francis Dunnery describes himself as “complete scumbag white trash from the north of England” . . .
COPYEDITOR: We can’t use the word “scumbag.”
Why is that?
COPYEDITOR: Because it refers to a condom.
What’s wrong with condoms?
COPYEDITOR: It’s a family newspaper. You and I might like to talk about scumbags, but that’s on our own time.
Editing a Rage Against the Machine review . . .
COPYEDITOR: You write here that the band has lyrics attacking misogynists and homophobes.
COPYEDITOR: Did the band say “homophobes”?
No, that’s my summary of the lyrics.
COPYEDITOR: We have a rule that “homophobes” is a word that can only be used by homosexuals in the newspaper.
Isn’t that a double standard?
COPYEDITOR: There’s also the case of the religious right. We don’t want to accuse anyone of having a clinical psychological condition that is the cause of their actions.
Editing a review of the English group Laika . . .
Why did you remove the sentence where the singer’s talking about how men carry an assault weapon in their pants?
COPYEDITOR: Because it’s obscene and this is a family newspaper.
But there aren’t any obscene words there.
COPYEDITOR: It’s implied.
Come on. There were dead bodies on the front page of the paper the other day. That’s much more damaging to a child.
COPYEDITOR: You sound like you’re pissed off that we’re taking this out. But you can either stay pissed off or realize that we’ll never print something like this, so don’t even bother trying again.
Editing an article in which country singer Steve Wariner recalls Garth Brooks signing autographs for “twenty-four hours straight without a pee break”…
COPYEDITOR: We’re going to have to send that to the news desk.
Because of the word “pee”?
COPYEDITOR: Yes, it’s scatological.
Ten minutes later . . .
COPYEDITOR: What do you want to say instead?
You mean the word pee is unacceptable?
COPYEDITOR: Let’s not argue about it.
Editing an interview with Master P . . .
COPYEDITOR: Is there any reason why you wrote g-a-n-g-s-t-e-r?
Yes, because whenever I write gangsta, you change it to gangster.
COPYEDITOR: Well, Al [Siegal, New York Times standards editor] has okayed the use of the word gangsta. He found a precedent for it in a 1924 review. So you can use it now.
Editing the interview with Mike Tyson, in which he says, “We made the industry, but we have no control over the destiny of the music” . . .
COPYEDITOR: It’s not clear what the referent for “we” is.
It’s obviously African-American people.
COPYEDITOR: Okay, let’s change it to, “Speaking of black people, Mr. Tyson said, ‘We made the industry.’ ”
No, don’t do that.
COPYEDITOR: It needs a referent. It’s not grammatical.
It sounds racist. And my name’s on the article.
COPYEDITOR: Then give me another referent to use.
I don’t know.
COPYEDITOR: Well, who is he talking about if not black people?
Just anyone involved in the culture that rap comes from.
COPYEDITOR: Okay, then let’s make it, “Speaking of the rap world, he said, ‘We made the industry . . .’ ”
Editing a festival review of an Irish-themed musical festival with the sentence, “On the main stage, Hootie & the Blowfish—the very name of which evokes a sudden desire to yawn and move on to the next article—rigidly jammed through a version of ‘Black Magic Woman’ that seemed longer than the lines for the Portosans” . . .
COPYEDITOR: I just don’t think it works.
What’s wrong with it?
COPYEDITOR: The last few words.
They don’t make sense to you?
COPYEDITOR: The mandate here is not meaning and content, which is fine, but taste.
What if I said longer than the line at the Guinness tent?
COPYEDITOR: That’s fine.
But that’s perpetuating an Irish stereotype. Isn’t that worse?
COPYEDITOR: Maybe, but it’s acceptable.
Despite the copyeditors’ efforts, a few obscenities still made their way into articles, starting with the Eazy-E song “Nutz Onya Chin.” The word “pussy,” used as an insult, also ended up in the paper. No one seems to have noticed it yet, so if you’re the first person to successfully find it and e-mail me the article at firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll win a well-worn copy of Lenny Bruce’s How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead is out today. See his video trailer and more here.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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136 Replies to “So, You Want to Be a Writer? Read This First.”
i was just reading an article on neil strauss’s website, and he emphasised on how it is important for him to be able to write without a formula. do u think a writer can bring out the best within him by following a formula? is unbridled expression important?
It seems like the most successful authors do have a formula, although I suspect that the formula can get a bit old. Probably the best thing to do if you can find a succssful formula is to stick with it until you have some financial security, then you can branch out in more creative but possibly less profitable directions.
The formula is used because once you find something that works, you stick with it. The idea of a formula for writing is going to be different for every writing.
Even if you don’t think you have a formula, go back and take a look at your work. I would be willing to bet that you will find one if you’re looking for it.
I think its one of those things that depends on the situation, sometimes the formulas are better for what you are doing. IE to do a romance novel you need to have at least 2 characters that eventually fall in love, to report on a game you need to put in who won and the score. Your creativity isn’t limited in that context, but if you get some sort of we cant use pee break because it could theoretically imply scat porn when utterly taken out of context, you’ve probably gone too far one way.
So in my opinion formulas as a framework are probably a good idea, formulas that are misapplied are really problematic. Then again we wouldn’t have had Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas if all writers just followed formula.
Some fun anecdotes. And I thought I had it bad working at a school newspaper.
Makes you wonder if the limitations of self publishing are maybe worth it.
