Nick Thompson — Editor In Chief of WIRED (#311)

“Procrastination is the enemy of good editing.”

– Nick Thompson

Nick Thompson (@nxthompson) is the editor in chief of WIRED. Under his leadership, Wired has launched a successful paywall, a Snapchat channel, and an AMP Stories edition; it has also been nominated for National Magazine Awards in design and feature writing.

Nick is a contributor for CBS News and regularly appears on CBS This Morning. He is also co-founder of The Atavist, a National Magazine Award-winning digital publication. Prior to joining Wired, Thompson served as editor of from 2012 to 2017.

Before The New Yorker, Nick was a senior editor at Wired, where he assigned and edited the feature story that was the basis for the Oscar-winning film Argo. In 2009, his book The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War was published to critical acclaim. In February 2018, Thompson co-wrote WIRED’s cover story Inside the Two Years That Shook Facebook — and the World, an 11,000-word investigation based on reporting with more than 50 current and former Facebook employees.

In this conversation, we cover a wide range of topics, questions, and skills, including:

  • What makes a good pitch?
  • How does a good features writer (or editor) “map” a story?
  • How does writing get optioned for feature film, and what are important deal points?
  • How can publishers (and website or blog owners) hire and pay good long-form writers?
  • And much more…

Please enjoy!

Nick Thompson — Editor In Chief of WIRED

Want to hear another podcast with an influencer in the media? — Listen to my conversation with Ezra Klein. In this episode, we discuss influencing the rules of the game by which this country is run (overall politics — not partisan), how Ezra lost 60 pounds, and his ascension into the ranks of the most respected media companies in the world (stream below or right-click here to download):

#208: Ezra Klein -- From College Blogger to Political Powerhouse

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Nick Thompson:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

Show Notes

  • What prompted one man to leave Nick’s reading at a bookstore in Wisconsin? [06:32]
  • Nick’s best practices for busking in New York. [07:35]
  • Why did Nick choose writing instead of music as a full-time career? [11:20]
  • Nick describes how he got tracked into journalism in “a slightly odd way.” [13:04]
  • Nick gets kidnapped busking in Africa. [16:57]
  • How did Nick pitch his kidnapping story to the Washington Post? [19:49]
  • The grading process for pitches at Wired under Chris Anderson, and how the story that formed the basis for Oscar-winning film Argo came to be — in spite of being graded poorly. [21:25]
  • How does a writer make a good pitch? [25:38]
  • Are story length and deadline part of the pitching process? [28:18]
  • What does “TK” mean to a writer, how is it useful, and why is it spelled that way? [28:59]
  • How (and why) does Nick’s pitch grading process differ from Chris Anderson’s? [30:04]
  • Commonly unanswered questions in a pitch. [30:55]
  • What deal points are important to Nick when a story is in the process of being optioned for film, and how might a writer maximize the chance of a story getting optioned? [32:16]
  • What can a writer do to protect a story from getting locked up in option limbo or poached? [35:20]
  • How does a writer get an agent? [39:12]
  • The lessons Nick learned at about what an audience really wants from long-form magazine stories and more ephemeral Web content. [40:50]
  • How does a prospective magazine or publisher calculate fair payment to a writer for a long-form story? [45:29]
  • What is Nick’s process for editing the work of world-class writers? [52:51]
  • How does someone develop a keen eye as a writer or editor? [57:27]
  • What you can learn about structure by mapping a story — as an editor, writer, or reader. [59:13]
  • When he’s got a whiteboard in front of him, how does Nick organize his map of a story? [1:01:32]
  • My recommendation for people interested in structure and story mapping. [1:02:25]
  • How John McPhee plays into Nick’s story at The New Yorker. [1:03:28]
  • How a manhunt led to Nick’s entry in the startup game. [1:06:51]
  • Why Nick runs to and from work every day. [1:13:25]
  • Nick’s fight with thyroid cancer. [1:15:33]
  • When journalism doesn’t work, there’s always law school. Nick talks about overcoming periods of self-doubt. [1:19:16]
  • How did Wired find Nick and lure him away from law school? [1:23:13]
  • What books does Nick give most often as gifts? [1:28:36]
  • What new behavior, belief, or event had the most positive impact on Nick’s life? [1:30:24]
  • Does Nick observe any particular mindfulness or meditation routine? [1:32:14]
  • What would Nick’s billboard say? [1:34:09]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:35:51]

People Mentioned

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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17 Replies to “Nick Thompson — Editor In Chief of WIRED (#311)”

  1. Comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis would be an awesome guest for your podcast. I can possibly help with contact as he is my neighbor.

  2. I loved this interview – wide-ranging, open, engaging and fun. Also want to say I appreciate the excellent show-notes and links that come with every podcast. Thank you!

