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Jun 8, 2015

Writer Porn: Standing Desks, Binge Reading, and James Patterson s MasterClass

This week, award-winning, globe-trotting travel journalist Adam Skolnick returns as guest host for another edition of Writer Porn, where we discuss pertinent, writerly paraphernalia that has crossed our collective radar.

 

Adam is the author and co author of 25 Lonely Planet guidebooks. He has also written for publications as varied as the New York Times, ESPN, Men’s Health, Outside, and Playboy.

He recently finished his first narrative non-fiction book — based on his award-winning New York Times coverage of the death of the greatest American free diver of all time — titled One Breath (slated for publication in January).

In this 41-minute file Adam Skolnick and I discuss:

  • What is Writer Porn?
  • How to Counteract the Negative Effects of Sitting All Day
  • Why You Think Better on Your Feet
  • Is Binge Reading Online Making Us Dumber?
  • How Taking Notes by Hand Might Boost Comprehension
  • Why Relaxing Your Process Can Help Your Productivity
  • Learn How to Write a Bestseller with James Patterson
  • Is the MasterClass Startup onto Something Huge?
  • Adam Skolnick s Patterson MasterClass Experiment
  • How to Listen to Moby Dick for Free

Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...

The Show Notes

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The Transcript

Writer Porn: Standing Desks, Binge Reading, and James Patterson s MasterClass

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 of the habits, habitats, and brains of working writers, from online content creators to fictionists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and beyond.

I’m your host, Kelton Reid: writer, podcaster, and mediaphile. Each week, we’ll find out how great writers keep the ink flowing, the cursor moving, and avoid writer’s block.

This week, award-winning, globe-trotting travel journalist Adam Skolnick is back as guest host for another edition of Writer Porn, where we discuss pertinent, writer-ly paraphernalia that has crossed our collective radar.

Adam is the co-author and author of 25 Lonely Planet guide books. He has also written for publications as varied as The New York Times, ESPN, Men’s Health, Outside, and Playboy. He recently finished his first narrative, non-fiction book based on his award-winning New York Times coverage of the death of the greatest American free diver of all time.

In this episode, Adam and I will discuss how to counteract the negative effects of sitting all day, why you think better on your feet, is binge reading online making us dumber, why relaxing your process can help your productivity, and how to write a bestseller according to James Patterson.

What Is Writer Porn?

Kelton Reid: I am pleased to welcome Adam Skolnick back to The Writer Files for another edition of something that we are calling ‘Writer Porn.’

Adam Skolnick: Ha, ha, ha. Porn! You said ‘porn.’

Kelton Reid: What is Writer Porn?

Adam Skolnick: I have no idea. You named it that.

Kelton Reid: I think it’s things that come across our desk that are pertinent to the writing life.

Adam Skolnick: Oh, to the writer and only the writer?

Kelton Reid: Sure, yeah.

Adam Skolnick: What if our listeners aren’t writers?

Kelton Reid: Well, that’s okay. We welcome you.

Adam Skolnick: Welcome, welcome non-writers.

Kelton Reid: I collect these kind of tidbits of whatever they might be — quotes, writer-ly advice — and lump them into this category, and I asked you back, and thankfully you took me up on it, to do another session where we riff on some of these things.

It’s a little bit different than the interview segments that I do for The Writer Files, but I’m excited to have you back. Thanks for taking time to do this. I know that you just finished your book. That’s very exciting. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I did get to look at a galley. Did you know that?

Adam Skolnick: I don’t think it was a galley. I think I emailed you the book. Yes, I knew that. I emailed it to you.

Kelton Reid: Oh.

Adam Skolnick: Who do you think emails my emails? Do you think I hire an email service?

Kelton Reid: I don’t know, but I was very honored to get into it. Man, it’s good stuff, very compelling. I’m excited for the rest of the world to get a chance to see it. Congratulations, man.

Adam Skolnick: Thanks, man, I really appreciate that.

Kelton Reid: What are you presently working on over there?

Adam Skolnick: I am about to get on a boat with Jack Johnson and a couple of pro surfers in the Bahamas, and I’m going to sail through the Bermuda Triangle to Bermuda, researching marine plastic pollution for a magazine story. I leave on Friday for that. That should be a wild and interesting journey.

Kelton Reid: Jack Johnson, is he the musician?

Adam Skolnick: Yeah.