Limitations seems to me a strange word to use with self-publishing? Many of the fiction authors I know make more money and have far more creative control through self-pub avenues, particularly digital, than those who receive royalties through contracts with the traditional six pub houses that are still standing, well as of today, it keeps shrinking and with Borders bankruptcy, a lot of houses are affected, too. (Note that’s the six big houses as opposed to the 50+ in the 1980s). I believe Tim has talked about this in recent articles, so I won’t belabor what’s happening in the paper-based industry. And, while I realize that most writers who participate on Tim’s blog are focused on nonfiction, you should note further down the blog, Darren Michaels talks about some book success worth celebrating! You might also find that science fiction author Mike Stackpole could make quite an argument that “limitations” and “self-publishing” do not logically belong together in the same library, never mind in the same sentence! Another author, Kris Tualla, also comes to mind. She’s self-published in romance with three books out and doing very well for herself. My point here is that I’m getting tired of hearing people outside the publishing industry spread the major misconception that self-publishing is either a last resort or somehow very limited in the areas of freedom or finance. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly with the explosion of ebooks and direct download purchase from author sites. (Stackpole, for example, has written Star Wars franchise installments and has certainly cracked the traditional pubbing path in his long and successful career). Yet, you’ll find he’s one of many authors quite vocal in recent years about how much more money an author can make (60-80% of the author’s chosen price point vs. only 3-6% at the big houses with no control over the price or cover, and little control over anything else). Not to mention, how reader-driven content is moved up the priority list in the new model, delivered when, how, and in the demanded format the reader requests, at the price point they want… (vs. being lost among the many middlemen in the bureaucracy of those hallowed publishing and distribution halls)… all by going the self-pub route. Is it more work? In the beginning, yes it is. But let’s face it, the big six don’t send anyone on tour anymore like they do with Stephen King and Norah Roberts. No one takes out large ads in magazines for anyone in the midlist anymore, and if they don’t think they can sell at least 100K or more copies, you are on your own. The big six have a hard time doing major marketing with their star authors! If you’re not in the top 5% of earners, you’ll get no marketing help from them, which means… guess what? You have to do it yourself anyway!… So, why not make 70% of a cover price whose number you have set if your digital, and reach your demographics “your way,” not the way some dinosaur with a dying business model says you ought? Just my .02 for what it’s worth. My second fiction piece will be out as a self-pub this summer before the first even comes out since it’s in an anthology which has to go to press first. It will take hardly any marketing effort on my part to have it exceed the print piece in less than a month’s time. I’m having trouble seeing this all as a limitation… just sayin.
And, yes, I do have a professional editor who polishes my stuff before it goes out, because I obviously need one badly!… That’s “…if *you’re* digital…” not “your.” LOL.
Agreed with a lot of what you are talking about, but there are holes. Especially when it comes to beginning authors and those that have been at it and have a following. I didn’t know who Mike Stackpole was until I googled him. Only to find out he has been publishing books since the 70’s. I don’t really think he’s a good example of what most of us are trying to do today. We don’t have the years and years of books being on bestseller lists. Starting from the bottom is what most of us are doing these days. And I believe that is what Allen was getting at.
Anyone given thought to having your own book self published in hardcopy and e-book and then getting it sold on Amazon and other places? Anyone that can talk about their experiences? Cause I’d really like to hear about them.
It’s hard if you’re really writing for the mass but maybe for a narrower niche, they’d know the drill.
Of course having a self blog or site won’t restrict writers about what their thoughts. Just thinking. 🙂
P.S. Love the new book of Neil
This is hilarious, I suppose the same principles apply to aspiring writers, well let me rephrase, hobby writers, at least in my case. I kind off play it off as two characters. I write, stay away for a few days, usually a weekend, and then reread the article(my editor hat is on). Its here where I find most of the inconsistencies and the “oh my god what as I thinking entries.” It would be nice if there was a service where simple folks like myself could use the services of a copy editor. I wonder how much would the writing improve or perhaps be tamed down.
Exactly if you leave your work for a few weeks, you seem to read it as another person. Sometimes you think, did I write this? Blogging and networking with writers, intrested in your topic would be wonderful for feedback.
Did you just read my mind?
Your blogpost appeared at the right time.
Neil seems to have done a good job of picking his battles…he probably started his career at the right time.
What you’re finding now, IMHO, is a combination of “me, too” and “screw you” books, sites and blogs. Either they look exactly like everyone else, OR they say whatever they want and, if you don’t like it, “screw you.”
This means there will be more nichification, more self-published works about Long Tail subjects that matter very much to 11 people – but those works will be fresher, closer to dynamite and able to squeeze in the “p” word.
I find and stick to the premise that it is better to be loved by 50% and hated by 50% than to just be OK to 100%. Unless you are writing a tech manual, your writing will ruffle a few feathers here and there. Take the criticism with the praise and move forward. It’s the only way to stay sane in the world of writing. Especially when you are a professional blogger like me.
Really interesting stuff. Political correctness is an ideal we portend to care tons about, but are still totally inconsistent. These examples are great.
“Political correctness” is a term that, as far as I’ve concerned, has moved into the realm of You Keep Using That Phrase. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means. And I’m not necessarily speaking of the Times.
So the New York Times can run a blog blaming an 11-year-old girl for her own gang rape and issue a half-a$$ed apology, but this guy can’t mention scumbags in an article? And this is the first I’ve heard that “scumbag” means “condom.” I doubt most people think of contraceptive devices when they use the word–it parses more like “!@#$ing lowlife.”
yeah I always thought scumbag, was just another word for a low life POS.
