Sep 7, 2015
Welcome to The Writer Files, a tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of renowned writers — from online content creators, to fictionists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and beyond.
Great writing is more vital and in demand than it’s ever been.
But sometimes writers get stuck — the right words don t appear, we get distracted, or worse, lose interest in our work — and that s when the solitary nature of writing can become a curse.
I m here to remind you that all writers have moments of doubt, feelings of ineffectiveness, and droughts where the words won t flow.
For writers like you and I to stay productive, creative, and sane, sometimes we just need to take a look at how other scribes find ways keep the ink flowing and the cursor moving.
In this episode, I want share the file of prolific online publisher, Demian Farnworth.
Between the writing he does for Copyblogger, his personal blog, and his two podcasts that regularly land at the top of iTunes, he promises to … deliver the essential writing advice you need to succeed online.
In this 32-minute file Demian Farnworth and I discuss:
Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...
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Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.
Kelton Reid: These are The Writer Files, a tour through the habits, habitats, and brains of working writers — from online content creators, to fictionists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and beyond.
I’m your host, Kelton Reid, Director of Multimedia Production for Copyblogger Media. I’ve been there in the trenches — from indie screenwriter to online content creator — and I know the battle of the blank page. I’ll be the first to admit that writers are a pretty weird bunch, but we’ve been looked at as conjurers for thousands of years for our abilities to give meaning to thoughts, tell amazing stories, and even sell things. From Aristotle to Don Draper, great scribes have been hailed as heroes since the invention of charcoal.
Lucky for you and I, the art of great writing at this critical time in history is more vital and in demand than it’s ever been, but sometimes writers get stuck. The right words don’t appear. We get distracted, or worse, lose interest in our work, and that’s when the solitary nature of writing can be a curse.
I’m here to remind you that all writers have moments of doubt, feelings of ineffectiveness, and droughts where the words aren’t flowing. For writers like you and I to stay productive, creative, and sane, sometimes we just need to step away from our keyboards. That’s where The Writer Files comes in. We’ll take a look around and see how other scribes keep the ink flowing and the cursor moving without losing their minds. We may learn a few things about our own process along the way.
In this episode, I want to share the file of Copyblogger’s Chief Content Writer, Demian Farnworth. Demian’s a prolific online publisher who’s storied career has spanned from consultant to senior web copywriter and even managing editor for a print magazine. His mission statement is to write clear, concise, and compelling copy. Between the writing he does for Copyblogger, his own personal blog, and his two podcasts that regularly land at the top of iTunes, he promises to “Deliver the essential writing advice you need to succeed online.”
Let’s flip through file of prolific writer and podcaster Demian Farnworth.
Greetings, Demian. I thought it only appropriate to have you on the show because of our shared work on The Writer Files written interview series over at Copyblogger.com, where you are still a contributing editor to the series, which is very cool. Now, we both have podcasts here on Rainmaker.FM.
Demian Farnworth: Thank you. Yeah, I love doing The Writer Files because it’s a great set of questions. Every time that I do one, the people whom I interview come back with “that was the best interview I’ve ever done.” I’m like, “I’ve got to give Kelton credit because I didn’t come up with the questions.” Of course, the premise is from the Proust Questionnaire.
I love doing them, too, because they’re not your typical questions about business, and because we’re in the field of marketing, you can ask the same questions. For me, because it’s The Writer Files, I always enjoy hearing about people outside of their business: “I know that you are many dimensions, so show me more of that.”
So that s the reason I like doing those — people walking away and thinking, “That was a great interview.” So, well done. Thank you for sharing that with me.
Kelton Reid: Absolutely. It made perfect sense, and you were a good fit for that, and I really love the work that you’ve been doing on it as well. I think we should get into the file of one Demian Farnworth. What do you say? Game?
Demian Farnworth: I’m game. Thank you.
Kelton Reid: Let’s talk a little bit about you, the author. Who are you, and what is your area of expertise?
Demian Farnworth: The short answer is that I was, or am, a poet who figured out how to make money writing online so that I could make a living and raise a family. I fell in love with marketing and through Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, realized that what I loved doing — which was writing — I was capable of continuing to do it. I could sustain it through what I did in that I didn’t have to succumb to a sense of “this is stale business stuff.” I could actually treat it as art but have it still be useful and still be meaningful to people who have problems and are looking for solutions.
