The Alchemy of Writing — More Tips from a Pro

Ernest Hemingway used to leave his final sentence of each day half finished. It gave him an easy starting point for the next morning.

This interview on the creative process is part II in an interview with award-winning author Fred Waitzkin. Part I can be found here.

Reading time:

– Bolded points (teaser) – 3 minutes

– All – 15 minutes

TF: But what about “inspiration”? Does it exist for you?

For me, inspiration is primarily energy. If I feel energy for a paragraph or a description I can almost always get to the essence of it. If I feel dead to myself, I don’t have a chance. I am always looking for energy. Where can I find it? What or who can give it to me? How can I amp up what I have?

A story can help us here. An older friend of mine was once depressed about his advancing years. He lacked zest or motivation for his regular gym workouts. He couldn’t concentrate on his career. One evening this man found himself in an elevator with a woman, a housekeeper who had worked for him in the past. But she was wearing outside clothes, a tight fitting sweater. She was young and beautiful. They talked a little. There was chemistry. She got off the elevator at his floor. They chatted in the hall. She said that she found him attractive. But he could feel this even before she said the words. She embraced him. And that was it. Nothing more happened between them. He was married and not looking for an affair. But he felt a big surge of life. He felt renewed, deeply so. There was a bounce to his step. He returned to the gym feeling ten years younger… There are many ways to experience the girl in the elevator.

If I’m beginning an important new project I try to get away for a few days to feel a different spirit–islands work for me. My mother was a great painter. She spent much of her life on Martha’s Vineyard because the tree line outside her house felt ominous and that spurred her work along with the sound and smell of the ocean.

I look for energy all over the place. Often just riding my bike along the river for three miles from my house to the office heightens my mood. Then I make a cup of green tea and look at my work from the previous evening. I always read back several pages before I try to write anything new. Moving back through interesting material seems to give me momentum to push ahead…

But what if there is no energy? I read the paper. I switch on sports talk radio. I look at my watch. I pace. I am eyeing the lunch hour. It’s getting closer to lunch. One hour before I meet my friend Jeff for turkey burgers. Forty-five minutes. Now I’m getting nervous. Thirty-five minutes before I have to leave my office! Suddenly I feel an urgency. I CAN’T leave for lunch without writing one good paragraph. I’m sweating, feeling the time pressure… and the words pour out. Sometimes a writer can do more in a fervent half hour than in a dreary eight-hour day. I’ve often played this game with myself.

There are many energy tricks. Sometimes in the afternoon when I’m groggy I wander over to Starbuck’s for a coffee. But it’s not just caffeine. I know all the women who work there. They know me. We chat. I love these talks–okay, innocent flirtations. Sometimes I even get a free latte. When I get back to my office I usually feel fired up.

Here is a story about deep mining for inspiration. Early on in the composition of The Dream Merchant I had an impression of the woman whom I wanted to be the great love of my central character’s life. She would be something like the girlfriend of Eddie the pool hustler, played by Paul Newman, in the great movie, The Hustler. She would be beautiful but a little worn from love and tough living. But her accessibility made her all the more desirable. The actress who played that part, by the way, was Piper Laurie although when I thought about what my character looked like, she was more voluptuous like Marilyn Monroe. This character would be hugely important in my book. She would have to be Jim’s match—she would love Jim and ruin him. Only problem was, I had never known someone like this.

I talked about the problem with Josh [his son, the subject of Searching for Bobby Fischer] and one day he proposed an idea. “There is someone I want you to meet,” he said. He arranged lunch for me with a young actress, Maya, a girlfriend of a friend of his. We met in a restaurant. Maya was sensual, the right body type, and gorgeous. I spent more than an hour describing the character I wanted to write—her name was Ava. Maya listened but said virtually nothing. She was a sweet girl—NOT Ava. This great idea was beginning to feel like a failure. But then when we were leaving the restaurant she turned to me and her entire being had darkened, she had become sultry and damaged. It was thrilling. She was becoming Ava. She was Ava. It gave me chills.

For the next year we would meet in my office about once a month. I would send Ava, no Maya, a long email describing what I needed from Ava in the next chapter of my novel. Then during the course of an hour or two together we would imagine the scenes or she would act them out. When Maya left me at the end of a session I was shot out of a gun to write the new material into the novel. As time went on, I did less talking and Maya held court. After a year of this she had truly become Ava. I put her in dangerous situations and she embodied Ava’s responses, her muted passion, her madness, a reckless impulse to bolt to the edge of the cliff. Would she fall? I think it was deep fascinating work for both of us…Just to say, I’ve never tried to create a character in this manner before or since. But I could never have written Ava without Maya.

TF: Do you have any friends you rely on to help breakthrough deadlock? If so, why do you find them helpful?

I have a couple of friends that I rely upon. They are very perceptive about the human heart. I’ll talk quite specifically about what isn’t working in a section of my book. I listen closely to what they think. I’ve done this many times. My wife Bonnie has helped me many times like this.

Here is the curious thing. Often her advice or the idea of a friend isn’t what I end up doing. But listening to the ideas engenders a new idea. The whole point is that you have to get moving. Movement begets movement. You need to get unstuck.

TF: There are many people with brilliant ideas, fascinating lives, and a good feel for language–but who have never seriously taken on the art of writing. What is some specific advice you would give to up and coming writers?

If a young person is not passionately motivated, talent aside, I would never encourage him to try to become a professional writer.

Even if you love writing, and it possesses you with missionary zeal, it is such a hard thing to do. First you need to learn the art, and the path is littered with generations of talented writers that couldn’t sit alone in a room and apply themselves for thousands of hours to become really good. Then there are legions of devoted writers who did good work but couldn’t crack the profession, they couldn’t get published or if they did they couldn’t make a living. It is a very tough field.