Kelton Reid: Okay, cool. He’s also a well-known surfer, so I get it now.

Adam Skolnick: Yeah, yeah, he’s lives on the north shore of Hawaii. He’s been surfing his whole life. The ocean’s important to him, and he’s giving back. He’s sponsoring this expedition. It should be cool.

Kelton Reid: Sounds really exciting. I’m jealous.

Adam Skolnick: Thanks, man. Well, I hope it’s cool. I’ve never gotten sea sick before, so I trust I’ll be fine. I bought a windbreaker at REI, so I think if I bring my windbreaker, and my moleskin notebook, and nothing else, I should be fine.

Kelton Reid: Your bikini.

Adam Skolnick: Oh, my bikini and my cowboy hat.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, don’t forget the hat. It really completes the look for you. Now that I’ve got you here, I can pick your brain about some stuff that’s crossed my desk. I know you’ve seen a lot of these things as well.

How to Counteract the Negative Effects of Sitting All Day

Kelton Reid: Speaking of desks, the first thing we should chat about is standing desks. Essentially, I keep seeing more and more stuff about standing desks. For people who work online and are professional writers — full-time writers, content creators, what have you — a lot of us are getting these missives about the standing desk. Do you have a standing desk, Adam?

Adam Skolnick: I do not, Kelton.

Kelton Reid: Have you ever used a standing desk?

Adam Skolnick: I have. There was a period of time where I had two desks going on, and I would switch back and forth. It was one of those butcher blocks that became a desk. I’d have my sitting desk and my standing desk, and I liked it. It worked, but with me and my lifestyles, I’m so nomadic that I end up just pretty adaptable. I’ll sit wherever I have to sit to work.

When I was writing the novel, the non-fiction book, it just required too much focus. I didn’t find standing at it was working for me, but if I’m working on a guide book, something like the Lonely Planet book or a magazine article where it doesn’t take as much long-term focus, I can bang out a few things standing. I do stand a lot when I’m talking on the phone in between. I don’t sit all day at any one point, but I’ll sit for a couple of hours at a time maybe.

Kelton Reid: Well, I think writers of all disciplines tend to work sitting down for many hours at a time. Now we’re seeing evidence that, that excessive sitting can technically be considered a lethal activity — or we keep hearing sitting is the new smoking.

Adam Skolnick: Yes, but what would sitting and smoking be then?

Kelton Reid: Probably not great for you.

Adam Skolnick: No.

Kelton Reid: I quit many, many decades ago.

Adam Skolnick: I only smoke on the treadmill now.

Kelton Reid: Writers are investing money in these standing desks for their health. There’s a couple different kinds of standing desks. Certainly, there are some hacks to get into a standing desk. You could do what you do, just use a higher counter.

Adam Skolnick: Yes.

Kelton Reid: That New York Times article, Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, pointed out that there are a cascade harmful metabolic affects that occur when we’re sitting. It’s not great for your heart or your cholesterol levels to be sedentary.

Adam Skolnick: Right.

Kelton Reid: Over a lifetime, these unhealthful effects of sitting do add up according to research by these epidemiologists. Am I saying that right?

Adam Skolnick: Epidemiologist, yeah.

Kelton Reid: Thank you. At the American Cancer Society, they did this huge study that showed a definite overall increase in the death rate. They estimated that, on average, people who sit too much definitely shave a few years off their life.

Adam Skolnick: Well, that makes sense to me.

Kelton Reid: Yeah.

Adam Skolnick: I think everyone knows that sitting and being a potato of some kind — couch or desk potato, I guess that’s what we are now, desk potatoes — that’s going to be bad for your physical fitness. Not everyone has the space or the attention span, frankly, to create the perfect work environments. You’re one of those people that your physical environment, your interior environment, your office has always been important to you, so you’re going to do something about it. There are a lot of people like you.

Then there are people who just don’t have the capacity to care about much. What I read recently, I read something in Outside Magazine that said it’s really not necessarily that you’re sitting all the time while you’re working — it’s that you’re sitting all those hours unbroken. I know Outside just published something online, and if you look at cures for sitting at the desk or something on their website, Outside Online, you’d find this incredible exercise routine that wouldn’t take long.

