Atomic HabitsDesigning your life to get what you want.
with James Clear
Listen to the Audio Interview ︎
James on Twitter
Did you get in touch with an agent, or did they get in touch with you?
My situation was a little of both. I started writing articles on jamesclear.com in November 2012 and by 2014 I was occasionally getting emails from publishers or agents who were curious if I wanted to write a book. The woman who ended up becoming my agent (1) reached out to me after reading my articles and (2) was recommended by a friend who had worked with her before. We chatted on the phone once or twice and decided to go for it.
When do you know, during the writing process, if a book is turning out well?
Well, this is my first book, so I guess I'll withhold judgment until I learn more. But I can tell you when I feel an article is going well.
My style of writing combines three things: interesting stories, scientific research, and practical takeaways. I rarely write an article unless I feel like a good idea or practical takeaway to share, so that's my starting line. If my idea isn't supported by evidence, then I'll often scrap it. Assuming it passes that threshold, then I start looking for a story to bring it all together.
When I find a story that feels like it "clicks" with the practical takeaway... that's when I can tell an article is turning out well. There is sort of this magical feeling that arises when the connection between two previously separated things becomes clear.
Having said that, I'm always surprised by which articles take off. It's very hard to predict which pieces will gain steam or "go viral." So, even if ti feels like an article is turning out well, it doesn't mean it will become popular.
How did other people support you during the writing process?
Too many ways to count. The Acknowledgements section of Atomic Habits mentions dozens and dozens of people from my wife and family to editors to early readers who provided feedback and more. My name is on the cover, but in many ways this is more of a group project. It would have been impossible for me to write this book alone. The finished product would have been totally different.
What tools helped you write and publish?
I do most of my writing in Evernote. That's where I write all of my articles.
Pretty early in the book writing process, however, I realized that Evernote was a terrible place to write a book. It's too big.
I switched to Scrivener for most of the writing process and that was helpful. The software is designed for book writing and you can tell.
However, once the first draft was finished I had to export the entire manuscript to a Word doc. Microsoft Word is still the standard in the publishing industry and that's what my publisher works with as well. As a result, all of the revisions after the first draft were made in Word.
What do you know now, for your next book?
There have been many lessons, large and small. Here are two of them:
1) I love writing, but I hate writing on a deadline. Writing under the pressure of being on a contract and having a publisher expecting something from me was incredibly stressful for me. I'm happy with the book, but I hated that process. For the next one, I'm going to try to write as much of it as possible before I sign a book deal.
2) A book can take many different forms. My first draft of Atomic Habits was a monster. It was over 700 pages and 214,000 words. That's crazy long. The finished product ended up a much more trim 250 pages.
All of that writing was a lot of extra effort. I don't think it has to be that way. There are brilliant books (The War of Art and The Lessons of History both come to mind) that are concise and compelling and easy to read in an hour or two. For my next project, I wonder about writing something short.
But who knows, maybe that's not my style and creating a comprehensive guide on a particular topic (like Atomic Habits) is more my natural speed. We'll see.