But whenever I happen to meet someone who is talented and possessed by writing, and particularly a youngster, it is a great pleasure to have a chat. However, the conversation needs to be personal to have any real meaning. I need to know my “new friend” somewhat deeply, to feel the play of his mind and what turns him on before I would presume to offer advice. There are many different ways to be a writer.

For a teenager who is dreamy, who makes uncanny associations like a poet, it can be ruinous to force onto him a rigorously academic approach to writing, even with a good teacher. Teaching him to compose organized mannered essays, like all the other smart boys in class, can make him inhibited and ultimately edit the imagination from this unusual fellow. For another classmate who plans to be a lawyer, proper carefully constructed essays are perfect.

A writer has a core, a sensibility to draw from like pulling gold from his own acre of earth. What you have to say on the page will be different than what I would say. Good writers have their own voice. A paragraph by Philip Roth sounds like Roth. His sensibility and prose rhythms are all through his pages. Same for Hemingway or Thomas Mann. A young writer can deepen his voice and make it richer. But a writer is on perilous ground when he moves away from his core into an area he doesn’t know, when he “lies” or when he cheapens himself with compromises.

Let me give you an example. I have a young friend who is gifted with words and sentences. The scenes he writes are emotional. And he feels impelled to write. He’s got the right stuff. This young man has led a difficult life. He is an orphan. As a teen he became an addict and alcoholic. He suffered greatly getting clean. He’s known a lot of women and hurt some badly. Okay, in shorthand, that’s his base. It is very rich with pain and dark-side-of-the-moon adventures. But whenever he writes more than a paragraph he feels the need to say that in his new life he is redeemed and he is so grateful. He proselytizes. The embarrassment about his past life is thwarting this writer who has such an interesting story to tell. It makes it hard for him to dig deeply. It is difficult to get over such habits like a quarterback who has an awkward throwing motion. But he can do it if he wants it badly enough.

Here is one generalization that might be useful: A good writer needs to become intimately involved with “fictive truth.” Bullshitting never works in writing—a good reader can always tell when a writer knows what he is talking about. If you write about the ocean, you must know the movement of the ocean, the smell and taste. Don’t try to invent it. It will smell like a fake. When you are trying to create a character he or she must be “true.” Fiction is not making up stuff out of whole cloth. It is always linked to a writer’s experience. Fiction is a wonderful tango between the writer’s experience and his imagination.

When I write a scene I always put it to a personal test: does it relate to something that has happened in my own life either directly or by analogy? Perhaps something similar happened to my father or a close friend. If I can feel it deeply, and if I know my craft, then chances are you will feel it. If I am guessing, chances are I will fall on my face. Even if you are writing fiction, research isn’t cheating. If you are writing about the ocean, go out on a boat when it’s rough, feel queasy in a breaking sea, smell the salt water. Then read Conrad’s great passages on the ocean for inspiration, or Jack London’s. In The Dream Merchant it was part of my plan that the last third of the book would take place in the dense rain forest of Brazil. I didn’t dare write that section of the book until I travelled there and spent a month in the jungle.

TF: What inspired you to write The Dream Merchant? Tell us a story or two that will help us understand the process behind the book. How did you draw from real life characters when writing fiction?

The inspiration for The Dream Merchant came from many people. Certainly the earliest influence was my father who was a lighting fixture salesman–a great one. I have often referred to him as the Beethoven of fluorescents. During his best years in the fifties, my dad sold the commercial lighting for nearly every new skyscraper in NYC: The Seagram building, the Saucony building, the United Nations building–his jobs sounded to me like poetry. As a boy I would look out at the magnificent night skyline of Manhattan as though it were my father’s work. Like Jim in the novel, my father did some terrible things—he destroyed men who got in his way—but it did not dampen my love for him. I knew that I wanted to explore this undiscriminating father adoration in my book. That was a key connection between Jim and the narrator, insofar as the narrator loves Jim despite his profligacy and shocking moral drift. By the same token, Jim idolizes his own father who has a considerable history of sins.

Without my father there could never have been Jim. But Jim is not a portrait of Abe Waitzkin—not by a long shot. They were both larger than life salesmen. Neither was impeded by conscience or restraint. Abe was perhaps more ruthless. Jim was much more lusty. My dad didn’t care much about women. Jim was a physical powerhouse. Abe was a dominant personality but he was sickly.

The great comedian, Lenny Bruce, has a small but important role in my novel. To write him I felt that I had to know this one-of–a-kind-personality inside and out. If I didn’t get into his skin the scenes would be fake and would ruin the book. I read books about him and his wife and I listened to performance tapes. I learned his dark slicing humor until I could write it myself. I did write it. After a half year I felt like I was Lenny Bruce. Then Lenny moved through the scenes naturally—he fit right in. It was a pleasure writing in his voice. I’ve already talked about Maya who became my Ava, Jim’s wife. Lenny Bruce and Ava become lovers. They go to very dangerous places together. For a while it was hard for me to stop being Lenny Bruce.

Here is an interesting story about inspiration. More than twenty-five years ago, when I was writing feature magazine pieces, I happened to read a short article in Time Magazine about illegal gold mining in the jungles of Brazil. The piece described secluded enclaves deep within the rain forest called garimpos where men slaved in deep muddy pits trying to collect gold to feed their impoverished families living in the cities. Their employers hideously exploited these scrawny little men, lured them into the camps by offering beautiful women. These poor men spent their hard earned gold on a single night of desire. Then they had to go back to the mudpits to work for another month before they could return home. It was an endless cycle. The workers were sometimes murdered by marauders or they died of disease or animal attacks. Many never made it home. This whole jungle scene was so exotic, violent, sensual and unlikely that I felt I had to write about it. I signed a contract to do a long piece for Harper’s magazine and was preparing to leave for Brazil when I received a contract from Random House to write Searching for Bobby Fischer. I abandoned the Brazil trip to write about Josh and the chess world, which greatly irritated the editors at Harper’s–they didn’t return my calls after this. Anyhow, the scene in Brazil haunted me for years and once I began my novel I decided that my character would ultimately save himself or perhaps perish in the Brazilian rain forest. I wrote the earlier sections of the novel aiming for Brazil.