It includes things that babies do — crawling and rolling yourself over without using your hands on your back. Basically, just rolling over, rolling from one side of the room to the other, and it does something. It aligns your body and your posture in a way that basically counteracts everything you’ve been doing at the desk for that 55 minutes beforehand. If you do something like that every five minutes, that’s another example that that could help, every five or 10 minutes, or if you take two hours to work and then 15 minutes to do moderate yoga or something in the office to counteract it.

Take a walk around. It’s the unbroken sitting that’s the bad part. I don’t think it’s that you can’t sit at a desk and work. What you’re doing, which is to allow yourself to be more productive in different ways, is also a great cure for it. There’s a lot of ways to do it.

Kelton Reid: Sure, absolutely. There’s definitely no one way. I have seen the yoga poses, which, frankly, isn’t something I’m going to do, but one of the other studies was saying that, in that sense, any kind of non-exercise activity — ‘thermogenesis’ is what they call it, or NEAT is the acronym — is basically the little movements that you do throughout the day to counteract that stuff, any kind of stretching or moving around in the office.

Why You Think Better on Your Feet

I tend to pace, which is another thing that we can talk about in a second, but it’s actually really good for you. Just getting up and walking around helps you to be more creative, interestingly enough. What that big study showed was that the good news is that, that peril can be countered is — I think, the point that you are also getting at. This other study by these Canadian researchers showed that both types of the different standing desks actually reduce sedentariness, which is one of the big problems, and improved mood. Either a standing desk or a treadmill desk, and clearly the treadmill desk is going to be a little bit more distracting.

Adam Skolnick: Treadmill desk?

Kelton Reid: A treadmill desk. This is a thing. Basically, overall, they’re saying the evidence suggests that both standing and treadmill desks may be effective in improving overall health, both physiologically and your mental health combined. It’s kind of interesting, but they did say that the treadmill desk ranked lower for productivity stuff. I think that’s probably because how can you walk and …

Adam Skolnick: I don’t think the treadmill desk is destined to be a big seller. I’m going to go out on a limb here.

Kelton Reid: Well, you wouldn’t know until you tried it, but I just can’t imagine doing it.

Adam Skolnick: That’s going to hurt its product profit rollout.

Kelton Reid: I’m not selling it here. I’m not an affiliate.

Adam Skolnick: It’s going to hurt the product rollout if you can’t imagine ever using it.

Kelton Reid: Probably.

Adam Skolnick: That’s the problem with the treadmill desk.

Kelton Reid: International Journal of Health, Promotion Education proved that, in another study, that people really do think better on their feet, which is probably another check mark in the category of we should be probably standing more while we work. There are some ways that have been proven to be effective, and there are some ways that actually probably wouldn’t be that effective. I think the treadmill desk is a question mark, but making sure that you’re using the right posture when you are actually using a standing desk is also important. Are you using the right technique?

This other article that I found, basically — for MakeUseOf — said that if you’re using the wrong posture, it’s going to basically counteract those positive things that you’re doing as a user of a standing desk. My hack here was I’ve inherited a very nice bookshelf from a friend. It looks like some kind of piece of modern art, but it has the perfect height to put a laptop, which should, according to MakeUseOf, be at eye level.

Of course, typing on the laptop at that level would be terrible for, say, my back or getting some type of carpel tunnel syndrome, so it is suggested to do some kind of Bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse on a different shelf, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Zero dollar hack — I have a standing desk. I can get up and use it when I start to feel slothful. Slothful?

Adam Skolnick: Yes, slothful. Okay, I think we’ve covered standing desks.

Kelton Reid: Okay, well, that was the big one. It’s been a topic that keeps coming across my own desk, so we nailed it.

Adam Skolnick: Yeah, we really nailed that one. I hope they’re all still listening.

Is Binge Reading Online Making Us Dumber?

Kelton Reid: Let’s talk about word consumption.

Adam Skolnick: Let’s talk about it.

Kelton Reid: What does it mean?

Adam Skolnick: Binge reading disorder, is that what you’re referring to?

Kelton Reid: Yes, binge reading disorder.

Adam Skolnick: Ah, explain binge reading disorder, Kelton Reid.

Kelton Reid: Well, I’m not sure if that’s the scientific terminology for it, but according to data, recent data, a typical American consumes more than 100,000 words a day and remembers probably very little of that information that’s being scanned into their cerebral cortex.

Adam Skolnick: Is that a good thing?

Kelton Reid: I don’t know. Is it making us dumber? What’s your take on it?

Adam Skolnick: I don’t think so. I think we were already dumb.