Oh brings back memories of trying to make stealth sexual references into painfully dull tech articles in a professional journal. My most unpleasant experiences, though, came from corporate copy editors, most notably from Sun Microsystems. I staked my job, once, on the appropriateness of inserting the word “cool” into a paper for Java programmers. Yes, I was nearly fired for “using a word that is not appropriate for a ‘customer-facing’ document.” I took a day making screen-grabs of Sun’s own website where Scott McNealy himself was describing the new tech as “cool”, but that only pissed off the copy editors even more.
But the worst problem, by far, was their insistence on writing that was, by their definition, “easily localizable”. In other words, everything we wrote had to be sufficiently neutered to be instantly translatable or at least 100% clear to non-native speakers. All good intentions, but taken to the extreme when we were told we could NOT, for example, use contractions. So, we ended up with writing that did not sound human. I asked them, “What is the first clue in a movie that the character you are watching is either an alien or android?” No contractions. Dead giveaway. (along with reaction of dogs, who Just Know).
Copy editors can save our life, and they can also suck the very essence of it from our work. The great ones, though, make the reader feel more alive.
Another geek Sun editing story: when discussing databases that were “not normalized”, the apparently non-technical copy editors felt we should refer to it as “somewhat unusual databases”.
It’s so nice to see you here, and thank you for the great comment. Gotta love the “somewhat unusual” databases. They’re sensitive, you know 🙂
All the best,
Hey Kathy (and Tim), this is a very entertaining take on the frustrations generated by the Ed. On the topic of contractions (of the grammatical type as opposed to the incredible pain generated by childbirth), I have finally found a space to comment, from the perspective of someone literate, that my pet-hate-of-the-month is the apostrophe used in plurals. Why oh why do person’s think plural’s require apostrophe’s? It’s driving me slowly insaaaaaaaaaaaaaaane! Is this a worldwide pandemic or simply an Australian outbreak? Any advice from anyone?
Bad apostrophe use ticks me off too. I bet Tim sees stuff like “Tim Ferriss’ blog” all the time, but that is technically incorrect, as any reader of Tim Ferriss’s blog probably knows.
Being a non-native English speaker, I have to admit that it is good to read books that are very easy to understand, or 100% clear to me. But, I would not really enjoy books that are written in my mother tongue and 100% clear to non-native speakers. It would be easy but would not necessarily be fun to read. Being an software engineer myself, gotta also love “somewhat unusual databases” part. Speechless!
Oh, and not to totally be a wet blanket. I laughed all the way through the article.
Oy Vey…needed some escapism through laughter today 🙂
So he’s saying that his parent company is more concerned with political correctness & not offending its readership than artistic merit? Gee…welcome to the real world, Mr. Strauss.
You’re a great writer, but using “COPYEDITOR” as a villain here is more comical than the circumstances themselves. You should simply have known better. That said I dont agree with anything this mystical “COPYEDITOR” did…he’s doing his job.
Sad, hilarious, frustrating, and funny. This is why I don’t miss writing for newspapers and mainstream magazines. So much real meaning gets lost in the name of being politically correct.
The people I really feel sorry for though are the copy editors. What an awful job to be doing that day in and day out!
Funny article, but deceptive title.
I think you’re starting the new anti-political correctness title movement. Oh wait, should I take movement? It’s implies something is negative.
Just wanted to point out that when I pre-ordered “Everyone Loves You..” for Kindle on Amazon, I got an estimated delivery date of December 2036.
I’m all for waiting for a good book, but dude.. seriously 🙂
PS: I’m on Day 14 of Slow-Carb Diet / PAGG combo.. Kettlebell workouts beginning Monday.. thank you for facilitating my upcoming reunion with my six-pack
PPS: Turns out we have a mutual friend from Princeton..
greetings from Istanbul
Am loving that two people I consider to be Gods are friends!
I just wanted to say that I’m a fan. Your blog consistently caters to all my areas of interest. It’s uncanny. I ordered 4HB in Busan, Korea and I’ve lost 18 lbs already in one month, and with almost no exercise. You’re advice on language learning has also been very helpful while learning Korean.
If you had not chosen to be a writer (as much of a hassle as it may be sometimes) I would probably not have a gorgeous and wonderful girlfriend. I’m sure you get that a lot, but it never hurts to hear it one more time.
I can’t even imagine what the two of you must talk about when you’re together, but it’s easy to see why you’re friends.
All the best,
Congratulations on both fronts, Joel!
What strategies have you applied for learning Korean? I’m living in Seoul, but I’m finding the language challenge a little overwhelming while working on my business. I’d love to hear more of your success. I’m very familiar with Tim’s work. Find me on facebook (my link)!
If Neil’s ridiculous experiences prove anything, it’s that editors need to find a sense of humor and get a grip. Life’s too damn short and the world is too damn depressing.
Speaking from experience as a creative editor, the end product is always better when you can adapt to the writer’s inner monologue and not force him/her into a contrived template of death-by-grammar.
Long live perversive innuendoes 🙂
This article was hilarious. I think creative editing and journalistic editing may be different beasts though, right?
I love Neil Strauss. Just finished Emergency!! What a ride!
Well, when I bought the Four Hour Body I couldn’t believe what was in the “better sex” section so I took the scissors out and just cut the entire section out and shredded it and blacked out the titles in the Table of Contents. I thought there would be some info about what to eat, not blantant pictures and stories of pre-marital sex and masterbation. I think that kind of book needs to be in a different section of the bookstore. Sorry Tim, I enjoy your thinking outside the box, but not all your advice is beneficial. If I was your editor I would take all the cuss words out of your books too, I think its so unnecessary and it makes me question sharing them with anyone else, I already decided to have my son read them. So I also don’t need that kind of material in the newspaper either.Did you know there is a very large family audience out there that do not allow that kind of stuff in the home so why would we listen to it on tv or want to read it in books. Sorry, just my 2 cents.