TF: Tell us about the Amazon trip. What were you researching? What did you learn? Why was it so important to go there?

Oh man, what a trip. Josh wouldn’t let me go by myself. He was determined to protect his old man in the jungle. By then Josh was already one of the top martial artists in the world–he had won the Tai Chi Push Hands World Championships in Taiwan a year before, and now he was training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu [Tim note: Josh later became the first black belt under the legendary Marcelo Garcia, the Michael Jordan of BJJ]. I was thrilled for him to come but not so much for protection as camaraderie—so that we’d see it all together. By then I’d already written the first half of The Dream Merchant and as I’ve already said, I’d been pointing toward Brazil. I’d been writing about a great salesman who takes ethical short cuts to make it big and then loses everything. The deep jungle was the perfect pallet for the changes I wanted in Jim who by now was ready to cross any line to win big again—and he did. I wanted the last third of the novel to switch gears and come on like a firestorm—this was my homerun idea. But to work, as I’ve already said, the Brazilian scene would have to be truly rendered, all the smells, the violence, the animals, the decadence, the disease, the astonishing beauty.

Josh and I flew to Manaus, which is an island city surrounded by rivers and jungle. It’s a haunting place, sultry from the heat and danger of the jungle all around. My character Jim would own a big estate in Manaus, where he would sell his gold to buyers, and then after several days he would travel back to jungle—the jungle became Jim’s greatest passion. But first, to set up his operation he needed to hire an army of gunmen to protect his garimpo from marauders in the rain forest, to guard the gold. Josh and I travelled to gun dealers to learn the business of small private armies. We met with gunmen, talked about their malevolent work. We visited steak restaurants where Jim would dine with his top men. We visited poor shacks on the fetid riverbanks where he recruited hundreds of miners and we went to huge ornate brothels that catered to miners, where Jim hired gorgeous sad-eyed girls to work on their backs for him in the remote camp. Really, Jim constructed a little jungle empire that mirrored his runaway ambition.

There were many ways to maim oneself or to die in Jim’s jungle world but also it was a captivating place. Josh and I spent several weeks in the deep jungle, with its dense foliage a crazy tangle of living sculpture. We hiked for miles learning to softly push the vegetation aside like swimming. It was the dry season and watermarks on towering ancient trees were ten feet above our heads. In six months, four hundred pound fish would be swimming where we were walking. We swam in the rivers terrified about piranhas, and tiny fish called a candiru that swim up a man’s penis and with sharp spikes become lodged in the urethra. We played with pink porpoises that swam through our legs. We visited abandoned gold mining operations and met with garimpeiros who explained the work of searching mud pits hoping to find gold and pull themselves out of poverty but rarely did. These men were addicted to this difficult work—I suppose they were addicted to hope.

We spent nights in hammocks suspended between acai trees listening to an infernal racquet of insects and the bleating of hunting creatures. We worried incessantly about being attacked by jaguars. Every night we heard them hunting nearby. Travelers in the jungle worried about jaguars. Every native we ran into carried a rifle. We were told that a man by himself in the rain forest was a dead man walking but parties of two or three men were more likely to be left alone by jaguars. There were little cats, the size of house cats called jaguatiricas. They attacked howling like babies in packs of five or six. They ran up a man’s legs and ripped him apart. The little ones scared the hell out of me.

I could go on and on about the Brazilian Amazon: the beauty of the women, the unforgettable people we met. The jungle has a deep intoxicating call–really it is a siren’s call. It was hard for me to leave and return to the states. My character Jim couldn’t bear to leave even though staying would likely cost him his life.

TF: Last but not least: what are your top ten favorite books?

FW: This is a risky question to answer. For one thing, I have loved so many. How can I narrow it to ten? And to further complicate the process, I’ve noticed that books are always changing for me. Some books that I admired at thirty feel dead to me today. I know that I never got more excited reading any novel than Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece, On the Road. But would I revere it as much today, forty years later? Last week I read This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. I was so taken by the painful truths in these stories and the amorous Latin rhythms of his prose. Before reading Diaz I was telling all of my friends about Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. These are my recent infatuations. But did I love these books as much or more than The Sun Also Rises? I just don’t know. Last time I read Hemingway’s classic it was a hard push for me…but ten years before it thrilled me.

Here goes:

1. Love in the Time of Cholera — Gabriel Marquez

2. Heart of Darkness — Joseph Conrad

3. The Great Gatsby –F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov


a. For Whom the Bell Tolls — Ernest Hemingway

b. The Old Man and the Sea — Ernest Hemingway

c. The Sun also Rises — Ernest Hemingway

6. On the Road– Jack Kerouac

7. Death in Venice — Thomas Mann

8. The Sheltering Sky — Paul Bowles

9. Invisible Cities — Italo Calvino


a. The TrainGeorges Simenon

b. American PastoralPhilip Roth

c. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold John le Carre


Read more about Fred Waitzkin and The Dream Merchant 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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76 Replies to “The Alchemy of Writing — More Tips from a Pro”

  1. Tim,

    How dare you inspire me, I vote we all quit the jobs we hate and start writing.