  3. Hi Tim,

    A lot of valuable information in this podcast. It’s the first time I am introduced to Nick Thompson and although I’m not the biggest fan of stories, just as in the Joe Gebbia episode, one good story makes part of the podcast, personal, and another part more tactical.

    Although there wasn’t any type of specific process explained, the information is really valuable for anyone who is willing to follow-up on the suggestions, especially on writing and mapping stories.

    Thanks and looking forward to content similar to this one.


  4. This has little to do with this particular blog post (though it’s lovely), but I wanted to let you know that your book Tools of Titans has greatly improved my understanding of my husband. I am married to a serial entrepreneur (I really think this is an addiction for him) but I am a play-it-safe, risk-averse individual. Not surprisingly, this has caused tension even though, thanks to him, we live a lovely life. Your book (his buy of course) has really increased my understanding and appreciation for him, as well as made me more risk-loving. (Okay maybe “loving” is a strong word but “open” is definitely true.) In particular the bit about getting only 70 or so tiny years of this billion-year universe … that got me. Why spend it afraid? Anyway, I really think you should do a podcast or a book or something about “Marriage to an Entrepreneur” … I think there’s a reason many entrepreneurs seem to have a difficult time finding lasting relationships, but I don’t think it has to be this way. Hit me up if you want help with this!

  5. Tim, as a journalist and author myself, I LOVED this conversation – and not just because of Nick’s openness and generosity sharing his expertise and experiences. Some big kudos to you, too, because you are a great interviewer (and I’m picky!). I think this comes from your own natural curiousity and humility. Too many interviewers, regardless of platform, simply can’t keep their own egos out of the process. Thank you for continuing to find great guests and allowing them to tell their stories. Christine.

    PS. $2 a word – I can do that!

  6. Tim – Thanks for an inspiring interview crammed with useful tips!

    Can I make a suggestion for your potential long-form writing project? How about a competition, or “Tim Ferriss Writing Prize” open to all?? Those of us who are keen writers just starting out but lacking experience/publishing credits would jump at the opportunity.

  7. Absolutely loved this Tim, fascinating and so much useful information. Kudos to you on your project and supporting long form content. So much needed!


  8. Tim

    Great podcast. Top 5 for me. Thank you for sharing Nick. Appreciated. Looking for a writer, researcher etc. I would like to put my pen up!

  9. Tim, another great episode!

    Sticking in my mind is this question of producing good, meaty content that will get eyeballs on the internet. As an academic-turned-freelance-writer I’m constantly wrestling with editors to get them on the side of long-form content and away from the dreaded listicle. A battle that I’m losing, unfortunately.

    In any case, would love to chat about those stories that are eating up all that RAM in the back of your mind 🙂 … I’m a performance psychologist (studied the psychology and neuroscience of rituals for my PhD) and I’d be willing to bet the we’re losing precious RAM to the same sorts of quirky and cool ideas. Would love to hear more. All the best!


  10. Just a quick suggestion/request. Could you label the book recommendations? While I eventually found them (could not remember the titles nor authors), if I had a note stating that these two were the books recommended, it would have made finding them a lot easier. Not a huge thing though. Great interview!

  11. Another good one. Thanks, Tim. You mentioned writing for you,. I’d be interested. I’ve published six books on subjects from programming to persuasion, and have been writing the Changing Minds website since 2002.

  12. Hi Tim, This was such a great episode — thank you for putting it together! Every question I found myself asking you asked seconds later. I couldn’t agree more with Nick that terrible experiences make the best stories. And as someone working on a book, I found the material about literary agents super helpful. Maybe a little discouraging, but that’s O.K. because I have wine on hand.

    Do you think Nick does morning pages?

    Lots of well wishes from New Hampshire,


  13. Hey I was wondering what chrome extension Nick used when writing, might be in your benefit to run your podcast through some automatic scribe program for an entire transcript of the episode so I could just command + f for that very specific section.

  14. Interesting quote from Paul Graham though this part- Physics seems to us a promising thing to work on, and alchemy and theology obvious wastes of time. – I couldn’t disagree with him more. Much to explore and learn from alchemy and theology, just not what you might expect when you begin your journey. Why limit your journey? Push against your preconceptions and biases, listen to where they push back. No waste of time here.

  15. Hi Tim,

    I’d be honored if you will take sixty seconds to read this note.

    My name is Joe, and I’d like to offer to write one piece of longform content for you – for no payment. You can have all rights to the content. And if you like what you have, my hope is that you will consider me for future content.

    Can I help you bring to life the story of one of the “endlessly fascinating” characters you’ve encountered?

    I know you are extremely busy and may not be able to respond, but if I can assist you in a longform project, I would be truly honored!

    Joe S[Moderator: full last name withheld.]