I don’t know if this was satirical, but given the post it’s a comment on, it is poignantly humorous.
If you were talking about my post, it was not satirical, but the irony was not lost on me!
In my previous post I meant to say that I “already decided NOT to have my son read the book” because of the sex section.
I think perhaps you could be taking things a touch too seriously. I could go out on a limb and guess that you’re seriously religious but that’s merely a guess. Tim’s writing style tends to be rather conversational and it shows in his writing. I actually thought it was pretty mundane on the language front.
I don’t know how old your son is, but I can pretty much guarantee your son has heard or will hear far worse language at school before the age of 10.
Good read, political correctness at its finest, and Irish stereotypes are always funny.
Does “scumbag” really refer to a condom?
wow just wow, why do i get this odd feeling like the newspaper was just trying to mess with Neil Strauss?
This article was hilarious. I knew the need to appear PC was a big thing, but wow. Way to go to Neil for throwing it out there again and again!
I’m looking forward to the new book making it over here to London. Neil’s a genuinely brilliant writer and one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
So sad, yet so so true. There is certainly value in getting grammar right, and many copy-editors are invaluable in that regard. But, anytime editing strays into the realm of content, publishers are playing a very dangerous game. It is no wonder the entire publishing industry is facing the crisis that is upon it.
I read this and laughed all the way through. The copywriter is a little conservative. Is he in touch with main stream auidences of just protecting his a$$ as it seem.
I cant believe people still fear of pi$$ing someone off with such words as scumbag.
Thanks for this note..
I love Neil’s writing, really enjoyed The Game and Emergency, can’t wait to carve out some time for this one
Whenever an editor said my writings were perverse I always exclaimed, “LOOK AT MY LAST NAME! YOU’RE HERE NOT BECAUSE OF A FUCKIN’ REASON. YOU’RE HERE BECAUSE OF FUCKIN’!”
I saw your book in the library and immediately checked it out. I took it home and read it non stop! –until I feel asleep. I am so energized and using slow carb diet. You are my new hero.
If I come to San Francisco can I meet you?
Don’t worry; I am 61 years old.
More of this kind of stuff can be found at http://overheardinthenewsroom.com/
Always been a fan of Neils. ELYWYD should be arriving tomorrow.
Nice to see him make an appearance here.
My fiancée is a copy editor so I can’t wait for her to read this post. The dialogue reminded me of some of my struggles doing Marketing and PR for international faith-based organizations – all kinds of layers of subtle censorship and “sensitivity”… by the time your writing is published it has been utterly deflowered and is about as exciting as an electric blanket turned to low/medium.
Thanks for sharing! I am laughing as I write this!
Loved this post, just like the rest of them.
And on that note…I DID IT!!!!! I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!
Barnes & Noble is picking up my book Flipside Erotica: Both SIdes of the Story Volume 1. I got the word late last week and am so excited!
As a first time, self published writer this is a great accomplishment, and I owe quite a bit of this success to you and your advice. I have used a lot of the material you’ve written about in your books and on this blog, and it has really paid off.
I can’t thank you enough for all the help you have provided to me and others. I really appreciate it.
2010 Independent Publisher Award Winner
and devoted fan
Nice work, Darren! What do you think made the difference in convincing B&N to carry it? What were the real impactful events, PR mentions, or proposal points/promises that got you to “yes”?
All the best,
Way to go Darren, and yes, please do share how you did it!
Thanks, Marco. Dana, totally agree. Matt G, that’s why I saved these conversations. Mary, glad you liked it: really appropriate right now considering what’s happening in the world. Congrats, Darren, and thanks for sending me the book—much deserved success. Allen, seriously, Tim and I have that discussion often.
PS….I almost forgot…Playboy Radio is featuring one of my stories per week, reading it on air during the SPICE show on Wednesday nights.
By random chance I got in touch with Neill and he made a suggestion of someone I should talk with about my book. I did follow up on that, and she was very helpful to me. I loved both The Game and Emergency, and look forward to reading his new book as soon as I can get my hands on it.
“Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness.”
Haha~~ This title already makes me laugh and wants to read more.
By the Way Tim, I’m now reading your book The 4-Hour Work Week Expanded and Updated version.
Awesome, thanks for that. 😀
Love it! I’ll stick to blogging and my products. Thanks again.
Wow. Never reading that newspaper again.
I like my stories with some real life in them and not the sanitized version of life they are trying to push.
Just thought I’d let you know that for an assignment I wrote for a course I’m in, I had to make a list of my ‘role models’. Key people that have had a distinct influence on my various philosophies, habits, goals and other aspects of my life. Because of the kind of person I am, I put a LOT of thought and effort into this assignment and I’ve been using this essay as life inspiration ever since. I ended up with 8 people. Both you and Neil are on that list 🙂
I’m picturing tech folks at The Times pondering why there are so many searches for ‘pussy’ all of a sudden.
Also, not normalized somewhat unusual. Just wow.
Really exemplifies how details may become muddled by corporate policy or standards filters.
“Normalized database” become “somewhat unusual database” – I’ve gotta share that on with the team – also brilliant!
Thanks for sharing!
Pussy as an insult in NYT, line 3.
Neil, you’re a very funny man, I love your sense of humor, reminds me of the old george carlin bit on words they won’t let you say on TV — you can say “prick your finger” on TV but you can’t say backwards…
Thanks Tim for great content as always
A good read, and a great bit of insipration to budding writers everywhere.