    Thankyou for the necessary kick in the ass I didn’t want but truly needed.

    Graciously yours,


  2. I get bummed out by male authors who refer almost exclusively to fellow male authors, students and influences. It’s as if no other perspectives existed. And these are more often than not: male, white, straight influences.

    What room is left for the rest of us?

    It makes me wonder about our narrative of literary greatness. It also makes me deeply mournful about opportunities for others and our ability to “read” diversity.

    1. Come on. In my paragraph on favorites I mentioned Jennifer Egan and Junot Diaz. I could easily have put Ralph Elison’s Invisible Man in my top ten list. I could go on all night: Oscar Hijuelos, James Baldwin, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Annie Proulx…

    2. You know I was thinking the same thing. While reading it I was getting a total sexist vibe – validation from females a starbuck’s, the “girl” in the elevator, interviewing his son’s friend’s girlfriend?? etc. But yeah the list of his favorite books were so typically male and except for Marquez white male. Maybe he took it from his son’s High School reading list. Someone throw this guy some Toni Morrison.

      (To the author of this post you wrote pore out which should be pour out)

      1. Hmmm… While I appreciate the comment, I think it’s totally unfair and I don’t think the anger is warranted.

        First off, someone’s favorite books are their favorite books. End of story. There need not be some ulterior motive. My favorite book happens to be Letters from a Stoic — does that make me a sexist? Ridiculous. Many of my favorite authors (or even “most”) happen to be male. Should I be condemned for this sin against humanity?

        First off, as Fred noted in his own response, he reads plenty of female authors. I love many female authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Lamotte, your suggested Toni Morrison, etc.

        Second — in my opinion — Fred nor I should have to defend ourselves if the majority of our favorite authors happen to be brown, black, female, male, white, or Martian… as long as we don’t choose their books *because* of those characteristics alone.

        Just my 2 cents,


        P.S. If there was a misspelling in the copy, it’s the fault of my proofing, so I’ll take the blame. Never was very good at it 🙂

      2. Completely agree, Tim! I would have been more offended if he only added female authors on his list because they were women and he needed to add some to make it “fair.”

      3. I like the way that you responded to Chase — honest, you, and on point. While I appreciate her frustration as a writer and respect her feelings, if a writer tries to please everybody, be politically correct at all times, and not be true to self, then the writing is simply not as interesting to me. I apologize in advance to anyone that I have offended with this comment.

      4. “Then she says, ‘You don’t read women authors, do you?’

        Least that’s what I think I hear her say

        ‘Well,’ I say, ‘how would you know and what would it matter anyway?’

        ‘Well,’ she says, ‘you just don’t seem like you do.’

        I said, ‘You’re way wrong.’

        She says, ‘Which ones have you read then?’ I say, ‘I read Erica Jong!’

        – Bob Dylan, “Highlands”

      5. The list was a bit whimsical, as I said in my posting. It pains me that I didn’t add The Mambo Kings plays Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. I’ve admired The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and also Anita Shreve’s Resistance.The great Wuthering Heights might easily have made my top ten. It makes me happy just to think about these wonderful books. But it also makes me happy to think about the girl in the elevator. I’m a man. Men have frequently felt inspired by women.

      6. Thankfully true. Women have inspired me to write at least a dozen good songs. The only point of the Dylan lyric was to say that you are in good company, being accused of not reading ‘women authors’. It’s an unhealthy litmus test.

  3. In your 4 Hour Body book you share a story on how a guy wrote one line of his thesis paper every day at the beginning of the term (or something like that) so when it was actually due there was no stress. I have been doing that now for a couple years since I read it in your book 🙂 It’s one of my daily goals… write one sentence each day for my book. Very awesome, fluid, danke.

  4. Brilliant! Makes me re-affirm some things and question others about my own writing process. Much needed read, as I deconstruct my own life, and put it back together. I need more adventures in the recipe that is my life, this is great momentum to do an 80/20. Thanks! Gotta read The Dream Merchant as well.

    1. You have touched upon another key point. Unless you are Proust you can’t live a long and successful writer’s life just sitting at the computer typing paragraphs, however fine. You need to dip into the life, meet and love people, seek out adventures, relationships, new experiences. For me there has always been a counterpoint between writing and living. Good luck in your own writing. I hope you enjoy The Dream Merchant. And please let me know. You can reach me through my website,

      1. Mr. Waitzkin,

        I just wanted to say thanks for giving an awesome interview for our little community, and also, thanks for being an awesome, down to earth guy who actually reads the comments on his interview AND responds to people! That’s pretty cool. Also, I loved The Dream Merchant.

  5. This is just brilliant … the entire interview itself reads like a novel! Crazy-interesting. Thanks Fred!!

    1. This is so true: “Fiction is a wonderful tango between the writer’s experience and his imagination.”

    2. This is amazingly awesome: Working with an actress for character development. Wow. What a killer idea.

    3. Learning to “be” Lenny Bruce, reminds me so much of a section in Ben Franklin’s autobiography where he describes how he learned to write from the masters of his time in an nearly identical manner. Awesome stuff.

    Quick question, Tim! When you do these great long-form interviews, are you relying on a tape-recorder, or are they done via email – care to reveal your secret?

    Thanks tons,


    1. Hi Doc!

      In this case, we did 90% via email, then followed up by phone clarifications and additions. Email whenever possible saves some time on the crafting of blog posts!

      Happy you enjoyed this one,


      1. Thanks for the reply, Tim … much appreciated. I’m doing a lot of interviewing lately, so advice that can help me capture this much detail is a tremendous help.

