Hi <<First Name>>,


Reading and writing are largely invisible activities; while we all tangibly look the same when we’re doing it, our brains are likely doing entirely different things. Naturally, since we can’t see each other doing it, it’s not as easy to practice and improve beyond the physical differences; that’s why books and seeing other people talk about their processes is so valuable. We don’t get stuck in our own habits of doing things — we get new ideas, try new practices, and improve. 


Working by Robert Caro


Given the numerous direct recommendations, and all of his accolades, I didn’t need to read the books to guess that Robert Caro was a really good writer. In absolutely uncharacteristic fashion, Robert Caro wrote a book with a page count that doesn’t compete with all seven volumes of Harry Potter. After reading this article about his research process, I had to buy his book on working — and was rewarded very well for it. I learned a lot about his writing process, and his focus on providing the reader with a sense of place and details. “Show, don’t tell,” is a very simple rule to speak, and in this book Caro shows us how to actually do it.




On slowing down: When I decided to write a book, and, beginning to realize the complexity of the subject, realized that a lot of thinking would be required—thinking things all the way through, in fact, or as much through as I was capable of—I determined to do something to slow myself down, to not write until I had thought things through. That was why I resolved to write my first drafts in longhand, slowest of the various means of committing thoughts to paper, before I started doing later drafts on the typewriter; that is why I still do my first few drafts in longhand today; that is why, even now that typewriters have been replaced by computers, I still stick to my Smith-Corona Electra 210. And yet, even thus slowed down, I will, when I'm writing, set myself the goal of a minimum of a thousand words a day, and, as the chart I keep on my closet door attests, most days meet it.


On biographies: From the very start I thought of writing biographies as a means of illuminating the times of the men I was writing about and the great forces that molded those times—particularly the force that is political power.


On workplace: I went around and asked superintendents in the nearby buildings if they had a small room to rent as an office, and found a tiny one, a cinderblock room in a basement, for a little money.


On facts: In my defense: while I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts—through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing—can’t be rushed; it takes time. Truth takes time. But that's a logical way of justifying that quality in me.


On interviews: Silence is the weapon, silence and people's need to fill it—as long as the person isn't you, the interviewer… When I'm waiting for the person I'm interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of ”SUs” there.


On providing a sense of place: If a reader can visualize them for himself, then he may be able to understand things without the writer having to explain them; seeing something for yourself always makes you understand it better.


On stopping earlier: I always start each day by reading what I wrote the previous day, and more and more frequently when I reread the stuff I wrote in the late afternoon the day before, it was no good and I had to throw it out. So there was no sense in working late; I stop earlier now.


How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren


I’ve had this book on my shelf for nearly eight years, and picked it up multiple times but never gave it a full read. My excuse is a simple one: it’s neither the most entertaining nor the simplest book to get through. Fortunately, it came back up again recently in my life, and I decided to spend an hour a day reading this ( getting my Charlie Munger on!). It was a really rewarding book; as with all rewarding things, I wished I’d read it earlier! I got a lot out of this book, and it’s upgraded my practice of reading. If you were to pick one of these three books, I’d recommend this one — if only for the fact you’ll get so much more out of everything else you read, and save time from reading things you don’t really need to.




On learning: Reading and listening are thought of as receiving communication from someone who is actively engaged in giving or sending it. The mistake here is to suppose that receiving communication is like receiving a blow or a legacy or a Judgment from the court. On the contrary, the reader or listener is much more like the catcher in a game of baseball.


On reading: Thus we can roughly define what we mean by the art of reading as follows: the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations.


On difficult books: In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.


On speed reading: The mind, that astounding instrument, can grasp a sentence or even a paragraph at a "glance"—if only the eyes will provide it with the information it needs.


On reading speeds: Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension.


On taking notes: Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake—not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.


Six steps to get the most of a book in a short time:

  1. Look at the title page and, if the book has one, at its preface.
  2. Study the table of contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip.
  3. Check the index if the book has one—most expository works do. Make a quick estimate of the range of topics covered and of the kinds of books and authors referred to. When you see terms listed that seem crucial, look up at least some of the passages cited… Can you identify, for example, by the number of references under them, any others that also seem important?
  4. If the book is a new one with a dust jacket, read the publisher’s blurb… Perhaps the book does not say anything of importance—and that is why the blurb does not say anything, either.
  5. Look now at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to its argument. If these chapters have summary statements in their opening or closing pages, as they often do, read these statements carefully.
  6. Turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that… Above all, do not fail to read the last two or three pages, or, if these are an epilogue, the last few pages of the main part of the book. Few authors are able to resist the temptation to sum up what they think is new and important about their work in these pages. You do not want to miss this, even though, as sometimes happens, the author himself may be wrong in his judgment. 

Four questions to ask as you read a book:

  1. What is the book about as a whole?
  2. What is being said in detail and how?
  3. Is this book true, in whole or part?
  4. What of it?

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg


This book is really great for anyone interested in writing more, writing better, or both. I love the focus on the writer’s craft, and really the life of someone who chooses creative work and craft as their vocation. Goldberg’s book is full of spirit, as well as very practical advice for the very invisible craft of writing. 




On love: A friend once told me: “Trust in love and it will take you where you need to go.” I want to add, "Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.” And don't worry too much about security. You will eventually have a deep security when you begin to do what you want. How many of us with our big salaries are actually secure anyway?


On comfort: Sometimes people buy expensive hardcover journals. They are bulky and heavy, and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay. Give yourself a lot of space in which to explore writing. A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another. Also, it is easy to carry.


On handwriting: I have found that when I am writing something emotional, I must write it the first time directly with hand on paper. Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart. Yet, when I tell stories, I go straight to the typewriter.


On tools: Choose your tools carefully, but not so carefully that you get uptight or spend more time at the stationery store than at your writing table.


On first thoughts: First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.


On ideals: My rule is to finish a notebook a month. (I'm always making up writing guidelines for myself.) Simply to fill it. That is the practice. My ideal is to write every day. I say it is my ideal. I am careful not to pass judgment or create anxiety if I don't do that. No one lives up to his ideal.


On experience: Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.


On unconditional writing: In a sense, this is how we should write. Not asking “Why?,” not delicately picking among candies (or spark plugs), but voraciously, letting our minds eat up everything and spewing it out on paper with great energy. We shouldn't think, "This is a good subject for writing.” "This we shouldn't talk about.” Writing is everything, unconditional.


On letting go: Let go of everything when you write, and try at a simple beginning with simple words to express what you have inside. It won’t begin smoothly. Allow yourself to be awkward. You are stripping yourself.


6 rules for writing:

  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don't pause to reread the line you have just written. That's stalling and trying to get control of what you're saying.)
  2. Don't cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn't mean to write, leave it.)
  3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.

    (Don't even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don't think. Don't get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)


I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.




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