We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? My writing generally weaves together three strands of content. There’s some nugget of scientific research that I think is interesting and useful – maybe a study that I’ve just read about, or something which I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. Then, I also want to be clear on the practical advice that’s implied by that scientific insight. But there’s also the story or example that illustrates the topic. And my route into a new article or chapter can be any of those three; I start with whichever piece feels easiest and most exciting to get down on paper. When it’s the anecdote, I usually focus first on scraps of vivid language that an interviewee or client has used to describe a difficult situation. For the science and the advice, I will usually write in bullet points first – what my consulting colleagues used to call a “dot-dash” – to check the flow of the argument and ideas before I start investing in the bounce and feel of the language. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Absolutely. One thing that really helps me is to put on large noise-cancelling headphones. They dampen ambient noise and reduce distraction, allowing me to think more clearly. But they’ve also become something I associate with really getting into deep thinking mode. As a result, simply putting them on sends a clear signal to me that I’m about to focus on my work – making it easier to dive in. (I write about the science behind this in chapter 3 of my book, for those who are interested!) And I’ve had three writing soundtracks in recent years. There was a period where the only thing I listened to was Haydn string quartets. For a long while, I’ve worked with a playlist of rather sparse and instrumental “deep house” music. (I think the two genres have a lot in common, but that’s for a different type of interview.) But sometimes nothing but silence will do. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I always loved writing as a kid – especially science fiction, which I imagine was a surprise for my English teachers in the 1970s – and I was editor of my college yearbook and newsletter. I drifted away from writing as I built a career in economics. But after a few years, I had a job which was as much about writing as thinking: authoring the Bank of England’s Inflation Report. This was a publication analyzing and describing the state of the economy, so the writing was dry – yet I still loved it. And I learned many things that have served me well as a non-fiction writer. For example, the publication was so influential that bad syntax in a key sentence might end up moving financial markets in the wrong direction – so I learned the value of precision and clarity, and I learned what made a sentence easy or hard to read. (We even had to put our writing through a computer program to test the reading age required to understand it.) After reconnecting with my love of writing, I took every opportunity to write in real sentences rather than relying on PowerPoint slides. And once I’d written a couple of articles for the McKinsey Quarterly, I realized that it was time to bring writing back into the center of my life. That’s when I started work on the book, writing a four-page outline of something I wouldn’t finish for another four years. What’s the best writing advice that you have received? Lynda Gratton (Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, and author of 8 successful books) told me early in the process of writing my book that I would eventually need to make it my full-time job – at least for a few months. She was right; there really does come a point where you simply have to stop doing absolutely everything else, and say “right now, I am a writer, and my job is to write.” And her advice helped me recognize when it was time to disappear into the writing bunker. Meanwhile, Matt Lieberman (neuroscience professor at UCLA and author of Social) told me to look after myself physically while writing, reminding me to see exercise as an investment in my mental and emotional sharpness. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? At least four books encouraged me toward writing How to Have a Good Day. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely. To see such a book capture people’s imagination made me excited that behavioral economics was coming of age. Moreover, I saw that it was possible to make academically rigorous material fun and engaging. The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I loved the cross-disciplinary approach of this wise book, drawing from psychology and neuroscience and even ancient philosophy. Also, my husband wooed me with it – it was the first present he ever bought me. Your Brain at Work, by David Rock. This put neuroscience in the context of the workplace, and it was the first book that I’d seen do that. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. It was inspiring to see that such deep scientific concepts could excite a broad general audience. It helped too that I had heard him say that he’d found it tough to write the book. Since he’s a brilliant Nobel Prize laureate, that made me feel that it was okay for me to experience the occasional rough patch! And of course, it was all worth it. (I’m sure he feels that too.) Learn about how to Have a Good Day here.
For book lovers, snagging a summer internship in publishing is a very big deal. Now that it’s almost time to head back to school, we asked our interns about their experiences at Penguin Random House. DK Publicity Intern: Lauren Díaz Morgan After moving to New York City in hopes of beginning a career in publishing, I was overjoyed to be accepted to Penguin Random House’s Summer Internship Program. But when I found out that my summer assignment would be in Publicity with DK, a nonfiction imprint for children and adults, I grew a bit nervous. Though I had experience interning at my university press back in college, I knew nothing about publicity, and I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be to work with nonfiction titles. To my surprise and delight, I have found myself to be very happy both with my department and with DK. As a publicity intern, I am involved in reaching out to media outlets and generating interest in our books. This generally consists of brainstorming and researching outlets to which we can pitch our books; writing a press release that gives a brief summary of the book and explains why it is interesting, useful, or important; and mailing out a copy of the book along with a press release to each outlet, hoping that they will find it interesting enough to review. This can be especially fun at DK, where we publish such a wide array of titles. In one day, I can put together a press release and mailing for a book on cheese, another for a book about the Pope, and a third for a children’s sticker book. While I spend most of my time on the steps of this process, there are new tasks that pop up every day, whether they be helping to schedule an author tour or assisting with our holiday gift guide. Publicity is a new field for me, but I’ve learned so much in the past five weeks, and I’m glad to say that I’m really enjoying every day. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity with DK, and I’m eager to learn more as I continue working this summer.