Kelton Reid: I love Cialdini’s Influence, also, and I’ll link to that in the show notes. Where can we find your writing?
Demian Farnworth: Copyblogger.com. I think if you look up ‘Demian Farnworth,’ you could find all my articles there. I also have a personal website called The Copybot. That’s TheCopybot.com. Of course, you can listen to my writing on my podcast, Rough Draft, where it’s a daily short show about the craft of writing online.
Kelton Reid: What are you working on right now, Demian?
Demian Farnworth: I’m working on the show. My thought behind the show was I want it short. I want it daily. I want it sequential. I’m treating it like, everything that I’ve learned over the years, I want to systematize it — like start from the very beginning and work through as if I was having a conversation with people.
About two or three times out of the week, I write scripts for that and then I record on Fridays. Then also I’m working with Jerod on the show The Lede. We’re doing great little series. We’re calling it the Hero Versus Villains series, where we take popular concepts in the business and marketing world and debate those from a hero position or a villain position. That’s been a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of research, too.
Of course, I’m also focusing on what they call ‘adaptive content’ this year for the Copyblogger blog, and that’s a work in progress. It’s probably going to be a year-long adventure because it’s very new to me and it hasn’t quite been defined, so it’s a bit complicated. I’m finding my way through it. We’re out in front of that trend, so we’re getting the chance to define it. That’s been a lot of fun to do, too.
Kelton Reid: Let’s spin through a little bit about your productivity. How much time per day do you read or do research?
Demian Farnworth: I want to say three, four, five hours. I mean, I wouldn’t say there’s defined time, because everything that I do read, whether books or blogs, is research in my mind. But if there’s acute research where I’m working on a project, probably about two or three hours a day.
Kelton Reid: Before you fire up the MacBook or typewriter, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?
Demian Farnworth: I like to work in the morning. I’m just genuinely freshest in the morning, most clear in thinking, probably most productive. I like to spend probably an hour, an hour and a half, reading and meditating and just getting my head clear. Then once that’s done, I get up. I eat — probably I’m drinking coffee, of course — and then I just sit down and write.
Kelton Reid: That brings me to our next question, which is, what is your most productive locale for your writing?
Demian Farnworth: I guess my desk. I feel very comfortable, like I’m a creature of habit. I like routine, so I like writing at my desk, but I can certainly find different places in our house to do that or at the local coffee shop as long as I get headphones on. Probably my favorite location is my desk in my office in my basement.
Kelton Reid: Do you prefer any particular music or silence while you write?
Demian Farnworth: I like music. I guess just it depends. I remember Jon Morrow — his answer to this question is “silence” because there’s a certain cadence to writing, and I agree with him. But I find my productivity sometimes goes up when I’ve got the right music and the right cadence.
Like if I’m working on a rough draft or a first draft of something, it’s usually something that’s like a drum-storm, driving type of fast-moving where it’s pushing me forward and I’m moving forward. But then when I’m in that more careful, precision phase where I’m editing, I like to listen to more instrumental work by Richard James, who’s also known as Aphex Twin for some background. I also like — and I may butcher the name — the Icelandic band Sigur Rós.
Kelton Reid: Oh, yeah. I like those guys.
Demian Farnworth: Right. I like that. I don’t understand what they’re saying, so it s not like it interferes with my thinking, but it’s very beautiful. It’s melodic and beautiful.
Which phase I’m in determines what kind of music. Sometimes I will just shut everything off and write in silence, but that’s unusual. I like music, and I think that in a lot of ways, I treat like my writing as music. I think a keyboard — my keyboard, my laptop — is not any different than the keyboard on a piano.
Kelton Reid: I’m going to have to steal that. How many hours a day would you say you spend writing, and I’m not including email?
Demian Farnworth: I try to get started about 8:00, but it’s usually more like 8:30, sometimes 9:00. I’ll push through till 12, to 1, till 2, depending on how much I have to do and to get done. Of course, there are breaks in between there. My prevailing philosophy about writing is — I share this with a lot of people — keep your bottom in the seat. It’s also to just push yourself.
I’m not really into this idea of having work for 33 minutes and then take a three-minute break or whatever — the Eugene Schwartz technique where you have prescribed times. I let what needs to be done dictate that. I reward myself, so I’ll say, “Once I get to this section, I can go up and use the restroom,” or “Once I’ve nailed this closing, then I can get up and go get something to eat.” I bait myself to finish certain work and reward myself then.