“Editing a festival review of an Irish-themed musical festival”
You might want to lose the first “festival”, although perhaps that would be rather against the spirit of the article 🙂
i’m a fan of both you Tim and Neil. You two and many others have helped show me what is really possible.
I was reading the long tail by chris anderson – the section talking about books.
Basically, the Majority of books will never sell more than 500 copies at best… but then that’s looking at the glass on the empty part…. If we use statistics like that we’d be too discouraged to even start at all…
To write a worthwhile book is on my to-do list but right now is not a priority for me as the subject matter has not made itself apparent to me as of yet.
A good book is one that is penned by an author who has had amazing experiences and insight to share.
It is cool to hear from the best about the hurdles they go through. Thanks for sharing.
I wonder who copy edits Tucker Max’s books, if Neil has so much trouble with such imo tame stuff.
Grats Darren! I remember you posted about your book on here before 🙂
Tim you totally should have made a “4HB for Prudes” and sold it for 2x the price to save Sally and many others judging from some of the amazon comments the effort of cutting out pages. I can’t bring myself to “dog ear” books. I’ve thumbed through 4HB and the stuff about protein in the morning changed my life. I can eat whatever I want and still lose weight as long as I obey the protein rule. I was disappointed with the sex stuff actually. I thought I’d learn something new.
One day I am looking to write a best seller like you…what do you think about this simple formula to write a 100page book??:
ok ..i know your done with the 4hour body food stuff for awile…but you have to see this recipe for chili….its called chili four loco..
it is hilarious….these guys making these “epic meals” are taking protein/bacon to a whole new level..
As a screenwrite this is an everyday occurance. Two examples…
After pitching “Investi-Gator”, an animated series for children about a private detective who is an alligator, the executive asked if the main character could be a crocodile.
My partner and I were hired to write a film based on a story from the New Testament. We turned in our treatment and got paid, but the execs came back and asked if we could “lose” Jesus because he was boring.
It does keep it interesting.
Great content as always! – I wanted to throw a suggestion for a blog entry your way: Organization.
I’ve found with all the projects in my life, and new ones being added all the time, I find it harder and harder to keep momentum going without a solid organizational structure.
I would be tickled to find out how a person with your kind of TO-DO list keeps everything in order. From deadlines to project brainstorms to travel ideas etc. etc., everything can become a jumbled mess in a hurry.
Would anyone else here be interested in that topic?
Wow- I second the above comment re: organization. Tim, clearly you are one of us writer-types, yet somehow you’ve managed to find a system that works for getting things done! (BTW I DO have the GTD book- I think I lost interest after ch. 2 though.) Organization & follow-through have always been achilles-heels for me. I know other writers have similar issues.
BTW few years back I discovered my “problem” w/organization/absentmindedness. Living with a Physician has driven me to diagnose everyone- myself included.
My aforementioned traits are listed in the soon-to-be-released DSM V. as ADHD: Inattentive Subtype! It’s marked by abnormal creativity, high IQ, difficulty making decisions, frequently losing things, daydreaming and problems making deadlines.
Most common profession among people w/said dx? Writer. Ergo,
if said “illness”: ceased to exist, the world would suffer!
BTW we comprise 1% of the population. So we are ‘special’. if you will…
Forgive my digression! I am dying to know how you manage to stay organized?! BTW I’ve found living w/a negative person saps my emotional energy, Thoughts?
I love how people are so sensitive about foul language and being politically correct, but it’s perfectly acceptable for children to watch (and laugh at) non-stop violence including the use of explosives, guns, bats, you-name-it, to demolish others (e.g. Tom and Jerry, Road Runner, Bugs Bunny).
But, try to talk about oral sex in a newspaper article and THAT is a problem!?
What a strange world we live in and respect to Neil for dealing with the insanity and still cranking out awesome material.
Political correctness is one thing – but offending a publication’s advertisers is almost as bad. There is probably more ‘censorship’ of articles on that basis than any other, which has certainly been my professional experience. In any event, if you want the real story about ‘copy writing’ and what does or does not go into publications then you should read ‘Flat Earth News’ by Nick Davies. I have no financial interest in promoting this book but, as a writer myself, I would consider it the most important book for any aspiring writer (or reader of the news) to read…
Hi Tim, interesting article!
I bought the kindle version of the 4HB but I don’t have a kindle and it’s crazy difficult to read it – I ‘ll have to buy the hard copy. If the 4 HB has the same impact on me than the 4HW – I can’t wait to see it!
I am now developing a new French language method and hope to publish it by next year! As a language junky I thought you might be interested! Is there any book/ advice on self publishing/ getting published anywhere?
Thanks for the inspiration,
Please could you share your book proposal for the Four Hour Work Week? I want to put a book proposal together, but don’t really know where to start. I would love to learn from your success.
Loving the 4HB by the way. Congratulations and good luck for the future.
Excellent article. Reminds me very much of Giles Coren, the British food critic, who famously clashed with sub editors at The Times:
::Smiling::I write and edit erotica, and even in that genre, there are words that aren’t okay. C*nt is okay, as is pussy. But a sweet little snatch? Nope, most erotica publishers don’t like snatch. Or tits, though boobs are okay.
On the other side (if you’re writing M/F erotica–M/M and other combos present other issues) cock is okay and the most used of the slang for penis (which is rather clinical IMO). Rod and shaft, definitely yes. Try to insert a prick, a dick or some hot meat? Nope, offensive.
Wow, the NYT are such tight asses. Hope they pay well to put up with that BS.