Young Readers Production Intern: Denise ConejoAs an intern, working in production is like taking in the view from the top of the empire state building watching and observing the busy, bustling crowds below. I get a breadth of the publishing arc, I get to see it all happen and know the logistics of how it happens. While some may not appreciate the more business and formulaic side of publishing that production may well be it happens to fulfill my compulsive side to be neat and organized. A lot of my day to day tasks include working with excel sheets, excel sheets and some more excel sheets. They’re like the veins that keep production pumping. I help maintain sheets for estimates, royalties, trim size/page count, as well as updating statuses on SAP and Filemaker Pro for titles being reprinted. And then there’s digital, one of my favorite parts of production. This really surprised me because I’ve always hated reading books from a tablet. Regardless, I found that I enjoyed the immediacy of seeing the end product. It takes about a month to see a turnaround for an e-book, while it takes 6-9 months for a printed title! My tasks with digital production include writing memos to Aptara (the company who puts together the e-books) giving specific and detailed instructions on what we want the final product to look like. Once the files are made and returned to me, I check it to make sure it is exactly what we wanted. Afterwards, I circulate it to various departments where they give the “OK” or tell us what needs to be worked on. Easy! I’ve learned so much about the process of publishing already, so for the next and last 5 weeks of my internship I can only imagine how much more I will gain from the people who make this department work so smoothly.
Thanks to all our interns for all your hard work! You’ll be missed!
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? Reading out loud. As soon as I finish a chapter, I read it to my victim … ahem … husband. As a writer, I find when I read/write a chapter a few times over, my brain begins to to skim it. And reading out loud helps me to catch any mistakes I might have made. See? I used the word “to” twice in this question. It also helps with the rhythm. Writing should have rhythm. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? The very first thing I do is write the ending. If I start right at the beginning, I tend to veer off course and before I know it, I’m writing a completely different story (I have too many ideas and a short attention span). Writing the last scene first helps me have something to aim for, so I can get from point A to point B without hitting too many traffic cones. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I have “a zone.” When the headphones are on, I’m in the zone and should not be bothered, lest I throw the closest object on my desk across the room. I spend about half an hour to an hour (depending on the intensity of the narrative) with music blasting in my head, one that usually matches the scene. I always have to see it like a movie in my head before it reaches paper, so a soundtrack is pivotal. Then I do my damned best to think like that person, completely immerse myself (which can be hard, especially when writing a dark narrative). Then I need a proper half hour with music to ease myself out, I can’t be ripped away; it messes me up. That’s a lot of my creative process … some just call it madness. Oh, and caffeine. Lots and lots of caffeine. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? No, I didn’t. Writing came to me when I was at a period in my life of trying to save myself and clean up my life. It started for me while I was seeing a counselor. I’d go in, guns blazing, F this and F that and F this again. The therapist was a very conservative man who’d cringe every time I cursed or told a colorful story from my past. So he told me to write (I believe he said it hoping he wouldn’t have to hear me anymore). It was supposed to be a journal kind of thing, but I hated journaling. Writing about things I wanted to forget never helped me—it just ticked me off. So I wrote something fake (it’s still an existing chapter in my unpublished/first novel, The Assassin’s Keeper). He read it in silence and I waited, wondering if there were men outside with butterfly nets. When finished, he looked me right in my eyes and said, “That was the best ****ing thing I ever read.” After that, I wrote more and more, writing a good chunk of my first novel in his office. I haven’t stopped since. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Ellipses … I put them everywhere. The truth is, I don’t even know how to properly use them. I just put them in when the page looks a little sad … What’s the best piece of advice you have received? I’m a girl who goes to the beat of her own drum. A lot of the advice from the greats just don’t work for me: I can’t write every day, I DO wait until I’m in the mood, I don’t read while writing … To quote Lillian Hellman: “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.” Read more about Freedom’s Child here.