Kelton Reid: That’s a great answer. I think we can just stop right there.

Adam Skolnick: I don’t know. Typically, if I’m reading stuff online, it’s typically mindless sports drivel. News stories I’ll read on my phone in the morning. I’ll get the newspaper on the phone. You’re reading more now. You’re just not reading all of it in the same place. The big argument is, is there a difference in reading it on the screen versus reading a hard copy? I like to read both ways. I don’t think it matters.

I’m kind of agnostic on platform stuff. It’s just easier to use a Kindle when I’m on the road. I’ll use a Kindle when I’m on the road, and I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t think it’s making us dumber at all. If anything, our memories are probably hampered because you can Google anything at any time, but that also makes our arguments more informed. Instead of just two people talking over a cocktail about something that neither of them knows anything about but really being really passionate about it, they can actually Google it. Then they don’t have to talk about it anymore.

Kelton Reid: True. Yeah, I pull out the smartphone on countless occasions in any sort of, not argument per se, but discussion.

Adam Skolnick: What-does-it-all-mean type discussion?

Kelton Reid: Sure, sure, right. I think it’s interesting that — going back to that Atlantic article by Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? — where he argued that the abundance of information that the Internet provides is diminishing our abilities to comprehend what we read.

I don’t know how I feel about that. I do feel at times like I know too much because I’ve scanned so much stuff in there. What this study found, at least the UC San Diego report, said the average American basically ingests 100,000 plus words — includes text messages, emails, social media, subtitles, advertisements.

Adam Skolnick: Right.

Kelton Reid: We’re just bombarded with stuff.

Adam Skolnick: Yes.

Kelton Reid: The truth is that when this gentlemen, Josh Schwartz — he’s a data
scientist for the traffic analysis firm Chartbeat — found that the way people read on the Internet is that they very rarely make it past halfway through any article that crosses their desk, and there’s a very large percentage that don’t even get into the article. They just click the link, grab a link, share it without even reading it. So a lot of the stuff that we’re seeing in the Twitter feed is stuff that these social shares haven’t actually ingested, comprehended.

Adam Skolnick: Yes, that’s for sure. People do that all the time. I, myself, have done that once or twice. I don’t know if Schwartz knows that. Was it Schwartz? Did Schwartz out me on that one?

Kelton Reid: Yeah, he pointed me to your sham Twitter feed.

Adam Skolnick: Damn you, Schwartz. Listen, if I Tweet out a link, chances are I’ve read at least half of that link. If there’s something at the end of that story that makes me look like a jerk, it’s not my fault because I’m just following. I’m just following.

Kelton Reid: Right, but this is probably what most of us are feeling that, “All right, I kind of get it,” so we’re scanning. We’re scanning.

Adam Skolnick: Well, I think we’re also parroting. We see someone’s Tweet come across, and we’re like, “Oh, I like that guy, so that must be cool.” You just want to support that person. For whatever reason, you want to be a positive in their social media sphere for that moment, so you do it.

Kelton Reid: Sure.

Adam Skolnick: I think a lot of times the Retweets of other people’s links are fine, but the funny part is if no one ever read the link.

Kelton Reid: Right.

Adam Skolnick: What if the person who you’re Retweeting hasn’t even read the link that they’re Retweeting, and it’s just this crazy hall of mirrors.

Kelton Reid: Sure, it’s a crazy hall of mirrors.

Adam Skolnick: Wait, you’re saying the Internet is a hall of mirrors?

Kelton Reid: Well, there’s definitely an echo chamber.

Adam Skolnick: Is that what Schwartz is saying because he’s a genius?

Kelton Reid: Yeah, well, this is some kind of existential question about something else. Moving on, a peer report comparing the habits of ebook readers versus print readers, which is kind of interesting, noted that paginated reading comprehension far outpaced the continuous, infinite scroll, like we face on the Internet every day. Maybe there is something to be said for comprehension of reading done in a different way than we are so used to seeing on the Internet.

Adam Skolnick: Well, that could also just mean books are taken more seriously than the general scroll, or the time you take to leaf through a magazine is going to matter more than the general scroll that you do on a typical day.

Kelton Reid: Yeah. Well, I think this researcher from that report in Sweden said that scrolling took more of your mental resources that could be spent comprehending text, at least enough to memorize it. I guess if you’re doing some pretty heavy research, you probably want to make sure that you’re staying a little more focused. I think coffee works great, too.