I was once invited to Utah to an autism conference to speak about “Adolescents and Autism: Puberty Hygiene and Sexuality” (I have written 4 books and speak internationally on autism – I am known for my practical advice).
When they finally looked at my powerpoint two weeks before the conference, they told me I could not use the ” M word” – masturbate – in the state of Utah. There went 1/3 of the presentation….. I asked them if they would rather i spoke on “Preparing for the Real World of Work” (another of my specialties).
I was an editor in a previous life. I do apologize…
Back when I worked at a small suburban daily, we reporters used to joke that the copy desk’s mission was to @#$% up our clips so we couldn’t get hired anywhere else.
I always say I love being a writer but I’m not the biggest fan of writing. I enjoy seeing the finished product, but getting there can be like Chinese water-drop torture sometimes.
Few non-writers understand how hard it is to crank out good content, be it for a blog, website or book. Often getting started is the most difficult part.
Tim, I’d like to see your suggestions for how to prepare mentally for writing and how you organize content.
I always say I love being a writer but I’m not the biggest fan of writing. I enjoy seeing the finished product, but getting there can be like Chinese water-drop torture sometimes.
Few non-writers understand how hard it is to crank out good content, be it for a blog, website or book. Often getting started is the most difficult part.
Tim, I’d like to see your suggestions for how to prepare mentally for writing and how you organize content before your fingers start tapping the keys.
Good ol Tim and Styles, SENT from Heaven above (wink).
You’re both appreciated!
Some details should never be glossed over. Can you pass on the cocoladas recipe?
Thank you for sharing this – very eye opening to see how frustrating the process can be for a writer.
I have to admit I’ve only been quoted by the Times, never wrote for them myself, but Neil’s comments are indicative of a larger problem in the writer/editor relationship. Namely that editors rarely read for enjoyment.
Here’s an excerpt from my book which peaked HarperCollin’s Sr. editor’s interest. It’s about S. Korean brothels:
For those who where short on funds, or merely cheap, the prime option was certain barber shops, their special nature marked by having two barber poles out front instead of the usual one, and a dust-covered barber chair inside. In a dim back room, an attendant told the customer to strip and lie face up, then placed a hot towel on his face and sternly admonished him not to take it off. A story circulated about one worker who ignored the edict and returned to his apartment psychically scarred after catching sight of the paunchy, middle-aged woman with gray pubic hair climbing over him. “I was trapped,” he protested to all who would listen, still traumatized. He only perked up later when a naïve young crew member who’d never before been out of the United States, or even Mississippi, happened to ask him if he knew a good barber shop. “Definitely,” he said. “Look for the one with two poles, and just do what they tell you.”
His reaction (my response is in parenthesis):
MEANING HE SENT THE POOR GUY TO THE SAME PLACE? (yes) BECAUSE YOU ESTABLISH THAT THESE CHEAP BROTHELS HAVE TWO BARBER POLES AS A GENERAL RULE OF THUMB, IT’S UNCLEAR FROM THIS LAST QUOTE WHAT HE’S RECOMMENDING. BUT WE SAY THAT THIS GUY IS INEXPERIENCED AND NAÏVE, INDICATING HE WAS NOT IN ON IT (Say what?)
I think a major problem with editors is their minds are continually running with ideas/problems/etc. They never take the time to sit back and enjoy the novel. The result is they miss the “feel” of the story. What I did to test passages from my book was watch friends read them. In this particular case I knew the result was as I intended as each one of them winced while reading “gray pubic hair”.
People rarely tell you their true emotions after reading your work. But by watching them as they read I can often pick up on problems the editors miss.
But, more often than not, it’s not the wince or laugh you find in their faces – it’s a look of confusion. And that look can tear at your insides more than any editor’s words.
@John K, I truly hope new writers and others getting started here will pick up on what you’ve obviously found intensely helpful – reader testing. I work in IT when I’m not writing fiction and this is akin to what we call usability testing. It’s vital if you’re going to produce a professional, quality product. That’s what writing that sells is, like it or not, a product. For myself, and for many friends who are multi publshed, we also find that having a professional editor see our work before we self-publish or before we submit to an editor to be a very necessary step.
I wince every time I read a forum comment, blog or tweet where an aspiring author talks about editing their own work without first going through a trusted reader group and an experienced editor. I’m a former editor and a former journalist, so while I might entertain the expectation that my editing skills allow me to edit my own work, skill isn’t the issue at all. I’m too close to whatever I write. Having a professional editor also forces me to look at my work as a business, something else that’s difficult to do when starting out because it doesn’t fit the “fantasy” of being a writer, yet it’s critical if you’re serious about making a living at your craft.
To your comment about editors not reading for enjoyment, it’s true. Most editors are under such pressure to produce money-makers that they lose sight of why they wanted to buy your work in the first place. Agents are in the same boat. I spoke to one last month that said on most work days she’s reading “requested” submissions (not slushpile) until 9 or 10 at night. This is another unfortunate side effect of the change-or-die problems facing the publishing industry as a whole. If the business doesn’t change to a reader-driven model that also treats authors as artists with work worth paying for, readers will continue to vote with their wallet and the authors will continue to move their work to ebooks, phone apps and self-pub POD. The plain fact is that unless you are Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin or Stephen King, you’ll make a lot more money self-publishing (if your writing is quality and if it’s professional!) than you will making 4-6% of the cover with small or traditional press…if you can actually sell to the shrinking press market.
Hahahaha! This is so funny! Thank you!
This is nuts man!
I always wondered about this and kind of pictured the same kind of scenario in my mind.