        Be good. Keep ’em comin’! 😉


    2. That’s a lovely complement–the interview reads like a novel. Thanks so much and best of luck on your own work.

  6. This is a great guide for writing good characters.

    If you know what keeps someone up at night, what compels them, and where their lines in the sand are, you’re way ahead of the game.

  7. Thanks for the in depth interview. Great stuff. This is a post I will keep coming back to read over and again.

  8. It’s the sign of a talented writer when you drift off into the text and nothing else around you seems to matter. I agree with Doc that the interview read itself like a novel you could drift off into and enjoy. Some great tips for anyone who’s looking to explore ways to improve their writing.

  9. Tim, not sure how you do it, but your posts seem to hit me at the moment I need them most. This one especially. A big THANK YOU for all you do.

    Really enjoyed this. I’m currently attempting to “write non-fiction that reads like fiction,” so these two posts are incredibly helpful.

    Please keep sharing your journey down the fiction path. Cheers and good luck!

  10. What a gem of an interview! 😀 This is a brilliant piece with great insights into the craft of writing. A million thanks, Tim.

    Oh, and “Fiction is a wonderful tango between the writer’s experience and his imagination.” – couldn’t agree more.

    Lots of love,


  11. I’ll call it now, Tim’s next book: The 4-Hour Story. Just a matter of time before you publish fiction.

  12. Reading about the writing craft always seems a most splendid form of cannibalism to me. Mentally digesting the very meat of the writer’s mind. Sometimes it gives me indigestion but in this case a it was a rare dessert. The amount of work he put into creating Maya/Ava is more than many authors put into an entire book.

    Speaking of which, my favourite books are:

    Green Eggs n Ham

    Watership Down.

    Thanks for the interview Tim.

  13. I have read quite a few of your posts, none have resonated with me like the past two.

    The depth and dedication of this man is intense!

    Thanks, Tim!

    1. Wow, thanks for these kind remarks. Thanks to all of you! Tim, you have such smart passionate readers. I really loved doing the Q&A with you. It got me to dig deep and I found myself traveling some back roads that surprised me. But one last point for your readers. For the past ten years I haven’t been thinking about the questions we’ve discussed here although clearly they’ve been percolating beneath the surface. I’ve been mainly thinking about my story and the lives of my characters. Putting them in circumstances where they can experience, betray, love, grow. Here we have been talking a lot about process. Which is important. We need to learn the steps to be a good dancer. But once the music begins, we need to stop thinking about the steps. Dance.

      1. Hi Fred, you’ve certainly stumbled upon a rather process-oriented group – that’s us! 😉 Appreciate the advice all-around, and you’re right … “getting to it” is the key to everything.

        Just ordered the Kindle version of the book … looking forward to reading it!



  14. This interview has been an interesting and inspiring read. I’d love to see some more blog posts on writing and the creative process. Creative writing is ripe for the application of the DSSS principles. There’s so much bad or vague advice out there about creative writing. I’m convinced the craft can and should be taught and practiced in the same way as musicians learn their skills.

  15. Inspirational. Uplifting. Enlightening.

    Reading this boosts my energy to write again.

    Thank you Tim Ferris!

  16. Tim – I’m originally from Argentina – mate, asado, dulce de leche, tango and… Jorge Luis Borges! Borges won a nobel prize with his short stories. For some reason I see you as the “short-story” type. Have you read his work – Labyrinths, Fictions, The Aleph, Imaginary Beings?! Fascinating!

  17. “But whenever he writes more than a paragraph he feels the need to say that in his new life he is redeemed and he is so grateful. He proselytizes. The embarrassment about his past life is thwarting this writer who has such an interesting story to tell. It makes it hard for him to dig deeply. It is difficult to get over such habits like a quarterback who has an awkward throwing motion. But he can do it if he wants it badly enough.”

    1. Was this a character above a true friend?

    2. How did he overcome his adversities?

    3. Has his skill-set improved or does he often become complacent or get burned out at times?

    4. Does he still write from time to time and does he post content online?

    Your writing is inspiring and your ideologies are essential. Keep on pushing and we look forward to more posts Tim!

    JJ Dent

  18. Next book idea, The 4 Hour Writer? I love that you share so openly with us Tim. Seeing and reading the things that are influencing you helps shape us all. Awesome Interview, I’m clipping it to my Evernote.

  19. Great read, and very well-timed for me 🙂

    Your conversation on energy management – how to find it, how to work around it and so on – really hit home for me. As someone who works as a writer and then runs side projects that involve even more writing, this is a topic that’s always on my mind. Thanks to both of you for bringing a new perspective to the subject!

    1. It is funny to me that writer’s don’t discuss this more. For me, discovering energy or mining for it, is often the biggest challenge. I think that writer’s often confuse lack of inspiration with lack of energy. But when you are looking down the right road it is fairly easy. There are so many ways to excite yourself. Good luck with your own work!

  20. Stendahl had chronic problems with writer’s block, and was always under pressure from his publishers to get manuscripts submitted in a more timely manner. To help himself, he penned the following on a small sign, and placed it on his desk where he couldn’t avoid seeing it:

    “Vingt lignes par jour … genie ou pas” !

    (twenty lines each day … genius or not !

  21. Enjoyed your Q/A on The Passive Voice…I could relate to the part about making a change and fifty more follow.

    Best wishes for continued success

  22. I came looking for “inspiration” to write. Nothing heavy mind you, just getting to the point of writing articles and reviews for my blog. I leave this interview feeling like I sometimes do leaving a movie, as if in another world. A great interview. You really pulled a lot out of your guest and kept me enthralled.

  23. Hello!

    I’ve just finished reading the inspiring book The 4-hour workweek and I loved it.

    But there was one thing that kept nagging me throughout the book.