Adam Skolnick: Oh, yeah, good.

Kelton Reid: Is that helpful?

Adam Skolnick: No. I think we should just go directly to James Patterson okay, at the beginning of your podcast. I think you’re going to find, as you go through this podcast, it really should be all Patterson. This is our big tease to the Patterson experiment.

Kelton Reid: Just a quick pause to mention that The Writer Files is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. Find out more and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

How Taking Notes by Hand Might Boost Comprehension

Kelton Reid: Okay, we’re going to skip over the notebook portion. I’m assuming that’s what you’re suggesting?

Adam Skolnick: Well, I don’t know. The notebook portion? We could do the notebook portion.

Kelton Reid: Well, I just think it’s interesting that this other study, the last study that we’ll mention, by a researcher at Northwestern University, showed that students who took notes in a notebook in a class compared to on a computer ended up with better test scores for that class. I’ve seen this in a few different places.

Adam Skolnick: Yeah.

Kelton Reid: How do you feel about that?

Adam Skolnick: I might have talked about this in the last podcast. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I was a part of a process at Lonely Planet when Lonely Planet was going to a shared publishing platform. Before that, authors were preparing their manuscripts in Word, emailing that to a coordinating author, who was putting that all into one document, and sending that in to the publishers, who were then taking it apart and putting it in their own publishing platform internally, their own software so that they could paginate and do everything they needed to do.

Then after that book was done, the web people would take it apart, put it online, and update whatever their online content was. Basically, what that was doing was making it impossible to have fluid, updated material online and in a timely and efficient way because everything was geared towards the brick-and-mortar bookshops and the print books.

Now, as everything was changing, I think about 2008 this was, whenever I was in Colorado doing that. Was that ’08? No, that was like 2010, so everything started to change around 2010. They decided to get sleeker and try to be more competitive, and try to figure out a way that you could be updating online at the same time you’re updating the books.

They had a couple of us pilot this shared publishing platform experiment where I would take notes in my phone or on an iPad. They didn’t want me using my moleskins, which is how I was usually taking notes when I was in the field. It was everything from using this new database type platform when we were writing it up, but all the way to, in the field, try to use some other type of equipment.

At first, I thought, “Wow, I’m going to lose something in the translation,” because I always thought there’s something about putting your pen to paper in an analog way that opens your brain and opens your own perception and comprehension in a way that’s unique and interesting. I always thought that. At first, I found it really clunky to use the iPhone for notes, but then over time, I just stayed with it. I was asked to stay with it for a week and see if it changed. Within a few days, it started to change.

Within a few days, I started to get comfortable taking notes. Now I can take notes on the phone faster than I can write them in a moleskin. I can then save those notes. The notes are going to constantly get uploaded to the cloud, so you’re not going to lose stuff. If you somehow lose a notebook, you’re screwed, but not on the phone.

I also find that this idea that using a pen and a paper opens your mind in a certain way isn’t so accurate anymore, either. Once I got used to doing that, I could come up with similar insights. I don’t think the insights are any different. My conditioning to creating the insight, or discovering my own insight, or whatever it might be that was a condition, I just happened to be doing that while I was using the pen and paper. When I started to use the phone, it worked that way, too.

Now, when you’re trying to comprehend something, I think writing it down might do something to your brain that typing it wouldn’t. I don’t know, but it might. Could be. It sounds like Solomon found that to be true. It could be, yeah.

Kelton Reid: A lot of my stuff definitely starts on paper. I find that it helps me early on in the process. Then I move into the more digital idea-building. I feel like the ideas are born more easily for me when they start in a notebook or on a note card, but I’m a fan of all these hybrid models, you know?

Why Relaxing Your Process Can Help Your Productivity

Adam Skolnick: Yeah. I think the key point for writers, especially newer writers or younger writers that are making a go of it, the important point isn’t are you sitting at a desk, or standing up, are you using a notebook or are you using a phone, or using a laptop. The key is do it. Just keep doing it. It doesn’t matter.

I’m really agnostic with all this process stuff. I’m not a real process guy. Partly, it’s because I’m on tight deadlines a lot, so I’m constantly having to do it. Partly because I’m traveling so much, I’ve just become adaptable by nature. The key thing is to not be too precious, for me anyway. I think the more precious I get about the way things have to be done, the greater the excuses to not getting things done. That’s my personal approach.