What was it like for the 4HWW Tim? You obviously cursed and made some pretty strong points, did the editors do this type of thing? And to what degree.. was it crazy? Lot’s of omissions?
Either way, great post.
From copywriter Bob Bly’s website: “H.G. Wells once observed there is no greater human urge than the desire to rewrite someone else’s copy.”
When I was starting out my writing career I used to leave a few deliberate spelling or grammatical errors in my articles just to satisfy my copy editor’s pathological need to change something.
i love TF-but this felt like a favor to help neil out since he once helped you. it was mildly interesting/entertaining but i was kind of left feeling neutral—hardly moved, shocked, educated etc.
i’m just saying , i’m all about helping each other out, but i hope tim doesn’t use the trust he has built with his readers to bring us to material that isn’t tim-stuff.
Great stuff, and Neil’s writing is addictive (at least I thought ‘The Game’ or whatever was a smooth pleasant read). I’ll check out his website.
And yeah, I want to be a writer, hopefully with modern blogs/twitter, etc, you can build up your own fans and do your own editing. That’s the dream of tech democratisation, anyway. 😉
Why is the gray lady in such trouble these days? This is one of the reasons right here. Pathetic, stupid copy editors. So stupid.
I was always wondering, why you never wrote about PUA (pick-up artists). I think this topic fits perfectly into your whole lifestyle design concept. After having read you scheduled x dates through the internet by outsourcing it, I thought you just have never heart about PU.
After reading here, that you know Neil Strauss, who is the author of “The Game”, I’m wondering even more. You are being friends with one of the greatest PUA and you’re not using it!? Wouldn’t that be another challenge for you to deconstruct, analyze and reassemble the laws of attraction?
I’m looking forward to see, if you’re writing about that topic in the future.
I wish you all the best and many thanks for all I have learnt from you in the past!
It’s entertaining when a writer takes offense at a copy editor’s queries. The size of some writers’ egos…as it their prose were beyond reproach (and exempt from house style).
…got a great chuckle out of this one, Tim, being a writer myself. You know what would be really cool? It would be neat to allow us to deconstruct one of your successful letter-writing or phone call approaches such as the one mentioned in this post. I’m sure your readers would enjoy capturing some of the phrasing you use to knock such approaches to authors, etc., out of the park. It would be particularly interesting since I’ve read in the past that even you are too overwhelmed to comment on author requests for reviews of their books! 😉 How about a peek?
I used to write for a small paper and the two retired guys that were copy editors were hilarious with their asinine pickines. Everything was meant to be understood by stupid people & acceptable to old ladies.
Then, I got the great idea to write a novel after living abroad & traveling for 2.5 years because when I got back to the US I didn’t know what else to do with my life. That was the dumbest of many dumb ideas I’ve had.
“So You Want to be a Writer?” No thanks.
In my 25 years freelancing, news of a copy editor coming into play was a welcome signal that my check had been cut.
Cry me a river! Try being a humor writer and having copyeditors insist they can make the jokes “funnier!” I threw up in my mouth and died a little just writing this.
I’m taking a professional editing course right now, but they aren’t teaching us to be prudes. That must be on the job training…
Thanks for this post. Very helpful indeed! After I read 4 Hour Workweek, I realized that I had expertise in sales and decided to write a book on sales to help challenge common myths etc. I have taken a ton of advice from you in 4HWW, and have successfully self published my book, with it soon being available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. I used Lulu to publish, where it can be purchased through my website now. I have already sold 100 copies! I am so thankful for all the guidance I got from you!
Not only a focused insight into the trials and tribulations of Copy Editing (something I have a seriously limited interest in), but a good laugh as well. Cheers!
4HB – The Movie.
It would be bigger than “The Secret”
Copy Editors just want to feel like they had a say in every article/ book so they feel the need to change great, raw content for some reason. I hate when they screw up what good authors really mean, just to be politically correct.
Although in a family publication alot of filter is needed…hahah..
Good stuff bro.
You think the NYT editors are bad, you should check out PIOs (Public Information Officers) for government agencies and municipalities. They take technical information essential for communicating somewhat complex concepts and applications of technology and transform it into a sentence fragment that communicates nothing. This is “dumbing down” to the point of absurdity. What that “editing” does is generate a handful of confused and frustrated customer phone calls and emails. Of course I explained the information to the customer in the same terms edited out of the slaughtered press release.
Our department, experts in conservation technologies and efficiency incentives, distilled the explanation of the incentivized technology down to the bare minimum necessary to give the reader a clear understanding of it. The frustrated customers usually respond with “Why didn’t the ad say this?” Am I honest with them and say the PIOs are complete boobs that have derailed our water efficiency program with their “edits”? No, civil service requires civility, tact, and biting one’s tongue off in chunks.
The other 400,000 people that read the release, saw or heard the TV/radio spots did not respond because it was useless and failed to arouse their interest sending our 15k mass media budget down the poop chute.
I proved the miscommunication when the program report was generated and the survey built into the program application revealed that media filtered through the PIOs generated a grand total of six participants. Colossal FAIL. Of course, OUR department was blamed for the “bad” communication.
I found a workaround. Because I could freely communicate with the contractors that installed the technology, I encouraged THEM to actively market the incentives during this godawful recession. We kept a spreadsheet that corresponded to a survey on the application forms. 99.7% of the customers heard about the program through a contractor.
I need to work where others don’t sabotage my success.
This post was a bit disheartening (in that how often the writer was forced to change what they were writing about). I think this speaks to the US being a “litigation” society: either we’re afraid to be sued about something or were thinking about suing someone for something. It’d be interesting to see all media turned on its head and be less concerned with being sued and more concerned with writing good stories.