    I read the book in the Swedish language and I’m pretty shure that one really important word is translated wrong. Sadly I think that may sends the wrong message to the reader.

    After reading the book I am pretty shure that “The new rich” means a new kind of rich people with new values, lifestyles, and thoughts on what makes life rich.

    In the swedish translation they use the words “nyrika” and “nyförmögna” wich both means that these persons are just newly rich in the meaning that they just recently came in to money (typically by selling a corporation or get an inheritance)

    Isn’t that quite the opposit to the message that the book tries to send.

    I really liked the message that i got from the book so…

    if I’ve got it all wrong than I think I will persist in my own interpretaion 🙂

    Thank you!

  24. Tim:

    Great piece! I somehow fell into reading and revising what I wrote previously to get me from the past and into the present which helps me write for the future. Also, I find getting away from my routine and daily distractions naturally musing.

    Enjoyed the post very much,


  25. Tim and Fred,

    You have to stand up and live before you sit down to write.

    You both clearly embody that.

    Ten years for a novel. Inspiring.

    Thanks for doing the interview Fred. I went and picked up a copy of The Dream Merchant. I hope it has commercial success. It seems fascinating– just like you!

    Warm regards,


  26. Wow. That is one heck of a post. Im going to have to read that one over again. I am working on a book now, you just gave me a ton of ideas! Thanks!

  27. Thanks Tim, and Thanks Fred for all these wonderful, inspiring words.

    I have been wanting to go to the jungle for a while now, and just by describing your book in a few words, it pushes me even further. I must read your book before I leave however.

    I read it all out loud!



  28. I love the idea of energy sparking our writing!

    I had a moment similar to Fred’s older friend. I came in and sat down at one of my favorite cafes. As I was setting up my laptop, I had a brief exchange with a very attractive woman sitting next to me. It was a very light-hearted friendly exchange of just a couple words. Yet there was an energy of simpatico chemistry. I felt no need to pursue the interaction further. I knew it was moment that opened up greater creative possibilities rather than a relationship I had to pursue.

    I felt energized, happy and in the flow. Words poured out from my fingers and I wrote a great article.

    I’m so glad this blog post acknowledges the incredible power of energy to spark our creativity!

  29. I love it, “there are many ways to experience the girl in the elevator.” So true. I once had a marine as a neighbor. He would have random girls over at all hours of the night. One night, I couldn’t sleep and it was then that I discovered that one of my neighbor’s girlfriends made it a habit of waking up at 4am and brushing her hair completely naked in front of the window facing my kitchen window. For the next 3-4 months, I found it unbelievably easy to wake up without an alarm and I too found myself with an extra bounce in my step.

  30. Thank you both for the interview. Tim pulled me into his world with the 4 Hour Body. I had become obsessed with exercise research, and was drowning in all the arguments. This process was truly energy sapping. With both more time and energy this past winter from focusing on simple experiments, I tried to start writing again. It has always been a latent talent in me, but I never put in the work. It was like wanting to run a marathon in 3 hours without training for it. Starting this process led to a lot of introspection, which has led to a moody winter. However, I have started to move, even if just a crawl. I can’t quit my day job, but hope to find the movement and energy to produce some short stories I can be satisfied with. As others have mentioned, thank you Fred for interacting with the posters! I find it very cool that you take that time. Thanks Tim.

  31. I totally agree with his advice about writing. I’m currently trying to give a real shot at writing a first book and it’s very, very painful. Reading something flowing is a pleasure and seems so easy. But when you’re in front of your computer and need to spit out your own words, it’s so different.

    People have always said around me I was good with words, but it’s far from enough. I’m right now into the “fictive truth” problem. You have to be able to get deeply linked to your characters to craft something different and interesting. So many writers did something before you that it’s dampening…

    I remember DJ Shadow, an hip hop artist, in the basement of a vinyl shop, surrounded by dozens of thousands of records sorted in some kind of organic piles. When you make a record, nothing guarantee you won’t be one more record in those piles. So many hopes and dreams were put into those. It’s hard to believe you can bring something valuable to an audience.

    Anyway, the best way to move forward is to realize that you build upon this past instead of being afraid of it.

  32. Hi Tim,

    I’ve been fascinated by your approach for a while now and have used it in several areas of life to great effect. Seeing as you’re deeply interested in writers maybe you can shed some light on the notion of applying your ideas to a creative discipline, such as fiction writing, fine art, or music. These disciplines are notoriously shifty. It is so difficult to quantify what is effective or even to explain why a particular piece of art is good. Someone once wrote about art as a game whose rules are changed every time you play. (the actual quote is far more eloquent, alas) an I think all creative disciplines share this kind of complexity and murkiness. Hence Norman mailer’s “every one of my books had killed me a little more” Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

  33. I was very impressed with your development of your character in your story. When I write I do become stuck on certain traits and then I allow the character to show me who they are. I love what you are doing. You rock!

  34. Enjoyed the read, it’s always interesting to get inside a writers head whether it be here or Stephen King’s on writing. Everybody comes from a different background and has a different thought process on the subjects they write about. I like the “truth” fiction analogy, if you can’t relate to it yourself, how are you going to make it relatable to other people? Great stuff.

  35. Dear Mr. Waitzkin,

    thank you for the great and honest Interview. It made me reflect on my own problems of writing. I think I just discovered why I have so much trouble writing these days. When I was young I loved to make up and write about anything just out of my own imagination and fantasy. But today I think I have to write about something I have experianced myself. I love the Idea of mixing fiction and non fiction in the way you described it. I never really thought about it that way.

    Best regards and I definately added The Dream Merchant to my “to read befor I die – List”

    PS: Tim, thank you for your incredible and inspiring work.