It’s not everybody’s approach. I think process can really matter for some people, and it’s really important. Some people are super interested in that. I’m less interested in that and more interested in are you doing the work. However you need to do it, do the work. If it helps to create a process that works for you, then do it. I’m just to the point where process takes a back seat.

Kelton Reid: Nice, that’s a great take away. Thank you for getting us there.

Adam Skolnick: Sure, man.

Learn How to Write a Bestseller with James Patterson

Kelton Reid: So — precious. Let’s talk about another precious American resource.

Adam Skolnick: No, this man is decidedly not precious, which is probably the greatest thing about him.

Kelton Reid: James Patterson.

Adam Skolnick: That and his website.

Kelton Reid: James Patterson.

Adam Skolnick: James Patterson. I am so excited to be talking about James Patterson, mainly because I’ve never once read a James Patterson book, not one time.

Kelton Reid: That is so strange. I cannot honestly say the same thing. The reason we’re talking about this is because he is offering a masterclass in writing through a website called MasterClass, a startup called MasterClass. There’s no question that James Patterson, whose annual salary clocks in at $90 mil it looks like, knows how to write a bestseller. Now, for $90 — that’s right, $90 American — you, too, can learn how to write a bestseller from James Patterson.

Adam Skolnick: Yes, or not, but we’re going to find out if this works.

Kelton Reid: What is it about James Patterson that ruffles people’s feathers, aside from the fact that he is the author of 19 consecutive number one New York Times bestsellers?

Adam Skolnick: I think it’s because he has basically created this stable of co-authors and comes up with these ideas. Then they execute them. Then he manages to turn them all into bestsellers — it’s almost like the sausage factory of writing. That bothers a lot of people, especially in the literary world, who are super driven towards the auteur type production.

Although, in a lot of ways, what he’s doing is kind of the new 2.0 version of Pulp Fiction past, which was just get stuff on the market and get people reading. He’s very un-precious about it, which is probably the coolest thing about it. I haven’t read his novels, so I have no idea how good they are. There must be something to them. They’re selling a lot.

Kelton Reid: Sure, so he’s basically the bestseller machine over there. Now he’s working with these ghostwriters and co-authors. Probably nothing wrong with that other than it ruffles some people’s feathers probably in the literary. It actually even ruffled Stephen King’s feathers, but it’s interesting debates about James Patterson and his kind of claim to fame.

Adam Skolnick: He’s written 95 novels since 1976. That’s amazing.

Kelton Reid: Yeah. He holds the New York Times record for most bestselling hardcover fiction titles by a single author, a total of 76, and that is also a Guinness record.

Adam Skolnick: That’s amazing. He’s got something going on, you know?

Kelton Reid: Well, he clearly knows what he’s doing.

Adam Skolnick: Yeah.

Kelton Reid: In a sense, could you compare him to McKee and his kind of screenwriting formula?

Adam Skolnick: Well, I don’t know because I’ve read a story by Robert McKee, and I liked it. I thought it was interesting. I don’t know. I’m excited to hear that part. For me, personally, why I’m interested in the course — aside from hoping that there’s some amazing James Patterson quotes that we can talk about on the podcast over the next several weeks — I’m hoping that it’s absurd but also poignant. I’m hoping he strikes gold here and there. I’m sure not every episode’s going to be great, but I’m hoping there’s some good moments. I keep thinking of Adaptation.

Kelton Reid: Yes.

Adam Skolnick: That great movie with Nicholas Cage where he plays Charlie Kaufman, and Kaufman takes the Robert McKee class after his twin brother had taken it and decided to write a screenplay. Now Charlie, who’s kind mired in writer’s block and is having a hard time turning The Orchid Thief — a great book by Susan Orlean — into its own movie, he takes McKee’s class. McKee berates him publicly, and then gives him some great, great tips. That’s an amazing scene. It’s tremendous, and I hope at some point James Patterson personally lambastes me during this class.

Kelton Reid: What? Okay.

Adam Skolnick: Kaufman was having a hard time in that scene. I know it’s fictional, but it’s still funny. He was having a hard time because he was trying to take this somewhat complex subject and turn it into a story without falling into the cliché traps of beginning, middle, end, action, act 1, act 2, act 3 — all the things you’re supposed to do. He wanted to break that mold. McKee basically tells him, no, you’ve got to see that mold through and come out in the end because life is like that.