With Love and Gratitude,
“He found a precedent for it in a 1924 review. So you can use it now.”
That’s got to be the funniest thing I’ve ever read. But, wanting to be a writer is definitely different than having a career in writing. If you want a career, you’re going to have to eat some pride.
I live in the UK and can not buy Athletic Greens here, can someone help please?
On page 10 you mention that there is an extensive glossary on your blog. I cannot find it. Can you direct me to it?
That’s true, I can’t find it either. Would love to check it out
I’ve been on the slow carb diet for about 6 weeks.
male 60 years old, 5’9″
been between 175 and 185 for the last 20 years. I could get to 175 with the zone diet but hardly ever lower. I then I start cheating and the next thing I’m at 185, stressed and not feeling good.
I started at near my best weight of 177. so I wasn’t hopeful this would make much of a difference.
I’m at 163 today and feel great. my goal is to lose 10 more pounds. 150 would be a dream.
I lost 2 inches around my waist and quite a bit on my neck. no wrinkles though. or drawn look some get.
I lost the first 7 pound pretty fast. 2 weeks. and now I get about a pound or so off a week. I actually like the diet and love reward day. my wife and I look at it as a weekly holiday. shes on the diet too, but cheats a bit and has lost 7 pounds. which is good. (she can’t give up her orange juice or yogurt) since I do the cooking she’s stuck on this.
Would I change anything?
the first week was hell. if I did it again, I would start on a Tuesday or Wednesday with reward day being Saturday.
As I see it the big difference between the zone and slow carb is no fruit and more protein. I was afraid no fruit would be an issue but it isn’t for going to the bathroom. in fact it’s better. look out young sprouts, at 60 going to the bathroom is an important part of our existence. so you got that to look forward to.
I usually only eat 2 meals a day.
for breakfast I eat 2 egg omelet, turkey bacon and LOTS of plain raw veggies. I rotate bites between raw vegetables and eggs and bacon(this I find is crucial). hot Rooibos tea, no sugar. I use Equal sweetener. then some nuts for dessert. I like pecans.
for dinner steak or chicken and large salad, or some sort of bean soup. Ice tea without caffeine. I like the sugar free pudding cups for a sort of dessert. I avoid sugar like the plague.
1 glass of wine and some nuts around 9 in the evening.
Saturday is a pig out. just love brownies, pizza and bagels for breakfast. I’m hoping I don’t plateau, but even at this weight I am healthy.
I really wanted to thank you for bringing this diet(or way of life) to us. I’m pretty sure I will stay on this one. By the way my blood pressure is way down too. I get a physical soon. can’t wait to see the doctor. plus a bonus, no more reflux. I can even sleep on my stomach. my dad died at 74. he had the same issues I have. the thought of only 14 more years scares the hell out of me. I’m pretty sure this new way of eating will give me many more years.
Thank you for this comment, Steve. It made my night 🙂 Keep it up — it just gets better!
This gal Tim Ferrissed his sign!
The above link shows how to Tim Ferris a blind person’s sign.
Thanks Tim for the flipping of things!
I bought your book yesterday & simply cannot put it down. As of TODAY I have one year left of my 40s & recently survived 2 cancer scares (thyroidectomy & ovary/cyst removal, in both cases NO CANCER) so I was determined to make the most of everyday/health by being more diligent in my diet & fitness.
Immediately I saw why I never gained weight like most people after thyroid surgery b/c my basic diet is very close to the one in your book. Just by luck I have always added lemon to my water as it makes it easier to consume larger portions, like cinnamon in coffee eat almost all the veggies you suggest several times a week & eat black beans like candy! Although I could use to lose 5 lbs my interest is more in developing a better fitness level. I am so thrilled I bought the book as I see the potential for amazing results. Knowing I wont have to endure hours of weight/resistance training I begin my 49th year inspired and motivated, thanks to you.
With a few minor tweaks like omitting milk & whole grain bread (other than cheat days) which I believed to be healthy will surely produce rapid results. I am fortunate I lucked out by having good eating habits but expect to be well ahead of the 6 month objective I had set prior to reading The 4 – Hour BODY. This is the best birthday gift I could ever have received.
Thank you so much for the knowledge,
I’m necroposting, but I’ve always wondered why aliens and robots can’t seem to grasp the concept of contractions.
Like Star Trek and Data. I mean, the thing can read entire librarys in minutes, can interface directly with the ships computer, can stop a Borg invasion nearly single-handedly, and yet somehow he can’t wrap his positronic brain around the concept of “shouldn’t” or “won’t”. It makes no sense.
I’m a bit late to the game on this one, but I just had to comment. As a newly minted freelance copyeditor, my goal is to help authors find the best possible way to get their message out. “Censored author to remove any sense of context where context might offend someone, anyone…” will never be a line item on my resume.
On the other hand, I do understand the standardization of language in technical writing situations (such as removing contractions). In any case where the safety of the user is at stake, go with the simplest possible language. One example: The 1989 China Air flight that crashed into the side of the mountain because the tower was yelling “pull up!” but the technical term is “climb.”
It’s such a shame that so much of that is true! Political correctness continues to take over. At what point do people say “enough is enough, we need to communicate efficiently”
Great post, which made me smile. I am so glad I don’t have a copyeditor looking over my shoulder. They wouldn’t let me write half the things I write.
Thanks for sharing.
How would you approach to find (as you have most likely done) the MED to become a good writer? Would love to hear some pointers or maybe a blog post? A book? 😛