    Greetings from Germany

  36. Tim,

    I have been reading and listening to your 4 hour work week book/ audiobook. It has been very inspirational. Would the information on ppc’s given in the book work for charity as well? I am trying to raise awareness on FTD which my Aunt and Grandmother both have suffered from and I am trying to find the best way to get the information out to the most amount of people. My cousins started a blog but I feel there is more that can be done. I would love to hear your insight. Thank you!

  37. Hi Tim I @twittered you also but I remember hearing on one of your Random Shows that you are an investor in Uber. I’m headed to the Coachella Music Festival this year and have tried reaching out to all the Ridesharing services Lyft Sidecar and of course Uber, it seems like nobody has plans to offer Ridesharing there that makes no sense to me, I know you’re a numbers guy by reading your books, I googled SXSW Attendance and that is 147,000 for 2012 and for Coachella each weekend it’s 80,000-85,000 which times two is 160,000 people respectively. There’s absolutely no ridesharing services available there and the wait at night for taxis is really long, you guys would make a killing there, can someone have a meeting and make this happen. I’m pretty sure logistically if you crunch numbers it makes sense.

    Make it happen you rock! Loved that article about publishing that had that mentioned you in Wired btw.

  38. Thank you for another great article on writing. I want to try getting away for inspiration next time I write, I’ve never tried changing my environment.

    1. This is a great article. I love how you promote keeping writers honest! Readers really can spot BS.

      I just like how you present it all. Very inspiring!

  39. Always fun to read an experienced writer or artists view on himself. Sometimes they take the interview as an opportunity to try to teach or preach, but Fred shoots from the hip here. He’s a man devoted to his craft, honest about his process, and refreshing to read. He’s both refreshing and gritty. Fun combo.

  40. Also, the business side of writing is a hot topic these days as the publishing landscape is changing. Writers and creative people need not only open their veins and bleed, or do the work, but also understand that sustainability means navigating the social and market contexts of life and work. Here’s an excellent article on the subject from a high-profile self-published author:

  41. Amazing interview Tim, although a subject like Fred I suppose makes it easy. Very insightful and inspirational for all aspiring writers, or anyone looking to tap deeper into their creative. Thanks!

  42. I loved this piece- “Movement begets movement.” This is so very true. Also I’m with you. If you enjoy books by Martians what does it matter 🙂 Personally I think many times as my mom used to say- “You are making mountains out of mole hills”

  43. Tim;

    It was an amazing interview for me to find.

    Since I am a painter who is turning to writing, all of Fred’s metaphors hit home. I am like his mom, more of an abstract painter than a photorealist and try to write that way. Putting words on and taking them off, moving them around, writing over them. Fred’s analogy about being forced into rigorously academic approach being ruinous rang so true.

    I am feeling much better about taking on writing at this point after reading your interview!



  44. Finding energy through the outside world…I like it Fred Waitzkin. This is a little off topic but I find it relevant to a part of Waitzkin’s interview. I read somewhere in one of Mark’s blog posts about how we as humans have lost touch with the earth itself. The earth itself has its own energy, the energy that provides and gives life to so many living creatures. The ground itself is charged with electric energy that spurs energy within us.

    I have taken a couple naps outside on the grass to test this out and even if it is for 10 minutes, I feel wide awake and ready to tackle the day.

    It’s funny how our society has taken many leaps forward but at the end of the day, those backward steps are what really make us “primal”.

  45. Tim. Love it. I’m not actively writing but I love to one day…getting a muse off the ground is the first priority at the mo! And the writer…great stories sounds like a sweet life. Keep the good info coming

  46. Thanks for all the great information, I particularly like the section on energy and how each author pulls gold out of their own acre in a different way. This inspired me to find my own strengths and sharpen them into something quality.

  47. I cant wait to get my life going here!!! I have automated parts of my life and has helped tremendously!! BUTTT!! I still havent found MUSE>>>Any advise for the struggling person in this position? Greatly needed!!



  48. Writing is such a difficult sport , i tried years ago but I spent a lot of energy without success:-). Personally, my favorite is: “A Visit from the Goon Squad”.

  49. Hello Mr. Ferriss,

    My plan is to make this comment, or means of contacting you, as brief and succinct as possible. I was first introduced to your lifestyle hacking (for lack of a better word), or let’s just say lifestyle by design…there it is, that’s what we call it right?

    So it’s coming up on five years since I first saw your seminal work (I believe that’s correct if I’m not mistaken) as it was the first time I heard of THE Time Ferriss and the whole concept of LBD. I don’t even remember what book store I was in simply because I was motivated to pickup your book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” simply by being seduced by a clever placement and a very vibrant color scheme (which I would lated find out through reading many of your blog post and watching any and all Tim Ferriss interview. I’m surmising I was in the pangs of the first stages of fandom.

    Anyhow, so I grab you bright vibrant book off the shelf and literally just plop down right there on a step stool employers used to step on to reach higher shelves for customers. Needless to say, I was pulled into your work as soon as I perused the table of contents and begin reading the first page. Here you were bringing to light, albeit maybe in a more thrilling and definitely more entertaining fashion, topics I’ve read before but never captivated like only you could. You say you aim to wright to your audience like they are an old friend you haven’t seen in a while that you’ve just had a couple cocktails with. I have to say you had your voice and audience hooked almost immediately.

    Why was that? It wasn’t like I have read similar Lifestyle Design type works before, but you were different, fresh, captivating, motivating and very very sharp/interesting. From that point on I was hooked to every thing you put out, whether it was your blog, a new interview, or a much anticipated new book.

    Okay, so you’re asking yourself at this point…WHAT IS MY POINT? I’m sure you’ve read your share of adulation from fans for years, but that’s not quite what I’m intending to covey, at least from this point forward.