This is the long way of saying — to answer your question — it could be anywhere from two, three, four to six hours a day. It just depends on the demand of what I’m working on.
Kelton Reid: Sure. Do you feel like you write every day?
Demian Farnworth: I do. I don’t typically write on the weekends, though. I feel like I need that break, and I appreciate that break. Sometimes I will break that rule, but I like to completely separate myself from what I’m working on over the weekend.
Kelton Reid: All right, this is the tough one. Do you believe in writer’s block?
Demian Farnworth: No, I don’t. I don’t believe in it because I think that it’s a cop-out to say that there’s writer’s block. I mean, sure, we struggle with the ability to say what we want to say. We all struggle with the idea of like, “This is a dumb idea, so I’m not going to write it.” Or we just don’t have anything to say, so we’re not going to write.
I think writer’s block is this idea of, “I need to write something, but I can’t write it.” If I feel like I’m in that position, then I clearly have not done enough research. It s that old Abraham Lincoln saying where he says, “If I’m going to chop down a tree, I’ll spend 90 percent of the time sharpening the saw,” or I think that’s what he said — or the axe, whatever it is. Almost everything comes really easily if you over-prepare, so that’s what I tend to do. So if I feel like I don’t have anything to say about this, it’s clear I have not done my homework.
Kelton Reid: Let’s talk a little bit about your workflow. What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?
Demian Farnworth: I think that it’s a MacBook Air, and it’s the 13-inch screen, and that’s the extent of what I know.
Kelton Reid: I won’t push you on that one. What software do you use most for your writing work?
Demian Farnworth: I like to work inside WordPress. If like I’m working on something for our blog, whether it’s our blog or my own blog, I will work in WordPress so that we automatically have the code behind the links and all that if I need to share the text version of it. That’s the preferred way, to work straight in WordPress. If I need to, I ll work in Word, and of course, sometimes I work in Google Docs and on the platform medium, but that’s more copy/paste stuff than anything.
Kelton Reid: Do you have any best practices for beating procrastination?
Demian Farnworth: I think the only thing that I can say to that is that I just do it. Procrastination does not discriminate between something I really want to work on versus something I don’t want to work on. It’ll occur, but it’s more, I think, just laziness than anything. I know that I’ve got to do it, and that’s why I’m a routine guy. I need to sit down. I have my time. I ve got to work, and I ve got to do the work. I know that it’s not going to go away, so I just need to deal with it.
I just tell myself, “Whether you want to do this or not, you have to do it.” If it’s something I want to do, I’ll do it first so it’s done and I don’t have it hanging over my head. Other than that, it’s just “sit down and do the work.”
Kelton Reid: This is a broad question, but how do you stay organized? Do you have any mad science or methods? I know I’ve seen some photos of your office.
Demian Farnworth: Well, yeah. When I do research, the process is like this. As I mentioned, over-prepare. So you’ve got notes scattered everywhere, whether they’re written or in Evernote. Then organize. Bring those notes together. Codify them into one platform, like Evernote.
Then I transfer them into the whiteboard so that I can start to see them and see them in place and how these pieces are going to fit in together. Typically, that occurs when I’m working on something that’s large and sequential and long-term. For example, when I did the native advertising series or the Google+ series, that was my very precise procedure because I knew that I had six or seven articles to write on that. I had a lot of material, and I wanted to see how everything fit into place. It’s word-based storyboarding, is the way I’d probably describe it.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Demian Farnworth: I can see it, and then I can just move parts around and say, “That’s going to go there,” and then pile it. That’s how I would organize my work.
Kelton Reid: Okay. The last question about your workflow is, how do you unplug at the end of the day?
Demian Farnworth: That’s a good question. I try to get up and leave my office, and I try to leave my phone behind and everything. Then I go spend time with my son or my daughter or go for a run or go read a book completely unrelated to work. It’s really those three things: run, play with the family, or read.
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All right, let’s talk a little bit about creativity. How do you define creativity in your own words?
Demian Farnworth: That’s a good one. I think creativity is really just bringing two, divergent ideas together. I mean, being creative is experimenting and putting pieces together until they work. That’s such a hard one. I think it was T.S. Eliot who described what a poem was. His metaphor was a chemical reaction where two different elements come together and create something totally new. I think I’ve always probably defaulted back to that definition of creation, creativity. Implicit in that is that idea of experimentation and play and failure, but at the same time enjoying that until you get to a place like, “Aha, that finally works.”