I, personally, have a different issue. I get attracted to ideas that have so much to them, it’s hard to distill it in a simple storyline. I’m always envious of writers who can create simple, small, perfect stories. I think those are the stories readers like the best. They can relate to them the best. They can get lost in them a little easier. Even the book I’ve just finished — which I really like, and I think you can get a lot out of it — there are three levels to it.

It works for that book, but if I’m going to write a better novel next time around my previous novel was this slice of life, 10 years of my life squashed into one. There’s just so many twists and turns to it. It’s definitely not that neat and tidy story. I think, if anything, Patterson definitely has story hooks down. I’m interested in being able to reign myself in as a writer and bringing my energy into a bit more of a tight story. I’m hoping Patterson will have some tips in that regard, so that’s a serious reason.

Kelton Reid: True.

Adam Skolnick: I’m hoping there’s something there, and then I’m also hoping there’s a lot of unintentional comedy.

Kelton Reid: Well, there is something to be said for these writing formulas, and certainly Hollywood uses it, a screenwriting formula, as you know. Copywriters also use formulas all the time. I’m thinking of the AIDA method for writing good online and print copy, which is attention, interest, desire, action. These are all things that writers can learn from. I think it’s interesting, actually, you coming from a creative non-fiction, fiction, and screenwriting background, me coming from some of those same backgrounds with the copywriting thing thrown in there — it’ll be interesting for us to experiment. So, what are we going to do?

Adam Skolnick: Well, I think we have to figure out, do we like Patterson, first off. I think it’s easy. It’s funny, you look at this MasterClass, and you can take acting classes from Dustin Hoffman or tennis lessons from Serena Williams. It’s so absurd.

Is the MasterClass Startup onto Something Huge?

Kelton Reid: Well, the MasterClass project is very interesting.

Adam Skolnick: It’s just completely absurd, but it’s like your famous icons pitching infomercials.

Kelton Reid: Right.

Adam Skolnick: It used to be the people on infomercials were the people who were the washed-up actors of old. For instance, I think it would make more sense if Erik Estrada was giving a masterclass on acting online than Dustin Hoffman. That’s what I think.

Kelton Reid: What these guys have done with the MasterClass Project, this San Francisco startup has gotten some really impressive, marque names to back them for this San Francisco based project. Well, not only did they get Usher and Robert Downing Jr.’s company, and Michael Bloomberg’s venture capital, Bloomberg Beta, backing for this project, they’re using some really high-profile directors to make these online courses, which are kind of the new black for sure. They’re directed by top filmmakers, so they look beautiful. They have interactive exercises. Hopefully, one of them is Mr. Patterson yelling at you.

Adam Skolnick: Yeah, I hope so. I’m holding out hope.

Kelton Reid: They come with additional learning materials, Q&A sessions. This is the new — and it’s been around forever — online business model. These are like beautiful digital products, like the highest quality.

Adam Skolnick: Yes, they’re great products. But they’re like dream products where people taking them can imagine that one day they’ll be like the person teaching them.

Kelton Reid: Right.

Adam Skolnick: In reality, it’s just a way to get those other people rich. It’s not like this giving. Listen, if Dustin Hoffman and James Patterson wanted to teach a class, and they cared mostly about just giving what they’ve learned to create their legacy freely to people, they would do it for free and on YouTube.

Kelton Reid: Okay. So you’re saying it’s not philanthropy?

Adam Skolnick: Absolutely not. It’s this crazy marketed approach to teaching people. I think it’s going to be limited, but I’m interested in it because, if anything, there’s going to be nuggets. I don’t think you could put people who’ve accomplished what they’ve accomplished on camera telling them to teach the way they want to teach and not have nuggets. I think it’s one of those flawed, genius concepts. Hopefully we’ll find out.

Adam Skolnick s Patterson MasterClass Experiment

Kelton Reid: Okay, so we’re going to put journalist Adam Skolnick on the case, and you are going to take the course. I’m going to try to do it as well, if I find the time or the patience.

Adam Skolnick: First, we’ve got to read up on some Patterson.

Kelton Reid: What are you going to read?