    Like I said I picked up the 4HWW almost fives years ago and I can’t help but feel almost despondent at this point in my career. I was working on the largest privately funded project in US history at the I was smacked over the head with your eye opening book. Almost immediately I wanted to leave my job and really take heed to your life lessons. You see like I said when I stumbled upon your 4HWW, I was heavily involved in the planning, development and management of City Center Las Vegas (The US project I speak of) and to make matters worse I left a very promising career in Silicon Valley building data warehouses, implementing BI suites (Cognos etc…) and riding the ETL back end Informatica tools while also building in-house proprietary extraction transform and load tools across plethoras of legacy systems, all with their nightmares of dataset conflicts, in the attempt to pull data together from all these disparate legacy systems, AS 400 one of many example, to bring them and their date into the nice cozy confines of our data marts and ultimately datawarehouses. Don’t get me wrong the high six figure salary in my 20’s was nice, but here’s where my life hit a crossroads, and I don’t feel like I’ve truly been the same since.

    So I’m making a very nice living in my 20’s working in the technology capital of the world, and no matter how hard I loved the challenging work I was engaged in and the salary accompanying it, I felt deep down I wanted OUT. Yes, in my mid to late twenties making 10x what all my buddies made out of school with their accounting degrees working for Deloitte, Ernst, Merrill and some others in their consulting gigs I WANTED OUT! I felt a creative side of me rotting away.

    So long story short, I get a call from my cousin who was running a half a billion dollar a year specialty contracting firm, headquartered in NoCal with 15 branches up and down the west coast and stretching into Canada. I don’t know how, but someway he got wind I wasn’t happy and offered to bring me into his company to manage the aforementioned City Center Project in Las Vegas. I definitely had my reservations about Vegas at first, but my cousin can sell ice to an eskimo. It was long that I was in Vegas working in a totally different industry than I was every accustomed to. Even though I was management I was not immune to the cultural shock I was about to experience when getting into so called construction. Just from my job sites meetings and typical job walks I literally became a cursing sailor overnight! It was simply crazy!

    So here I am plugging away in this completely new job environment and at first I’m loving it. For starters, I’m helping grow a family business, and two the pay was downright ridiculous, especially when the big bonuses kicked in. Everything seemed ideal and boy was I wrong.

    I guess I initially owe a lot of gratitude to a young kid named “Chris.” Chris was one of a few USC engineering grads I had the opportunity to hire to my Division, and I knew the day I might this 22 year old kid that something was special about him. Probably one of the smartest 22 year olds I’ve ever met in my life, but more importantly he just had this innate charisma and sense of direction for being so young. He really wasn’t that much older than me, but it sure as hell felt like it. Kid was mature beyond his years and could pretty much accomplish anything he set his mind to.

    Chris and I ultimately become really close friends. Even If I was his boss, that crap didn’t matter because we had a lot of things in common, especially when it came to our creative outlets and endeavors. Despite a rather brutal schedule at times, Chris always made time to drop by my office and talk a little bit on what he’s been reading lately (another reason we hit it off right away. we both absolutely LOVED to read). Another thing that fascinated me about “Chris” was love of technology. In his free time he was always trying to start up New Tech. Once again, another thing we were both passionate about, even if I did eventually leave Tech to pursue the family business and the City Center Project in Vegas.

    Ok really, I’m going to rap this up I promise. So as mentioned, “Chris” and I were always thinking about books and new technologies. I guess neither one of us really wanted to work for someone else the rest of our lives, even if I was in a family business this go around. I believe it was Chris that actually planted the Tim Ferriss seed in my head one day when we were chatting about work, life, etc. It might have been a few days to a week after our talk when I found myself in a bookstore staring at your 4HWW. As mentioned previously, I was just really intrigued and fascinated upon every page I turned. I took the book to “Chris,” and we discussed the book pretty much every week. The funny thing is though, the more “Chris” and I pursued our reading interests and your book outside of work, the more we began to despise our work and especially the culture of it. This is where you could say everything starting going downhill for me.

    Once the 4HWW seed was planted, I could never picture myself working a typical job again, especially working for someone else. Now don’t get me wrong I fulfilled my work obligations until the completion of City Center, as did “Chris,” before moving back to San Francisco to pursue new tech interests. As for me, I’ve been in a very stagnant rut the last 2 years. I really haven’t had to work and have done quite a bit of traveling with my girlfriend, but I’m really at a crossroads about what I should be doing career wise moving forward. I’ve read everything you write and I’m especially fond on watching your podcasts and interviews. You’re a very meticulous thinker, highly intelligent thinker, and I can see you’re a “measurer.” You have some sort of metrics setup for pretty all phases of you life and I find that fascinating. I know you’ve tried so new ventures, you’ve been pretty pretty involved in the Angel Investment game for a bit now, but I know deep down you a creative person no matter how measured and meticulous (maybe anal lol) you can be. It’s this creative drive in you that has kept me following all these years and I guess I’m just looking for inspiration myself. This crossroads is getting a bit frustrating and I really want to just dive head first into my next truly creative endeavor. Any encouraging words, ideas or simply TIm Ferriss wisdom would mean more than words could even explain.

    Once again, sorry. This was not brief nor succinct, bit of a rambling mess to be honest, but hey I’m glad I didn’t with the ultimately possibility to maybe connect to a few bits of advice and wisdom if you ever get the time. For that chance, this has all been worth it.

    Thank you kindly Tim if you actually do take the time to read this, would mean the world!

    Thank You

    D. Chase

  50. Hey Tim, how would you go about writing a research or term paper using your learning principles? How could one use DiSSS and CaFE to become a “world-class” researcher, especially in the field of social studies and history?