Kelton Reid: Okay, so on that note, who or what is your Muse at the moment?
Demian Farnworth: Probably music. As a writer, I can’t get away from the connection that when I’m writing something, I want to create an image in someone’s head that they would see with their mind’s eye that could be compared to the way music appears in people’s heads. When I think about the people who inspire me, it’s almost always musicians. Now, I have my favorite writers, but musicians really inspire me because I think there’s something about music that I would like to be able to do, but create as a writer. I don’t play any instruments, so I have to pretend like I play the keyboard or something.
Kelton Reid: Right, back to your initial metaphor, which I love. Can you share a favorite inspirational quote?
Demian Farnworth: I don’t think it’s inspirational, but my favorite quote for sure has to be Will Rogers. He said, “Never miss an opportunity to shut up.” I say that’s inspirational in a sense because I need to be inspired to listen to people versus always being forceful and being the first one to speak and being quick to answer. I’m inspired by the idea of being silent and letting other people speak and tuning in on who they are, so you only do that when you’re quiet.
Kelton Reid: Well put. What makes a writer great in your opinion?
Demian Farnworth: Not giving up. I think that’s cheesy, but the reason I say that is because I go back to this idea. I m like, “So let s define what a great writer is. It s someone who, in my mind, passes the test of time — so has a legacy, has longevity, and what they’re saying applies universally. Now, I know in our field, that’s hard to get to because a lot of times, what we’re dealing with is just superficial, time-dominated issues. We could write something that is really meaningless a year later because the industry has changed in some sense.
I think a writer is great when they have legs, and they can write about anything, and they write well about it. It’s meaningful, and it leaves a taste in your mouth.
Demian Farnworth: I think the only way you can get there is if you persevere and if you don’t give up because in the end, it’s really a war of attrition. The episode of Rough Draft for this day is basically describing the state of affairs online and the fact that most people don’t read what you write, yet you have to be okay with it and you have to write anyway.
A great writer, I think, is someone who says, “Okay, that’s the environment in which I have to work, so now I have to ask myself, ‘Am I okay with that?'” They have to ask that ‘why’ question. “Why am I doing this? If things are so bleak, why am I doing this?” Then they persevere through that because eventually, you have to master that and become someone who’s well-read and well-respected. You have to persevere, and you have to continue and — I say ‘war of attrition’ — to rise above the noise.
Eventually you gain traction. A lot of times, you see people who start out, and they’ve got great traction, but for one reason or another, they stop or they have to quit. So they just die out. They don’t reach the potential that they can reach because they didn’t persevere for whatever reason.
It’s perseverance that ultimately makes a great writer. I mean, I think about Herman Melville and Moby Dick. He died a penniless stock merchant, and it wasn’t until like 70 years later that people realized the genius of Moby Dick. He had said, “I wrote the gospel of the ages but nobody is paying attention.” Yet he still wrote. He still wrote within that. I admire that. I think that’s what makes a writer great. Of course, the quality of the writing has to be good.
Kelton Reid: Do you have a couple of favorite writers at the moment, online or offline?
Demian Farnworth: I admire people like Joan Didion, William Faulkner, and Christopher Hitchens. I admire people who have taken the language and have used it in such a way that inspires and is beautiful — like Christopher Hitchens, for example. I like him because of the way he challenged the status quo, and he made just as many friends as he made enemies. Yet he wrote, and he wrote well. He studied people. I like to also read a lot of 16th and 17th century writers too — I don’t know if I’m going to get this right, but Montaigne.
Then online — that’s a good question about current writers you might enjoy because most of what I do online is all research-related. David Sedaris is another guy — he doesn’t write online, of course — but David Sedaris is another guy that I like a lot. I like his writing.
When it comes to online writers, the people who I really admire, I think, are a lot of the long-form journalists who tell really good stories. I always fall into those. There s guys like, I think, Michael Kruse. He’s down in Tampa Bay. He started the website Gangrey, which is promoting the idea of long-form journalism and trying to keep it alive. Those guys who do that stuff, I always admire.
Kelton Reid: Let’s finish up with some fun ones. Who is your favorite literary character? I know you mentioned a few.