Adam Skolnick: I don’t know. I’ve got his list. There’s 1st to Die. If you look at Goodreads, and there’s a Listopia I guess, and Goodreads. I like Goodreads. It’s a cool website. They have the list of favorite Patterson novels. 1st to Die comes up number one — 91 people voted, and that’s number one. It’s part of his Women’s Murder Club series, which is interesting, so I’m going to do that. I love a whodunit, so I’m cautiously optimistic about 1st to Die. You wanted to do Along Came a Spider, right?

Kelton Reid: I think so, yeah. I think I want to start there with the Alex Cross. That sounds more up my alley.

Adam Skolnick: Yeah, you know what, I think so, too. I think I might switch. I never saw the movie.

Kelton Reid: It’d be kind of like CliffsNotes — how do you pronounce it?

How to Listen to Moby Dick for Free

Adam Skolnick: CliffsNotes. That’s like I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’ve read the CliffsNotes of Moby Dick, and now I’m going to read Along Came a Spider. So far. I’m exactly who they’re looking for. I’m the target audience of the MasterClass.

Kelton Reid: They have a Moby Dick Big Read. You can hear the entire Moby Dick read by famous people. A lot of them are famous authors that read the entire text of Moby Dick. It’s a free podcast. You can download it today.

Adam Skolnick: Really?

Kelton Reid: Yeah.

Adam Skolnick: I thought we’re supposed to read it.

Kelton Reid: Exactly. Okay, last thing I’m going to skip over the fact that James Patterson is also starting an imprint of Ray Schultz’s books because does he really need to extend his brand further?

Adam Skolnick: He’s just having a good time. There’s something about how his website, I love how he just having a good time. Like he doesn’t care. He’s breaking all the social mores. Somewhere the great authors, like Jonathan Franzen must hate James Patterson. I can only imagine. Franzen must think Patterson is the devil.

Kelton Reid: Oh my.

Adam Skolnick: I wouldn’t know, but it seems to me that Franzen’s pretty serious about his work. I love Franzen, and I have no idea if I’m going to like Patterson. I love Franzen, but I can imagine a guy like that who’s super literary, literary to the 10th degree, isn’t going to be into the Patterson approach. But there’s something about that approach which is appealing to me in some way. Like, “Don’t be so precious. Do your work however you want to do it. This is what I do,” so I’m hoping we can have some J Pat nuggets.

Kelton Reid: All right. Well, we’re going to bring you back and get your take on the James Patterson course once you have completed it.

Adam Skolnick: Yes.

Kelton Reid: And I will pretend that I have also.

Adam Skolnick: Then I can start in on the Dustin Hoffman course straight after that.

Kelton Reid: I’m going right to Usher.

Adam Skolnick: I’m going to go to the Usher, how to be an R&B crooner, right after that.

Kelton Reid: Yeah. Think about it. With my — yeah, nevermind.

Adam Skolnick: Nevermind. Actually, I want to take the LeBron James course. If I finish the LeBron James course, then I can be quite good at basketball.

Kelton Reid: I think that’s probably a wrap on the MasterClass seq.

Adam Skolnick: Oh, sorry.

Kelton Reid: Adam, thank you so much for coming back on The Writer Files, doing this session of Writer Porn as a guest host. I really appreciate your time, and I look forward to rapping with you again in the future.

Adam Skolnick: Thank you, man. I’ll be back with some J Pat nuggets of knowledge.

Kelton Reid: Where can listeners find you at out there in the world?

Adam Skolnick: AdamSkolnick.com, @AdamSkolnick on Instagram and Twitter. I think that’s it.

Kelton Reid: All right, my friend.

Adam Skolnick: There’s an article in the June issue of Playboy Magazine that’s out right now on free diving I think you’ll like.

Kelton Reid: Excellent, and have a great time in the islands. Which islands?

Adam Skolnick: Oh yes, in the Bermuda Triangle.

Kelton Reid: Ooh, that sounds like another episode.

Adam Skolnick: It sounds like a James Patterson novel.

Kelton Reid: Okay, perfect. Use it. It’s all grist for the mill, my friend. All right, thanks, bud.

Adam Skolnick: Cheers.

Kelton Reid: Cheers.

Thank you for tuning into the Writer Files. Now get back to work. I am going to take a long walk.

For more episodes of The Writer Files and all of the show notes, or to leave us a comment or a question, drop by WriterFiles.FM. Please subscribe to the show in iTunes. Leave us a rating or review, and help other writers to find us. You can always chat with me on Twitter, @KeltonReid. See you out there.