Demian Farnworth: I would have to think of probably the most recent one — Hazel Motes, which is in Flannery O’Connor’s book. I think it’s Wise Blood. The reason I mentioned him is because a friend and I, we discussed what an awful character he is, but I think we could all could relate to him in some sense because he was religious, but he fought. I mean, he did some awful things. I think of memorable characters, and I always think of him as a memorable character. Of course, anything by Dostoevsky — any character that Dostoevsky writes about, I think, is a memorable character.
Kelton Reid: If you could have dinner, all expenses paid at your favorite restaurant in the world with one author, living or dead, who would you choose?
Demian Farnworth: I would probably choose William Faulkner because I think he is the writer whom I admire the most. He’s probably one of the most difficult writers to read in some cases, too, but he also wrote some very compelling, very clear, very simple stories, too. I am not sure that it would be interesting to have dinner with him because if you meet most writers, I think they’re just not socially agile people unless they get sauced up. Anyway, William Faulkner.
Kelton Reid: Let’s go to who or what has been your greatest teacher in writing or life?
Demian Farnworth: I have to say probably my wife because of the way she helped me develop as a writer. It’s that, “behind every great man ” And I’m not suggesting by any means that I’m a great man, but any success that I have, I can point back to my wife. She’s been the person who’s encouraged me and been the fire underneath my seat to get things done. I’ve looked at her and her encouragement and teaching me to continue in spite of obstacles and rejection and just doing things. We all deal with this stuff, but you continue to move on and not to be so overwhelmed by that stuff. She’s been a great teacher.
Kelton Reid: What is your biggest writer’s fetish?
Demian Farnworth: Fetish. My biggest writer’s fetish. Man
Kelton Reid: If you need some help, mine is vintage typewriters. Most writers have some secret thirst. They collect first editions or self-help books. I feel like every writer I’ve ever met has some strange collection or writing-related fetish — pictures of great writers over their desks like deities.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, so this is lame, but it would have to be books. I like books, and I like to buy books, and I like to read books, and I can’t think of a better way to spend time. I know that’s not really a fetish, and I’m not really quiet about it, but it is an obsession, so I hope that counts.
Kelton Reid: Maybe if they are actually made of paper, that could count as a fetish.
Demian Farnworth: It really is, and I do prefer that. I do prefer the paper version.
Kelton Reid: I do, too, I will admit. Can you offer any advice to fellow writers on how to keep the ink flowing and the cursor moving?
Demian Farnworth: What’s worked for me is simply to continue to feed that fire. I read a quote the other day by Plutarch. He was an essayist, like 100 to 200 AD, so around early last millennium. He said to think of it more as a fire and that you need to kindle that fire. If you want to keep the ink going, don’t let the well run dry. Continue to read. Continue to research. Continue to be curious.
The most fascinating and the best writers are those who are just insanely curious and can’t stop. I don’t offer that as advice because it’s something that you can’t really teach. It s something you couldn’t instill in people. I think it’s something that’s found within people. So they’re just naturally curious. To keep that cursor moving and the ink from going dry is simply to continue to read and to consume.
The metaphor that I like to use a lot is about being a renegade sinkhole. Everything around you, observe and absorb it. Sinkholes are those phenomena in places like Florida where just out of nowhere, everything collapses into a deep hole within it. I think that as a writer, as a good writer, as you’re moving through your life, you’re absorbing and observing everything. It’s just falling into that hole for possible material in the future, whether you do it consciously or not.
Kelton Reid: Wow. I just fell into a sinkhole listening to you talk about that. Finally, is there anything else that you’d like writers to know about you, including where they can connect with you online?
Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Listen to Rough Draft and let me know what you think. I’d love their support. I appreciate their attention, and I do not take any of that for granted. Please find me at Rough Draft.
Kelton Reid: Excellent, and that’s RoughDraft.fm on Rainmaker.FM. Thank you so much, Demian. I really appreciate your time and for creating your own writer file. I definitely look forward to seeing you soon.
Demian Farnworth: Thank you. I appreciate this. Thanks for inviting me.
Kelton Reid: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” — Abraham Lincoln. Some great advice from Mr. Lincoln and also from Mr. Farnworth. Thank you.
You can never over-prepare or be too curious. Thanks for flipping through Demian’s file with me. If you enjoyed the inaugural episode of The Writer Files podcast, feel free to leave a comment or question on the website at WriterFiles.fm. Please leave us a rating or review in iTunes to help other writers find us. You can find me on Twitter, @KeltonReid. Cheers! Talk to you next week.